Averatec 3250H1 and Linux

So, it’s payday, and I’m wandering through BJ’s (a local warehouse club) buying a few bulk staples when my eyes lit upon an Averatec 3250H1 laptop. And what’s this? Price reduced? $750? Let’s just say it followed me home and I decided to keep it. Besides, it’s my birthday. Anyway, what I really wanted it for was a nice Linux laptop, so I took it home and got started.

Getting Started

On getting it home, the first step was to fire it up. Microsoft Windows XP Home Edition came preinstalled, so I let that boot up just to see how the display looked. When it came around to asking me to accept the end user license agreement, I clicked “No, I do not accept” with a bit of glee and let it shutdown the system. I then tossed in a Knoppix CD and booted up Linux on it. Knoppix found all the hardware except the 802.11g, so I did some quick research and found that the wireless was an RaLink chipset that was supported by NDISWrapper and a native linux driver. Anyway, here’s a list of the hardware in the box (with links to linux drivers where appropriate):

  • 802.11g – RaLink Tech 2500, uses native drivers or NDISWrapper. I’m currently using the NDISWrapper drivers as they were a bit easier to set up, but I plan to test the native drivers as well. Apparently, the native drivers have recently been released under the GPL, which is good news. There’s also another group working on open source drivers for this chipset. One quirk with the NDISWrapper (may also apply to the native driver, but I’ve not tried them yet), if the wireless is turned off (the button next to the power switch), when the drivers try to load, the card will not associate with an AP (even after turning the wireless on). You’ll have to turn on the wireless, unload NDISWrapper, then reload it for things to work. This is mostly a nuisance because the BIOS turns off the wireless when coming out of suspend.
  • Modem – Smart Link, it appears to work, however, I’ve not a lot of use for a modem, so I can’t say how well it performs.
  • Display – 1024×768 Via KM400. The framebuffer X drivers work well, as does VESA. I’ve not gotten to getting accelerated X going yet.
  • Touchpad – Synaptics, the linked driver even makes use of the scroll areas along the bottom and right sides of the pad (buttons 4,5,6 and 7).

The remaining hardware is pretty straightforward stuff and won’t cause any problems in the install. The sound is supported by the kernel ALSA drivers for the VIA chipset, PCMCIA is handled by Yenta and the USB ports, the EHCI drivers.

Basic System

I did a full on, start from a bare hard drive, compile it all yourself, Gentoo install using a minimal install CD. This kept me out of trouble for the evening. I did set up distcc and use a couple of other machines to help out with the compilation. In any case, after a couple of hours, I was able to boot my new install from the hard drive. At which point I ran into my first problem, the default Gentoo kernel (which I was using out of laziness), uses vesafb-tng, a new version of the framebuffer code. This apparently has problems with the chipset used in the Averatec. I switched back to the plain old vesafb driver and all was right with the world, the system booted, I got the penguin logo and we were off and running.

Power Management

There had to be a skunk in the works somewhere, and here it is. The ACPI support has a few issues. Specifically, suspending to memory doesn’t seem to work correctly at all. The system appears to suspend, but when you restart it, it does a cold boot. Not at all what you want. The good news is that the software suspend built into the Gentoo 2.6 kernel works quite well, so you can suspend to disk just fine. You will have to add “pci=routeirq” to your kernel command line, however. If you don’t, you’ll find that the USB ports fail to work after a resume. I also recommend going into the BIOS and running both the fan and battery training programs. The fan training reduces the fan speed and makes it much quieter. It only takes about ten minutes to run. The battery training on the other hand, takes several hours to run, but when it’s complete, gives you a more accurate power gauge.

*Update 2005-01-25: I switched to kernel 2.6.11-rc2 and was able to remove the pci=routeirq kernel parameter. Also, I added the swsusp2 kernel patch and hibernate script to the system. This allows me to hibernate to disk quite cleanly. I set the hibernate configuration to use ACPI suspend to memory mode instead of power off. There’s a bug in the ACPI implementation that causes it to do a hard reboot on power up, which is ok, as we’re suspending to disk anyway. It has the advantage of restoring the wireless state (on/off) and blinks the power light, letting you know you’ve suspended.

Conclusion

All in all, I’m very happy with the system. I’ve gotten all the hardware working with minimal fuss and it seems rock steady. I still need to play with ACPI events some so that it will suspend correctly when I close the lid or press the power switch. I also want to try to get some accelerated drivers for X working and the native wireless drivers. But in the meantime, I’ve got myself a nice, lightweight laptop for well under $1000 that plays well with Linux. Can’t hardly beat that.

27 thoughts on “Averatec 3250H1 and Linux”

  1. I have been wanting to get a cheap computer that I could setup Linux on. I have several versions of Linux, but alao no spare system to play with. 🙁

    Nice blog by the way! Keep up the good work!

  2. I’ve not really tried to run it continuously to see how long it will go. Using laptop mode in linux, though, I’ve gotten about 2.5 – 3 hours out of it (with the wifi running). However, that’s interrupted time, i.e, work or surf a bit, put it to sleep (using software suspend 2), wake it up, surf some more, etc. Continuous use might be a bit longer, as I’m sure boot up is more battery intensive than just sitting idle.

  3. Jim: I enjoyed your info on how to get Linux up and running on the Averatec 3250H1. I’m a long-time PC user (since CP-M in the 70’s), but very new to Linux. I’ve been looking for a good low-end notebook that would be fairly Linux compatible, and your page has convinced me to go with the Averatec unit. Walmart is currently selling it at $797, with list price at around $1330.

    I plan to go with either Linspire 5.0 or Xandros 3, mainly because I’m just not familiar enough with Linux yet, frankly afraid of the command line at this point, and the above two versions look to me to be my best bet to get up and running with something more like Windows. After I’ve learned Linux a bit, I can always move to a different distro.

    Any advice before I proceed? Incidentally, I’ve been a Christian since 1974 and enjoyed your links and personal witness.

    Regards,

    Mark

  4. I’ve been quite happy with my Averatec. Sufficiently so that I bought a second one for my sister. On the linux front, I suggest you take a look at Ubuntu as well as the other two, it’s also debian based and has good support for hardware. The only items you might have problems with are the modem and the wireless card, both have readily available drivers though and aren’t too difficult to set up.

    jim

  5. Jim:

    I’ll check out Ubuntu as well. May I ask where you purchased the 2nd Averatek and what you paid for it. Just curious if there is a better deal out there than Walmart.

    Thanks for the advice.

    Mark

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  7. I also own the same laptop and am a big linux user on my other pc’s. I’ve never put linux on a laptop before, and battery life is the highest priority to me with this machine. I know you’ve touched on this issue above, but how would you rate your battery life on linux, particularly is it better/worse/same than the windows xp intstall that comes with the averatec?

    Thanks,
    joe

  8. I’ve never actually run xp on the box. I wiped the hard drive clean without starting windows, so I don’t know what the battery life is. I know I can get about 2-3 hours under linux using laptop mode and the wireless network.

    See this post for some updated information.

  9. Being Linux-curious, I want to play around with it on my model 3250. I successfully get Knoppix to boot, but as you state, my wireless card is useless. I don’t know enough about Linux to get the correct driver installed, etc, so I was wondering if you have a short tutorial on how to go about it? It would be greatly appreciated.

  10. The easiest way to get the wireless working is using ndis-wrapper, which requires that you download the correct windows drivers for the rt2500 card and install them. There’s a specific version of the windows driver that works best, try googling for “ndiswrapper rt2500” and see what comes up. I use the native rt2500 drivers under gentoo. They seem to work ok, but don’t play well with the standard gentoo configuration tools (iwconfig doesn’t seem to work reliably yet).

  11. Ok, here’s what I’ve got so far. I downloaded the ralink rt2500 Windows drivers (from ralink.com), unzipped them to c: under Windows. Boot Knoppix. Go to shell. Knoppix appears to mount c: as hda1 automatically, so I skip that. Ndiswrapper appears to already be installed with Knoppix, so I skip that. ndiswrapper -i /hda1/wl54driver2.2.6.0/win2k/rt2500.inf … I verify it loads with ndiswrapper -l, but that’s where I get stuck. iwconfig doesn’t seem to do anything, claims no wireless devices (or something like that). What am I doing wrong?

  12. I got mine yesterday. My 3250 is working fine, got Gentoo up without booting Windows, took off the Windows badge and maybe I can get a Linux one from somewhere 🙂 The via graphics driver works fine, dvds playback nicely except the screen is not as vivid as my high quality CRT go figure.

    I still need to get suspend working, networking to -not- dhcp timeout if I’m mobile, and ACPI’s thermal zone doesn’t tell me the temp (it’s always at 0 C, not quite accurate). Any hints?

    Also I’ve got distccd working so my desktop can help out with compiling. Gentoo — out of trouble for the afternoon, evening, late night, oh boy.

  13. For suspend, I highly recommend the swsuspend2 patch set. On the networking front, I just created some small scripts to let me use sudo to start and stop the various interfaces (I switch between wired and wireless fairly often). In gentoo, I do recommend using the RT2500 drivers, they’re in portage and work pretty well. I add a little preup script for net.ra0 that calls the config program for it, that lets me select the profile and access point I plan to use. I’ve played with the ACPI stuff a little bit, but decided it really wasn’t worth the effort. I run the powernow daemon (also in portage) to manage the processor speed and I’ve set things up to run laptop-mode when on batteries. I can usually get about 3 hours out of the battery. Oh, and you can get gentoo case badges from the gentoo site..

  14. i was just surfing for ways to put linux on my averatec 3250. thanks for the advice and here is a piece of information that a bunch of people seem to be wanting. i get about 2-2.5 hours of straight use from my laptop with the wifi on.

  15. I’ve had ok luck with the via dri drivers in xorg. I can play back clips just fine and DVDs seem to work ok (as long as I make sure there’s not a lot of background stuff going on). I don’t watch much fullscreen stuff though, so I can’t speak to that.

    jim

  16. I’ve got the averatec 3250hx01… did a gentoo install from scratch. I’ve got pretty much everything up and running, except for sleep states and framebuffer… i’m wondering about the vesafb. I’ve followed pretty much everything i can find in the forums about setting up this… but everything seems to point to the vesafb-tng configs nowadays – so i’ve really no help. Can you post your grub.conf kernel line so i know exactly what i’m looking for, as to the vesafb settings… this is what i’m sitting on so far… which is a blank screen (unless i uncomment out the vga=0x318):
    kernel (hd0,5)/kernel-2.6.12-gentoo-r8_self root=/dev/hda7 vga=0x318 video=vesafb:mtrr,ywrap splash=verbose,theme:livecd-2005.1 CONSOLE=/dev/tty1
    initrd (hd0,5)/splash-livecd-2005.1-1024×768
    I’m basically trying mimic the livecd, just to get a good understanding on how framebuffer works, since loading off the minimal livecd loads framebuffer just fine . I’ve got splashutils loaded, and followed all the gentoo-newsletter info from april that stated how to get the theme running, so that should be ready for me. Any help you can send my way would be very helpful… thanks.

  17. title=Gentoo Linux
    root (hd0,1)
    kernel /vmlinuz root=/dev/hda3 udev vga=791 splash=silent resume2=swap:/dev/hda5

    is what i’m using for grub to boot. But I’m also not using the fancy splashutils and what not. I’m just going with text.

  18. I thought I would post this to help someone else. Just installed Fedora Core 4 on my AV3250H1 and the display wouldn’t work. I ended up doing a text based install and then using Knoppix to copy over the Monitor and Display sections from the Knoppix XConfig-4 file to the XConfig file in the /etc directory. Don’t know if this is the best or correct way of doing it, but it works.

  19. My opinion is that if it works, it’s a correct way of doing it :> I’ve found that knoppix does have much better video detection than many of the other distros, so grabbing the config from there makes good sense.

  20. Just installed Ubuntu ‘Breezy’ RC1 onto my AV3250H1 and almost everything works out of the box. The ra0 wireless driver is included in the kernel, hibernate works – but i don’t think sleep does – I haven’t had the time to look into it.

    It’s sweet that a very nice distro like Ubuntu installs 95% ok on this laptop. And for the guy asking about battery life in linux – YMMV but I think the battery last just a little bit longer in windows – probably due to the fact that it probably sleeps deeper windows than just screen blank in linux (I think?)

  21. A little late to the party, I know, but another major advantage to Linux on this is the cooling and battery power. When I’m running Windows on it it overheats in about 5 minutes unless the bottom is completely clear (basically sitting upside-down … not very useful) and prone to shutting down when using the cd-rom. Linux has much better CPU management which has practically made the overheat problem non-existent, and also keeps the battery lasting longer due to less demand (accidently left it unplugged, but on with the lid closed, came back about 4 hours later and it still had plenty of juice)

  22. has anyone tried fedora core6 on this laptop, i was thinking of doing so? do u think it’s a good idea?
    thx

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