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Laptops, notebooks, portables and BSD/OS

This is a living document -- in other words, the content will probably change. (The current info is derived from several sources, including old mailing list and newsgroup postings. Some information is attributed.) Please share your experiences with using BSD/OS on laptops, notebooks and other portable computers. In particular, what laptops work well with BSD/OS? What laptops don't work well with BSD/OS and why (such as X, sound, modem)? What version(s) of BSD/OS?

This document contains:

List of laptops by vendor and model

Baycom Agent
Feature list in PDF (Deutsch)


Steven M. Schultz had the "pleasure" of running BSD/OS 4.2 on a highend ($4200) Compaq 1800T (model 380?) (29/Mar/2001):
850MHZ cpu
384MB ram
30GB disk

Everything except X "just worked". We optioned the LCD up to the SXGA+ which runs at a beautiful 1400x1050 resolution. It took a locally built XFree86-4.0.2 kit to get X to recognize the 16MB ATI Rage 128 variant used but that was expected (much work was done on the ATI Rage 128LT driver between XFree86 4.0.1 and 4.0.2).

The sound chip (ESS Solo-1 1398 or similar such) worked nicely with the 4Front drivers. The PCMCIA/Cardbus controller was recognized as an Intel compatible/supported one and worked ok. Only 1 PC card slot is provided though.

The integrated 10/100 ethernet is an Intel 82557/82558 - no problem at all.

It's only a 2 button mouse but it's not too hard to do the emulate 3 function. The glidepath used (instead of a erasernub pointing device) seems overly sensitive and it's quite easy to brush the pad without meaning to and sending your mouse around the screen.

All in all a nice notebook - the combination of 10/100 ethernet, real nice display and operable sound was a winner.


Bert Driehuis wrote (17/Oct/2000):
Dell CPi and CPx work swell. Tested w/ CD-ROM, floppy and 3C589 PCMCIA 10Mb card.

Only concern (true for all ATI Rage Mobility laptops) is that you need to shut down Xwindows before suspending. There are patches that make Xfree honor console switching which works around this issue. Don't know if they made it into 4.2.




Hewlett Packard

In an email to the bsdi-users list, Peter Seebach wrote about a HP Pavilion N5490 (13/Aug/2001):
Under BSD/OS, I have slight display noise in X (XF86 4.0.3)... but I can exit from X and get back to a usable console. ...

If you are using BSD/OS, and don't mind having no sound, you can probably use a PCMCIA network card and get usable results. You will need to fidget with the X server. ...

It's a nice machine. High res display (1400x1050, and mine has precisely one bad pixel), CD burner/DVD, workable PCMCIA. Useless winmodem, difficult sound, and the network card is a tulip clone which won't work under BSD/OS unless I get very lucky *and* have some free time.

IBM ThinkPad

Steve Bellovin wrote (13/Oct/2000):
I run BSD/OS on a Thinkpad 600E. It mostly works, though there are a few gotchas. I'm not even certain I could do a scratch installation, as opposed to an upgrade, at this point; it can't boot the CD-ROM. The serial port required magic to work, and I had to put a -memsize into /etc/boot.default to make it boot properly. And the graphics chip is marginal under XMetro.
Steven M. Schultz had the "pleasure" of running BSD/OS 4.2 on a highend ($4700) IBM ThinkPad A21P (29/Mar/2001):
If Darth Vader carried a notebook this would probably be the one. It's huge (but not nearly as heavy as one would have guessed) and black.

850MHZ cpu
384MB ram
30GB disk

Builtin 10/100 Intel 82557/82558 ethernet - 'nuff said.

16MB ATI Rage 128 video - took XFree86 4.0.2 to get the display going. And what a amazingly gorgeous display it is - UXGA (1600x1200)! Very readable.

The soundchip was a Crystal 12341234 which the 4Front drivers had no problem with.

Alas, the PCMCIA/Cardbus controller is misidentified, 4.2 says it is a VLSI 82C146 but that's wrong (it's really a TI 1450 as I recall) so the two PCMCIA slots are not usable with BSD/OS 4.2

As a side note - linux (SuSE 7.1) recognizes the PCMCIA controller but can't handle the sound chip.

If operable sound is a concern the Compaq is the unit to get, if a better display but no PCMCIA cards are needed then the IBM is the notebook to get.



Sony Vaio

Kurt J. Lidl has several Vaio Z505JS model laptops running various beta versions of BSD/OS 4.2; he says (1/Nov/2000):
These machines work pretty well. I have no idea how well, or not, they would work with the BSD/OS 4.1 release.

The apm stuff all seems to work OK. However, I don't have the sound working, however, even though I did give it a whirl.

The IDE-DMA code works OK (as of 4.2 beta 2b + patches).

The XFree86 server that came with 4.2 beta 2b "just works".

I haven't had any problem using any of the following:

Cisco/Aironet 802.11 wireless ethernet cards
3com 10mbit ethernet cards (its an old one, 3C589C)
SanDisk 48MB compact flash cards
Lexar 128MB compact flash cards
Sony VIAO external CDROM (!)
Sony VIAO external DVDROM (!)

I have used the Lexar 128MB 10X write speed compact flash parts, plus a little $15 adaptor (from SanDisk) to turn it into a PCCARD quite extensively. It works really, really well. I use this to transfer images from a Nikon Coolpix 990 camera.

I have also done some work with the Sony Viao PCG-C1X -- where things pretty much work. I haven't tried to get the sound to work, so I don't know if it will go or not. There is no support under BSD/OS for the builtin camera on this. I had to build a pretty bleeding edge XFree server on this to make it go -- but it works OK now. The XFree server that ships with 4.2 probably will not support this machine by default. (Basically, 4.2 is going to have XFree 4.0.1 and 4.0.2 is required for support for this chipset.)


What to look for in a laptop

  • Robustness
  • Bulk/Weight
  • Size
  • Battery Life
  • PowerSaving feature
  • Mouse -- three-buttons or easy-to-use two-buttons?
  • Screen -- readable? size? resolution? type?
  • Drives -- removable?
  • Interfaces/ports -- network interface?

Links to further information

Contribute / Share information

Please share your experiences or information with using BSD/OS on laptops, notebooks and other portable computers.

  • Model/version?
  • basic hardware and interfaces information
  • what version(s) of BSD/OS?
  • what works? (X11, mouse, modem, network card, audio)
  • what doesn't work?
  • any other information (URLs, dmesg output, etc.) or opinions
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Last updated: 07/Nov/2001