Installing Red Hat Linux on a Laptop

Installing Red Hat Linux on a Laptop

Laptops (also called notebook computers) are more integrated than desktops are; a laptop’s video card, monitor, and hard disk are all built into a compact package. In other words, you cannot easily mix and match components with laptops as you do with desktop systems, so you have to make sure that Linux supports all components of your laptop system.

Laptops typically have a PCMCIA adapter where you can plug in many peripherals such as a wireless Ethernet network card or a modem. When installing Red Hat Linux on a laptop with a CD-ROM drive, you can either boot from the CD-ROM or prepare an additional driver disk for PCMCIA support. To prepare the PCMCIA driver disk, follow the same steps used for the Red Hat boot disk, but specify \images\pcmcia.img as the image filename. As with desktop PCs, you do not have to worry about the boot disk if you can boot the laptop directly from the CD-ROM drive.

If your laptop does not have a CD-ROM drive, then you have to use one of the other installation methods. See the “Learning Other Installation Methods” section of this chapter for brief descriptions of these other methods. Typically, you’d need a network interface and would then install using one of the network installation methods from another system on your local area network.

Most laptops with Intel 80386 or better processors should be able to run plain Linux without any problems. If you want to install XFree86, however, you may have some trouble if XFree86 does not support the video card (on a laptop, video circuitry is built into the motherboard) and the pointing device. With the Linux kernel versions 2.4 and later, you can use the VESA driver to get X working on most laptops even if XFree86 doesn’t natively support the laptop’s graphics chipset. Also, nowadays, most laptop pointing devices can at least emulate a standard PS/2 Mouse, so all pointing devices should work with XFree86.


Laptops typically include the PCMCIA (commonly referred to as PC Card) interface through which you can connect many different peripheral devices to the laptop. As this chapter explained earlier, the version of Red Hat Linux on the companion CD-ROMs supports PCMCIA. The current PCMCIA drivers support most common PCMCIA controllers, including Intel, Cirrus, Vadem, VLSI, Ricoh, and Databook chipsets. See Appendix F for a discussion of specific PC Cards that Linux supports.

Advanced Power Management

Another laptop-specific feature is power management, which refers to the capability of a laptop to suspend its activities so as to conserve battery power. Laptops that have Advanced Power Management (APM) capability can suspend and resume power- consuming components (such as the display and hard drive), as well as provide information on battery life.

The version of Red Hat Linux on the companion CD-ROMs supports APM. You can learn more about how to support APM under Linux by visiting the website at

Sound on Laptops

Many high-end laptops come with built-in sound. Using the sound capabilities under Linux is a straightforward process, provided that you can figure out what type of sound card your laptop has. Chapter 5 covers sound cards in detail.

Red Hat’s kudzu program—used to probe and detect hardware—should detect your laptop’s sound card and set it up correctly. If your sound card is not detected, you can still get it to work by locaing the appropriate driver module with the modprobe command. To determine the driver, you would need information about the sound card. If sound support is not automatically set up, you should check your laptop’s documentation for clues about the make and model of the sound card before you set up sound support.

The bottom line is that you can set up Linux to support sound on a laptop the same way you can for a desktop PC.

X on Laptops

Users have reported success in running Linux together with XFree86 on many 386, 486, and Pentium laptops. Nowadays, laptops support high-resolution LCD screens with capabilities on a par with those of desktop PCs. You can configure X to work as long as the laptop’s video chipsets are supported by XFree86.

Most laptops use one of the following types of video chipsets:

  • ATI Radeon Mobility M1-M7, Rage 128 Mobility

  • Intel i810, i830M

  • NVidia GeForce2 Go, GeForce4 Go

  • Chips & Technology 655xx series chipset

  • NeoMagic NM20xx and NM21xx chipsets

XFree86 4.3.0 supports these chipsets. You can learn more about the details of X configuration in Chapter 3.