Free Unix on Sony PCG-505-SR7K

I purchased an SR7K model in July 2000 based on my generally good experiences with Sony's 505FX model.

General impressions: I really liked my 505FX's size and compatibility. With the SR7K I still really like the size, but compatibility isn't as good (Linux USB isn't there yet).

Pros:

  • slight weight (about 3 pounds) and small size
  • good disk and CPU for the current crop of laptops (12GB disk, 600MHz CPU)
  • dongle for VGA is much smaller than on the old 505s

Cons:

  • the external CD-ROM is way overpriced ($350 at this time, IMHO it's worth about $100)
  • the built-in modem is a Winmodem not supported by Linux (can someone explain to me what the "win" is... is it really just that they have $5 off their price?)
  • no parallel, serial ports
  • USB floppy drive
  • have to pay for Windows 2000

Machine stats for the PCG-505-SR7K model: Pentium-II 600MHz, 192MB memory, ~12GB disk, Neomagic video chipset, audio is tbd, internal Winmodem. BIOS is Award 6.0, version R0203D0/RK203D0.

Disclaimer: PC models change very quickly, what's on this page may not have bearing on later models. YMMV. (For example, a friend of mine has a more recent model that's basically identical, except that some function keys like monitor settings are now handled in software rather than BIOS and so don't work under Linux. Sigh.)

I started with info from Kianusch's SR1K page. (Thanks!)

Linux

I've successfully run RedHat Linux 6.2, 7.0, and 7.1 on this box as described below.

Installation: I installed RedHat 6.2 Linux out of the box from the CD-ROM without any troubles. The only magic is to boot the CD-ROM, use the parameter "ide1=0x180,0x360" at the boot prompt. (I used "text ide1=0x180,0x360" to do a text install. Using "linux ide1=0x180,0x360" should allow a graphical install, but it didn't work for me.)

RedHat 7.1 does not require this boot-time parameter to install (although the Redhat 7.1 beta doesn't install at all, see bug 28310).

For people without CD-ROMs, you can also install over the network (I've done this before and it works very well), and I'm told it will boot from the USB floppy (I haven't tested this).

I erased Windows 2000 so I don't have advice about resizing the disk.

For video I used the standard SVGA server (XFree 3.3.6). I started with Kianusch's XF86Config for the SR1K, but modified it for the (ahem) US keyboard, getting my XF86Config.

Since then I upgraded to RedHat 7.0 (beta) and then 7.0 (final). I'm now running XFree86 4.0.1 with this XF86Config-4. Mandrake reports that 4.0.1 requires patches to work properly, but that the current development version (post-4.0.1) of XFree86-4 works well. I found that the hardware cursor support does not work after a suspend and resume, so my XF86Config-4 uses software cursor support.

I haven't gotten audio up yet. Kianusch's recommends the ALSA drivers. Linuxnewbie has a step-by-guide to building these drivers. I have multiple reports that they work fine, but my software config is not quite right. When I can I'll post details here.

The touchpad is a PS/2-compatible mouse of type "Alps".

Basic power management works out of the box on Linux-2.2 (RedHat 6.2 and 7.0). The Windows 2000 configuration did hibernation to a disk file in Windows, so that will be broken. I hope to try saving to a disk partition (like in the old 505s) but haven't tried yet.

I had very mixed reactions using APM (suspend/resume) on RedHat 7.1. My first work was on a system upgraded from 6.2 to 7.0 to 7.1; on that system suspend/resume did not work on RedHat 7.1 with APM and the linux-2.4 kernel (see bug 37694). After some amount of trying things (i.e., with and without realmode and allow-ints), I was never able to get power management working reliably on this system (RedHat 7.1 version of the Linux-2.4.2 kernel), either with APM or ACPI. Under APM I found that frequently (but not always) the machine would hang when unsupending). With ACPI the machine wouldn't suspend in the first place. >(By contrast, Mandrake reported good results with the pre-2.4 test kernels. ACPI works there, and USB. I'm interested in hearing about better results of power management with the 2.4 kernels.)

On the other hand, when I did a fresh install of RedHat 7.1 on a new disk, things now seem to work fine. YMMV. (The only other difference is that my old system used only swap files, not swap paritions.)

The kernel I'm starting with is RedHat's (currently 2.2.16). This will have to change to add support for USB and probably the audio drivers. Sigh... it's been nice to not have to build kernels for a couple of years. Fortunately RedHat 7.0 includes the USB backport. External USB mice and keyboards work for me (after modprobing hid, keybdev, mousedev manually. (Note: for USB to initiliaze properly, make sure "Use plug-and-play OS" is set OFF in the BIOS. Otherwise inmod'ing uhci will fail with the message "no IRQ set".)

I spent some time trying to get the USB floppy to work. I was hoping that in redhat 7.0 beta it would just work---this doesn't seem to be the case. Kianusch describes how to add USB support using the backport, although only for the mouse. On the other hand, Mandrake reports no problems with the floppy, other than you have to by-hand do "modprobe usb-storage" to get it started. YMMV.

The memory stick reader is recognized as a USB device, but I didn't try getting it to work. (My digital camera doesn't use propritary Sony hardware.) A driver may be in the works for this from VA Linux.

(As an alternative to the floppy drive and the memory stick, I personally use a SmartMedia flash memory with a PCCard adaptor. For about $100 you get something that's much bigger than a floppy disk and that can share files with any other laptop with a PCCard slot.)

The modem is a "win"modem (a Conexant SoftK56) and doesn't work under Linux (as of 2000). I purchased a PCCard modem which seems to work fine.

(Update: as of 8-Aug-01, Imran Ghory has a page that talks about Linux support (see redrival or hobbiton). I haven't tried it, but let me know if it works for you.)

I didn't try the jog dial. I hoped it would be a USB keyboard-like thing, Mandrake reports that it's a PCI device that maybe he'll do a driver for (yea!).

  • Update: as of 12-Mar-01, Takaya Kinjo has a proposed driver. This works great with the 2.4 kernel! I've added an application to his work that turns the dial into a scroll wheel.

  • Update: as of 28-Aug-01, a different implementation of Sony's Programmable I/O Control Device is available from Alcove Labs (see also this post to linux-kernel). They say their version is in the Linux kernel 2.4.7. I haven't tried it yet, but it's worty looking at.

I haven't tried firewire, but Mandrake reports that it works fine in Linux-2.4 (no backport to 2.2, though). Kevin Wang suggests looking at the Sourceforge IEEE 1394 for Linux pages (although it says only some Sony Vaio's work).

FreeBSD

I got some mail (details) from a FreeBSD user reporting good results (floppy, sound work), although with suprising X problems.

Other Random Notes

My comments about finding cases for these small laptops mostly still apply. This time I got a Targus DC03 digitial camera case (fits great, much cheaper than Sony's case).

Upgrading the Hard Disk

If there's one tautology about computer hardware, it's that disks are always 95% full. A year after getting my SR7K I decided I needed to upgrade the hard disk from 12GB to the new 30GB models. The good news is that this is reasonably easy.

Instructions:

  1. Buy a new hard disk. I got the Toshiba 2.5" (width), 9.5mm (height), 30GB disk model MK3017GAP. This model is externally identical to the drive Sony shipped in my laptop (a Toshiba 12GB model MK1214GAP).
  2. Back up your files! (You have been warned.)
  3. Open the laptop by undoing 6 of the 7 screws marked with arrows on the bottom of the case. (Undo the 6 closest to the track pad.)
  4. Carefully lift off the top of the silver front of the laptop (the part connected to the track pad). (The keyboard will stay fixed.) Underneath will be components for the memory stick, the jog dial, the hard disk, and other stuff. The track pad is part of what lifts off. It has a flexible connector to the rest of the components. If you're careful you can move the top without removing the connector (if it comes off, just stick it back carefully).
  5. The old hard drive will be sitting on the right, attached with one screw (in the top right) and one flexible connector (on the middle left). Remove the top right screw, and slip the drive out. The flexible connector will bend enough to get the drive perpendicular to the chassis. Then carefully remove the hard disk connector (the black female part should stay on the flexible connector, the gold pins on the back on the drive should come out).
  6. The old drive has two mounting rails on the long sides, each attached by screws. These hold the drive in place in Sony's chassis. Remove them and transfer them to the new drive.
  7. Attach the new drive (with rails) to the connector.
  8. Lower the new drive into place and re-attach the screw to lock it in.
  9. Replace the silver track pad and cover and reattach the six screws.
  10. Reinstall your OS (say, from CD-ROM) and restore your data. (With Linux this should be easy; with Windows you're on your own.)

I apologize that there are no pictures. I basically followed the procedure I used from my old 505G as described elsewhere, with pictures. That web site is down now, but I saved a copy as gzip'ed postscript.

Some pointers