Sunday, 12 May 2013

Linux Mint on Alienware M11x

This is a "howto" on installing and run Linux Mint 14 (with Cinnamon) on an external hard drive from an Alienware M11x running 64 bit Windows 7 Ultimate.

Along with the laptop you will need a USB drive and an external hard drive, and an Internet connection (which you should have if you've found this article on the Internet).

Create a bootable USB drive
- Download the .iso file of the Linux Mint of your choice. I used the Cinnamon 64-bit version of Nadia.
- Install the Universal USB Installer (or you might be able to use an alternative like win32diskimager).
- Insert the USB drive into your machine, and start the program of your choice (from the line above), and install the downloaded iso to the USB drive. Note that this is a perfect way to avoid burning CDs or DVDs, and great when you don't have a CD/DVD ROM at all (like with the M11x).

Using the Win32 Disk Imager

Using the Universal USB Installer

- Boot your Windows machine, and press F12 or F2 to enter setup on the boot screen (these are valid shortcuts from the M11x, might be different on different systems, but as mentioned above, this guide is focused on the Alienware M11x).

F12 for boot options.

- Go to the "Boot" menu, highlight "USB Storage" and press "Shift + 1" to enable this option. Move it up, by pressing "+" if you want this as your first option. Alternative leave it below "Hard Drive", and manually select that boot option, for Linux, on each system startup. Save the changes, and boot from "USB Storage".

- Linux Mint will now start, running from the USB drive. It's OK to run it like this, if that is what you like for testing out Linux Mint. If you like it you can continue with the next steps, for installing it on an external hard drive, connected via USB.

LinuXMint, from the USB, ready to be tested and installed.

- Connect the external hard drive where you want to install Linux Mint, and click the CD named "Install Linux Mint".

WARNING: Please pay extra attention to the following steps. Doing mistakes here might cause you to erase your entire Windows partition / system for good. HENCE: Taking a complete backup of your Windows machine might be a good idea before you continue here.

- For "Installation type" make sure to chose "Something else".

Something else...

- Make sure to highlight the external disk, and not the Windows partition (like the C drive on your computer). This is where the Linux version is installed to. A good way of checking that you've picked the right device is that the size of the device you've selected differs to the size of your laptops internal hard drive, and matches the external drive's size.

- Choose the external drive as the device for the boot loader as well.

Make the right choices, or delete your entire internal hard drive.

- Delete any partitions you might have on your external drive, and create two new ones.

Do something with that free space of yours.

- Create one huge partition (in my case I used 75GB out of 80) for the main data.

Create a new partition.

- Create a smaller partition for swapping (I allocated 5 GB).

5 GB swap area.

- Double check that you've made the right choices, and that you're not messing up with your laptop's internal hard drive.

Double or triple check these options. Better safe than sorry.

- Installation starts, and soon you'll have Linux Mint running from an external hard drive.

Welcome to Linux Mint.

- After the installation is complete, unplug the USB drive, but leave the external drive. Then reboot your computer, while choosing to boot from "USB Drive". Linux Mint should now start.

Configure USB camera and michrophone
Now, that you are running Linux Mint on your PC there will be some configuring to do. I started with my external Logitech QuickCam Vision Pro USB camera and my AT2020 USB microphone.

Both my camera and my microphone were detected, and showed up nicely in Google+ Hangout where I tested them. The problem was only that they didn't work. My camera showed a black picture, for most of the time, but once in a while took a still picture. I figured out that this has something to do with my camera being connected to a USB hub (which works fine on Win 7). When I connected the camera directly into the laptop it worked nicely.

Getting the audio-technica microphone to work was only about doing some adjustments under "Settings > Sound". I had to set the "Hardware" to use the "Analog Mono Input".

AT2020 USB - 1 input - Analog Mono Input

Using my Dell monitor connected to the DisplayPort, or HDMI, did not work. So I'm stuck to having to use VGA. This despite of reading several "howtos" on the Internet explaining in detail how it can be done. However, I managed to set up the system, with Bumblebee, so that the secondary graphics card can be used for more power.

optirun glxspheres

klevstul@m11xlm ~ $ glxspheres 
Polygons in scene: 62464
Visual ID of window: 0xb0
Context is Direct
OpenGL Renderer: Mesa DRI Mobile Intel® GM45 Express Chipset 
15.580937 frames/sec - 17.388326 Mpixels/sec
13.982132 frames/sec - 15.604059 Mpixels/sec
15.545170 frames/sec - 17.348410 Mpixels/sec
14.330235 frames/sec - 15.992542 Mpixels/sec
15.293424 frames/sec - 17.067462 Mpixels/sec
17.290558 frames/sec - 19.296263 Mpixels/sec
19.096708 frames/sec - 21.311926 Mpixels/sec
19.106674 frames/sec - 21.323049 Mpixels/sec

klevstul@m11xlm ~ $ optirun glxspheres 
Polygons in scene: 62464
Visual ID of window: 0x21
Context is Direct
OpenGL Renderer: GeForce GT 335M/PCIe/SSE2
61.696863 frames/sec - 68.853699 Mpixels/sec
57.774614 frames/sec - 64.476469 Mpixels/sec
69.191203 frames/sec - 77.217382 Mpixels/sec
72.485724 frames/sec - 80.894068 Mpixels/sec
61.279576 frames/sec - 68.388007 Mpixels/sec
73.417932 frames/sec - 81.934412 Mpixels/sec
72.570913 frames/sec - 80.989139 Mpixels/sec
18.557579 frames/sec - 20.710258 Mpixels/sec

Bubmlebee Installation
Bumblebee aims to provide support for NVIDIA Optimus laptops for GNU/Linux distributions. Using Bumblebee, you can use your NVIDIA card for rendering graphics which will be displayed using the Intel card.

DisplayPort and HDMI - no success
As I went back and forth, and tried a number of different approaches, I'm not sure which one were needed or not. However below is a list of what I tried. At first glance it looks straight forward. Obviously it was not. No idea why this didn't work on my system, but after having spent too many hours on debugging I've given up.

Multi monitor setup of Bumblebee:
Optimus laptops have two video chips: an integrated Intel and a discrete nVidia one. If the port (DisplayPort / HDMI / VGA) is wired to the Intel chip, you do not need to do anything special to get external monitors to work.
When the port is wired into the nvidia chip, you cannot currently expand the screen over monitors. The monitor may still be used as extra screen (with no desktop running on it) or to run the full desktop on it (with no output on the Intel LVDS output, a.k.a. "the laptop display").

Installation of the nvida-current:
$ sudo apt-get install nvidia-current

M11XR3 Bumblebee and the dual screen setup:
$ sudo bumblebeed
$ export DISPLAY=:8.0
$ optirun glxspheres
Polygons in scene: 62464
Visual ID of window: 0x21
Context is Direct
OpenGL Renderer: GeForce GT 335M/PCIe/SSE2
81.241080 frames/sec - 90.665045 Mpixels/sec

... however nothing was outputted to neither DisplayPort nor HDMI, so had to reset back to default display:
$ export DISPLAY=:0

Alienware m11x R3 + Mandriva 2011 (x86_64 Free):
External Screens on HDMI not working, at least not directly with Intel driver+bumblebee/nvidia. I have managed to go around this problem with the help of bumblebee, when i want to use an external screen (and not the laptop screen).

A compatibility guide to running Linux with the Alienware M14x laptop:
A recent Linux distribution, something running at least kernel version 3.0, should be used for best results. Is functional with Ubuntu 12.04 + Bumblebee You can install the proprietary NVIDIA drivers to get 3D working.

Alienware M11x and ArchLinux:
The Alienware M11x R1 has 2 video cards, and can be manually changed with the system BIOS (accessed by pushing F2 during system POST):
Switchable => Linux will use the Intel 4500HD internal video
Discrete => Linux will use the NVIDIA GeForce GT 335M
Alienware M11x R1 users running Linux have some tools available which will interact with the hybrid video cards in this laptop.

Dell M11x R3 with Ubuntu Linux:
External monitors / Multi-monitor setup. Other information on how to start a specific program on the DisplayPort or HDMI adaptor is not very much found on the net. (For HDMI you probably need to update the nvidida-driverfs using the xswat ppa, as mentioned in the comments somewhere).

Monitor and card being detectable
The system could see my DisplayPort connected monitor, using the command below. However, as mentioned above, I was unable to use it.

$ /usr/lib/nvidia-current/bin/nvidia-xconfig --query-gpu-info --nvidia-cfg-path=/usr/lib/nvidia-current
Number of GPUs: 1

GPU #0:
  Name      : GeForce GT 335M
  PCI BusID : PCI:1:0:0

  Number of Display Devices: 1

  Display Device 0 (DFP-3):
      EDID Name             : DELL 2408WFP
      Minimum HorizSync     : 30.000 kHz
      Maximum HorizSync     : 83.000 kHz
      Minimum VertRefresh   : 56 Hz
      Maximum VertRefresh   : 76 Hz
      Maximum PixelClock    : 170.000 MHz
      Maximum Width         : 1920 pixels
      Maximum Height        : 1200 pixels
      Preferred Width       : 1920 pixels
      Preferred Height      : 1200 pixels
      Preferred VertRefresh : 60 Hz
      Physical Width        : 520 mm
      Physical Height       : 320 mm

As well, the card was detectable:
$ lspci -vnnn | grep VGA
00:02.0 VGA compatible controller [0300]: Intel Corporation Mobile 4 Series Chipset Integrated Graphics Controller [8086:2a42] (rev 07) (prog-if 00 [VGA controller])
01:00.0 VGA compatible controller [0300]: NVIDIA Corporation GT215 [GeForce GT 335M] [10de:0caf] (rev a2) (prog-if 00 [VGA controller])

Extra : arandr
A tool for administrating multiple monitors (which I didn't need, but might be nice for some)
$ sudo apt-get install arandr
$ arandr


  1. Any luck with HDMI yet?

    run "optirun nvidia-settings -c :8" in terminal and you will see that the HDMI device is detected when plugged in.

    I can't figure out how to enable it tho. Let me know if you have any ideas.


    1. Sorry, Steve. No luck here either.


  2. I can get the hdmi port working in mint 15 on my m11x but I can't get audio to work over hdmi. I had some guy helping me and he gave up.


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