Linux Mint on a Dell Latitude D630 Laptop (Nvidia Graphics, Wireless and Review)

This blog post is about installing the Linux Mint distribution on a Dell Latitude D630 laptop. More specifically this post provides details about setting up the graphics, wireless and provides a review.

Dell Latitude D630 Laptop

Introduction

My D630 had remained broken since late August 2012 due to a graphics display problem with the onboard Nvidia chip. I decided one last time to try and repair it, and to my shock it has been resurrected. Dell D630 LaptopI wasn’t sure if the computer would last long, and I wasn’t going to try and repair it for a third time. So this wasn’t going to be used as a workhorse, but for mucking around with technology and trying out a linux operating system.

 

So what to do with an old laptop?

I didn’t want to use Microsoft Windows Vista (what had previously been installed) with the laptop, but instead try out the latest version of Linux Mint (version 16 Cinnamon Edition), a popular linux operating system. Linux MintThis OS should definitely be viewed as a good alternative to Windows, especially if you don’t require bespoke Windows software.

 

Installation

I thought the install of the OS had gone without a hitch, until I realised the wireless adapter wasn’t working and the graphics looked slightly washed out. Though for once, a linux OS was perfectly fitting the screen dimensions and was running at a high resolution, without configuration!

 

Update the system.

Once installed I didn’t waste any time in updating the system, even though I had installed with an internet connection.

  1. Hook the laptop up to an internet connection ‘securely’ via an ethernet cable.

  2. Run the ‘Update Manager’ and install any new updates.Linux Mint Update Manager

  3. Reboot and run the update manager again.

Getting the wireless working.

Turned out I had two issues: Firstly I had jammed the wireless adapter ‘switch’ when putting the laptop back together and secondly I needed to select a driver.Dell D630 Wireless SwitchBelow is a photo after I had unjammed the switch (my fault!).

D630 Wireless Switch

Once I had taken the laptop apart (again) and fixed the issue, it was easy to configure and connect to my WPA2 network.Dell D630 Wireless Light

The ‘Driver Manager’ was calling the ‘broadcom corporation bcm4312’ device a ‘Wireless 1395 WLAN Mini-Card’.

D630 Broadcom Linux Wireless Driver

I selected the ‘bcmwl-kernel-source’ via the ‘Driver Manager’ and it works fine.

 

Ethernet / Wireless notes:

  • If the ‘WiFi’ light on the laptop isn’t on, try pressing the psychical switch on the side of the laptop.

  • You can toggle between an ethernet and wireless connection.Linux Mint Wireless

  • You are able to connect to hidden networks.

  • You can set the laptop as a ‘hotspot’.

  • It supports WPA2 Personal and Enterprise as well as WEP.

  • There is an ‘aeroplane mode’.Linux Mint Networking

  • You don’t need to unplug the ethernet (lan) cable to use the wireless.

Troubleshooting a wireless problem.

It took me a while to realise I had made a mistake when putting my laptop back together (trying to fix a D630 Nvidia problem), and I had jammed the wireless adapter switch in the ‘off’ position.

Dell D630 Wireless block listIf you open a terminal window you can check the status of the adapter, as shown in the screenshot. The ‘rfkill list’ command will display the status. If there is a ‘soft block’ try typing rfkill unblock X, with X being the adapter number.

 

If you see a ‘hard block’ on the brcmwl-0, then try pressing the wireless switch on the side of the D630 and rebooting. I think there can be other reasons for a hard block, but alas I’ve not experienced those issues.

 

If you are unsure if you are running the same wireless adapter as me then type lspci -nn into a terminal window to show your devices.

 

Network share issue.

Yet again I experience a problem with a network share! This time I couldn’t paste / write files to a shared directory on a NAS box. I tried both Nemo and Nautilus, but in the end using ‘pyNeighbourhood’ solved the problem.

Linux Mint Network Paste Write Error

The error I was experience was ‘Error while coping… There was an erro copying the file into smb://… Show more details’.

 

So not a hardware issue, but a configuration problem, and I’m sure a solution exists for Nemo and Nautilus, but after a five minutes I gave up to look again another time.

 

Setting up the Quadro NVS 135M graphics.

For some reason the ‘recommended’ graphics driver for the NVIDIA Corporation: G68M (Quadro NVS 135M) was not selected. All you need to do is run the ‘Driver Manager’, select the ‘recommended’ option, which in my instance was the ‘nvidia-319’ and select apply.

 

Update: Unsure if it is a hardware or driver issue, but I’ve reverted back to the ‘xserver-xorg-video-nouveau’. I had performed some more system updates, but it also could be the dreaded D630 Nvidia hardware problem is coming back to haunt me!

Dell D630 Nvidia Graphics Driver

Using an external monitor via the vga connection works either as a dual or standalone display. Just press ‘FN-f8’ to cycle through the modes.

 

Review of Linux Mint 16 on a Dell D630.

I’m writing this in May 2014 and it makes the old laptop almost feel like new! The system is responsive, boots up around the same time my Vista system did, and shouldn’t be too hard for a MS Windows person to use. Firefox, LibreOffice and Thunderbird are already installed which many Apple and Windows users will be familiar with.Linux Mint LibreOffice

The only headache I’ve experience OS wise is the networking, but unfortunately by the time I’ve got around to concluding this blog post, the NVIDIA graphics chip issues on the D630 has hit me again. So it is time to say goodbye to this laptop, which is a shame. I will keep the CPU, HD and RAM, and perhaps a few other bits as well.

 

As for Linux Mint, it is a serious contender to replace my main computer’s OS. My primary PC is actually a Dell D620. So perhaps a blog post about this linux OS and the D620 will appear here one day!

Linux Mint Software ManagerIf you got fed up of the Unity hassle with Ubuntu, or are thinking about leaving MS Windows, or just thinking about a chance, this operating system is a good contender, as long as you understand the limitations of a non-Windows environment and expect a few tech headaches from time to time.

 

Probably the easiest linux OS on a laptop I’ve experienced.

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