Ubuntu 9.04, Dell Vostro 1520

I successfully installed Ubuntu 9.04 on a Dell Vostro 1520, using both the LiveCD as well as the alternate installer.

Update 2010/01/18:  Most if not all of the problems I experienced with 9.04 have been resolved in 9.10.  The speakers work great and no GRUB hacks are needed.

The Good:

  • Wireless card (0e:00.0 Network controller: Broadcom Corporation BCM4312 802.11b/g (rev 01)/0e:00.0 0280: 14e4:4315 (rev 01)) works great using the proprietary Broadcom STA driver.  I can connect to my WPA-PSK/TKIP network fine.
  • CPU scaling works beautifully, although it seems I need to add two instances of the frequency scaler to the panel, one for each core.  Right click on a blank spot on the panel, Add to Panel > CPU Frequency Scaler.
  • I was disappointed to find that the Vostro had a glossy cover (fingerprint magnet) but am pleased to see that it isn’t quite as bad as I thought it would be.

The Bad:

  • The alternate installer hung on me during the language select screen.  This is probably the keyboard problem mentioned here.  I rebooted, tried it again and installed successfully.  On the subsequent reboot after install, the keyboard was unresponsive.
  • Implementing the solution linked in the above paragraph resolved all keyboard non-response issues I have had.
  • Resolved in 9.10
  • PC speaker is enabled by default and will BOOP! loudly every time I fail a tab-completion, hit backspace too many times or shutdown the machine.  The PC speaker cannot be controlled through the Volume Control or disabled in BIOS, so it can be muted one of two ways (both of which I implemented):
  • Disable system alert sounds through System > Preferences > Sound > Sounds > Play Alert Sound— but it will still BOOP! when shutting down the machine.



  • The wireless switch doesn’t do what it should.  Turning it to “off” knocks out the current wireless connection, but GNOME Network Manager gets stuck in a perpetual loop searching for wireless networks.  I don’t know if the card is technically “off” when this is happening.  The switch itself is also really cheaply constructed and is the only part on my machine that wiggles– I’d be afraid to use it extensively in case it got stuck in the “off” position.
  • There is no clasp holding the laptop shut, and the exterior of the laptop is completely smooth.  Since there is no groove to get a finger-hold on, it can be tricky to open the laptop if you have slippery hands.

The Ugly:

  • UPDATE 10/01: My speakers worked fine initially.  They were not as loud as I’d hoped, but they worked.

When I plugged headphones into the jack, the headphones emitted only static.  This was a minor inconvenience until I unplugged the headphones and found my speakers to be doing the same thing.

Upgrading the ALSA driver fixed the problem.  Sort of.  The speakers now work, but the headphones don’t.  This works well enough for me, so I give up.

  • Resolved in 9.10
  • Out of the box, this laptop was unusably hot.  I took a series of measurements so I had some evidence to present to Dell customer service.  Dellfand does not correctly report internal temperatures on this model (report alternates between 50’C and -1’C) so I had to use an infrared thermometer and measure the heat of the case itself.Readings were taken at 15-minute intervals.  Scaling was set to “OnDemand” and the computer was left to idle on a stock install of Ubuntu 9.04 over the course of an hour (temperature plateaus after that).  Here are the results:
    Time Left Palm Right Palm
    5:15P 81.3’F 80.3’F
    5:30P 94.1’F 88.4’F
    5:45P 99.1’F 92.5’F
    6:00P 101.6’F 95.4’F
    6:15P 101.8’F 96.3’F

    So after an hour of idling on a conservative power setting, my left wrist would be heated to feverish temperature on the Vostro.  It isn’t comfortable to say the least, but it certainly isn’t usable.  The Inspiron this laptop was supposed to replace peaked at 98.7’F– after several hours of moderate use!

    09/11: Dell tech support had me update the BIOS to A03.  The heating problem is no longer an issue.  If your laptop is getting unbearably hot, see what version of the BIOS you are running and update it if necessary.  Windows/Vista may be required; I don’t know if it is possible to do through Linux.


  1. Good info.. just bought one of these for my mom and was hoping that ubuntu would work well on it for her. Good to know about that bios update, I've seen that problem before on other laptops.

  2. Dell provide 2 packages to download for upgrading BIOS to A03. One is for use within Vista or XP, the other can be put on a floppy with it's program and booted at the start. So technically not even the above Windows OS's are needed either! I'm having trouble doing it – "BIOS is not flashable." Anyone having this?

  3. The DOS flasher did not work for me, so what I did was launch the Windows version on a Windows PC (actually, the Vista that shipped with the laptop running in VirtualBox), and immediately kill it. Then I harvested the BOOT.ROM file it had extracted in c:windowstemp (I think). Next, I booted the improperly working DOS flasher, and after it failed it leaves phlash16.exe behind. I manually ran phlash16.exe on boot.rom and after a few minutes of flashing, A03 was installed properly.
    The reason it runs cooler is because the fan settings are much more aggressive in this BIOS. The fan will run at low / medium speed nearly all the time. I doubt the fan will affect battery life too much, and it makes the laptop run much cooler.

  4. In hindsight, if I ever reinstall I'll probably leave Windows in a small partition just so I can flash the BIOS in the future; I don't think they tested the DOS version.

  5. As far as heat/power issues, if you have the NVidia graphics adapter, PowerMizer is running in "Max Performance" mode by default in Linux. You can run nvidia-settings to see it, but you cannot alter the settings with the GUI. To change PowerMizer to run in "Desktop" mode on AC power and "Power Savings" mode on battery, add this line to your Device "nvidia" section in /etc/X11/xorg.conf:
    Option "RegistryDwords" "PowerMizerEnable=0x1; PerfLevelSrc=0x3333; PowerMizerDefault=0x3; PowerMizerDefaultAC=0x2"

    Some sources say you should reboot, but mine worked after logging out and back in.

    Search the web for the particulars. 0x3333 means use adaptive clocking for both battery (33) and AC (the second 33), and set the modes to power saving 0x3 and general Desktop 0x2. This made a big difference in power consumption and heat.

  6. Man this post is popular today 😛

    Thanks for the info; I cheaped out and got the onboard graphics though.

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