Redhat Linux 6.2 on a Dell Inspiron 3800


Suggestions on buying your Dell Inspiron 3800

Installing Linux

I used Redhat 6.2, if anyone has comments for any other distributions, pipe up, and I'll include them. Whatever distribution you're using, make sure it has XFree86 version 3.3.6 or above (needed for the graphic's chipset support), or you'll have to update the X server yourself.

Redhat 6.2 (from CD)

Configuring Sound

There are at least four ways to get sound to work on this laptop (I expect most people will be going with option 1):
  1. [new] Zach Brown has coded a free (beer and speech) OSS compatible driver for the ESS Maestro 3i. This driver is included in the 2.2.19 and 2.4.3 kernels, so just upgrade your kernel and you'll have native support for this chipset. I personally use this driver, and it works great, even with suspends. The sound quality of this driver should be the same as the 4front Technologies driver.

  2. The ESS Maestro 3i can be run in Sound Blaster Pro compatibility mode. Be warned, that the sound in compatibility mode is fairly terrible (8 bit at 22 KHz), and is suggested only the masochistic. You can either run the Dell supplied ESS files under Windows, and then use a loadlin method to boot into Linux. The alternative way, figured out by Peter Englmaier and described here, uses the Dell supplied ESS files and dosemu. The alternative method has the advantage of not needing windows and it still works after waking up from a suspend.

  3. 4front Technologies provides a native Linux driver for the ESS Maestro 3i. This is a non-free product, however a free demo version is supplied which will run for 20 minutes every time it's loaded up (and can be reloaded indefinitely). The sound quality from this driver is far better then that provided by the Sound Blaster Pro compatibility mode.

  4. [new] ALSA now includes support for the Maestro 3i through the 'maestro3' ALSA driver. This appears to be fairly stable, and since ALSA provides OSS emulation, it should prove much of the same functionality as the preceeding driver (#3). Graham Steel has a good page explaining how to get ALSA working on your Inspiron 3800.

Other Things on the Laptop

X Problems

If you're having problems setting up X, check out Stephen Hsieh's web page regarding setting up Dell Laptop X servers. James Carter's Linux/Inspiron 3800 web page is also extremely useful.

Running SuperProbe on my machine results in:

First video: Super-VGA
        Chipset: ATI Rage Mobility (Port Probed)
        Memory: 8192 Kbytes
        RAMDAC: ATI Mach64 integrated 15/16/24/32-bit DAC w/clock
                (with 6-bit wide lookup tables (or in 6-bit mode))
                (programmable for 6/8-bit wide lookup tables)
        Attached graphics coprocessor:
                Chipset: ATI Mach64
                Memory: 8192 Kbytes
An often report problem is "dancing" vertical lines on the right side of the screen, which is especially prominant with dark backgrounds. I've only seen this problem in 24bit/32bit color depths, however some people have noticed this problem in 8/16 bit color depths also. There are three ways around this problem.


I ordered a Linksys EtherFast 10/100 Cardbus PC Card (PCMPC200) mainly because Linksys appears to support Linux to some degree. This card worked correctly out of the box on a Redhat 6.2 install (after setting up networking, of course). If you run into problems, check out their web page, they have some comments on setting up their card to work under Linux.

Ethernet issues with the Port Replicator Ethernet/PCMCIA Ethernet

Bob Carragher's notes on getting this to work correctly.


I've heard reports of great success with the "Xircom Realport Cardbus 10/100 + 56k Modem", and the "Linksys EtherFast 10/100 + 56k PC Card". I still haven't gotten around to buying a modem yet myself, however.

Tuning the Harddrive

You should be getting somewhere around 13 MB/sec transfer rates on your harddrive. If you want to check this, try the following command as root on an unloaded system:
      /sbin/hdparm -t /dev/hda
You can get some useful info on your harddrive with the following command:
      /sbin/hdparm -i /dev/hda
I had no problem with my harddrive (IBM DJNA-371350 4GB). Peter Englmaier reported unsatisfactory performance on his machine (hardrive is a Fujitusu MHK2060AT 6GB), and found the following hdparm settings would bring his harddrive up to speed (he's using noflushd to spin down his harddrive).
       hdparm -qS0qm16qd1qX67qu1qk1 /dev/hda   
To make his system always use these settings, he modified the following four lines:
  1. /etc/sysconfig/apmd: (the RESUME line is bogus, the script checks only for non-zero value).
    HDPARM_AT_SUSPEND="-q -X0 -q -c0 -q -d0 -q -u0 -q -S0"
    HDPARM_AT_RESUME="-q -X66 -q -c1 -q -d1 -q -u1 -q -S30 -q -m16 -q -k1"
  2. /etc/sysconfig/apm-scripts/apm-script:
                      # If HDPARM_AT_RESUME is set, the user has a broken disk.
                      # We'd better wake it up manually. :/
    # ppe: changed the wakeup procedure
                      if test "x$HDPARM_AT_RESUME" != "x"; then
                            for i in /proc/ide/hd*; do
                                    DRIVE=/dev/`echo $i |sed -e "s,.*/,,g"`
                                    if test "x`cat $i/media`" = "xdisk"; then
                                            hdparm -q -S0 $DRIVE
  3. /etc/rc.d/rc.sysinit: (this is only to speed up the fsck)
    # Fix console loglevel
    /bin/dmesg -n $LOGLEVEL
    #ppe: speed up drive
    action "Running hdparm" hdparm -qS0qm16qd1qX67qu1qk0 /dev/hda
    # Mount /proc (done here so volume labels can work with fsck)
  4. /etc/rc.d/rc.serial:
    hdparm -qS0qm16qd1qX67qu1qk1 /dev/hda

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with help from: Bob Carragher, Ryan Shepperd, Peter Englmaier, J. Joshua Feng, Ryan (from Javien), Graham Steel, etc.

last modified 2001.04.12