Installing openSUSE 11.0 on a ThinkPad X31

Written on August 31, 2008

Introduction

This article will explain how to install the latest openSUSE 11.0 distribution on an IBM ThinkPad X31. The technical specifications of my IBM ThinkPad X31 are:

I bought my ThinkPad on eBay and upgraded my memory capacity from 512 MB to 1264 MB. As some of you might know, the ThinkPad X31 hasn't a CD/DVD-ROM drive, so the installation is not that straightforward. Of course you could buy an external CD/DVD-ROM drive or the X30 series docking station with some more features. But the reason I bought the X31 ThinkPad was because it's a small (12.1 inches) and lightweight (3.6 pounds) laptop. And I also didn't want to invest the money if there's another way out.

Preparation

What do you need?

Well, first of all a ThinkPad X31 with an internet connection, because we are going to perform a network install. But next to that, you also need some kind of a USB storage device with a size of about 80 MB. I used my Sony USB stick with a 2 GB size, but basically any USB device with a size of at least 72 MB will work. We will use this storage media as a bootable disk, so you'd better format it first.

Creating a bootable USB disk

First we need to download the openSUSE 11.0 Mini CD, which can be done by visiting http://software.opensuse.org/. The download procedure consists of the following steps:

We're now going to put the content of the .iso file on our USB storage device and make it bootable. I'm assuming that the USB storage device is in /dev/sdb with an active partition /dev/sdb1. So if not, just replace it in the following lines. The filename of the .iso file could also differ, but again you'll know what to do. So, open up a terminal and enter the following lines:

umount /dev/sdb1
mount -o loop openSUSE-11.0-NET-i386.iso /mnt
/mnt/boot/i386/mkbootdisk --32 --partition /dev/sdb1 /mnt

What are we doing here? The first line unmounts the volume in /dev/sdb1 which is our USB storage device. The second line mount the content of the .iso file to the /mnt directory. And the third line runs the mkbootdisk program with some extra parameters. This program will make the /dev/sdb1 partition bootable.

Changing BIOS settings

When booting the IBM ThinkPad X31 with the USB storage device, the system will not boot from the USB media. We must change some settings in de BIOS first. Restart the system and press the blue Access IBM button. A dialog shows up for about 10 seconds. Press the F1 button to access the BIOS utility. We'll have to check/change two settings:

Now we're in business.

Installation

The installation itself is actually quite easy. The USB storage device should now automatically boot and display several options. We choose New installation or something. The installation procedure will now start. Information Gathering consists of several steps (partitioning, keyboard layout, time and location, etc). You also have to make a choice between GNOME or KDE. After you filled in the necessary information, the setup will ask for a confirmation of the given settings. When you've confirmed the installation settings, the setup will start the installation. Now you could finally take a coffee break. ^^
Copying all the files takes about 30 minutes. Of course when you've repartitioned your hard drive, it will take a little longer. When the installation is completed, you'll have to fill in some configuration settings (root password, network settings, etc). The system will also perform an online update, so you should become an up-to-date openSUSE operating system.

Something more about openSUSE

Of course everybody configures his or her machine to their own needs, but I do want to mention some tips and tricks because not everybody is familiar with the openSUSE distribution. In fact I used Ubuntu linux for a very long time, and before that it was Arch linux. But when I bought my ThinkPad X31 without CD/DVD-ROM drive, I learned about openSUSE by accident. I was googling the internet on how to make a USB stick bootable and while it was difficult with Ubuntu linux, it actually was quite easy with the openSUSE Mini CD. A friend of me also tested it on his ThinkPad X31 and I joined him. But that was the 10.3 version. The 11.0 version comes with an even more ease of use and it also looks prettier.

YaST

YaST stands for Yet another Setup Tool. It allows the administrator to maintain the SUSE linux installation. For instance installing software, configuring hardware, managing users, setting up networks, etc. The latest distribution of openSUSE 11.0 comes with an even more powerful YaST2.

Banshee

Banshee is the default audio player in openSUSE. It has about everything that a modern audio player should have (even a build-in Last.fm function).

Totem

Totem is the default video player in openSUSE. In my opinion it's OK. I haven't had any troubles with it. But I also installed the VLC media player through the following link. Speaking of video players, I've had some troubles with codecs that were missing when trying to play .avi files. After googling the internet, I've found the solution. You just need to install the following packages:

Pidgin

I chose Pidgin as my chat client for instant messaging. There are of course lots of others but we have to choose something.

OpenOffice

OpenSUSE 11.0 also comes with OpenOffice 2.4.1 by default, so you don't have to install anything for your office jobs.

Installing a virtual Windows using VirtualBox

Linux might be better in everything, but at some point we need Windows. For instance gaming with a proper 3D acceleration or running programs that don't support linux distributions. We can of course emulate those programs using Wine or something, but sometimes that's out of the question. So what do we do about it? We install a virtual Windows and that can be done using VirtualBox. Then it will be possible to start and shutdown Windows from within your openSUSE installation. Windows will become a window on its own that you can shutdown at any moment by pressing the X button in the right hand corner. Even the Alt + Tab trick will work.
Aight! The first thing you need to do, is opening the package manager and installing VirtualBox.

Setting up a virtual machine

Configuring your virtual machine

Running your virtual machine

Select your virtual machine and press Start. The Windows XP setup should start now. I guess you all know how to install Windows so I'm not going to guide you through the setup. Now everytime you want to boot Windows XP, you just have to open VirtualBox and start your virtual machine.