My Life With Bill

A week and a half ago my work machine, a Thinkpad I bought used, took a dive.  Within about 5 minutes after boot it would freeze up and the screen would go all wonky.  This was in Linux, not just the Ubuntu install I had there but also some CD-based Linuces I tried.  Wasn’t the memory — I tried pulling out each of the two memory sticks one by one, and it did the same thing.  Must be the mobo or something.  Lost cause.

So as soon as I could afford it I got the cheapest laptop Best Buy could offer — a Gateway MX3215.  I like it a lot.

I decided that I wanted to make this a primarily Windows machine, and do my development in Windows to the degree that I could.  (I develop cross-platform stuff using the WxWidgets toolkit.)

So I’ve got my Firefox, my Thunderbird, my OpenOffice, all the cool Free Software I can find for Windows.  Cool stuff.  Got Perl and Python installed, and wxPerl and wxPython.  Got the Ruby installer ready to run.

It’s funny, being back on Windows after being in Linux and MacOS for so long. It’s kind of unfamiliar territory, but there’s a freeing feeling in running the OS that everybody and his dog runs.  Just one more Windows user amidst the multitudes. Oh, sure, I’d like it if I could instead have picked up a new iBook or PowerBook or one of those newfangled MacBooks, but you know, there’s something nice about being on windows.  Oh sure, I had to reboot and reboot and reboot and reboot as I installed this and that and the other thing.  There are downsides.  But I don’t have to bang my head against the wall trying to get Linux to deal intelligently with the more subtle hardware “issues” on the machine, like sleep mode.  It’s not nearly as smooth and elegant as OS X, but I know that I could pick up a $20 webcam at the drugstore and it would actually work on this thing.

Maybe I should check out some of these “video games” I keep hearing about.

13 thoughts on “My Life With Bill”

  1. Yeah, I’m sure you could still find a copy of Hexen somewhere…

    Ahhh! There’s a chicken on my head!!

  2. Hi, I found your blog by Googling for MX3215. I bought one a couple of weeks ago for $549 also and am trying to replace the 256 MB module with a 1 GB module, but I can’t get the thing to power up with the 1 GB stick. Have you tried to replace or upgrade your RAM yet? If so, drop me a line.

  3. I upgraded it to 512 and it Just Worked… I haven’t tried a gig module, so I’m not sure if there are any special challenges there.

  4. What issues? This laptop is absolutely perfect under Linux! Well, except for inexplicably not hearing any sound, the backlight not coming back on when resuming, and the internal wireless simply refusing to work with ndiswrapper or anything else.

    The sound one is an easy, if strange, fix: Open the volume control, and make sure “External Amplifier” is muted; everything else should not be muted. Told you it was strange.

    I’m not certain about the backlight failing to turn back on when the system resumes. I know, however, that the system is resuming okay from S3 sleep other than that.

    And the internal wireless not working is really pissing me off. At this point I’m not sure whether it will require a kernel patch or a BIOS update, but I’m leaning toward buggy ACPI implementation, and therefore BIOS update, at this point.

    Oh, and I completely forgot about getting X to work at 1280×768. It ended up taking five minutes and a two-line change to xorg.conf.

  5. Half-Life, man. Not HL2–I don’t think that’ll run on what you bought–but you can most likely pick up a copy of HL1 for $20 or less. Well worth the investment. Hell of a lot of fun. I got it for Xmas in 1998, and I still play it.

  6. I’ve never dared try the S3 sleep thing on it. I had accidentally discovered the sound fix you mention, Michael.

    Right now, Windows is good enough for me.

  7. found your site thru google… trying to get debian and xfree86 to behave on the mx3215 i just got.

    just a thought… make sure you have the ram advertised… both windows and linux tell me i have 192mb… so i’ll be phoning BB here soon. jerkfaces.

    but ya… i can’t get it to accept anything but the vesa driver @800X600. not cool.

    good luck if you ever try to dual boot.

  8. Ubuntu installed flawlessly for me, Jim. It is a dual boot machine, I just mostly use the windows side. Try ubuntu. It’s like Debian without the piss poor attitude! ;)

  9. More updates on the Gateway MX3215:

    The latest versions of xorg will do 1280×768 just fine, but the configuration tools all seem to try to set things up at 1280×800. So you still have to edit the xorg.conf and change it from 1280×800 to 1280×768 (in two places), or you have 32 pixel rows off the bottom of the screen.

    I still have no idea on why the backlight doesn’t come back on when resuming from suspend.

    I got the built in wireless working with ndiswrapper, and it also works with the bcm43xx driver in the very newest bleeding edge kernels.

    Jim, you do have 256MB in the machine, but the memory is shared with the video hardware, and it’s set to 64MB (usually far too much) by default. Go into the BIOS and change it down to 16MB.

    But the #1 thing that is pissing me off on this laptop is Fn-F2 killing the wireless radio. Once that happens, I have to reboot before I can re-associate. I’d love to have a way to disable this key combo.

  10. OK, I spoke too soon. I did indeed find the fix for the screen staying blank when resuming. Edit /etc/acpi/events/video.conf (or create it):

    event=video.*
    action=/usr/sbin/vbetool dpms on

    Fixed it for me.

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