Installing a proper Ubuntu 8.10 copy on the new Dell Inspiron Mini 9

This is the fine work of Ehud G. over @

The Problem

The real problem is that Dell ships the laptop with a few choices that I didn’t like.

  1. They use the LPIA (Low Power Intel Architecture) version instead of i386. What this means is that about 80% of the software I want doesn’t yet exist in a repository of this architecture. It also means that the repositories are all at Dell instead of all over the world like Ubuntu’s.
  2. They install some of the Netbook Remix stuff, which I’m sure is good for new people, but it annoys me that half my screen real-estate is tied up with ginormous icons.
  3. Their version of the WiFi driver prevents ssh working (client or server) unless you do the magic incantation (“iwpriv eth1 set_vlanmode 0”)
  4. They lock the upper menu bar to the top of the screen.
  5. Presumably because of all the customization, they are shipping a six month old version.

The Solution

The solution is to install the standard i386 version of Ubuntu. This is fairly simple. The tricky part is fixing all the things that need to be fixed so that all the little pieces work.

Creating an install USB stick

  1. Download the Ubuntu latest i386 CD
  2. Burn it to a CD
  3. Boot from it
  4. Go to System->Administration->Create a USB startup stick
  5. Select the CD-ROM as the source, and put a stick in and select it for target.
  6. When done, remove both and reboot

Booting the Mini 9 with the stick

  1. Put the stick in
  2. Boot the laptop making sure to hit “0” for boot options and select the USB stick

Doing the actual Ubuntu Linux install

The screen is small. The “button” to click “Forward” is obscured. Remember that Alt-F will get you to the next page. Select any options you would normally want to select.


cd /usr/local/bin
cd /etc/modprobe.d
echo "options snd-hda-intel model=dell" >> alsa-base
right-click volume, select "volume control settings:.  
1. raise "speaker" from 0 to whatever you want it to be
2. raise mic boosto  about 40-50% or until just before you hear a hiss
3. select the options tab and set input source 1 to "Front Mic" (not "Mic") and input source 2 (the bottom one) to something else: "Line"
4. select the recording tab, set capture all the way up.  If capture 1 is there set it to zero.
5. in sound setting control panel set everything to Alsa except the mixer should be HDA Intel(Alsa Mixer)


Do not install the restricted modules. Everything works fine out of the box.
NOTE: The custom wifi driver is discussed below for kernel hackers.

SSH Server

apt-get install dropbear

Kernel-building tools (only for those of you who roll your own. See NOTE: below)

apt-get install patch
apt-get install kernel-package

NOTE: Unless you are building a kernel which is compatible with the Broadcom proprietary WiFi driver save yourself the effort. Broadcom takes a while to catch up to modern kernels. The custom wifi driver is discussed below for kernel hackers.


  1. Fire up synaptic
  2. settings->repositories
  3. make sure all the third party stuff is checked.
  4. close
  5. sudo wget -O /etc/apt/sources.list.d/medibuntu.list
    wget -q -O- | sudo apt-key add - && sudo apt-get update
    sudo aptitude install skype
    options->sound devices sound-in HDA Intel (hw:intel,4), sound-out, ringing HDA Intel (hw:intel,0)

WiFi Driver (for kernel hackers)

***DOES NOT BUILD YET WITH 2.6.28-rc6*** (Compile time errors including wrong parameter list)

mkdir wl
cd wl
tar -zxvf hybrid*
make -C /lib/modules/`uname -r`/build M=`pwd`

Some other packages…

apt-get install powertop  -- note - it is unable to get power settings via ACPI.
apt-get install simple-ccsm

Some directory links for non-Debian users If you’re used to Redhat-style startup script then the missing “/etc/rc.d” may bother you.

mkdir /etc/rc.d
ln -s /etc/*.d /etc/rc.d/
rm -f /etc/rc.d/rc.d

Bluetooth Tethering to a phone

Works out of the box except you’ll either want to use a shell and WVDial or

apt-get install gnome-ppp

Dell Video Chat

This one is a little more complicated because you’ll need to unpack Dell’s Ubuntu CD.

  1. Mount the Dell CDROM somewhere you have a CDROM 😉
  2. Mount the rootfs filesystem (mkdir /tmp/mount ; mount -o loop /dev/cdrom /tmp/mount)
  3. ls -alr and look for “sightspeed”
  4. extract …etc/xdg/ into /etc/xdg/
  5. extract …usr/share/dellvideochat into /usr/share/
  6. ln -s /usr/share/dellvideochat/dellvideochat /usr/bin/
  7. If you add a menu item for it and want an icon check out /usr/share/dellvideochat/images/dvc

That’s all for now, November 29, 2008. Perhaps more later.


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