Monday, March 20, 2006

Debian HOW-TO: Etch on Asus Z63A

TuxMobil - Linux on Laptops, Notebooks, PDAs and Mobile PhonesLast revision : April 30th, 2007

This guide is also available here, on my wiki. The present version is the most up-to-date however.

Now for Debian Etch (Debian's actual stable distribution).

The installation process is somewhat simpler (on the Asus Z63A) than Debian Sarge's one.

  • Hardware summary

The Asus Z63A is a customizable version of the W3A from Asus.

I built mine with these components :

Screen : 14"" Widescreen (WXGA) @ 1280x768
Video card : Intel 915GM
CPU : Pentium M 740 @ 1.73 Ghz
Memory : 1G DDR2 @ 533 Mhz
Hard drive : 80G FUJITSU MHV2080A @ 5400 RPM
Optical drive : TSSTcorpCD/DVDW TS-L532U (24x CDRW / 8x DVDRW dual-layer)
Network : Marvell Yukon Gigabit
Wireless : Intel IPW2200 b/g
Sound card : Intel High Definition Audio
3 USB 2.0 ports
Wireless mouse

...everything just listed works perfectly in Debian Etch.

Those on the contrary are untested so far :

IRDA (infrared) & Bluetooth
S-Video output
4-in-1 card reader

For more details, see the lspci output.

  • Preparatives

First, download and burn Debian Etch (netinst CD image for i386), from the Getting Debian page.

If you are to use the netinstall CD, make sure the laptop is wired to the Internet (as the wireless card won't work during the installation process). If that is not possible, use the standard installer instead (the first CD is enough).

  • Installation

To install, type


at the boot prompt. During the installation, simply use the laptop's touchpad, or any mouse. You can also use the following keyboard keys: SPACE will select, TAB will change selection, ARROWS will navigate and ENTER will confirm.

At the Software selection menu, I choose to install Standard system and Laptop -- I don't like to install the whole Desktop environment during Etch's initial installation process (because I prefer a more minimalist environment), but you can do it if you like to.

Once the installation process is done, you are back to the shell (if you chose not to install the Desktop environment part). Something as simple as

sudo apt-get install xorg xfce4 iceweasel alsa-base

will get you a working desktop (I use "sudo" to get root privileges). But you will need some more packages for power management, wireless networks management, multimedia codecs, and so on.

  • Wireless Networking

This machine came with an Intel IPW2200 wireless card.

First install the card's firmware : download the latest Intel IPW2200 firmware from here, untar it and copy it in /lib/firmware/

tar zxf ipw2200-fw-3.0.tgz
cd ipw2200-fw-3.0/
sudo mv *.fw /lib/firmware/

To properly configure it you need those packages : network-manager, wireless-tools and wpasupplicant.

If you are to use Gnome (or Xfce), install network-manager-gnome. The package is network-manager-kde for KDE.

To get network-manager working properly, edit the file /etc/network/interfaces and comment everything except the "loopback" interface (see example file).

*Plus, you need to make your user part of the group netdev :

sudo adduser your_username netdev

For more details about network-manager, check the dedicated tutorial on the subject.

  • Graphics

Other than using the "i810" driver in your /etc/X11/xorg.conf file, make sure you install the 915resolution package, so that X will display the correct native resolution (1280x768).

sudo apt-get install 915resolution

The default 915resolution configuration should work fine on this machine. However, if it doesn't, edit the file /etc/default/915resolution to your needs.

That's about it for X. If you want more details, look at my xorg.conf file.

Those interested in serious eye-candy can read the tutorial on AIGLX+Compiz, or the one on AIGLX+Beryl.

  • Setting the DVD burner

I use K3B, which you can install like that :

sudo apt-get install k3b wodim cdrdao dvd+rw-tools

Other CD/DVD burning applications are available (namely GnomeBaker, Graveman, etc.), but I strongly prefer K3B, for its versatility and ease of use.

  • Power Management

First thing to do is to manage the CPU frequency.

Loading the correct modules at startup does the trick :

echo speedstep_centrino | sudo tee -a /etc/modules
echo cpufreq_ondemand | sudo tee -a /etc/modules
echo asus_acpi | sudo tee -a /etc/modules

One important thing to note: while on battery, the Z63A will not allow the CPU to go up to its maximum frequency. This is due to CPU frequency management from the BIOS. If you don't like it, just disable this feature (press F2 on startup to access the BIOS).

Some packages can help you achieve a greater battery life as well.

sudo apt-get install acpi acpid acpi-tools powersaved laptop-mode-tools laptop-detect

to install them.

*For powersaved to work correctly, you need to make your user part of the group powerdev :

sudo adduser your_username powerdev

I invite you to read the tutorial on power management for further details.

  • Suspend to RAM

All your suspend to RAM needs can be fulfilled by properly editing the file /etc/powersave/sleep (which is part of the package powersaved).

In this file, a few things must be changed, in order for suspend/resume to work properly. I will only list the lines that needs to be changed (the way they should be, at least for this laptop) :


Another important element is to modify the Section "Device" of your /etc/X11/xorg.conf file so it includes this line :

   Option          "VBERestore"            "true"

Again, read the tutorial on power management for more about that.

  • Touchpad

The touchpad on this machine is a classic called synaptic. It works fairly well with the default settings using the xserver-xorg-input-synaptics package.

To add some functionalities, make sure you have this line in the Section "InputDevice" of your xorg.conf :

   Option          "SHMConfig"             "true"

This will allow you to use a very useful application called syndaemon. For example, you can use it to disable the touchpad while you are typing :

syndaemon -d -i 1 -k

Then you can add this exact line to your session manager so it gets set at startup : in Gnome, add it in Desktop -> Preferences -> Sessions -> Startup Programs.

  • Tips

Debian Etch's default kernel works fine on this laptop, but if you wish to tweak your machine some more, you can compile your own kernel. Take a look at this tutorial for some pointers.

To use the Asus Z63A native resolution (1280x768), remember that you need to install the 915resolution package.

Don't forget to unmute "front", "pcm" and "master" in alsamixer!

You might want to install things like Java (see tutorial) and Flash (tutorial).

You can take a look at my /etc/apt/sources.list if you need help on configuring your software repositories. Of course, always use your nearest local mirror.

You want to know how looks the end result on my machine ?


rob said...

Salut labas,

first of all, merci pour les instructions, etch c'est vit et tout tout neuf. Way better than sarge which I was using.
Here are some notes on my installation:

-there is a workaround available nowadays to install the 2.6.15 kernel:

-wireless support has changed a little in etch, see:

-Getting suspend2 to work took a while, this was because of the --initrd command given while building the kernel. But everything works now after I followed these instruction:

Is --initrd necessary while building the kernel?


Hugues said...

Hi Rob,

thanks a lot for posting that workaround. As for wireless, the instructions on my blog are way out-of-date in comparison to what I use right now.

I find that network-manager works very well (you have to upgrade ipw2200 and ieee80211 if you want WPA to work with the 2.6.15 kernel and network-manager).

I'll try to post an updated version for those installation instructions some day.

Yes, the --initrd option is essential, unless you build packages regarding filesystem statically (as well as the SATA drivers).

I posted some instructions for compiling a kernel at Here is my post :

Thanks for the feedback!

Anonymous said...

Hello hugues,

The picture of your machine is very nice. Is that a snapshot of changing the virtual desktop?

I saw the similar effect on Fedora 10(there I just choose the window effect option, then it is done). But I don't know how to achieve it under etch. Could you tell me the name of the package or the application?

Btw: I just installed etch on my Asus w3a(followed your instructions), many thanks!


Anonymous said...

I do beleive he's using Compiz for the cube effect. =]

Carcass said...

you are an incredible kid :)

Hugues said...

I would like to thank everyone for their comments and feedback.

The picture shown in the article features the latest Beryl release (0.2.0). The cube effect and other 3D desktop effects are also available with Compiz.

Both Beryl and Compiz are easily installable in Debian Etch. Check out the tutorials I wrote on those 2 : about Compiz, and about Beryl.

Thanks again,