Subject: Transmonde Vivante SE--The Ultimate Linux Laptop?
From: mageeol@mail.auburn.edu (Owen L. Magee)
Date: Tue, Jun 2, 1998 10:00 EDT



I know there have been a few questions about using Linux on the new Transmonde (Vivante SE/XL) laptops. I received my Vivante SE a week ago now, and Linux is working great. If you're looking for an inexpensive but really nice Pentium or Pentium-II notebook, where all the pieces are supported (well, except for sound, but that should be fixed pretty soon), then the Transmonde Vivante SE/XL fits the bill. See www.transmonde.com for more information on their laptops. Note that the SE and XL are essentially the same machine--the SE has a 13.3" screen and 2MB video memory, and the XL has a 14.1" screen and 4 MB video memory (and room for an optional internal modem). Both have 1024x768 active matrix displays.

I got the Vivante SE with a Pentium-II 233, 64 MB RAM, 4.1 GB HD, floppy drive, 24X CDROM, 2 MB video memory. I also ordered a Linksys Ethercard, combo 10B2 and 10BT, $70, and a Simple Technologies Communicator 56K modem with SimpleJack, $140, separately. See www.linksys.com and www.simpletech.com for more information on those cards.

Here's the full Linux installation report (note that this is pretty Debian specific--you'll have to adjust for other distributions):

I wiped all the partitions and then remade the suspend-to-disk partition (instructions on doing this were provided, but make sure you do this before making any more partitions!).

I then started the Debian 2.0 (pre-release) install. I made the 7 floppies I needed (boot, driver, and 5 base disks) from another machine. The base install worked flawlessly. I couldn't activate PCMCIA support in the base install though, since it used 3.0.0 of the pcmcia utilities, and the TI 1220 chipset used in the SE wasn't supported until 3.0.1.

So, since I was installing Debian over the net, my first big hurdle was getting my Linksys Ethercard working. I compiled version 3.0.2 of the pcmcia utilities on another machine. I had to answer the config questions in "expert mode", since it couldn't get the answers it needed from the running kernel or a local copy of the configured kernel source, but that really wasn't too hard. I installed those utilities to an alternate directory so that I could tar it up and copy it (via floppy) to the SE. I extracted those utilities onto the SE. I started /etc/init.d/pcmcia to start the card manager. I then ran /etc/init.d/network to configure the network, and gasp it worked, first time! I completed my Debian install without a hitch.

(There's actually a better way to set up the ethernet card with the pcmcia utils, I discovered later. Edit /etc/pcmcia/network.opts with the right info, and the network will be configured when it detects the card--whether at bootup, or when you insert the card. It will unconfigure the network when you remove the card. Spiffy.)

Getting X working was very easy. It's a Chips & Technologies 65555, which is pretty well supported by XFree86. The touchpad is PS/2 compatible. After running xf86config, I edited /etc/X11/XF86Config to remove the 32-bit modes (the display can only handle 16-bit) and to make sure it used the 60 Hz 1024x768 mode (which looks great on the active matrix display). I also edited /etc/X11/xdm/Xservers to make X start in 16-bit mode. Started up X, and it worked. There is a small glitch with the cursor in X, though. I find that sometimes, usually when I close a window, the cursor will disappear, but moving the cursor to another area where the cursor changes, or switching to a text console and back again, will fix it. The XFree86 docs mention the problem (a bug in the hardware cursor), and suggest enabling the software cursor if it is too much of a problem. I haven't tried that yet.

The CDROM works fine. Floppy works fine. The system only gets warm, not hot, so it doesn't get uncomfortable on my lap. The display is great, albeit somewhat brighter at the bottom than the top. That doesn't really bother me, though. There's one dead pixel, but again, I don't find that a problem. I am having a problem with the touchpad, though. Sometimes it gets "stuck"--I can move the pointer but when I lift my finger from the pad, it snaps back to where it was. It generally clears itself up in a few seconds, but it is annoying. I'll have to call Transmonde about that, I suppose (I just don't want to give this thing up! :) . But, when the touchpad is working right, it works well. I like it a lot more than I thought I would. With practice, I've gotten almost as good with it as with a mouse.

I also got the modem working in Linux, and that worked with no problems. I just plugged it in, the card manager created the /dev/modem link for me, and I started the PPP connection. No problem.

I've yet to get sound working in Linux, but I haven't tried very hard, either. The SE uses the ESS Maestro-2 sound card. I might try loadlin from Win95 (after the sound card has been set up for Sound Blaster Pro compatibility) and see if the sound driver will work then, but it's not a big priority, especially since a beta OSS/Linux driver should be out pretty soon for the ESS Maestro-2, anyway.

Suspending the machine in Linux works (both from the console and from X). That's a really nice feature. Why don't desktops come with that?

I can't really comment on the battery life yet, since I usually run it off the cord, but I hear it gets about 3 - 3.5 hours under Win95.

Oh, and I reinstalled Win95 twice for the location of the drivers for every driver I installed and...>

If you've never heard of Transmonde and that worries you, then take a look at previous posts about Transmonde (try a Dejanews search). I've yet to find a single unsatisfied user. Their tech support is not 24-hour, but I hear that they are very responsive and knowledgeable when you call. I also hear that if they need to service your laptop under warranty, they'll have it back to you within 2-3 days (and will pay shipping both ways).

Well, I guess that's about it. Sorry about the length of this message, but I figured that the people who were interested in this would want lots of details, and those who aren't would just ignore it.

Have fun...

Owen


Owen Magee mageeol@mail.auburn.edu
Division of University Computing
Auburn University