John Heidemann / Other Stuff / Free Unix / Free Unix on Sony PCG-505

We have several Sony PCG-505 laptops (model FX) at ISI.

General impressions: it seems to run Unix (Linux, FreeBSD) quite well. As a machine the weight is quite nice (<4 lbs.). If you don’t mind the slightly small keyboard and 800x600 screen it’s a fine laptop for Unix. The disk seems a little slow, but I haven’t run detailed tests.

Update as of July 2000: I used the 505FX model for several years very happily. Pros: light weight and small size, pretty sturdy, good Linux support, self-upgrade of the hard disk is pretty easy. Cons: Sony technical support is bad (you can’t by parts, you have to ship the machine back for anything and it always seems to take multiple weeks), the port dongle is annoying if often need video output.

Machine stats for the PCG-505FX model: Pentium 266MHz, 64MB memory, ~4GB disk, video chipset Neomagic, audio is Soundblaster compatible, includes an internal V.90 modem.

The floppy disk is external via a custom cable. Most standard IO ports (serial, parallel, VGA) are also external via a dongle. i.Link (firewire), USB, audio in and out, IR, and one PCCard slot are all internal.

Disclaimer: PC models change very quickly, what’s on this page may not have bearing on later models. I describe the Sony Vaio 505 SR7K model on another page as well.


RedHat Linux 5.2 (kernel 2.0.36) boots and installs out of the box. I did the install from a remote CD-ROM via NFS and an PCCard ethernet adapator. (Installation time is ~30 minutes for most packages, apparently disk-bound.)

I don’t know about installing directly off of the PCCard CD-ROM, but another person reported that RedHat will boot from the ATA PCCard, but it is not supported by the RedHat install procedure. It does work once Linux is up and running, though, he said. Presumably it would work with the right boot diskette—suggestions are welcome.

I repartitioned the FAT32 disk with FIPS 2.0 (distributed with RedHat Linux) without trouble. Linux seems to read/write the FAT32 partition without trouble.

For video, I used RedHat/Precision Insight’s XFCom-neomagic (from The standard XFree86 SVGA driver works but with lower resolution/color depth. XFCom-neomagic includes an XF86Config file which is very nice (given the level of black magic present in modelines).

Update (25-Jul-00): in more recent versions of RedHat (certainly as of 6.2) the out of the box SVGA driver works at full 16bpp, 800x600 (my current XF86Config).

For audio I got the stats out of Windows (check the Sony icon under the control pannel). It gives IO address/IRQ/DMA info for use under DOS; they also work under Windows. I presume RedHat’s modular sound would work if I fed it these values, but I built a new kernel since I had to anyway for. It looks like audio is only half duplex.

The touchpad is a PS/2-compatible mouse. I don’t know how to use it in “stylus” mode, but would like to—hint are welcome. I asked Sony’s web site for technical documentation to no avail.

For power management I had to build a new kernel and modules (I don’t know how to get APM working under RedHat without doing this, which is a shame). There’s a 100MB disk partition with id 0xa0 which I presume is for save-to-disk. I left it alone and both suspend and save-to-disk (called hybernation in the Sony docs) work fine under Linux.

My kernel configuration (/usr/src/linux/.config) with sound and APM.

I didn’t install lilo; I’ve had better luck booting through Windows with a config.sys menu. YMMV.

The modem works for me, usually. Sometimes it appears to be dead. Others have reported this problem, but I haven’t seen it narrowed down yet (to something like a suspend/resume or configuration problem).

I haven’t tried to IR, iLink port, or the USB port under Linux.


Another person at ISI has FreeBSD running on his box. Basically the experience was similar to as described above for linux. For X he runs a Xi graphics’ commercial server Xaccel with Neomagic support. His FreeBSD kernel configuration is available.

For sound, his comments are that full-duplex support in the chipset immediately prior to the one in the Sony is available, but the driver needs modification for the new chipset. (I’ll post more information when he/I know more.)



Other Random Notes

Finding the right case for this computer is not as easy as you might think—the computer’s so small. Two suggestions: the Kensignton Wetsuit 3.0 should be a neoprene shell to wrap the case. Unfortunately, it’s not clear that it’s made any more. I ended up going with a Targus digital camera case (model DC-02). The case is a good fit for the 505 except that it’s so narrow.

Another case suggestion from a reader:

WRT your comment about the carrying case I found one I think is pretty neat. It is from They can custom make them for your laptop with whatever pockets you want for about $30. It is mostly neoprene and mine has a handle on the side.

John Stracke recommended Sony’s case if price is less of a concern:

Note that Sony sells a case designed for the 505 series. It’s expensive–$149–but it looks to be pretty well-designed: it comes with minicases for the various components (e.g., port replicator), and the inner surface is lined with Velcro to hold the minicases in place. I haven’t bought one yet, though.

Some pointers

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