Linux on a Sony Vaio 505gx

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original in en Chris Dibona 

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Chris DiBona is the Vice President of the Silicon Valley Linux User's Group. He Has been everything from a busboy to a network consultant. He works for VA Research, a Linux Company based in Mountain View.

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As I'm crusing at about 510 mph, I am surrounded by technology. I am at 33,000 feet in seat 17c in an Airbus A-320. Hanging below the overhead compartments are 22 small lcd video screens showing a TV show with none other than Fred Savage. The movie that was showing before we began to be subjected to Mr. Savage's latest televised exploits was Six Days, Seven nights with Anne Heche and Han Solo. The interesting part about this is that the movie's plot is essentially based on a crash landing during a storm. So, I'm on a plane watching planes crash on the in flight movie? I am in a surreal world all my own. But I digress.

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The Sony 505gx

I am composing this article on my new laptop, a Sony 505gx, the laptop that weighs in at 3 pounds and has a 2 gb hard drive, 32 mb of ram (expands to 96) and a beautiful, if small, 10.4 inch 800x600 display and one of those trackpad thingy mouse pads. I am using vi. Under Linux.

Let me tell you, nothing makes you feel all techy than running the windowmaker windowmanager at 30k feet, while compiling a kernel. The only thing that I haven't gotten running is the sound, so I decided to just compile it in. The sony has the ESS sound chip on board, and since I've had good luck on other laptops with just pretending the ESS is a sound blaster 16, that is what I am attempting to do now.

Let me tell you, nothing makes you feel all techy than running the windowmaker windowmanager at 30k feet, while compiling a kernel.

Previously, I had recompiled for the pentium processor (this version of the sony laptop has the 200 mHz mmx) and for APM (power management) which worked wonderfully. The video chipset is the Neomagic 128xd, with 2 mb of video ram. The XBF_Neomagic driver works well with this chipset, but unfortunatly performs poorly when xspringies is run, but I am not sure that this is the drivers fault, as xanim works great as does other high frame rate productivity applications like xjewel and others.

The reason I picked up the sony is because of it's small szie, but of course that means that if you are used to the spacious keyboard of a desktop or full size laptop, you are in for a not terrifically horrible surprise. The laptop also only has 1 pcmcia slot and no docking station option, although it comes with a spiffy port replicator. The battery, which is nestled in the hinge, has a rated life of 2 hours, which I suspect is correct, under normal use, so if you are just mousing around and using vim or something, you will experience good battery life. But a kernel compile or two will reduce battery life rather quickly.

A common option, and one that I chose to purchase as I am a slave to fashion, is the cdrom that matches the laptop. This cdrom drive , unfortunately only works under ac power, which sucks, however I'm considering making a cable that draws power from the USB (useless serial bus) and converts the 5 volts to 6 volts that the CD player requires, which should effectively kill battery life. So does a kernel build or two though... but heck, that's what batteries are for. Speaking of which, my build is complete, so I'm going to reboot now and see if the sound settings took, hold on...

...but at least they now know how Linus pronounces Linux.

Yes! I have sound now, much to the chagrin of the person sitting next to me, but at least they now know how Linus pronounces Linux. I'm going to post my .config, xf86config, and for that matter my tweaked out kernel to my website, (see resources, below). All in all, this laptop is one that I reccomend completely. It is truly a wonder of engineering and with it's anodized magnesium case with purple highlights, just looks completely rocking. As I mentioned before, the laptop comes with 32 mb of onboard ram (expands to 96!) and a 2 gb hard drive. The only problem is the notebook's setup is in windows, so I had to leave a partition with a legacy operating system (from a small company in portland or seattle or something) on it. Also, the Vaio CD player is incompatible with Linux, well, so far anyway. I hope to be able to tweak it into working order soon, the PCMCIA card that came with it appears to be an ATA interface, so it hopefully woun't be too hard to pull it off. This laptop sells on the street for about $1800, or about $200 less than what I paid.

See you at ALS!


For Sony configs and other stuff...
For Linux Activities in the Silicon Valley
Uh...for the manufacturer of the plane