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Review - Installing Debian Jessie On A Lenovo Thinkpad X250

Posted by Sebastian Humenda at 11.05.2015, 20:31

This article reviews the installation process of Debian 8.0 on a ThinkPad X250. It is not meant to be a step-by-step guide and is more a review of how the installation currently works and what to expect from it. It also details some fixes to issues encountered after installation for this specific laptop model.

Although I am going to mention accessibility every now and then, this is definitely not only focused on that topic, but rather a mixture of everything.

Preparations

First of all I downloaded the official Debian amd64 netinstall CD image and wrote it to a USB stick. Normally I would have used dd, but I felt like I needed a change and tried out pv to get a progress bar to watch. However that didn't work out like expected, since pv's progress bar made progress much faster than the actual write took place. This is most probably due to kernel buffering, wherefore I sat there waiting for a bit longer without an indication of progress. Next time it'll be dd again.

Installation

When I booted the ThinkPad with the USB drive connected to it, I heard a beep, which was the sign that the installation menu had come up. After pressing enter, BRLTTY started directly and printed text on my braille display, so that worked seamlessly like in the previous Debian versions. It would be nice if BRLTTY would be restarted after the language has been chosen, so that the text table can be changed. Currently the installation starts off with the US-American braille text table and that is quite annoying to get rid of it if you don't know by heart how to open the preferences menu with a key combination of the braille display. One fix is to press alt+f2, followed by enter to get a shell and restart brltty there. For that you need to find out BRLTTY's process id, use ps aux | grep brltty and look up the pid of BRLTTY there. Then execute:

kill <pid>
brltty -t <yourtable>

A few dialogs later, the automatic network discovery started. It complaint that firmware for the Wi-Fi card would be missing. Although I would've liked Wi-Fi to work from the very beginning, a LAN cable wasn't too much trouble in my situation. Next time I might actually prepare an USB drive. For those who still want to do it, the adaptor identifies itself as Intel Corporation Wireless 7265, kernel module iwlwifi.

The partition manager looked familiar. I wanted to try encryption of my home partition for the first time. Here I failed to actually set up encryption, because I haven't had a look at Debian's installation guide and didn't read the on-screen tips carefully enough. So I decided to postpone it to a later point. I don't want to have an encrypted root partition anyway and encrypting /home is not too hard, if there's no data on it. I would have also liked some guidance on what to do with a SSD drive (which file system to pick and which mount options), but apparently for recent Linux kernels that is not as important as it used to be.

The rest of the installation went smooth without any issues. In the package selection screen, I chose Mate as a desktop environment and was astonished that there was no category "laptop" to bee activated for laptop users. Sure, there's a service laptop-detect installed by default, but that is not all one can do.

After The Reboot

After the reboot, I installed the firmware for my Intel wireless card (see the Debian wiki for more information) and configured my wireless connection.

Unfortunately my ThinkPad stayed quiet after the installation and I wasn't able to get any sound at all. By looking at the sound card configuration:

cat /proc/asound/cards

I discovered that the Intel sound card is recognized as two devices, one with the identifier HDMI and one with PCH. The default output method was HDMI (ALSA index=0) and hence I got no sound. That can be resolved by loading the appropriate module (snd_hda_intel) with the option index=1, to tell it the preferred main audio sink:

echo 'options snd_hda_intel index=1' > /etc/modprobe.d/sound.conf

After that I still couldn't play any sound, so I checked all controls in alsamixer (package ALSA-utils), unmuted eveything, raised the volume to maximum and still got no sound. Until I finally found out that the hardware muting facility of the ThinkPad cannot be influenced by ALSA. I must have accidentally pressed fn + f1 and muted my speakers with it. The fix was simple to press either fn + f3 or fn + f4.

For battery usage optimization I would have expected that laptop-detect, which seems to be a service running in the background, would have pulled in laptop mode tools. Running apt-get install laptop-mode-tools wasn't to dificult though. I feel that this enhances the life time of the battery.

After all the system now runs smoothly and thanks to Unison I had all my configuration and personal data within a few minutes on the new machine. Orca works smoothly, not only because the new laptop is much more powerful than the old one.

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© Sebastian Humenda, last modified 11/05/2015