Frederik Questier

Ubuntu 10.4 Lucid Lynx on Sony Vaio VPCZ11X9E

by Frederik Questier on Apr.26, 2010, under HowTos

Installing Ubuntu Linux is most often a piece of cake. Not so it seems on Sony latest laptop, the Vaio VPC-Z11-X9E. It’s a wonderful machine, with many new advanced features, but some of the design options seem to be made with only MS Windows in mind (e.g. advanced EFI Bios is crippled towards the end-user and the switch between the 2 GPU’s is badly designed or documented.) That made it a bit of an adventure to get Ubuntu installed. As I am one of the first ones that succeeded, I share my experiences. However I could never have finished this without inspiration from the brightest people, mainly active in the Sony Vaio Z-series Laptop group.
I hope installing Ubuntu will also be easy on this laptop in a few weeks or months. If you can’t wait and love a technical adventure, read on…

Vaio VPC Z11

So how did I get Linux running on the Sony Vaio VPCZ11X9E with most basic features working, including nvidia driven graphics at 1600×900?

All Linux distributions and versions I tried (Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Debian, Mint, Fedora) have a failing installation in someway on this (very new) laptop. The newer distributions fail on the graphics (blank screen, except Kubuntu 8.10). The older versions fail to enable the WiFi. All need a little help for the touchpad. Some distributions can’t handle the RAID disk (2×64GB SSD). So I deleted the RAID config (in BIOS enable ‘Show Raidinfo’ and use the delete option in the RAID configurator).

Eventually I used the Ubuntu 10.04 amd64 Release Candidate DVD in text installation mode.
I created a software RAID with LVM on top of it.
Once installed, the system failed on the graphics (blank screen, totally frozen, no text terminals). Holding the Shift key during boot gives access to the Grub menu. Replacing kernel parameters ‘quiet splash’ with ’single nomodeset i8042.nopnp’ gives a single user (root) mode that does not suffer from a blank screen (nomodeset) and will be able to use the touchpad (i8042.nopnp) once the graphics are running.
At that point it’s clear that Ubuntu 10.04 has working wired and wireless network on this VPCZ11. I tried apt-get upgrade without further success. Installing nvidia driver through Ubuntu sources or from the nVidia website helped neither. nvidia-detector said ‘none’. Starting X on nvidia driver complained about not finding an nvidia device.
The Intel driver failed with a blank screen without nomodeset and with a kernel panic with nomodeset enabled.
With nvidia-xconfig I created a basic /etc/X11/xorg.conf. When I set in that file ‘Driver’ to ‘vesa’ I get graphics working! But limited to 1024×768, which is probably the limit of the vesa driver. I read Sony is very special in how the LCD screen describes it self (with EDID), which could be the reason of the failing graphics. I did apt-get install read-edid. get-edid|parse-edid gives a monitor section which you can enter in xorg.conf. But this didn’t help me.

lspci always show both the intel and nvidia graphics, no matter if the hardware button is on Stamina, Speed of Auto. The hardware graphics selection lights almost never follow the button’s settings. The only way to get it really running in a certain graphics mode, is by running first an older kernel into that graphics mode. I did that first by running my Kubuntu 8.10 CD in between. UPDATE 5/5/10: I found that booting the 2.6.31-10-rt kernel (included in the Ubuntu Lucid Lynx repository) will also do the trick on the next reboot.

UPDATE 6/5/10: Based on the suggestions of Atrawog hereunder in the comments, it is possible to configure one kernel that does all the basics for nvidia (graphics switch is always ok, 1600×900, network, sound, hibernate).

Add to /etc/apt/sources.list :

debĀ  karmic main
deb-src karmic main

As root do:

apt-get update
apt-get install linux-image-2.6.31-20-generic
apt-get install linux-backports-modules-karmic-generic
apt-get install linux-backports-modules-2.6.31-20-generic
apt-get install linux-headers-2.6.31-20-generic
apt-get install linux-backports-modules-alsa-2.6.31-20-generic

Update grub to take the 2.6.31-20 as default with i8042.nopnp option

To sum up:

  • with nvidia driver (speed mode) I get 1600×900 graphics!
  • with the intel driver (stamina mode; which I would prefer) I get kernel panics or blank screens (with or without nomodeset).
  • I’m still searching for a way to change the brightness of the screen.
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