Ubuntu on the Dell Adamo

I went ahead and got the Adamo from Dell, so here’s my review of it, and what I did to set it up and get it working the way I wanted.

Firstly, on the hardware: AC adapters is the weak point of this guy. For my old MacBook, I had three: one in my bag, one at home, one at the office. While it was a decent extra cost, it was one I undertook after I forgot my adapter a couple times and had to go without for a while—something that everyone with a laptop deals with at some point.

This was particularly a pain since the one that Dell shipped with the laptop died after the first charge—which meant another three days of being unable to use it after I received it. Not cool, Dell.

With the power supply problem fixed, I moved on to getting Linux on the thing. The thing ships with Windows 7, which I wanted to keep on there as an option, and there’s enough travel and sensitive work stuff that I do on my laptops to justify encrypting the disk, which requires using the Ubuntu alternative installer. I also wanted to use LVM for my disks for when I start running out of space and want to shrink the Windows partition.

The way to make this work is non-obvious, and it required two attempts to get going:

  1. Resize the Windows partition to something less than the full disk. I chose to give it 100G, and allocate the rest for Linux. This works out of the box in the installer, which is nice.
  2. Setup LVM on the remaining space next.
    • 200M for a /boot partition
    • 20G for swap (SSD disk means I assume that hitting swap is nowhere near as painful as it used to be)
    • The rest for a root partitiion.
  3. Setup encrypted volumes on the LVM partitions you created for root and swap (not /boot). You want to encrypt your swap as well, because Linux isn’t going to zero-out your swap volume when you shutdown, making it effectively an on-disk memory dump of whatever your applications were doing…

I tried setting up single root/swap partitions on top of a single large encrypted volume, but Ubuntu aparently requires your /boot partition be un-encrypted, so there wasn’t an obvious way to boot it after doing so…

With that issue out of the way, the rest of the installation went smoothly and things booted just fine. I’ll note that Windows 7 boots much faster than Ubuntu 9.10, but I’ve only actually booted the thing from a POST onwards a few times in the last couple weeks, so who cares? The time it takes to resume from sleep is much more important for a laptop, honestly.

With everything installed, I used rsync to copy my documents and such off my old laptop. I had enough disk to rsync my music collection off of my world book, so I went ahead and did that too, and I’ve written a simple upstart config that performs the rsync properly when the network comes back:

# Script to dispatch NetworkManager events
# Runs rsync when WiFi or ethernet is connected.

set -x

if [ -z "$1" ]; then
    echo "$0: called with no interface" 1>&2
    exit 1;

# Fake ifupdown environment
export IFACE="$1"
export ACTION="$2"
export USERNAME="me"
export REMOTE_HOST="stuff.mine.nu"

case "$ACTION" in
	if [ "$IFACE" = "eth0" -o "$IFACE" = "wlan0" ]; then
		if [ -z "$(pidof rsync)" ]; then
			sudo -n -u $USERNAME rsync -a /home/$USERNAME/Music/* $REMOTE_USERNAME@$REMOTE_HOST:/shares/internal/MUSIC

I used to try and just mount the drive via SSHfs/nautilus and play via Rhythmbox, but it would skip the first 30 seconds of the song, requiring manual intervention every three minutes.

After that comes the custom repositories I’m using to add a little snazziness and breakage:

Latest and greatest GNOME Shell
Bleeding Edge Telepathy/Empathy (my at-work XMPP server manages to consistently crash Empathy)
Nightlies of Firefox 3.6
Lifesaver screensaver, search term “#fml” 😉
Chromium Web Browser nightly builds

10 thoughts on “Ubuntu on the Dell Adamo

  1. Ubuntu aparently requires your /boot par­ti­tion be un-encrypted

    How could an encrypted /boot possibly work? The code that does the decryption (kernel and initrd, i.e. the stuff that’s kept in /boot) and anything that runs before it (i.e. GRUB stage 2, also kept in /boot) needs to be unencrypted, or you’ll have serious chicken and egg problems 🙂

    http://smcv.pseudorandom.co.uk/2008/09/cryptroot/ has a similar description of how I do encrypted-root on LVM under Debian (IIRC the Ubuntu alternate installer is just debian-installer, so it should be the same process in Ubuntu). I think we’re using a slightly different stacking order (I use the partition as one big encrypted blob and set up LVM inside it, which gives you one less encryption key to worry about); I avoid the problem you described by having a third partition for /boot (which you should hopefully never need to resize, so it doesn’t need to be LVM’d).

  2. 20 GB of swap ?!! I have 2GB of RAM on my laptop and turned off swap after finding it was never used (under Ubuntu, Vista is a different story).

    Perhaps you are doing something non-obvious, but isn’t that excessive to the point of ridiculous.

    – Edward –

  3. Edward,

    I used to run without a swap partition as well on a 2G laptop, eventually I find a way to use it, and things get ugly.

    Really, thought, it boils down to this: if you could have 24G of memory in your laptop, you’ve basically ensured that you’ll be set for the lifetime of the machine. With an SSD drive, that’s basically what you get (with some caveats), so why not?

  4. What battery life have you been able to get with your adamo?

    Can you share what you were doing as well as what settings you used. For example: lowest brightness setting, no wifi, etc…

  5. @ernesto: With normal settings (i.e. wifi on, aircard in and connected, brightness about 30%), I get about 2 hours.

  6. Can you share if the ubuntu installed with no “special tweaks” and are you testing the newer versions (i.e. 10.xx)?

  7. @Kevin: I had to edit the sound driver to use the m6 and it never did properly handle the microphone volume (you’d have to fire up alsamixer and set it manually each time).

    I haven’t tried the newer versions, since I’ve switched to Fedora.

    Also, I’m about a day away from ordering a non-dell replacement for the Adamo. Since I bought it, it’s killed a dozen AC adapters and replacing both them and the motherboard have not resolved the issue.

  8. Say James, when you switched to fedora (I’m assuming fedora 15) did Gnome shell run without any problems?

    I fear the default drivers or the intel graphics card are not enough to run gnome 3 in full glory…

  9. @ernesto: There were some issues, but this was pre-alpha. As of today, on the Lenovo T420 I ended up getting, the Intel drivers work *almost* flawlessly, including the external VGA via the dock. Un-docking causes some ugly test patterns about 75% of the time, but closing/re-opening fixes it.

    The Nvidia (it’s an Optimus laptop) doesn’t work reliably well at all, however.

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