With the increasing number of stories about exploding Li-Ion batteries in laptops and other devices, I got a little spooked when I noticed my Dell Inspiron 8600 getting unusually hot last week. I shut down Fedora, unplugged the power adapter, and removed the battery. It was really, really hot. But it wasn’t hot enough to deform the plastic casing and there was no sign of smoke. Just to be on the safe side, I called Dell’s tech support line. And here’s where the story gets weird. I got a quick, helpful response. From Dell. Granted this used to be the norm years ago when Dell was a rapidly growing company but not since they outsourced all their tech support to random groups of non-English speaking people who’d never even seen Dell computers.
Anyway, after I got over the astonishment of reaching an actual English-speaking human on the phone, I presented the symptoms exhibited by my battery. They quickly confirmed that my battery was NOT one of the recalled defective batteries. They also determined that my laptop was just over one year old. It has a two year warranty on everything but, you guessed it, the battery, which has only a one year warranty. So the battery wasn’t covered anymore. However, they then asked me a curious question, “was the battery too hot to touch when you removed it?”
Obviously, there could be only one correct answer to this. “Yes”, I said, “it was too hot to touch”. (technically I did touch it but I’m sure they really meant was the battery very, very hot). “Okay”, the tech support person said, “if the battery was too hot to touch, then I’ll have to classify this as a safety issue and not a warranty issue, so your expired warranty doesn’t matter. We’ll have a replacement shipped immediately.” This was last Friday afternoon. On Tuesday a DHL box arrived with a new battery and a return postage sticker for sending back the old one. I popped in the new one and everything is as good as new. Since I’ve posted numerous complaints in my blog about how awful Dell’s tech support has become, I thought it was only fair that I should post some good news for a change. I hope this is indicative of overall improvements and not just a happy aberration.
Since I last posted about this, I’ve received my new hard drive and now have Fedora Linux installed on the notebook. A suprising number of things actually worked right out of the box. I’ve been slowly getting the other bits and pieces of hardware working as I have time. This process has been made easier by others who have already documented the process. One of the best sources of info is the Fedora on a Dell website.
As it turned out, the driver for the NVidia GeForce is included with Fedora and the display worked at least in a low resolution mode immediately. With some minor tweaking, it is now working at the full 1920 x 1200 resolution. The missing piece of the puzzle was the lack of a monitor type for the Dell LCD 1920 x 1200 display. This looks like it would be trivial to patch but I can’t tell yet if the thing needing the patch is X or the display configuration program in Gnome. If anyone knows, please email me, I’d happily submit a patch so this worked for the next person who tries it. There is apparently also a non-free, binary-only driver for the NVidia that is a bit faster but I don’t plan on using the video for anything important enough to make it worth switching to a proprietary driver. I’m quite happy with the nv driver.
The sound hardware and ethernet hardware worked with no changes needed at all. The battery monitor and CPU speed controls also worked without needing to do anything special. The CD/DVD hardware worked as well, though I needed to download some extra packages in order to view movies on DVD. Intel offers a GPL’d 2200 BG WiFi driver (though the firmware itself is still proprietary). It seems to work fine with the exception of monitor mode which apparently isn’t quite functional yet. I also added the latest version of Network Manager so I can switch seamlessly between wired and wireless connections. It’s working very well too so far.
So what’s left to tinker with? I’d like to get gi8k set up so I can monitor fan speed and CPU temperature. Also, I haven’t had time to get the suspend to RAM or disk functions working yet, so I have to manually shut down before closing the notebook. And finally I picked up a little USB to serial adapter at Frys, the BAFO BF-810, because I frequently have to interface with microcontrollers that use a serial port (the 8600 doesn’t have any old-style serial ports). I’m hoping it will work without any special tweaking but you never know. Overall, I’m quite happy so far with how well my Dell Inspiron 8600 is working with Linux.