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The Quirky Thinkpad 600 and audio

Posted 01-06-2011 at 11:50 PM by William (Dthdealer)

Currently I am following in the footsteps of Motho ke otho ka botho ( ) and running Linux on older hardware. The experience of leaving the confines of Xorg and entering the world of framebuffer are fascinating at the least. Every now and then something goes wrong on the computer, but the culprit is always easily identifiable as the hardware of my now thirteen year old Thinkpad 600.

Long ago, when I first tried Linux on the device I took the wrong route for such an old system and tried Gentoo. Needless to say, many hours were spent playing games on /other/ computers while the Thinkpad's weedy Pentium 2 slowly inched its way through the source. Clocked at 233mhz, kernel compilation took a couple of days of the laptop on its side ( the reason for which I will get on to ). Even my old laser printer with two buttons ( that don't do anything but freeze the print queue and disable the device until you kill its power and restart it ) and 4 LEDs (!!!) has a clock of about 540.

It turns out that my version of the BIOS hands over all fan control to the OS once it boots, and unless you manually set the speed of the fan ( after modprobing the 'thinkpad_acpi' module with the value 'fan_control=1' ) the fan stays at whatever speed it was at when the system was booted. For some reason the distro's trip points were default at ninety something degrees Celsius, but I believe before that was reached, the OS throttled its use of the CPU. What fun.

Currently still I have to do a 'sudo echo level disengaged > /proc/acpi/ibm/fan' to get the fan ( in this case to maximum unregulated speed, hence 'disengaged. ) to do anything if the computer was not hot when it booted ( where the BIOS would spin the fan up before abdicating ). I'll write a script that automatically spins the fan up depending on temperature, load and power source sometime later and then post it here.

I did not know how to manually control the fan while back when I was compiling a Gentoo kernel, and instead thought the Thinkpad's fan dead. Hence the laptop being on its side on the floor to maximise airflow.

I have diverged. Back onto the current problem, or /previous/ problem as it now is.

Today I booted the Thinkpad up to be greeted with a computer pretending not to have a sound card. I know that is not true, but as far as alsa was concerned my computer did not have one. The biggest hint to what has gone wrong was very early in bootup:
wss: can't grab control port 0x0
Blame the BIOS! And yes, after performing another bios 'initialisation' ( used when you install new hardware. Also resets a lot of things you can't change yourself ) and then disabling quickboot ( for the 'initialisation' turns it back on ) magically my sound card existed again. Hurray! Now to play some Zelda Ocarina of Time tunes...

I would love to flash and upgrade my BIOS, but multiple things stand in my way.

First of all the flashing & writing utility is written for DOS. The original harddrive of the computer which had Windows 98 on it ( Windows 9x was DOS based ) died many years ago and I'm on a new one with nothing but Debian. The only option is to use FreeDOS, but the guides I've been following for flashing BIOSs using FreeDos quote a minimal liveCD version that does not exist any more. I'm not going to download a whole CD full of DOS crud just to flash my BIOS.

The second problem is that I would have to extract the BIOS and manually flash it on using one of the IBM utilities. The official floppy/flasher utility requires me to have a fully charged battery installed in the laptop. I've never known the battery to work on this computer, for when I obtained it second hand from my brother it was as dead as a doornail.

Supposedly this is a precaution in case power cuts while the BIOS is flashing. Honestly it is just a pain for those of us not willing to pay $70 on an unknown age of a Thinkpad 600 battery from Ebay. My local power only ever goes off in storms, and I would not do something as delicate as flashing something's BIOS during one.

IBM honestly must have thought their customers lived in areas with regular power outa8c$%)afd ^[/., .

Regards, William
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