Fedora Core Linux on a Compaq Presario 2100 Series Laptop

As a typical computer geek I’ve made it somewhat of a hobby to install Linux on every system I have, and things were no different when I decided to get myself a Compaq Presario 2105us laptop. Indeed since I’ve had this particular system I have had little interest in using Windows XP (the original OS for the laptop), preferring instead to experiment with gettings things up and running using Fedora Core, the new desktop-oriented distro which is mostly Red Hat 9.

Why a 2105us?

At first glance it’s a rather unattractive as a laptop. It’s fairly big and heavy, has a 14″ screen in a case designed for a 15″, and it has a few features that make a Linux installation tricky. Of course I didn’t really know any of this before I bought it. Simply put, the price couldn’t be beat. I purchased mine from eCost for $699 which, considering the specs, was a steal.

Here are those specs:

  • CPU: AMD Athlon XP-M 1800 processor (1.5Ghz)
  • RAM: 512M DDR SD-RAM (PC2100)
  • HDD: 40G ATA-133 drive
  • Video: Radeon Mobility U1 chipset, shared video RAM (up to 64M?), S-Video out port
  • 1 Cardbus slot, 2 USB 1.1 ports
  • DVD-CDR/W combo drive
  • …and the usual legacy ports (PS/2, serial, parallel which I don’t use

Generally speaking, this is a lot of bang for the buck. And the AMD CPU was especially attractive to me, as I prefer it to Intel offerings.

Why Fedora?

Simply put, I’ve been running it for a while on another computer and I’m most familiar with its way of doing things. I initially tried SuSE 9 on this laptop and got it to install, but in the end I am not very comfortable with the way SuSE does things, and certain bugs kept coming up which I found irritating. ‘sudo’, for instance, would only work if I used the root password (?), which I found puzzling; also previous experiences with SuSE left me unimpressed with the support I got — even if you shell out for the $80 pro package, the only support you will get has to do with the simplest of installations, which to me sounds pretty useless.

This is not to say that Fedora is a perfect distro, but it’s pretty damn good in my experience, and because it’s Redhat-based chances are you’ll be able to have answers to your questions by asking them on IRC. That’s one instance where sheer numbers in installed userbase are a real benefit.

Also the standard Fedora install will give you a version of kernel 2.4, which doesn’t quite have the level of support you might want for the hardware on this laptop, although it will run fine for most applications. The good news is, however, that kernel 2.6 was released in December. I’ve been running 2.6 for almost a week myself, and I’ll go through the process of building this kernel in a subsequent article (I don’t want this one to get too long!).


  • This computer, like most modern laptops, supports the ACPI standard for sensor monitoring, fan control, battery control, etc. There is no APM support built-in. So when you pick your distro to install here be sure to choose one that supports ACPI. Fedora supports it, but not in “standard” mode — you have to add a kernel argument to the boot loader. Fortunately this will be done for you by the Anaconda installer.
  • The PCMCIA socket is quite buggy. It will have to be temporarily disabled while you disable it from accessing certain IRQs, and even after that it might not work as intended. The reason for this is that the driver is a little buggy. This will not be a problem once we upgrade to the kernel 2.6.0 code, but until we do, the use of PC cards is discouraged.

That’s about it. Usually an article of this type will then go on to list the specific hardware in the system in question, but this will really only be relevant once we start configuring kernel 2.6, so I’ll hold back on this until that time.

The Installation

  1. Download Fedora Core release 1
  2. Fedora Core release 1 is available from your local Fedora mirror site. From the site go into this directory: 1/i386/iso/. There are three disk images for you to download:

    1. yarrow-i386-disc1.iso
    2. yarrow-i386-disc2.iso
    3. yarrow-i386-disc3.iso

    Once you’ve downloaded the disk images (which will take some time), burn them and label them. Don’t bother installing anything else on XP, due to the next step.

  3. Adjust certain BIOS settings
  4. The laptop comes with some funky BIOS settings that you’ll want to correct before going further. This will save you some headaches down the line.

    To do this:

    1. Restart the computer
    2. As soon as the Compaq logo shows up on the screen, hit F2. This will bring you to the BIOS setup utility.
    3. Under the “Main” tab in BIOS setup, make sure that the item “UMA Video Memory” is set to 64MB. It’s apparently possible to set it to 128MB, but for some reason the specs for this machine don’t mention it anywhere, so feel free to try I guess. However since 3D support is not available in Linux for the video chipset 64M is plenty for any application.
    4. Under the “System Devices” tab make sure that “Legacy USB Support” is disabled (Linux crashes if this is enabled). This does not affect modern USB devices anyway. Also disable “Wake on LAN from Power Off” (it’s a laptop, not a server platform!).
    5. Under the “Boot” tab make sure that “CD-ROM Drive” is the top item in the list of devices, otherwise you won’t be able to boot off a CD… that’s a requirement for installing OS’s from CDs.
    6. Then go to the “Exit” tab, select “Save Changes and Exit” and hit enter. The laptop will reboot.
  5. Reinstall Windows (if you need it at all)
  6. The laptop initially comes with XP installed in a single partition which spans the entire 40 gigabyte hard disk, which is completely ridiculous (but not unexpected from Compaq). What’s even worse is the Compaq install makes it almost impossible to resize the hard disk properly.

    That being said, if you have a commercial partitioning utility such as PartitionMagic (my personal favorite) you can resize the windows partition, but only by booting the laptop using the PartitionMagic CD. You will then be able to resize the partition by ignoring the partitioning errors that Compaq put into it. That really is the ideal way to tackle that particular issue.

    If you don’t want to pay for such a partitioning utility, however, you’ll have to reinstall Windows not using the “Quick Restore” disks, but using the red Operating System disk which Compaq provides with this model. That disk can be used to install a plain version of XP Home edition while allowing other OS’s to use the space on the rest of the disk. As far as bundled applications go, the ones included with the 2105us are largely filler that you’ll do fine without anyway.

    So, pop the red Operating System disk into the CD drive, and restart. You can limit the space taken by Windows to as little as 15 gig of space, which leaves you about 10 gig free in the Windows partition, or you can make that partition larger; make sure to leave at least 5 gig for Linux. In the Disk Setup part of the Windows installation you’ll want to delete the existing “whole disk” partition, and create a new Windows partition. This must be at the beginning of the disk. Leave the rest of the disk unformatted, we’ll worry about this when installing Linux.

    During the actual Windows installation You will be prompted at some point to enter your Windows serial number. This is located on a sticker under the laptop. In true Compaq fashion the sticker is installed backwards (or at least mine was!) so you might want to jot it down on paper beforehand.

  7. Install Fedora Core 1
  8. From your new Windows installation, pop in the first Fedora CD and restart the computer.

    At the first Fedora screen do NOT just press enter! type “linux acpi=on allowcddma nopcmcia” then press enter. These temporarily take care of some quirks which we will fix in a more permanent way later.

    First you are prompted to test the installation CDs before proceeding. If this is the first time you use this particular set of Fedora disks, choose OK, otherwise choose Skip.

    I’m not going to walk you through the Fedora installer, because it’s already very user-friendly and makes installation a breeze. Besides if you’re reading this article at all then you’ve probably installed Linux before, and therefore know what to expect. One detail though — Anaconda (the installer program) will not detect your monitor correctly; when prompted select “Generic LCD Display > LCD Panel 1024×768”.

  9. Adjust the PCMCIA Settings
  10. After the installation is complete the laptop will be rebooted. At that first startup there is one additional step you must take. At some point while the system is starting up the message “press ‘I’ to enter interactive setup”. Press ‘i’ and hit enter when you see this message, because we need to temporarily disable pcmcia. If we don’t do this your laptop will probably freeze up during bootup.

    Interactive setup is a stage where you’ll be prompted to “approve” each of the many Linux services which get installed by default. For everything *except* pcmcia choose “Y” (or just press enter). When you see the word “PCMCIA” appear choose N and press enter. After that is done you can choose “C” to continue starting the rest of the services automatically.

    During this first post-install start you’ll be prompted to add a non-root user account to the system. It’s best to create one for yourself and only “become” root when you really have to.

    When you have gone through this configuration you’ll end up at the Fedora login screen. Use the user account you just created to log in. We’ll now take care of the PCMCIA bug:

    1. When you have logged in open a terminal window by clicking on the red hat at the bottom left of your screen, then mousing over “System Tools”, and clicking on “Terminal” in the popup menu.
    2. In the terminal type “su”. You’ll then have to enter the “root password” defined during the installation.
    3. Type “emacs /etc/pcmcia/config.opts” and press enter.
    4. In the emacs window you will see a section between two lines of dashes (-) which includes a lot of statements such as “exclude irq 4”. At the end of this section add the line “exclude IRQ 10”.
    5. Save the file by clicking on the “File” item at the top of the window, then “Save (current buffer)”.
    6. Close the emacs window.
    7. Back in the original terminal window, type “exit” and press enter. This stops the “root session” and prevents you from making changes you shouldn’t be making.

    Once you have done this you can let the PCMCIA drivers load normally during startup.

Phew! That was a lot to write. This will give you a working Fedora installation on this slightly capricious model laptop. ACPI will be enabled (this is necessary for this model laptop to run properly) and PCMCIA will not cause random crashes when you restart.

This is the first article in a series on how to make Linux work for the Presario 2105us — or indeed any Presario 2100 series — laptop. More articles are forthcoming on connected subjects, such as building the a kernel 2.6.0 so as to get the most out of your laptop under Linux, and how to set up wireless networking for some unwired fun. Stay tuned.