Debian on ThinkPad Edge 11″

Vincent Bernat

This has been several months since I didn’t use much my laptop, an Asus S5N: it was crippled by a short battery life and was hit by several bugs, most of them targeting the i855GME graphic chipset thanks to the use of GEM and KMS in the latest Xorg. I did not want to invest too much in a laptop and I have found a rebate from Lenovo for ThinkPad Edge series. Voilà, I have a ThinkPad Edge 11″.


ThinkPad Edge is an entry-level notebook from Lenovo. In France, it is available for around 500 €, thanks to the usual parity between dollar and euro.

Hardware configuration#

Lenovo does not sell directly in France. Therefore, you cannot configure your laptop as you want. There are two or three configurations available. This can be a bit frustrating if you want something specific.

Here is the configuration I bought:

  • Intel Core i3 380UM at 1.33 GHz CPU.
  • 11.6″ LED screen, with a resolution of 1366x768.
  • 4 GiB RAM.
  • 320 GiB hard drive.
  • Wireless network (Centrino Wireless-N) and bluetooth.
  • Broadband modem (WWAN)

It’s a small laptop but it is not as light as it should be (1.5 kg or 3.3 pounds). Apart from the power supply, you don’t get any extra. My Asus was shipped with a wireless mouse, a transport bag, a sleeve, a USB key and a CD burner.

On one side, you get two USB ports and on the other side, one USB port, an HDMI port, a network outlet and a speaker jack. The VGA connector is placed on the rear.


First step: checking BIOS settings. WiMAX can be disabled as well as any other component that you may not need. The keyboard can be configured so that function keys are available directly instead of having to use the Fn key.

There is an option called Computrace from AbsoluteSoftware which seems targeted at finding back your laptop in case it gets stolen or just let the FBI know where you are. I have disabled it.

Debian installation#

Debian can be installed from a USB stick. This is really easy now. You grab the ISO image you want to use (I take the one for AMD64 in testing because I will run unstable) and to copy it on the USB stick:

# dd if=debian-testing-amd64-netinst.iso of=/dev/sdb

The previous way of making the USB stick bootable, installing a kernel, an initrd and the ISO image is deprecated (and does not work).

Moreover, using testing to install Debian allows me to use a 2.6.37 kernel and circumvent some problems that may have happened with an older kernel.

During the installation, I choose a guided partitioning using encrypted LVM. I choose to have several partitions but I keep /usr in the root partition since having a separate /usr is less and less supported, especially with software like udev.

The partitioning tool in Debian installer does not allow you to resize volumes, you need to destroy them and recreate them as well as their content. However, this is still faster than writing a patch for this.

When the installation is finished, the laptop boots on a 2.6.38 kernel, asks for the passphrase to decrypt the LUKS volume and display the login prompt a few seconds later.

Software configuration#

Most of the hardware seems to be supported. No obscure commands to run to get a working network. Therefore, I start by setting up my usual environment.

Setting up the desktop#

First, I change /etc/apt/sources.list to get unstable:

deb unstable main
deb-src unstable main
deb experimental main contrib non-free

I also want that everything that is installed from experimental to be upgraded if an update is available in experimental. This is done by creating a file /etc/apt/preferences.d/experimental:

Package: *
Pin: release experimental
Pin-Priority: 101

Then, I install the following packages:

  • zsh, my favourite shell with my hand-made maturating configuration. I should put it on GitHub one day.
  • mg, is the editor that I use to quickly edit a configuration file. I don’t like vi. I have used jed for a long time but its default configuration can be cumbersome and it misses some emacs keybinding.
  • emacs, my work environment. I use it as a text editor and mail reader (with Gnus). I don’t use it as a browser nor as a terminal. As for zsh, I have my configuration files ready to be copied anywhere.
  • fvwm, my window manager since quite some time. I use fvwm-crystal on top of it. My configuration is described in another post. I also use conky.
  • rxvt-unicode, a terminal. It has a very good terminal emulation and some fancy features like transparency (using compositing or not). It is light and fast and allows me to search in the backbuffer. It can use a client/server system that will close all your windows when the server crashes. This almost never happens.
  • unison, a synchronisation tool that allows me to keep the same files on my different computers.
  • gdm3 is the only display manager that is able to talk correctly to ConsoleKit and get the rights set correctly without adding yourself to a lot of groups.

Nowadays, I use the kernel from Debian and I do not have to run my own configuration for it. The glory days where I had to recompile the kernel before plugging a new USB toy have passed.

I remove rpcbind and nfs-common. I use ferm to setup a simple firewall. Here is my ferm.conf:

domain (ip ip6) {
  table filter {
    chain INPUT {
        policy DROP;
        mod state state INVALID DROP;
        mod state state (ESTABLISHED RELATED) ACCEPT;
        interface lo ACCEPT;
        proto tcp dport ssh ACCEPT;
    chain OUTPUT {
        policy ACCEPT;
        mod state state (ESTABLISHED RELATED) ACCEPT;
    chain FORWARD {
        policy DROP;

unison will then sync my configuration files and my documents. After this step, my environment is ready.

Hardware configuration#

This is usually the most troublesome part. However, looking at the output of lspci and lsusb, everything seems pretty easy to get supported.

Here is lspci output:

00:00.0 Host bridge: Intel Corporation Core Processor DRAM Controller (rev 02)
00:02.0 VGA compatible controller: Intel Corporation Core Processor Integrated Graphics Controller (rev 02)
00:16.0 Communication controller: Intel Corporation 5 Series/3400 Series Chipset HECI Controller (rev 06)
00:1a.0 USB Controller: Intel Corporation 5 Series/3400 Series Chipset USB2 Enhanced Host Controller (rev 06)
00:1b.0 Audio device: Intel Corporation 5 Series/3400 Series Chipset High Definition Audio (rev 06)
00:1c.0 PCI bridge: Intel Corporation 5 Series/3400 Series Chipset PCI Express Root Port 1 (rev 06)
00:1c.1 PCI bridge: Intel Corporation 5 Series/3400 Series Chipset PCI Express Root Port 2 (rev 06)
00:1c.5 PCI bridge: Intel Corporation 5 Series/3400 Series Chipset PCI Express Root Port 6 (rev 06)
00:1d.0 USB Controller: Intel Corporation 5 Series/3400 Series Chipset USB2 Enhanced Host Controller (rev 06)
00:1e.0 PCI bridge: Intel Corporation 82801 Mobile PCI Bridge (rev a6)
00:1f.0 ISA bridge: Intel Corporation Mobile 5 Series Chipset LPC Interface Controller (rev 06)
00:1f.2 SATA controller: Intel Corporation 5 Series/3400 Series Chipset 4 port SATA AHCI Controller (rev 06)
00:1f.3 SMBus: Intel Corporation 5 Series/3400 Series Chipset SMBus Controller (rev 06)
00:1f.6 Signal processing controller: Intel Corporation 5 Series/3400 Series Chipset Thermal Subsystem (rev 06)
03:00.0 Network controller: Intel Corporation Centrino Wireless-N 1000
09:00.0 Ethernet controller: Realtek Semiconductor Co., Ltd. RTL8111/8168B PCI Express Gigabit Ethernet controller (rev 03)
ff:00.0 Host bridge: Intel Corporation Core Processor QuickPath Architecture Generic Non-core Registers (rev 02)
ff:00.1 Host bridge: Intel Corporation Core Processor QuickPath Architecture System Address Decoder (rev 02)
ff:02.0 Host bridge: Intel Corporation Core Processor QPI Link 0 (rev 02)
ff:02.1 Host bridge: Intel Corporation Core Processor QPI Physical 0 (rev 02)
ff:02.2 Host bridge: Intel Corporation Core Processor Reserved (rev 02)
ff:02.3 Host bridge: Intel Corporation Core Processor Reserved (rev 02)

And lsusb output (I have disabled the broadband modem in the BIOS and therefore, it does not appear here):

Bus 001 Device 001: ID 1d6b:0002 Linux Foundation 2.0 root hub
Bus 002 Device 001: ID 1d6b:0002 Linux Foundation 2.0 root hub
Bus 001 Device 002: ID 8087:0020 Intel Corp. Integrated Rate Matching Hub
Bus 002 Device 002: ID 8087:0020 Intel Corp. Integrated Rate Matching Hub
Bus 001 Device 003: ID 0bda:0158 Realtek Semiconductor Corp. USB 2.0 multicard reader
Bus 001 Device 004: ID 0a5c:217f Broadcom Corp. Bluetooth Controller
Bus 002 Device 003: ID 5986:01a7 Acer, Inc Lenovo Integrated Webcam

There is a dedicated page for the ThinkPad Edge 11″ on ThinkWiki. This wiki is one of the best source of information when you get a ThinkPad.

The kernel as shipped by Debian kernel team contains every module that you may need. One of them, thinkpad_acpi will handle most of the perks under the hood.

I do not use a complete desktop like GNOME. I usually prefer to use command line tools and put them in .xsession for persistence. There is usually some graphical utility to do the same thing. There are however some configuration steps that are now far easier to do with a graphical tool. Since I use X all the time, I just rely on these tools when necessary.

BIOS upgrade#

From lshw output, I see that I already have the latest BIOS available. No need to update then. In case you need to update, yours, ThinkWiki has a documentation to upgrade. You can find memdisk image in syslinux package.

Graphic card#

The graphic card is integrated into the CPU. Intel usually ships graphic cards well supported by open source drivers. ThinkWiki tells us:

A very recent Linux distribution with kernel 2.6.33 and Intel Xorg driver 2.11 or newer is recommended. Note that XVideo (Xv) playback at certain frame sizes does not work properly unless you have at least version 2.12 of the Intel Xorg driver.

With Debian Wheezy, you get version 2.15. Therefore, configuring the graphic card is just a matter of installing xserver-xorg-video-intel and that’s all. No /etc/X11/xorg.conf needed.

HDMI and VGA outputs are detected without configuring anything. They can be enabled with xrandr. I did not try if it was possible to use both of them at the same time.

Screen 0: minimum 320 x 200, current 1366 x 768, maximum 8192 x 8192
LVDS1 connected 1366x768+0+0 (normal left inverted right x axis y axis) 256mm x 144mm
   1366x768       60.0*+   50.0
   1360x768       59.8     60.0
   1024x768       60.0
   800x600        60.3     56.2
   640x480        59.9
VGA1 disconnected (normal left inverted right x axis y axis)
HDMI1 disconnected (normal left inverted right x axis y axis)
DP1 disconnected (normal left inverted right x axis y axis)

Compositing works without any problem. I use only transparency and therefore, I don’t know what the speed is on a desktop with all effects turned on.

Regarding video acceleration, XVideo is supported but the graphic card also features hardware decoding with i965-va-driver package. Here is the output of vainfo:

libva: libva version 0.32.0
libva: va_getDriverName() returns 0
libva: Trying to open /usr/lib/dri/
libva: va_openDriver() returns 0
vainfo: VA API version: 0.32
vainfo: Driver version: i965 Driver 0.1
vainfo: Supported profile and entrypoints
  VAProfileMPEG2Simple            :    VAEntrypointVLD
  VAProfileMPEG2Main              :    VAEntrypointVLD
  VAProfileH264Baseline           :    VAEntrypointVLD
  VAProfileH264Main               :    VAEntrypointVLD
  VAProfileH264High               :    VAEntrypointVLD

With Debian, VLC can make use of this if you put ffmpeg-hw=1 in your ~/.config/vlc/vlcrc. We are then greeted by this:

[0x2629040] avcodec decoder: Using VA API version 0.32 for hardware decoding.


The network card works out of the box. ThinkWiki tells us that there can be stability problems with 2.6.36 kernel. During the installation, a 2.6.37 was used without any problem. I am now running a 2.6.38 and never got a glitch. It is likely that the described problem was solved with 2.6.37.


UltraNav is the combination of the usual touchpad and the trackpoint which is a small joystick in the center of the keyboard and is well known to ThinkPad users since most of them have one. The trackpoint is a great input device.

Nowadays, all input devices are configured with the help of xinput command. Here is the output of xinput list:

⎡ Virtual core pointer           id=2    [master pointer  (3)]
⎜   ↳ Virtual core XTEST pointer id=4    [slave  pointer  (2)]
⎜   ↳ SynPS/2 Synaptics TouchPad id=11    [slave  pointer  (2)]
⎜   ↳ TPPS/2 IBM TrackPoint      id=12    [slave  pointer  (2)]
⎣ Virtual core keyboard          id=3    [master keyboard (2)]
↳ Virtual core XTEST keyboard    id=5    [slave  keyboard (3)]
↳ Power Button                   id=6    [slave  keyboard (3)]
↳ Video Bus                      id=7    [slave  keyboard (3)]
↳ Power Button                   id=8    [slave  keyboard (3)]
↳ Integrated Camera              id=9    [slave  keyboard (3)]
↳ AT Translated Set 2 keyboard   id=10    [slave  keyboard (3)]
↳ ThinkPad Extra Buttons         id=13    [slave  keyboard (3)]

The command xinput list-props will give you additional information on each input device listed above. You can then configure any settings using xinput set-prop. For example, if you want to enable scrolling by using the edges of the touchpad and enable palm detection, you can use the following commands:

$ xinput set-int-prop "SynPS/2 Synaptics TouchPad" 'Synaptics Edge Scrolling' 8 1 1 0
$ xinput set-int-prop "SynPS/2 Synaptics TouchPad" 'Synaptics Palm Detection' 8 1

If you want to disable the touchpad and only use the trackpoint, use the following command:

$ xinput set-int-prop "SynPS/2 Synaptics TouchPad" 'Synaptics Off' 8 1

Each property has a type and a size. There is no place for guessing since every property is listed in man 4 synaptics. The same applies for the trackpoint but the correct manual page is man 4 evdev. For example, if you want to enable scrolling using the middle button, use:

$ xinput set-int-prop "TPPS/2 IBM TrackPoint" "Evdev Wheel Emulation" 8 1
$ xinput set-int-prop "TPPS/2 IBM TrackPoint" "Evdev Wheel Emulation Button" 8 2

All these commands can be tossed in ~/.xsession.

Keyboard hot keys#

ThinkPad laptops usually have a lot of hot keys. This is not the case of the ThinkPad Edge which only features a few of them:

  • volume control
  • brightness control
  • webcam and external screen toggle
  • wireless toggle
  • multimedia keys

All these keys trigger an event in one of the keyboard listed in xinput list. Therefore, your window manager or any other application can intercept them and act upon. You can use evtest to check which key triggers which event on which keyboard.

The acpid daemon listen on these keyboards and can also trigger some actions. For example, it will run when you hit the wireless toggle. By default, this will enable or disable your wireless card. But you can configure the script to use a multistate toggle and disable or enable the bluetooth card as well.

Sound card#

As for the network card, the sound card works out of the box.

I use PulseAudio because it allows per-application volume control and per-application sound card selection. It comes handy if you have some bluetooth headset. To make PulseAudio the default application for most applications, I put this in my ~/.asoundrc:

pcm.!default {
  type pulse

ctl.!default {
  type pulse

Wireless card#

A firmware is needed to make this card work. On Debian, you need to install firmware-iwlwifi package. Then, iwlagn module needs to be loaded. You can check with rfkill list that the wireless card has not been disabled. iw list will then give the status:

Wiphy phy0
Band 1:
    Capabilities: 0x872
        Static SM Power Save
        RX Greenfield
        RX HT20 SGI
        RX HT40 SGI
        No RX STBC
        Max AMSDU length: 3839 bytes
        No DSSS/CCK HT40
    Maximum RX AMPDU length 65535 bytes (exponent: 0x003)
    Minimum RX AMPDU time spacing: 4 usec (0x05)
    HT RX MCS rate indexes supported: 0-15, 32
    TX unequal modulation not supported
    HT TX Max spatial streams: 1
    HT TX MCS rate indexes supported may differ
        * 2412 MHz [1] (14.0 dBm)
        * 2417 MHz [2] (14.0 dBm)
        * 2422 MHz [3] (14.0 dBm)
        * 2427 MHz [4] (14.0 dBm)
        * 2432 MHz [5] (14.0 dBm)
        * 2437 MHz [6] (14.0 dBm)
        * 2442 MHz [7] (14.0 dBm)
        * 2447 MHz [8] (14.0 dBm)
        * 2452 MHz [9] (14.0 dBm)
        * 2457 MHz [10] (14.0 dBm)
        * 2462 MHz [11] (14.0 dBm)
        * 2467 MHz [12] (14.0 dBm) (passive scanning, no IBSS)
        * 2472 MHz [13] (14.0 dBm) (passive scanning, no IBSS)
    Bitrates (non-HT):
        * 1.0 Mbps
        * 2.0 Mbps (short preamble supported)
        * 5.5 Mbps (short preamble supported)
        * 11.0 Mbps (short preamble supported)
        * 6.0 Mbps
        * 9.0 Mbps
        * 12.0 Mbps
        * 18.0 Mbps
        * 24.0 Mbps
        * 36.0 Mbps
        * 48.0 Mbps
        * 54.0 Mbps
max # scan SSIDs: 20
Supported interface modes:
     * IBSS
     * managed
     * monitor

I don’t know why, but 802.11a channels have been disabled. I don’t have interest in them and therefore I did not search why this happens.

iwlagn 0000:03:00.0: Detected Intel(R) Centrino(R) Wireless-N 1000 BGN, REV=0x6C
iwlagn 0000:03:00.0: device EEPROM VER=0x15d, CALIB=0x6
iwlagn 0000:03:00.0: Device SKU: 0X9
iwlagn 0000:03:00.0: Valid Tx ant: 0X1, Valid Rx ant: 0X3
iwlagn 0000:03:00.0: Tunable channels: 13 802.11bg, 0 802.11a channels
iwlagn 0000:03:00.0: irq 44 for MSI/MSI-X
iwlagn 0000:03:00.0: loaded firmware version build 13488

Wireless is one of the thing that make me use graphical applications like Network Manager. Command line tools are too low level to quickly connect to some random wireless network.

There was a large debate in debian-devel@ldo to determine if Network Manager was ready to replace ifup and ifdown commands, even for servers. It seems that this is not something impossible and therefore, I think it has become flexible enough to ensure most of the configuration tasks I need.


The bluetooth chipset is hosted on the USB bus. hci_usb module will take care of it. It supports AD2P and can be used to listen to music with a compatible headset. hciconfig will tell us if the chipset is working.

Again, bluetooth is easier to configure with a graphical tool. BlueZ, the bluetooth stack in Linux, uses DBus to communicate with other applications. The command line tools have been deprecated and therefore, you need to fight with some DBus binding to pair your computer to your headset.

gnome-bluetooth package comes with an applet which allows you to quickly pair to any device. If you install pulseaudio-module-bluetooth package, any bluetooth headset should work out of the box.

Broadband (WWAN)#

To configure the broadband modem, the most difficult thing to do is to grab the appropriate firmware. ThinkWiki comes with various instructions to get it. I did not keep my Windows installation and therefore, I grabbed the Qualcomm Gobi 2000 Wireless WAN driver and I unpacked it with some Windows host with msiexec as instructed (I did have to execute the installation program first, otherwise, msiexec tells that the file is invalid). I choosed the default firmware since my laptop is unlocked. ThinkWiki page explains which firmware to choose in which situation.

The package gobi-loader needs to be installed. The firmware files amss.mbn, apps.mbn and UQCN.mbn should be placed in /lib/firmware/gobi. They will be loaded by udev. To avoid to reboot, I used this command:

# /lib/udev/gobi_loader -2000 /dev/ttyUSB0 /lib/firmware/gobi

To configure the 3G connection, I just used Network Manager. Ensure with rfkill list that your WWAN card is not blocked. I did not test the GPS part that needs to be enabled on Windows.


Nowadays, USB webcams are UVC devices and there is a driver to support this class of devices. Check that the uvcvideo module is correctly loaded and you should have something like this in your dmesg:

uvcvideo: Found UVC 1.00 device Integrated Camera (5986:01a7)

cheese is a small application that can be used to check if the webcam operates as expected.

Card reader#

Nothing to do. This works out of the box.

Suspend to memory and disk#

Install the uswsusp package which will also pull pm-utils. You will get pm-suspend and pm-hibernate commands.

pm-suspend will enable suspend to memory. On resume, the system takes a whole minute to become operational. I get the following message:

r8169 0000:09:00.0: eth0: unable to apply firmware patch
PM: resume of devices complete after 60786.035 msecs
PM: Finishing wakeup.

Installing firmware-realtek package solves this issue. It should also be solved by a future kernel. I also have this message when I come back from sleep:

[drm:i915_hangcheck_ring_idle] *ERROR* Hangcheck timer elapsed... render ring idle [waiting on 9297, at 9297], missed IRQ?

The X server is then slow as hell. The message can be fixed by using i915.semaphores=1 as a kernel parameter but the X server is still slow. It seems that running powertop restores the original speed. This is a known problem.

On sleep, the battery loses 2% every 6 hours. This allows you to keep your laptop on sleep for several days if needed.

pm-hibernate enable suspend to disk. The suspend part works well but on resume, the kernel freezes after reading back the image into memory. There are some documentation to debug this problem but I prefer to wait for 2.6.39 which may just solves this issue.

Power management#

Let’s see on how we could enhance battery life. First, cpufrequtils package will slow down the processor when it is not used by using the ondemand governor. The frequency will drop from 1.33 GHz to 666 MHz.

Several tools are then available:

  • pm-utils package comes with scripts to enable some powersaving features. These scripts are run on ACPI events (for example, when you unplug the AC adapter). There is no way to put the laptop to sleep after two hours of inactivity for example. You need something like sleepd to handle this part. I have found nothing that could dim the screen on inactivity.
  • laptop-mode-tools is also a set of script to be run on ACPI events. It is therefore somewhat superseded by pm-utils.
  • gnome-power-manager is a daemon that makes use of upowerd. Despite its name, you can run it outside of the GNOME environment. It will put your laptop to sleep on inactivity and will dim the screen when needed. All other functionalities are handled to upowerd. This seems the way to go on today Linux desktops.

Update (2011-06)

Check my article about GNOME Power Manager without a GNOME desktop to know all the cons about running GNOME Power Manager without running a full-blown GNOME desktop.

Behing the scene, upowerd will call at some point pm-powersave from pm-utils. This allows you to run scripts when unplugging the AC adapter. There are some scripts shipped in /usr/lib/pm-utils/power.d. You can add your own in /etc/pm/power.d. Some scripts are configurable. For example, if you create /etc/pm/config.d/local and put SATA_ALPM_ENABLE=true in it, this will enable SATA ALPM mode on battery.

You can check what needs to be done with powertop or go to a website like Less Watts to get some tips on what to configure to get a better battery life.

Without adding any script, I get 5 hours of battery life with the laptop doing almost nothing. Lenovo tells that you should get 6 hours of battery life. I think that on moderate workloads, you should get 4 hours.


This Lenovo Edge has a good value for money. It features a great keyboard for a laptop of its size. It could be lighter and thinner. Its battery life is pretty good.

Almost everything works out of the box with GNU/Linux. I hope that 2.6.39 kernel will solve the remaining issues like the suspend on disk issue.