Debian Lenny on a Dell Latitude D820

Here are a couple of notes on installing Debian testing/lenny on a Dell Latitude D820 laptop. I tried and install Debian etch/stable on it, but there were problems which testing solves (mainly for the wifi ipw3945 driver… so as it was ready in testing…).

Update 2007/07/11 : 2.6.21 has entered testing. I’ve managed to have the following setup working quite well with 2.6.18 in testing, mainly with nvidia proprietary driver and stuff… but nvidia doesn’t work atm with 2.6.21, so you’ll need to use the free nv driver wth that new kernel.


The machine has SATA drive, and came without OS, so I partitioned (first with the FreeDos installer, then in the Debian etch installer) as such :

  • /dev/sda1 : 2 G Windows W95 FAT 32 for the Dell-provided FreeDOS (partition recreated with FreeDOS install tools)
  • /dev/sda2 : reserved space for a future OS maybe ?
  • /dev/sda3 : /boot, as ext3 : 500 M
  • /dev/sda4 : extended partition, containing :
  • /dev/sda5 : /, as ext3 : 1 Gb
  • /dev/sda6 : swap : 2.5 Gb
  • /dev/sda7 : LVM physical volume

The LVM was created with the Debian installer. It allows resizing of partitions later on.

Choice of Debian version

I first installed etch/stable, then after it was installed, upgraded to testing, adding non-free and contrib so that proprietary software could be installed (see bellow).

Wireless lan

I installed ipw3945* for wifi to work, and had to regenerate the 2.0 version of the modules using module-assistant, the version precompiled in stock Debian module packages being v.1.3, I think. The new version seems to work much better with all the network-manager stuff.

The network interfaces are then :

  • eth0 : eth1394 firewire network interface : unused at the moment
  • eth1 : wired interface (tg3 driver)
  • eth2 : wireless interface : more or less managed by the switch on the left side of the laptop… have to figure out how it interfaces with the software daemon monitoring the ipw3945…

X configuration

I also installed the NVidia driver for X so that I’ll be able to redirect VGA output to an external beamer (in principle), and have 3D acceleration to work. It initially worked OK with the free nv driver… and I was glad X was configred allright for the 1680×1050 display (even if the touchpad was too slow, see bellow for fixing that).

To install the nvidia driver, I downloaded the nvidia-kernel-source package from unstable ( 1.0.9755-1) and used module-assistant (see README.Debian in /usr/share/doc/nvidia-kernel-source) to recompile the right version for the 2.6.18 kernel of testing at that time (Update 2008/07/14 : note that I’m now using version 169.12-1 with the 2.6.24 kernel).

Then I changed the contents of /etc/X11/xorg.conf to remove the Load "dri" setting from Section "Module", and changed Driver "nv" by Driver "nvidia" in the Section "Device" (note that the nvidia-xconfig too can do that for you).

I had to dig a little more details in docs made by other fellows who installed their laptops with GNU/Linux, to find the proper settings so that TwinView is activated, which helps to display on external displays. See one of my blog’s posts for the correct settings.

In order to get Compiz to work, I had to install the nvidia tools from unstable as the testing revision (8776) seemed to old to support proper 3D mechanisms needed by compiz (note that Compiz won’t work after Xen is installed, see bellow).

Update 20070914 and 20080123: Note that I changed also my X config to support an external monitor, and then get a very large screen thanks to TwinView. More details here : TwinView on NVidia video card : 2 displays for my laptop


I had to blacklist the PC speaker module, so that the system beep won’t annoy me (it’s damn loud by default). To do so, I added the following line to /etc/modprobe.d/blacklist :

blacklist pcspkr

In order to be able to use the microphone and record sound correctly, I had to configure the options passed to the module snd_hda_intel, according to what is described at :

In /etc/modprobe.d/00alsa :

options snd-hda-intel model=ref

Keys and touchpad

I’m using Gnome, so I configured the Gnome keyboard shortcuts for the volume control extra keys/buttons to work. No problem.

For the touchpad, I configured the synaptics driver in /etc/X11/xorg.conf to add the following in corresponding Section "InputDevice" :

Option “SHMConfig” “true”
Option “HorizScrollDelta” “0”
Option “AccelFactor” “0.1”
Option “MinSpeed” “0.3”
Option “MaxSpeed” “0.9”

(source : …)

CPU scaling

I configured the loading of the cpufreq_userspace and speedstep_centrino modules (added in /etc/modules) and install of powernowd in the hope it helps adapt processor speed to the needs of the actual load… however I’m not sure it’s either needed or working allright (although it doesn’t seem to break anything yet).


This laptop is powerfull enough to support several instances running in Xen in parallel : my main machine’s system for mail, development and such on the first domain, and test platform for forges development on other domains.

Xen seems to work well for the early tests made. Only drawback : 3D is VERY slow if Compiz is running… dunno exactly what happens… anyway, compiz is not mandatory.

Problems still not solved :

Sensors : sensors-detect doesn’t seem to detect much information… needs to be fixed maybe.

Apart from that… all the rest is pretty standard I think… will try to details a bit more later.

11 Responses to Debian Lenny on a Dell Latitude D820

  1. Pingback: WebLog Pro Olivier Berger » New laptop : Latitude D820... Debian lenny works quite well

  2. Update 2007/09/13 : I’ve added dcdbas as the modules loaded at boot time (in /etc/modules), in order to have libsmbios-bin installed, to be able to get network-manager use dellWirelessCtl (see

  3. Also, I should update the installation instruction to explain my new X configuration using Twinview, which enables to work on two different screens : internal DFP and external CRT.

  4. Pingback: WebLog Pro Olivier Berger » TwinView on NVidia video card : 2 displays for my laptop

  5. Olivier Berger says:

    I’ve tried and reinstall the nvidia proprietary X drivers on a collegue of mine who’s running testing too… but it was a pain, since the 2.6.21 kernel is compiled with the GPL only, and prevents mix with the nvidia driver.

    So no way to install nvidia-kernel-source for 2.6.21.

    I’ve checked this howto : , but it seems to be outdated now 🙁

  6. Olivier Berger says:

    Finally, it seems that using the patched nvidia installers available here : help install the driver for 2.6.21.

    Hope this helps and works.

  7. Suspending SEEMS to be working with 2.6.21 on my testing system, when started from the Gnome power manager’s buttons/menus, as long as some little tweaks are applied (USE THIS AT YOUR OWN RISKS):

    in /etc/hibernate/ususpend-ram.conf :

    – uncomment “USuspendRamForce yes” to have s2ram be launched with -f flag : machine is not in supported systems until uswsusp 0.7 hits testing, I think

    – uncomment “USuspendRamVbeSave yes” and “USuspendRamVbePost yes” to reflect the settings which are reported for a latitude D820 in uswsusp 0.7

    Also, it’s necessary to comment some modules in /etc/hibernate/blacklisted-modules : ipw3945 and nvidia (if using them, of course), so that no attempt to unload them is made.

    I have not thouroughly tested this, so it’s just preliminary ideas, that you should test by yourself.

    Hope this helps.

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  9. Doug says:

    Touchpad tweaks work perfectly for me, it was so slow you could hardly use it and the adjustments available in the GUI had little to no effect. Etch 1/2 on D820. Thanks so much for posting this up.

  10. Thanks for the /etc/modprobe.d/00alsa trick! I am using the last Lenny debian version on a Latitude D620 and everything worked out of the box (I had to install the right packages for wifi and multiple screens but it’s alright) apart from the microphone. Now everything works fine.

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