TuxMobil - Linux on Laptops, Notebooks, PDAs and Mobile Phones

Advent 7041 / Medion MD 40676

Pentium-M ProcessorIntel 855PM ChipsetnVidia GeForce FX Go 5200Realtek AC'97 AudioIntel PRO/Wireless LAN 2100 3BRealtek RTL8139 Fast Ethernet NICPCtel AC'97 ModemSynaptics TouchpadIntel USB 2.0Texas Instruments OHCI Compliant IEEE-1394 FirewireNational Semicondutor HP HDSL-1100/2100 FIR IrDATexas Instruments PCI-4150 CardBus

The Advent 7041 is a re-branded version of the Medion MD 40676 laptop, and is available in the UK from PC World. The machine itself identifies its subsystem as being made by Mitac and would appear to be the same as their 8080B model. Compared to other machines from PC World, the Advent range offer better value for money than more well known brands like HP, Sony and Toshiba.

The machine has a 1500 MHz Intel® Pentium-M processor with 512 MB of DDR333/PC2700 RAM, a 40 GB hard drive, a CD-RW/DVD-ROM combo, a 15.3" widescreen TFT display driven by a 64 MB nVidia GeForce FX Go 5200 graphics on a Mitac 8060B motherboard. All in all this adds up to a pretty powerful machine. The jewel in the crown is the Intel i855PN (Centrino) chipset, providing onboard 801.11b WiFi. There are also built-in 10/100 Base-T Ethernet, 56K modem, Firewire, USB 2.0, PCMCIA, parallel, IrDA, SVGA and S-Video ports. And it all weighs in at 1199.99 GBP.

On the downside, there is no floppy (but a USB floppy drive will only set you back 30 GBP and can be used as a boot device), there are no PS/2 ports, so it's just as well that USB mice are now prevalent, and there is no serial port either!

First Impressions
The machine is slim, but has a rather larger than usual footprint due to the widescreen display, capable of up to 1280 x 854. The case is an attractive metallic silver, but the white keys take a little getting used to, but they are at least somewhere near the size of a normal keyboard, again thanks to that footprint.

The pre-installed Windows XP Home (SP1) is properly configured, and all the devices work as they should. The only real niggle here is that you are supplied with a "Rescue Disk", rather than an official Window XP disk. This means that should you want to re-install the machine, it will revert to the original disk layout of a single 40 GB NTFS partition! I personally object to this, as for the price I would expect to get the original media so that I can do what I like with it. The other drawback is that you must go to PC World for technical support and their special support website for driver updates - these are way behind the manufacturers and you may never get that critical driver update if you rely soley upon the provided support. The only problem is that they will refuse to support you if you install drivers from other sources than themselves (or Windows Update)!!!

The real nitty gritty is whether or not this machine will run Linux, and the short answer is yes! There were no problems booting a variety of live distributions, though some worked better than others. For the time being, I do not want to re-partition the disk, so I have stuck with live distros and used a CompactFlash card for permanent storage (as there is no way to safely write to the NTFS partition). This has meant that I have been limited to using a pre-compiled kernel, but apart from the Wireless LAN, this has not been a problem.

Intel® Pentium-M® 1500 MHz with 512 MB RAM
The Pentium-M is a new mobile Pentium chip, designed for low power consumption, but with performance somewhere between a Pentium III and a Pentium 4. It features Intel SpeedStep® technology, which allows the processor to throttle back in a number of increments to 600 MHz (the lowest increment) and in doing so lower its power consumption by two-thirds! It also features a quad- pumped 100 MHz system bus giving a staggering 3.2 GB/sec transfer rate! It features SSE-2 extensions (which includes MMX and SSE-1), which boosts the performance of some appliactions.

The RAM appears to be two banks of 256 MB generic DDR333 (PC2700) SO-DIMM RAM, giving a total of 512 MB (that's half a Gigabyte!!!). Looking at the specs for the i855PN chipset, it looks like it might be possible to upgrade this to DDR400 RAM, but probably at quite considerable expense!

Intel® 855PM (Odem) Chipset
The i855PM chipset pairs the Intel 82855PM Memory Controller Hub (MCH) Northbridge with the Intel 82801DBM I/O Controller Hub (ICH4-M) Southbridge. The 82855PM MCH (593 uFCBGA) contains the Host and AGP 2.0 (x4) controllers, whilst the 82801DBM ICH4-M (421 BGA) contains 3 USB Hubs, an LPC (ISA) bridge and USB 2.0, I/O, IDE, SMBus, AC'97 Audio and AC'97 Modem Controllers.

In addition to this is also an Intel PRO/Wireless Network connection, which is part of the Intel Centrino chipset.

Packaged along with all this is a Texas Instruments PCI-4150 CardBus Controller and a Texas Instruments OHCI Compliant IEEE-1394 FireWire Controller.

nVidia GeForce FX Go 5200
This is a truely excellant card, and with 64 MB of RAM you can drive even the highest resolution external monitor. The card supports dual-headed output, so you can display one destop on the built-in TFT display and another on either an external monitor or television set (via the S-Video/Composite out). Under Windows this work well, though the configuration of a second display is rater fiddly and takes some getting used to. I had some problems updating the video drivers with the latest ones from nVidia - for some reason the card is not listed in the install file, and instead you have to pick the nearest card for the list (in this case the nVidia GeForce FX 5200 without the Go!), but once installed the driver recognises the card for what it is - a nicer solution is to add the Go device to the driver .inf file, but this is a bit naughty.

The newer drivers provided a better interface to controlling two displays. One disappointment was that the TV-Out is not yet capable of widescreen output, which means that you have two different shaped displays! Both PC ServiceCall and Medion have yet to issue any driver updates, so this is the only way to get the goodies that nVidia are including in their latest drivers.

I tested the card using 3D Mark 2001 SE (free version), and it managed scores of 7035 when run at 1024 x 768 x 32 and a slightly lower 5913 when run at the maximum resolution of 1280 x 854 x 32. The graphics themselves were breath-taking.

  01:00.0 VGA controller: nVidia Corporation NV34M [GeForce FX Go 5200]
          Subsystem: Mitac: Unknown device 8160

          Class 0300: 10de:0324 (rev a1) Subsystem: 1071:8160

Under Linux, things varied from distro to distro. Knoppix came out on top and would drive the display using the nv driver at 1152 x 864 in 24-bit colour. This left a black band at either side of the screen, but was as near to filling it as I could get. Linux, it seems, has yet to learn about widescreen displays. Other live distros failed to detect the card properly and resorted to the vesa driver. When using an installed distro (as opposed to a live one), it would be preferable to use the nVidia drivers, as these will make much better use of the hardware.

Intel/Realtek AC'97 Audio Controller
Whilst not overly exciting, the sound card provides stereo sound through two small built-in speakers. Recording is possible via a small microphone just behind the lid catch. There are also line-in, line-out and microphone jacks on the front of the machine. Windows provides some fairly sophisticated tuning of the sound output to match whatever speakers you are using (this is particularly useful when using the built-in speakers, which don't have the same range as exernal speakers).

Behind the AC'97 Controller lies an Advance Logic ALC202 Audio Codec (id ALG64). This is a fairly basic 2 channel Codec, but oddly seems to provide S/PDIF output, even though there is no socket on the machine to get at it!

  00:1f.5 Multimedia audio: Intel Corp. 82801DB/DBM (ICH4/4M) AC'97 Audio Ctlr
          Subsystem: Mitac: Unknown device 8160

          Class 0401: 8086:24c5 (rev 03) Subsystem: 1071:8160

There was no problem getting the sound working under Linux, as it uses the i810_audio and ac97_codec modules, though the default volume level is almost to faint to hear!

The Intel IDE controller is setup with the internal hard drive as the Primary Master and the internal DVD-ROM/CD-RW as the Secondary Master, making full use of both channels. As it is not possible to add extra drives, this really is the best possible combination for performance.

  00:1f.1 IDE interface: Intel Corp. 82801DBM (ICH4) Ultra ATA Storage Ctlr
          Subsystem: Mitac: Unknown device 8160

          Class 0101: 8086:24ca (rev 03) Subsystem: 1071:8160

The standard 2.5" hard drive with an unformatted capacity of 40 GB. This is decent enough amount of storage for any laptop, but as it is an UDMA/100 (ATA-5) drive running at 5400 RPM it is unlikely to set any speed records. Still, provided that the machine doesn't start swapping, it is more than adequate. One really stupid thing is that the drive comes partitioned as a single 40GB NTFS partition. This has two downsides, firstly there is no option of either putting your data in one partition and Windows in the other, or using part of the disk to install Linux. Secondly, NTFS is best treated as Read-Only from Linux, so you need some other way of transferring data between a Live-CD distro (like Knoppix) and Windows.

There is also an QSI SBW-242 24x8x24x10 CD-RW/DVD-ROM drive, allowing CDs to be burnt whilst on the move. This is very useful for backing up any data as well as playing the latest DVD movies in glorious widescreen!

Intel PRO/Wireless LAN 2100 3B Mini PCI Adapter
This is one of the most important parts of the Centrino chipset, and it provides 801.11b wireless LAN with a maximum speed of 11 Mbs. Under Windows the device works very well, to the point that you actually forget that you are connect to a network. One minor niggle is that with the particular Wireless Access Point I had chosen (a D-Link DWL-2000AP) the connection kept falling back to 5.5 Mbs - changing the configuration to use the maximum transmit power helped, but it still fell back occasionally.

I did try an updated set of drivers, emailed to me by Medion support (they do not seem to be available through their website), and this had a marginal improvement, the main benefit bein better a monitoring app. I the discovered that, after a policy change, the latest set of drivers are not available direct from Intel are these are much better. These drivers are available from Intel and the board's homepage contains some other useful info and tools.

I have since upgraded my access point to provide WPA, applied XP Service Pack 2 and started using the upgraded wireless drivers from Intel, I noe get a slightly less reliable connection than when I was initially using plain old WEP and the original drivers and access point firmware.

  02:01.0 Network ctlr: Intel Corp. PRO/Wireless LAN 2100 3B Mini PCI Adapter
          Subsystem: Intel Corp.: Unknown device 2527

          Class 0280: 8086:1043 (rev 04) Subsystem: 8086:2527

There are problems with this device under Linux. There are a number of ways to go, but unfortunately the one which is likely to be the most reliable is still under heavy development! This is the Intel sponsored ipw2100 open source driver, and when it is finished, it will definitely be the best route to take. As it is an being developed in conjunction with Intel, it is progressing rapidly and should make its way into the Kernel tree before long (Knoppix 3.4 already ships version 0.41 with the 2.4.26 kernel). The driver can be compiled both inside the kernel source tree and outside, but as it's difficult to re-compile the Kernel of a live distro, I had to go with the external option, and the Makefile needed some work to make it compile using only the kernel headers provided with Knoppix. Even up to version 0.45 of the driver I still can't establish a connection with WEP enabled, so this is not a fantastic option at the moment.

The later incarnations of this driver 0.55 onwards do not support 2.4 kernels, however there are some patches available to allow you to do this. 0.55 purports to support WPA, but I have not had the chance to try this. Recently this driver when to 1.0 status, so it is pretty much complete, but I have some work to do in setting up a WPA connection.

I also tried the NdisWrapper route, which basically takes the Windows driver and makes it run under Linux by emulating the Microsoft NDIS (Network Device Interfacing System) API. This almost works, in that I can detect my network, but I have not managed to establish a connection to it! Again, I suspect that this might be down to my mandatory use of encryption.

RealTek RTL8139 PCI Fast Ethernet NIC
This is a bog standard 10/100 Mbs Ethernet connection through an RJ45 connector on the rear of the machine.

  02:02.0 Ethernet controller: Realtek Semiconductor Co., Ltd. RTL-8139/C/C+
          Subsystem: Mitac: Unknown device 8160

          Class 0200: 10ec:8139 (rev 10) Subsystem: 1071:8160

Under both Windows and Linux this works like any other network connection, with Linux using the 8139too module.

Intel/PCtel AC'97 Modem Controller
Under Windows this is referred to as a PCtel HSP56 M-8060B Data/Fax modem, and uses drivers from PCtel. I have not used it much, but it seems to work just fine.

  00:1f.6 Modem: Intel Corp. 82801DB/DBM (ICH4/4M) AC'97 Modem Controller
          Subsystem: Mitac: Unknown device 8160

          Class 0703: 8086:24c6 (rev 03) Subsystem: 1071:8160

This is an AC'97 (or MC'97 if you prefer) modem, which uses a PCtel Codec (actually an Si3036 or 3038 made by Silicon Laboratories with id SIL33). Althrough quite definitely a WinModem, it is a well known Codec and there are drivers available. Either the pctel or SmartLink slmodem drivers can be used, both of which contain some proprietry code.

I had problems with the SmartLink driver locking up the machine, and initially the pctel driver would not recognise my controller. It turns out that the i855PM chipset incorporates a newer version of the 82801 chip, which contains pretty much the same modem controller as the i810 and i820 chipsets already supported by the pctel driver. All that was needed to make the pctel driver work was to add the PCI ID of the new controller. This new pctel-0.9.7-9-rht-4c driver is available from the Linmodems site.

Note that the pctel is only compatible with 2.4 kernels. A 2.6 version is being worked on, but due to the closed-source nature of the drivers, progress is slow, and ir currently only supports the pct789 PCI models.

It is possible to use the SmartLink drivers and a 2.6 kernel with some AMR modems (that go via an AC'97 controller), provided you stick to version 2.9.9 or earlier (2.9.10 contains a clause in the licence agreement that prevents you using it legally with a non-SmartLink modem). All the earlier slmodem drivers are available from the Linmodems site. Note there a currently some issues with the 2.6.10 kernel in that you need to hack the code to fool it into thinking that the module is GPL'ed.

More information about this modem and other PCTel modems is given on a separate page dedicated to PCTel Modems.

Synaptics Touchpad
Windows comes with some quite sophisticated software for managing the touchpad, and whilst tapping, tap zones, scrolling and the like are all very useful, they are not critical to make the touchpad work. It functions all the time, event when there is a mouse plugged in, and is really annoying unless you turn tapping off, as if you catch it accidentally you can finish up with mouse- clicks at the most inopportune moments!

Under Linux the touchpad is seen as a PS/2 mouse, and there isn't really anything you can do to configure it. Still, it works, so you can use the machine with or without a mouse. Knoppix left the touchpad enabled, even when it detected the mouse, so you are free to unplug/re-plug the mouse at any time.

USB Connectivity
An interesting feature of modern machines (especially laptops) is the absence of any PS/2 ports. This machine has a total of three USB 2.0 ports, all on the rear of the machine. They seem to work well under Windows XP Home, and have none of the problems of the machine hanging when you plug in a new device that I have with my other Windows machine (which runs XP Pro).

As the machine doesn't have a floppy drive, I purchased a cheap USB floppy drive which the BIOS is smart enough to recognize as a boot device. It can also be plugged in whilst the machine is running, and Windows identifies it and adds A: to the list of drives.

  00:1d.0 USB Controller: Intel Corp. 82801DB/DBM (ICH4/4M) USB UHCI #1 Ctlr
  00:1d.1 USB Controller: Intel Corp. 82801DB/DBM (ICH4/4M) USB UHCI #2 Ctlr
  00:1d.2 USB Controller: Intel Corp. 82801DB/DBM (ICH4/4M) USB UHCI #3 Ctlr
          Subsystem: Mitac: Unknown device 8160

          Class 0c03: 8086:24c2 (rev 03) Subsystem: 1071:8160
          Class 0c03: 8086:24c4 (rev 03) Subsystem: 1071:8160
          Class 0c03: 8086:24c7 (rev 03) Subsystem: 1071:8160

    00:1d.7 USB Controller: Intel Corp. 82801DB/DBM (ICH4/4M) USB2 EHCI Ctlr
          Subsystem: Mitac: Unknown device 8160

          Class 0c03: 8086:24cd (rev 03) Subsystem: 1071:8160

Linux supports USB 2.0 quite happily using the usb-uhci module. USB devices can be hotplugged as you would expect, and my Belkin mini-optical mouse was detected and used by Knoppix at boot, in addition to the touchpad.

Firewire Connectivity
An additional feature, which may prove useful in the future, is the provision of a Firewire port, controlled by a Texas Instruments OHCI Compliant IEEE-1394 FireWire Controller. As I have no Firewire devices, I have no means of testing this. Windows does however show a 1394 Connection under Network Connections in the Control Panel.

  02:03.1 FireWire (IEEE 1394): Texas Instruments PCI4510 IEEE-1394 Controller
          Subsystem: Mitac: Unknown device 8160

          Class 0c00: 104c:8029 Subsystem: 1071:8160

Knoppix does not detect the Firewire controller, but it is supported by the ohci1394 module. Apart for a message indicating that the driver loaded successfully and found a controller, I can't comment on its performance.

Fast Infrared Port
There is an IrDA Fast Infrared Port on the side of the machine next to the PCMCIA slot. This appears to be a National Semiconductor device, an HP HDSL-1100/2100 and is supported natively by Window XP Home.

The device also works under Linux. The SIR part appears as a 16550A UART serial port appears as ttyS0. The FIR part is note detected by Knoppix, but uses the nsc-ircc driver, and detects the device with a little assitance. It needs to be told the address of the I/O base (which is 0x2f8).

As there is so much on-board, there doesn't seem to be much left that you might want to add, but there is a token PCMCIA/CardBus slot for you to do so. This is controlled by a Texas Instruments PCI-4150 CardBus Controller, and allows cards to be hot-swapped under Windows. I have a CompactFlash Adapater than conveniently allows CF cards to be read as though they were just another disk drive, and this can be ejected and re-inserted without breaking Windows.

  02:03.0 CardBus bridge: Texas Instruments PCI4510 PC Card Cardbus Ctlr

          Class 0607: 104c:ac44 (rev 02)

Linux Kernel Card Services also detects the CardBus Controller and loads ide-cs in response to the CF Adapter, so that it shows up as another IDE device, and can be accessed like any other drive.

Support for Advent branded machines is only available through PC ServiceCall and this machine is listed here Medion however provide updates for the same machine here.

The machine is provided with a Recovery Disk rather than an official Windows XP Home disk. This means that should you have to re-install the machine, then it will likely take over the entire disk again, even if you have re-partioned it yourself. Personally, for the money we pay for machines like this, I would have expected a proper XP CD, however this supposedly promotes piracy of Microsoft's crappy OS. It also gives us very little control over what is and what isn't installed on your machine. Long live Linux!