Sony Vaio F11 Laptop Review - Ubuntu Linux

KeyWords: linux, vaio, f11, f series, f11 series, series, ubuntu, arch, windows, review, good, bad, hacks, work arounds, tutorial, instructions, code, vaio laptop, laptop, vaio linux, nvidia, nvidia drivers, nvidia vaio, 425m, touchpad

Last month I was in need of a new laptop. After doing my looking at deals I came to a decision to purchase a Sony Vaio F11. It was on sale at NewEgg and had everything I was looking for in a laptop. Well the laptop was bought, thanks to David, and I have been using it solidly for about a month now. Over the month I have tried various Operating Systems on the Sony Vaio laptop, from Windows 7 to Ubuntu to Arch Linux. I have to say, my initial impressions were not great and my frustration level was very high. To avoid any real negative feedback, I still love my Vaio now that I finally have it working with Arch Linux, but it was rough getting to that point and here is how it panned out.

Sony Vaio F11 Series Not Ubuntu Friendly

Let's Use Ubuntu...or Not
I have always had success with using Ubuntu, and Ubuntu is generally a 15 minute install without any hassle, especially on a brand new computer where nothing needs to be backed up. Well the Sony Vaio F11 is not an easy system to get up and running with Ubuntu. Right after the Live Ubuntu CD has been inserted you immediately encounter a problem...the touchpad does not work! Well, having used Ubuntu before and preferring not to use a touchpad, this was easy to work around to get Ubuntu installed, just tab to "Install Ubuntu" and use the keyboard shortcuts to do the rest. Ok, the installation was going through. After the installation and Ubuntu loaded up guess what? The touchpad was still not working. Having a USB Mouse to plug into the computer, I connected my eth0 to get online and do some googling using Firefox. What I found was that for whatever reason Ubuntu does not recognize the Sony Touchpad (I found this eerily weird given Ubuntu's Easy setup reputation) and there is a hack to get it working thanks to the Ubuntu Forums.

Edit /etc/default/grub to include GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX="i8042.nopnp"
sudo update-grub

Great, I now have a touchpad to use finally. Thinking it is wise to do an upgrade, I went ahead and ran:

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get upgrade

The process goes through smoothly and I decide to reboot because Ubuntu tells me I need to Restart. I go ahead and reboot...wait a second, I was suppose to see Ubuntu show appears the updates broke my system and now all I see is a black screen, which you can tell the system is on (given the green LED on the power button). Well this is the pits. After some more googling (from my wife's computer) it appears that the NVIDIA drivers that are in the Ubuntu repository do not go well with the Sony Vaio. The fix was again, easy, but annoying. I loaded up the Ubuntu Live CD, had my USB Mouse plugged in, went to "Try Ubuntu". Once there I loaded up a terminal (Alt + Ctrl + T) and blacklisted the NVIDIA driver. To do this I had to mount my drive and create a file, during the fdisk -l /dev/sda part, we need to find the sda number that is set for the root drive. This will generally be sda3 / sda4 / sda5, depending on how you set it up. If you did the automatic with a separate home partition it should be sda3. No matter, after you mount it, if it is not the right drive, use `umount /media/sdaX` and then try the next number. To know its the right drive, doing an `ls /media/sda` should come back with folders like `/etc` `/bin`...

sudo su -
cd /media
mkdir sda
fdisk -l /dev/sda
mount -a /dev/sda3 /media/sda
cd /media/sda/etc/modprobe.d/
nano blacklist-nvidia.conf
#Paste this text in the blacklist file
# we black list the nouveau so we can install the proper nvidia drivers later
blacklist nvidia
blacklist nouveau
#Save with Ctrl+X

That should blacklist the driver. Before we reboot the computer, we will want to go and download the latest driver for the video card at NVIDIA, mine was a 450m Cuda, yours may be different depending on the model. We will want to save them to `/media/sda/opt`, if that is not a directory, go ahead and make it and then using Firefox, download the drivers and move them to that folder.

Once that has been done, go ahead and reboot. Once the Ubuntu Login screen comes up, we want to run a TTY, so hold Ctrl+Alt+F2, this should take you to a terminal go ahead and login, your normal account should suffice (we will just sudo later). Once in the terminal, let's go ahead and install the proper NVIDIA drivers.

sudo su -
cd /opt
chmod +x NVIDIA*

Go ahead and follow the prompts, at the end it should say it was installed, at this point we need to enable the NVIDIA driver.

cd /etc/modprobe.d/
nano blacklist-nvidia.conf

Leave the nouvea driver blacklisted, but delete the nvidia line. Once this has been done and saved, type `reboot` and the computer should restart and you should have a working version of Ubuntu with the Sony Vaio F Series. Caveats, never upgrade NVIDIA from the Ubuntu Repository, it will ask you to, do not or else you have to go through this mess again. You cannot change the brightness etc without doing some modifications to the xorg.conf, if you would like this feature check out Vaio-F11 on Linux. Finally, under Linux, in order to get proper power management for a Vaio Laptop, you will need to compile a custom kernel (see the Vaio-F11 Linux site above for how to do that). Compiling a Kernel is not easy, but after you do it a few times it get's easier, given I need to re-compile mine I may write a blog about how to do it. But all in all, you now have a working Vaio F11 Series laptop on Ubuntu Linux! Congratulations (now aren't you glad you found this blog!).

Conclusion for Ubuntu on Sony Vaio F11 Series
I would not really recommend running Ubuntu on the Sony Vaio F11 series, until Ubuntu or Sony can address the major issues. If you do run it, at least you know the hacks / work around's to fix it. It is very unfortunate that the drivers are not compatible, and I do not blame Ubuntu in the slightest. Sony is notorious for having it's own set of drivers that use proprietary software which is not available on Linux except through hacks. It is workable, but just beware that it takes a lot of effort to get Ubuntu working on the Sony Vaio F11 Series. For me it took a good 5+ hours to find all this information and get everything "working". I formatted a few days later to see how the Sony Vaio F11 Series laptop ran on Windows 7..

I will write a new blog in a few days about my experiences with the Sony Vaio F11 series laptop under Windows 7 and another on Arch Linux, given the extent of the information I have. So please check back, or better yet, subscribe to my RSS feed! I will update this blog with links once I post those items.

Posted by frost on May 26th, 2011 22:13 - Subscribe Bookmark and Share

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