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Linux on Dell Precision M90 - Part I: Overview

by: dsmith - May 13, 2006

This document specifically covers the installation of Slackware Linux on a Dell Precision M90. However, there are many general tips and guides that could aid in the installation of any distribution of Linux on any system.

I have had a chance to install Linux on quite a few Dell laptops and I have always appreciated the help from all of the unknown people that have taken the time to document their troubles and corresponding solutions. I have decided to document my experience with my newest Dell laptop, the Precision M90.

I have tried to be fairly verbose, but I also wanted to make it easy to find the parts that someone may need as well. This how-to is divided into several sections that describe the installation and difficulties of a single particular item.

If you are just looking for specific items, The following are links to particular sections. Otherwise read-on for the full step by step installation.

  • Part I - Introduction and Index – Overview and basin installation of Slackware.

  • Part II - X-Windows setup – NVIDIA video setup, screen modelines and mouse wheel.

  • Part III – Kernel configuration – Performance tweaks including dual processor, over 1 GB memory, SATA and cpufreq

  • Part IV – Networking – Configuration for both the ethernet card and the wireless card

  • Part V – Sound – Sound card installation including ALSA from scratch and media buttons.

  • Part VI – DVD Viewing/Burning – Getting the DVD to use the SATA driver and basic CD/DVD burning overview

  • Part VII – External Peripherals – Getting USB flash drives, cameras and smartcards to work including mounting.

  • Part VIII – Modem

  • Part IX – Docking

  • Appendix – Pretty Pictures!

System Specifications

  • Intel T2500 - Duo Core @ 2.0 Ghz
    Works – Need to build a kernel to use SMP. See Part III - Kernel Configuration

  • 2.00 GB Ram
    Works – Need a custom kernel build to use more than 1GB of Ram. See Part III - Kernel Configuration

  • NIVIDIA Quadro FX2500M with 512M RAM
    Works – Need nvidia module plus configuration file. See Part II - X-Windows Setup

  • Hitachi 100 Gigabyte Hard Drive
    Works – Need to configure kernel to use SATA bus instead of IDE. See Part III - Kernel Configuration

  • TSSTcorp DVD+-RW TS-L532B DVD drive
    Works – Need to configure DVD to use SATA driver. See Part VI – DVD Viewing/Burning

  • Intel 82801GBM (ICH7) SATA Controller
    Works – Need to configure kernel to use SATA. See Part III - Kernel Configuration

  • WUXGA Wide Screen display – 1920x1200 @ 60hz
    Works – Need to insert modelines. See Part II - X-Windows Setup

  • Broadcom Corporation NetXtreme BCM5752 Gigabit Ethernet
    Works – Need to add support in kernel. See Part IV - Networking

  • Intel PRO/Wireless 3945ABG Network Connection
    Works – Need to install Intel module and firmware - See Part IV - Networking

  • Intel HD Audio
    Works – Need to install support through kernel or ALSA downloads. - See Part V Sound

System Overview

To be perfectly honest, I have never owned any other laptops besides Dell. But, that is because I have never had a need to look for any other laptop. I am positive that there are other laptop brands that are just as good as Dell, but I have been satisfied with all my Dell laptops and never have needed to look elsewhere.

This is my first foray into the Precision line-up. So far I am extremely impressed with the Precision line of laptops from Dell. It comes with the same features as the high end Inspiron line and then some. Getting a 512MB card in a laptop was unheard of until just recently. In addition the Precision comes with a dock port as well. This is something that I have been missing on the newer Inspiron models. This things flies as it should based upon the specifications.

Finally, the linux set-up has been about like I would expect. Dell generally uses fairly popular components, so there is not a lot of digging to find drivers, etc. Dell offers zero support for Linux, especially for Slackware. So you are basically on your own, but with so much good information available through a basic web search, you should be able to get anything running with enough effort.


Again, this is basic information for any install of Linux (esp. Slackware). There is a certain order that I have gotten used to for setting up a dual-boot system.

  1. Boot with the Linux disk and repartition the drive. The laptop comes with Windows pre-installed, but a windows installation is pretty straight forward and resizing partitions has always made me a bit nervous.

  2. Install Windows. – I always install Windows first in order to avoid conflicts with Lilo.

  3. Install Linux – Installing Linux after Windows allows LILO to be the boot manager. I have always felt that Linux trys to play nice with other operating systems whereas Windows doesn't so much.

  4. Install Video drivers and get Xwindows working – Working in a graphical environment makes it easier to scroll through long terminal windows, edit files, configure the kernel and just about everything else.

  5. Install latest kernel and configure for your system – There are some huge performance increases that are obtained by using and configuring the latest kernel.

  6. Install Network drivers and get them operational – Up to this point, I either boot into windows for my downloads or use another machine and copy them using a flash drive.

  7. Install other devices and programs – At this point you should have a functional linux system: a fast custom kernel, a beautiful X-Windows display and fully functional network. Now, you can start installing the fun stuff.


This may be a pretty elementary topic for Linux, but I feel that it may be worth mentioning. I have at least 5 partitions that I always have for a linux install. The following is how I split up the 100-gigabyte hard drive on this Precision.

  1. Dell Utility Partition - This is a fairly small partition of about 40Megs. It can come in handy and it is not worth deleting for the space you will gain.

  2. Windows O/S Partition - 50 Gigabytes (50%) – I like to have a fairly large Windows partition. Windows and programs written for Windows generally like to be on the O/S volume. This should be an NTFS partition.

  3. Shared Data Partition - 30 Gigabytes (30%) – Since Linux does not like NTFS and Windows does not recognize anything but NTFS and FAT, this partition is important to make sure that the two operating systems can use the same data. Besides, I always like to have a separation of my programs and data.

  4. Linux Partition - 18 Gigabytes (18%) – The linux partition does not need to be as large as its Windows counterpart in my opinion.

  5. Linux Swap Partition - 2 Gigabytes (2%) – There is some talk about a swap partition not being as necessary these days, especially with 2 gigabytes of ram. But old ways die hard and it is there if it is ever needed.

Slackware Installation

I have been using Slackware for quite some time. It was the first linux distribution that I used and it has filled all of my needs. It strives to remain true to its objectives of maintaining a Unix-like system. Configuration and enhancements are easy (IMO) and quick.

There are other distributions that will auto configure things better, but the Slackware install is very easy. This document can be of use to those using other distributions as well. It is a fairly comprehensive set of documents and most of the items have been set up manually or tweaked to run better.

This document does not cover the actual installation of Slackware. There are other documents that cover this. It is quite straight forward. If anyone is interested in trying out Slackware and I would gladly offer any pointers or help that I can.

  1. There is no sata.s kernel on the Slackware 10.2 disks for whatever reason. To achieve acceptable disk performance, follow the steps for SATA setup below.

  2. My USB mouse did not work at first. It was there after doing a kernel recompile.

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