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Ubuntu on Dell Precision: driver problems with easy fixes

Yesterday I installed Ubuntu 10.04 (“Lucid Lynx”) on my brand-new Dell Precision M4500. Not everything went smoothly: I had driver problems that left me with a blank screen and no wireless. There are simple fixes for these problems but Google was only giving me more complicated technical ones. Maybe this post will help someone in a similar situation.

First the blank screen. From these instructions I added the option nomodeset for the install, and that went swimmingly. But of course on normal startup I had the same problem; I don’t even know what nomodeset means, but should I be setting it as a grub option or something? No, the answer is simpler than that: plug in a second (DVI) monitor.1 Assuming that doesn’t have any driver problems, you’ll be able to see what you’re doing and can move on to the next hitch…

Wireless. Without a driver, wireless is completely disabled; the network manager applet doesn’t even see it as turned off, it’s simply absent. Solution: plug in a network cable instead. Duh. (It took quite some time for this blindingly obvious insight to hit.)

So at that point I had internet access and could see the screen. But these aren’t “solutions”, they’re temporary workarounds; from a bit of googling, the next step looks like it’s going to be tracking down drivers, uninstalling and reinstalling packages, and tweaking configuration settings ad nauseum.

Nope. System -> Administration -> Hardward Drivers, it found the missing two correctly, they activated without a hitch, and now I’m good to go (the extra monitor and network cable can go back into storage).


  1. I happen to have one lying around because my previous laptop is a netbook. []


  1. Glad my instructions on getting the blank screen issue was helpful. This issue seems to be affecting a lot of users. It’s really unfortunate it wasn’t caught before the final release.

    Saturday, June 19, 2010 at 7:42 pm | Permalink
  2. tikitu wrote:

    Where are my manners? Thanks for the instructions, as you can see they worked for me!

    Sunday, June 20, 2010 at 8:47 pm | Permalink
  3. tikitu wrote:

    Yeah — it’s great that the driver installation is so smooth, but when the missing ones are monitor and network… tricky. I was just pleased the workarounds were so simple!

    Sunday, June 20, 2010 at 8:45 pm | Permalink
  4. Hey, how about the laptop itself, would you recommend it? I reckon it must be pretty fast, but is it noisy/hot, especially under linux?

    Sunday, June 27, 2010 at 1:08 pm | Permalink
  5. tikitu wrote:

    It is blindingly fast. I got it fairly pimped out (fastest RAM on offer and lots of it, CPU upgrade, solid-state disk, that sort of thing) and when I first installed Ubuntu I was having fun just shutting down and starting up again, it was so quick.

    It gets warm; I wouldn’t want it on my lap. (Tried for five minutes to set up temperature monitoring, failed. Let me know if you want me to try more seriously though.) Damn near silent, with the solid-state disk.

    Now you’ve got me intrigued… I’m gonna install some system monitors and watch next time I load it a bit (I run a virtual server for development, that ought to show what it’s capable of). Any recommendations for (a) good monitoring tools and (b) what to watch for?

    Sunday, June 27, 2010 at 9:25 pm | Permalink
  6. Thanks, I don’t think I need any more radical temperature tests:) I was just thinking about getting another laptop — the one I’m using right now is an HP EliteBook 6930p, and it’s ok, but I have to carry it every day to my office and then back home (it’s the only computer I have now) — and m4500 seems like a nice laptop. I guess your version might be a little too expensive for me, but still it’s good to know that it’s not noisy. Many laptops keep the fan on all the time under linux, and with my two previous laptops (thinkpad t40 and dell latitude d430) noise was a serious issue.

    The only monitoring tool I ever used was sensors-applet. And if you’re not overclocking your CPU or changing fan control algorithms, then I guess you don’t have to worry about anything (some laptops just tend to get a little big hotter than others).

    Sunday, June 27, 2010 at 11:43 pm | Permalink
  7. tikitu wrote:

    Well, now I’m intrigued to find out for myself… and so far not having much success.

    As it happens the fan did turn on for a moment during my investigations; this means I can confirm (a) that usually it’s not running (including under some fairly heavy loading at work), and (b) that when it does run it’s relatively quiet.

    As for price: company money. I wouldn’t have gone for solid-state hd and so on myself, cos I’m cheap… but the speed really is incredible. The trouble is, you can never go back: if I ever have to give this back to them now, I’ll be forced to get something similarly overpowered for myself.

    Monday, June 28, 2010 at 12:35 am | Permalink