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Installing Fedora Core 4 on Sony Vaio VGN-FJ170/B (v1.0)
Last modified: Friday November 9, 2012

This page is pretty complete and will only be updated with major corrections. A Fedora Core 5 version of this guide is already in the works and if you want to install Fedora on this laptop I highly recommend the latest version which is far easier to install. If you have an interest in getting Linux running on this laptop I encourage you to join the mailing list I've set up and help out.

Having owned several laptops I now realize there are only a couple things that are truly important. Size (small but not too small) and a great screen. Based on those two needs I chose the Sony Vaio VGN-FJ170/B (decoding the model number: FJ series with 1.7Ghz processor in Black)

Please also refer to my Fedora Core 4 Tips & Tricks.

Hardware Summary

For those interested here is the full lspci output:

Fedora Core 4 Compatibility

Please note I've also created a mailing list to discuss Linux on Sony Vaio FJ series notebooks. You can sign up HERE

Preparing for the install

The system comes preconfigured with a hidden partition #1 that contains system recovery data. I don't recommend touching that. The main NTFS partition is #2 which I resized using the built-in tools in the Knoppix distribution. It was tricky but worked fine. I've used Partition Magic in the past which I find is more work because you need to boot into XP and install the software for it to work.

Please note this is not an easy laptop to get going with Linux and the steps outlined below are not intended for Linux novices.

Install Fedora Core 4

You should be able to install Fedora normally on this laptop. Just make sure you choose the a configuration with the development environment. When prompted for monitor type choose "Generic Laptop Display Panel 1280x800". Otherwise install it as you like.

Ok, here is the tricky part. After installing Fedora Core 4 you'll need to boot into either Knoppix or the Fedora install CD's "rescue" mode and make a change to a startup script otherwise the laptop will hang when it boots. The file you need to edit is /etc/rc.sysinit  and you'll need to comment out the following section:

# Sound
# for module in `/sbin/modprobe -c | LC_ALL=C awk '/^alias[[:space:]]+snd-card-[[:digit:]]+[[:space:]]/ { print $3 }'` $audio; do
#         load_module $module
# done

# echo -n $" audio"
Great, you can now reboot into Fedora for the first time. You'll find a lot of things won't work out of the box (sound, wifi, etc.) until you do some more work. The first thing you should do is plut into a wired ethernet and do a full update of the system before doing anything else:
# yum -y update
Before you reboot you can go back and edit /etc/rc.sysinit again and uncomment the lines you just commented out above. The other thing you need to do is edit /etc/grub.conf and modfy the kernel boot line to add the word irqpoll  to the boot line for the latest kernel like below:
title Fedora Core (2.6.14-1.1653_FC4)
        root (hd0,2)
        kernel /vmlinuz-2.6.14-1.1653_FC4 ro root=/dev/VolGroup00/LogVol00 rhgb quiet irqpoll
        initrd /initrd-2.6.14-1.1653_FC4.img
You should be able to reboot into the latest kernel successfully now.

Configuring the audio

If you followed the directions above and rebooted into the latest kernel sound should work. In my case the audio was muted by default. The easiest way is to start the audio applet in Gnome and bring up the Preferences. In my case the device was wrong, it was using the OSS driver which is not correct. Choose the HDA Intel (Alsa Mixer) and the device to track and control should be Front for the master volume. Once that's set Open Volume Control and unmute the Front and PCM sliders. If they don't show up in the master volume control hit Edit -> Preferences and choose all the tracks to be visible in the controller.

Some issues remain with audio. Setting the maximum volume causes static and distorted audio. The OSS driver for some reason stutters when playing medio. Using the older OSS driver doesn't have this problem.

Configuring the video

After rebooting with all updates applied I found the resolution came up at 1280x800 but the driver was "vesa". It works but is slow and lacks power management. To fix that you will need to download the 915resolution  utility from http://www.geocities.com/stomljen/. Then run the utility choosing one of the listed modes that's closest to the native 1280x800 mode. This is how I did it:
# ./915resolution 65 1280 800
Then you can configure the X server to use the i810  driver instead of vesa . Edit /etc/X11/xorg.conf and change the driver for the video card as follows:
Section "Device"
        Identifier  "Videocard0"
        # Driver      "vesa"
        Driver      "i810"
        VendorName  "Videocard vendor"
        BoardName   "Intel 915"
Now when you restart your X server you'll be using the new driver.

Controlling screen brightness

The main reason I chose a Sony notebook was for the incredibly bright screen. No other manufacturer was as good at the time I bought it (Dec 2005). However, once the brightness was set in Windows XP it was not possible to adjust it in Linux. Unlike other laptops that implement screen brightness in hardware Sony for some idiotic reason chose to do it with a driver. That also means that it's probably not going to work under Windows Vista when/if that ever gets released.

It is possible to get it to work but a little tricky. First, you'll want Stelian Pop's sony_acpi driver which I modified slightly as well as the fsfn-1.1-take2.tar.gz. Put the files in /usr/src  and extract and compile them.

# gtar xzvf sony_acpi-0.3.tar.gz
# cd sony_acpi-0.3
# make install
# modprobe sony_acpi
To get the sony_acpi  driver to load automatically I added the following line to /etc/rc.d/rc.local . I know it's ugly and if you have a better way in Fedora please let me know! Please note that you will also have to re-install the driver when you upgrade to a newer kernel.
	modprobe sony_acpi
If that worked you should have a directory /proc/acpi/sony  and it will contain three files. You can manually adjust the brightness by echoing numbers between 1 and 8 to the brightness file.

Now you need to get fsfn  to handle the special Fn keys and it will then control the audio volume and screen brightness for you and will display the new value in an on screen display. You'll need the xosd  library installed for this to work properly.

# yum -y install xosd xosd-devel
# gtar xzvf fsfn-1.1-take2.tar.gz
# cd fsfn-1.1
# configure
# make install
# cp fedora/fsfn /etc/init.d
Before you start you'll probably want to read the fsfn(5)  man page and create the configuration file /etc/fsfn.conf  containing at least the following line to enable a special hack necessary for the VAIO FJ series of notebooks:
To get this all working you'll need to start the fsfn  service at boot time (after the driver obove is loaded). Rather than having it start automatically I added it to my startup file /etc/rc.d/rc.local :
	service fsfn start
And finally you will need the client that handles the on screen display to start when you log in. Go to Desktop -> Preferences -> No Preferences -> Sessions. Once there go to Startup Programs and add the command fsfn -o  to the list of startup programs.

Once you do all that you should be able to adjust the volume and screen brightness with the special Fn keys just like in XP.

Configuring Wifi

This laptop is based on the Centrino chipset which is well supported by Linux. However, some distributions like Fedora do not include the necessary firmware for the Wifi interface so you'll have to download it. The easiest way is to download it from the FreshRPMs repository:
# rpm -ihv http://ayo.freshrpms.net/fedora/linux/4/i386/RPMS.freshrpms/freshrpms-release-1.1-1.fc.noarch.rpm
# yum -y install ipw2200-firmware
# modprobe ipw2200
That will load the driver which will now have access to the firmware so the interface will come up automatically from now on. You can now set up your wireless interface as you would normally.

Other Odds and Ends

CPU Frequency Scaling does work on this laptop and just needs to be configured. Just edit /etc/cpuspeed.conf and make sure the following line is in there and not commented out:
This will cause the correct module for this processor to be loaded automatically when the cpuspeed service starts up.


There are a few things that don't work (yet):

If you have any leads on getting any more features working pleae drop me a line.

Other Useful Resources

I used the following websites describing getting this or similar laptops to work with various versions of Linux in the process of getting this laptop to run Fedora Core 3. None of them had all the answers in one place however.
Linux on the VAIO TR3 - This site helped me figure out some of the goofier things about Sony laptops. Why do some companies feel the urge to re-invent things that have already been invented better by others?

Sony Vaio FS series FN keys - This site was a great source of information. It was for Gentoo/Ubuntu but the tips work just as well in Fedora.

HOWTO: Adjust brightness on Sony Vaio - Another Ubuntu related page for the FS series but many of the tips work on the FJ as well. A lot of what is in this guide came from this site.

Comments From People Like You!
Fedora Core 4 on Sony Vaio FJ
Add a Comment add a comment
24-Jan-2007 15:59
I wrote a command-line tool to control screen brightness by echoing values to /proc/acpi/sony/brightness  hope someone ends up getting use out of it



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