Ubuntu Linux on a Dell Inspiron 6400n Notebook

The Inspiron 6400n Notebook

My son's ageing, second hand, Inspiron 2650 had been having graphics problems for a while, and I decided to pull forwards the purchase of a replacement notebook. My interest in another Dell had been piqued by their recent announcement of a range of notebooks and desktops preloaded with Ubuntu Linux. I was able to get a small discount on the 6400n through Dell's EPP (Employee Purchase Program), which made the deal a little cheaper too.

I ordered the 6400n without many changes from the standard offering, other than these options:

  • 1.73GHz Dual-Core
  • 1Gb RAM
  • TrueLife screen
  • DVD writer
  • 9 cell battery

Despite the web site stating there was an extended delivery time of approximately two weeks, the notebook arrived eight days after placing the order. I ordered by phone, as the EPP scheme didn't have links to the Ubuntu offers. Fortunately the salesman was very helpful and it hardly took longer than ordering online would have done.

Installing Linux

Easiest install I've done smile Powering on the machine brought up the Ubuntu language selection window, as with a standard install. A few more screens to set up the keyboard, time zone and main user and I was dropped into the login window, ready to start.

Issues Past and Present

The only issue I had, out-of-the-box, was the screen resolution. The 6400n has a 1280x800 widescreen, but it was running in 1024x768 mode. I checked /etc/X11/xorg.conf and that only listed 1280x800 as an option. It was the same after a reboot, so I started looking around on the web. I found a mode line for the same model, but that didn't make any difference. Next I found a reference to 915resolution, which a number of others with similar models had used, and which handily has an Ubuntu package. After a quick sudo apt-get install 915resolution and a reboot I had a much better looking 1280x800 desktop. Odd that this wasn't done by Dell.

Other than that everything else seems to work. The modem has drivers from the restricted section, though I doubt I'll ever use it. Network Manager picked up my wireless LAN and prompted me for my WPA2 key - with that done it connected straight away.

The 6400n had come with Ubuntu 7.04 Feisty and I had been told there were no plans to offer 7.10 Gutsy in the near future. My notebook arrived the day after Gutsy's release, so I used Ubuntu's Update Manager to do the upgrade that day. No problems smile

Getting DVDs playing took a bit more work. I've never had any success getting Totem-GStreamer to work with DVDs, so after enabling Medibuntu's repositories I installed Totem-Xine, MPlayer and the various libdvd* packages required. DVDs now look really good on the TrueLife display.


The 2650's display had started breaking up, with lines or artefacts obliterating the screen, sometimes even during the BIOS display. A colleague with the same laptop (bought from work at the end of their lease) had also had similar problems, and I thought it was down to the nVidia graphics card playing up. Fitting a second-hand replacement seems to have cured it now. -- MartinRowe - 20 Oct 2007
Topic revision: r1 - 20 Oct 2007 - 19:59:35 - MartinRowe
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