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Vaidas Jablonskis

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Fedora 16 Linux on Samsung Series 9 (NP900X3A) Laptop

Few words for a warm-up

Few months ago I bought myself a brand new and shiny ultrabook from Samsung. It obviously came pre-installed with Windows7. I quickly rushed to wipe the evil OS out, before I did an SSD clone, just in case I will ever need Windows7 on this laptop again.

Right, so it was time to install my favourite linux distribution - fedora! There was only fedora15 available back then, so I installed fedora15, which I am not going to talk about much, because few weeks later fedora16 was released, so I did a fresh install again.

Installation

I built a bootable USB stick with fedora16 netinstall image on it, started the installation and this is where the fun started.

UEFI and Grub2

I knew my laptop had an option for UEFI firmware support, so I turned this on, because UEFI is cool, right? Then I discovered that if one uses UEFI subsystem, fedora falls back to use grub-0.9x rather than grub2, there were some compatibility issues as far as I know, so I went for the legacy BIOS option, because I really wanted to have grub2 booting my OS.

MSDOS Instead of GPT

Another issue I ran into was that Anaconda (fedora/rhel/centos etc) GUI installer creates a GPT drive (I say drive because an SSD is not a disk) label by default, which means that either BIOS or UEFI has to be able to start a bootloader from a drive which has GPT partitition label. Obviously proper UEFI implementation supports GPT with no problem, but apparently both UEFI and BIOS implementation on this Samsung laptop are pretty bad and do not support GPT drive labels (I tried them both to start a bootloader, but unsuccessfully). Got it working? - please post a solution in the comments below.

I chose the BIOS option and the old MSDOS drive (I know disk sounds better here) label, which is kind of okay for me, I do not do anything too fancy with my partition layout anyway.

Partition alignment

This is pretty important step to do, usually anaconda does that for you, so just ensure it has. Jump into a console Ctrl+Alt+F3 or something (I cannot remember now off top of my head) and use parted align-check to check what anaconda has done with your partitions :-)

Successful Installation

The rest of the installation went really smoothly, there was a great improvement of the anaconda installed compare to the older Fedora versions. Right, install completed, rebooting the system and hope for the best - that everything works out of the box.

Post-install Fun

Like you probably experienced that yourself (otherwise it is very unlikely you're reading this post) - not many things worked as expected.

Working Pieces

  • Multitouch Touchpad/Clickpad (had to change gnome3 settings to enable tapping etc)
  • Screen brightness/backlight - Fn+F2 / Fn+F3
  • Display switch - Fn+F4
  • Touchpad on/off toggle - Fn+F5
  • Sound VolUp/VolDown/Mute

Not working Pieces

These are the most obvious things:

  • keyboard backlit control - Fn+F7 / Fn+F8
  • wifi on/off toggle button - Fn+F12
  • Fn+F1 - not entirely sure what that does
  • battery life extender - Fn+F6
  • cpu fan was running pretty loud
  • short battery life - approx 3 hours

The Rest

The not working bits were pretty important to me and I wanted to get it fixed asap, especially the keyboard backlit, which is a pretty cool feature to have. The funny thing was, I could not control it. I figured that if one booted into Windows7 prior fedora install and left the keyboard backlit on then it stayed always on post the fedora install and vice versa. So in short - one had to boot into windows adjust the keyboard backlit and then boot back to linux - that's pretty cool :-)

Right, that's not what I wanted. So I dug a lot deeper.

Solutions and Fixes

This is the most fun part for me at least. I was pretty glad that things turned out to be this way. Unfortunately I am not a developer and cannot write a C code, but I can barely read it.

SSD and File System Tuning

Since this Samsung laptop has a tiny (in physical size) 128GiB SSD drive which is built from 20nm NAND flash, it deserves to be treated well by the kernel and the file system, both to get a better performance and expand its lifetime. Below there are few things I figured to be the best for my needs. I will not explain why I chose those options, there is a lot of material online which you can read about and see what suits you best.

  • change the drive I/O scheduler to deadline

edit GRUB_CMDLINE in /etc/default/grub (I assume you use grub2) and add the following option and then run grub2-mkconfig > /boot/grub2/grub.cfg: elevator=deadline

  • enable discard support on a filesystem and few other mount options

TRIM (discard) support is very important to maintain your SSD "healhty". These are the mount option I chose to use on my ext4 filesystems: noatime,nodiratime,barrier=0,discard,data=writeback

Touchpad Delay

I forgot to mention, but I chose the Gnome3 aka gnome-shell desktop environment, which as you already know happens to be not very user friendly when it comes to customization and old good gnome2 menus and settings.

Anyway, my touchpad (or clickpad if you like) was working pretty well. The laptop features a pretty massive touchpad, so it is very easy to touch it while typing and it can get very frustrating, but there is an option gnome's "Mouse and Touchpad" settings which allows you to disable the touchpad while typing, but this gets tricky - it will not allow you to specify the timeout of the delay, which is something ridiculous like 2 or 3 seconds.

Come on, seriously? Who wants to wait 2-3 seconds until you can use your touchpad after you typed something? Last time I poked into the source code that option was hardcoded - fair enough.

Not to worry, I have got a solution for that.

  • Untick the box in the "Mouse and Touchpad" settings which says "Disable touchpad while typing"
  • Write a simple script and place it in ~/bin/syndaemon.sh
# enables custom synaptics touchpad settings
# start this with gnome-session

# enable touchpad after last keyboard key press delay
delay="0.5s"

syndaemon -d -R -k -i $delay
  • Make it executable and add it to your session startup using gnome-session-properties

The script will start everytime your Gnome's sessions starts and it will launch syndaemon (synaptics daemon). Feel free to poke around synclient too - it has some cool tweaks you can apply to your touchpad.

High CPU temp and Battery Life

This has something to do with a regression which was introduced with 3.0 or 3.1 linux kernel. I am not sure if I can call it a regression, because the option I am going to list below were disabled due to some buggy hardware (not necessarily Samsung laptops) AFAIK.

This laptop has Intel i5 dual core sandybridge CPU with integrated graphics chip, which is known as i915 in the linux kernel, so adding few options to the module during kernel boot time helps to solve high CPU temperature, noisy fan and obviously battery life issues.

So do what you did with the drive I/O scheduler, just add the following options to your kernel command line in /etc/default/grub and re-run grub2-mkconfig:

i915.i915_enable_rc6=1 i915.i915_enable_fbc=1 i915.lvds_downclock=1

I noticed I get some sort of latency sometimes, especially noticeable on my gnome-terminals, where it just won't take any input and feels like it freezes for a second or so. I am not sure if this is related to the above options, but the last time I looked at it I didn't see any syscalls or anything else which could cause this weird freeze-latency issue, so I suspect it is that.

If you experience similar symptoms please let me know. (I have not tried to dig deeper and investigate further).

Keyboard Backlit/Backlight

Well, this is probably the most annoying issue I have experienced with my laptop, but let me tell you that I have a solution for that. It is more like a workaround for now, but I am sure this will become a proper solution.

First of all, the laptop is pretty new model and pretty pricey, so getting hold of one is so easy I guess. We all know how much Samsung laptops suck on linux support - they don't really care, they build hardware for the masses, not for us poor linux people.

This took me a while to find a solution for. I knew there was a module called samsung-laptop in the linux kernel which is maintained by Greg K-H. But this module was not being loaded for some reason and the reason was that the module checks the DMI product name etc against the hardcoded array of known laptops in the module. So by looking in the source code of the module one can see that there is not much code which could support keyboard backlit for this laptop, so even if you force the module to load you wouldn't get success out of it.

Fortunately there is an awesome developer called Corentin Chary who decided to contribute to samsung-laptop module and wrote a number of patches for it. By looking at the conversation on kernel mailling-list these patches are being scheduled for 3.3 kernel release, which is like months away - who wants to wait that long?

So I decided to grab the patches and compile the module against my current running kernel. So this is briefly what I did (some common sense is always welcome):

  • clone Corentin's samsung-laptop git repo - git://github.com/iksaif/samsung-laptop-dkms.git
  • install current kernel headers: kernel-devel and kernel-headers packages
  • obviously you will gcc and other development tools and libraries
  • if the module compiles okay, load it: insmod /path/to/compiled/module/samsung-laptop.ko
  • if it loads okay, copy it to /lib/modules/$(uname -r)/kernel/drivers/platform/x86/samsung-laptop.ko
  • run depmod -a, now the module will load on the system boot

This is not it, what the module does is just adds support for various things like keyboard backlight support, wifi toggle support (didn't have time to make this work) and others in the kernel. But on a key press the kernel will scream that it does not know what you mean by pressing the keys.

So you need to map the keycodes in the kernel so it knows about them. The easiest way to do that is through the udev subsystem. Here is what you need to do (I got it all figured for you):

  • create a new udev keymaps file called /lib/udev/keymaps/samsung-90x3a with the below content:
0x96 kbdillumup # Fn+F8 - maps the scancode to a udev event
0x97 kbdillumdown # Fn+F7 - maps the scancode to a udev event
0xD5 wlan # Fn+F12 - this does not work
  • edit the keymap rules file - /lib/udev/rules.d/95-keymap.rules and add the following line next before the other samsung laptop related lines (search for 'samsung'):
ENV{DMI_VENDOR}=="[sS][aA][mM][sS][uU][nN][gG]*", ATTR{[dmi/id]product_name}=="90X3A", RUN+="keymap $name samsung-90x3a"
  • load the newly created keymaps by running the following: /lib/udev/keymap input/event4 /lib/udev/keymaps/samsung-90x3a

This loads the keymaps, so udev can instruct the kernel too. You need to restart your X session so gnome-settings-daemon can digest the changes too. But in theory you should be able to control your keyboard backlit using Fn+F7/Fn+F8, if you cannot, reboot your OS just to double check that everything works as expected.

I will send feature requests and fixes to udev developers as well as Fedora people, so hopefully this gets added to the next release.

Others

There are other function keys which don't work, but I suspect it is related to gnome-settings-daemon not being able to act upon certain key strokes.

Things to Poke

The new samsung-laptop module opens up a number of sysfs interfaces to control your laptop. These interfaces are accessible via:

# ls -1 /sys/devices/platform/samsung/
battery_life_extender
leds
modalias
performance_level
power
rfkill
subsystem
uevent
usb_charge

They are self-explanatory, so go ahead and play with that. You can write some scripts which control for example batterylifeextender or performance_level which get executed on a certain key stroke. Custom keyboard shortcuts can be set using Gnome keyboard GUI settings.

The is another interface to control screen brightness provided via i915 module which gives us a much wider range to control our screen brightness (poke inside):

/sys/class/backlight/intel_backlight/

This also can be controlled using a simple script which can then be executed using some keyboard shortcuts.

You could set acpi_backlight=vendor on kernel command line, so gnome-settings-daemon will use the intel_backlight interface to control the screen brightness, but don't - that will break your brightness control with Corentin's patched module. It would work if you used samsung-laptop module which is in the mainline linux kernel.

Final Words

I guess that's it. Initially I thought I was going to write a short blog post on how to fix the keyboard backlit control, but look what came out of my head, way too much :-)

Hope this helps some people. Please post your experience with your ultrabooks and give me a shout if you get into trouble solving your issues.

Thanks, zooz