Installing Slackware 9.1 on a Sony Vaio Picturebook C1XS

19th January 2004

I had Slackware 9.0 on my laptop and it was good. Practically everything worked. I learned a little about the Alan Cox patches to the Linux kernel to help laptops get the most out of the batteries. I tried that with the 2.4.18 kernel that came with Slackware 9.0, but there wasn't a lot of help for the CPU that came with my laptop.

When Slackware 9.1 came out, and it had better support for my Sony P92 digital camera, and then the 2.6.0 kernel came out with better support for the Memory Stick Pro cards, I was under pressure to upgrade the laptop to Slackware 9.1 and then get the 2.6.0 kernel on. Oops, suddenly we're up to the 2.6.1 kernel. I delayed and delayed because it had been such a struggle to get anything going on the laptop in the first place.

But one weekend, I had nothing better to do so I attempted to install Slackware 9.1. I followed the notes I made for creating a custom Slackware 9.0 installation cdrom and adapted them to Slackware 9.1.

This time, when I was adding the pcmcia data into initrd.img, there wasn't enough room. I experimented with a few things and eventually deleted the xfs and reiserfs utilities from /sbin, as I use ext3 and not xfs or reiserfs. With those files deleted, that gave me plenty of room.

The custom cdrom would boot fine, but the right pcmcia modules for the Sony PCMCIA cdrom drive would not get loaded. I tracked this down and found that the ide-cs module could not be found. It sure couldn't. It had been removed from the boot cdrom and pcmcia disk. I tracked it down on my desktop installation in the original installed /lib/modules/2.4.22 directories, but it had been compressed and stored in kernel/drivers/ide/legacy. I added this to the initrd.img for the custom boot cdrom, and updated the modules.dep to include it, its location, and its dependencies. By this time, I was up to my seventh burned custom cdrom and getting a bit frustrated. I reached the stage where it would find the ide-cs module, load it, then the CPU would race, the fan would fire up, and the machine would lock up tight. I couldn't get past that.

My next attempt was to try Knoppix and see if I could modify the partitions and add the boot cdrom contents to a small partition and do the installation from there. Knoppix couldn't recognise the PCMCIA cdrom drive, couldn't access its cdrom, and didn't have enough loaded to even use modprobe. That ideas was dead.

In frustration, I decided to do something I hadn't done in a long time - upgrade a Slackware installation. I had tried an upgrade sometime back in 1994 or 1995 and had a nasty experience and had shied away from upgrades ever since. But the Slackware newsgroup had regular reports of successful upgrades so I thought it was time I tried it again. I dug out my Slackware 9.0 custom installation cdrom for the laptop and installed Slackware 9.0 on it. That worked fine. It was easy and successful. Then I followed the instructions in UPGRADE.TXT found on the root directory of the Slackware 9.1 installation cdrom and I upgraded my system. It worked beautifully. Great success. Except when I did the reboot, the PCMCIA card manager kicked in, it loaded the ide-cs module, the CPU raced off, the fan fired up, and the machine locked up tight. This was exactly the same behaviour I had experienced with the ide-cs module during my attempts at 9.1 installation.

I removed the PCMCIA cdrom and rebooted and it rebooted without incident. I suspect that the ide-cs module is not correctly compiled, or it's a new version with bugs, or a new version that doesn't support my cdrom drive. I'll reserve judgement on that till I finish some experiments.

The basic Slackware 9.1 installation has the 2.4.22 kernel. That recognises my camera, but not the new memory Stick PRO cards, so I needed to upgrade to the 2.6 kernel. Slackware 9.1 is 2.6 kernel ready, which means that you can drop the kernel into place, recompile and install and it should work. It does.

I downloaded the 2.6.1 kernel from www.kernel.org, compiled and installed it. It rebooted fine. Wireless networking worked fine without any extra code needed. Last time, I downloaded orinoco stuff that I didn't really need to download, but I was pretty ignorant back then. This time, I located all the Hermes modules while doing "make menuconfig", and compiled and installed them. And the network card was recognised immediately and worked without any hitches at all.

USB was just as easy. It works, recognises the camera and the Memory Stick PRO cards. This was strange because I couldn't make the 2.6.1 kernel work with USB and the camera on my desktops, but I can on the laptop. On my desktops, I had to revert back to kernel 2.6.0.

I noticed when I run dmesg, that the kernel recognises that it's a Sony laptop, and it recognises the built-in camera and a few other things. Interesting. I haven't taken it further, but I have the capture program working fine, and taking photos. There are more options in the kernel for CPU frequency scaling, but I'm still slowly learning that stuff. Doesn't look like there's much for the CPU in his laptop, so that might be a dead end.

So far, the laptop is almost perfectly useful again. I won't be doing much more fiddling with it, just using it, although without the CDROM. That's my only problem - the CDROM. To use it, I need the ide-cs module, and that just doesn't work with the PCMCIA CDROM any more. I'll wait and see if a later kernel will fix that issue.

[Linux]