First version: November 2004 This version: April 2010

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Installing and using Linux on a JVC MP-XP731 MiniNote Laptop


A poor photo of my XP731 with USB docking station, VGA lead, external speakers, power and and camera plugged in. Behind you can just see a Motorola GP300 handheld radio - it's about 6 inches high!

I bought my MiniNote from Inmac in Spring 2004 and have been very pleased with it. For the first few months I kept the supplied Windows XP as the only operating system but found it hard to maintain my company LAN architecture without a bit of Linux every now and again so I decided to see if it was possible to get Mandrake Linux to work on it.

I have to say I wasn't expecting much as the MiniNote looked like a very untypical laptop and the screen size of 1024x600 pixels was just asking for trouble....

I have one or two personal gripes about this laptop:

  • It's not a laptop - you have to keep your knees together when using it or it drops onto the floor.
  • The screen is rather too small to work with when it's on your knees - you have to lean forward to see things properly - it eventually makes my neck ache. It's best used on a desktop.
  • It's designed for Left-Handed people - ALL the wires - including USB - come out of the Right-hand side so tangle with your USB mouse...
  • The keyboard is just *ever* so small - if you have thick, stubby fingers; buy a bigger laptop... Luckily, I have fingers that are just about usable with this keyboard and have not found it necessary to buy a new pair of hands ;-)

Initial installation (Mandriva 2005LE GNU/Linux)

IMPORTANT - Something not mentioned on Herbert's page is that to boot from the external CD/DVD ROM drive you need to bash the Escape key a few times when the laptop is starting up. When you do this a little menu pops up and you can select the device to boot from - it won't boot from the CD/DVD by default.

I've so far installed Mandrake Linux on this laptop in versions from 10.0 up to the latest Mandriva 2008.0
Hardware support is improving all the time and is far better than it was when I first tried in September of 2004. I relied heavily on http://www.wengatz.de/herbert/linux/hardware/laptops/JVC_MP-XP731.html where you MUST go if you want to install Linux on a MiniNote XP731.

Whilst I initially tried Suse 9.1 on the XP731 and I was pleased with the smoothness of the installation the configuration and day-to-day maintenance wasn't to my liking and I went back to Mandrake when 10.1 came out. I haven't tried installing any other distro since. That's a personal issue - I just like the way Mandrake works (or doesn't).

One of my main gripes with Suse was the default KDE desktop. Whilst I could set /etc/X11/XF86Config to 1024x600 pixels, something in the Suse KDE configuration somewhere insisted on resetting it back to 800x600. I don't use Suse so had little idea where to start - and, besides, Mandrake 10.1 had just come out with a promise of native Centrino support! Something that Mandriva has improved on to the point that Centrino isn't a problem any more.

Verdict

The MiniNote is every network manager's dream laptop. It's a good dual-boot box, with twin USB ports, a PC-Card slot and has 802.11b WiFi and fixed networking built in.
These days, you're better off with a NetBook of some sort. The Mini-Note is seriously compromised by its lack of RAM (512MB MAX) and 802.11B-only WiFi support.


Updates

19 November 2004
I've installed a non-standard kernel from MandrakeClub. This is a 2.6.7-series Multimedia kernel with a "thinkpad" module that partially supports the MiniNote BIOS although Suspend and Hibernate still doesn't work properly at least I can now see the state of the batteries! My old 3220 now suspends properly again with this kernel using the APM support.

April 2005
The Intel-backed IPW2100 Project has released IPW2100 drivers that support WEP. I've installed them and they work fine. That pretty-much completes the line-up of features I need to use Linux on this box. My next job is to rip out the existing IPW2100 mini-PCI WiFi card and replace it with something faster. Maybe an IPW2200BG card? Watch this space.

April 2005
Mandrake is now Mandriva Linux and the box now has Mandriva 2005LE installed. Faultless! I'm not counting the lack of multiple screen support...

November 2006
Mandriva 2007 is installed with no hitches at all. I still have to manually modify the /etc/X11/xorg.conf file to put in the special parameters for the 1024x600 screen mode and twinview still doesn't work, but it's not used for work any more and spends a lot of time sitting on my desk waiting for the original owners (it was part of a contract) to claim it. By modern performance standards it's a very slow laptop and with only 256MB RAM, and a maximum of 512MB, it's not going to be much use to them.

October 2007
I have now installed Mandriva 2008.0 and completely dumped the Windows XP installaion. The XP kernel has expanded to the point that the 256MB of RAM I have in the MiniNote just doesn't let it work with XP. I would urge anyone thinking of putting GNU/Linux onto a MiniNote to lose the Windows partition straight away. Windows just isn't an option any more.

January 2009
I have re-installed Windows XP, stripped out everything that isn't necessary to get the OS running and it's being used to run the Covington Weather Station although it's struggling a bit due to the lack of RAM.

April 2010
The poor old thing is rebooting regularly. I'm not sure what's causing it but suspect a hardware problem (maybe a worn-out CPU cooling fan - it runs rather hot as it's working very hard and the fan *is* rather noisy now). It will probably be retured to a nice, dark cupboard in the near future.