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Installing Gentoo Linux on a IBM Thinkpad T42P

Installing Gentoo Linux on a IBM Thinkpad T42P


IBM has made a beautiful laptop. The T42p has a 15 inch screen that is capable of 1600x1200. The built-in wireless card has drivers for linux, as does the Fire GL 2 with 128 MB of video memory.

Make sure it worksMake sure it works

I don't care if the IBM installer will turn the FAT32 partition into an NTFS partition, let the laptop install windows completely. I had a problem with mine. It would die when trying to boot IBM's Windows ME preloader. I ended up being able to fix it using their rescue partition, but you've no guarantee that you'll be so lucky. Bring the laptop up completely as if you were a normal customer who had no intentions of installing linux on the machine. Thoroughly check the system to make sure there are no problems. While you're at it you can check the device manager to find out what hardware is in the system.

Defrag the NTFS partitionDefrag the NTFS partition

Start up defrag and let it do its thing. We need to get the files all onto the front of the partition. Defrag will do a reasonably good job at this.

Resize that NTFS partitionResize that NTFS partition

After defragging, I rebooted using a Mandrake 9.2 cd. I proceeded with the Mandrake install just far enough to resize the NTFS partition. Don't create any linux partitions yet, just resize the NTFS partition. If I were you I wouldn't touch the IBM rescue partition. It might come in very handy if you ever need to return the laptop to it's original condition.

Boot using Knoppix CDBoot using Knoppix CD

Boot the system using a Knoppix CD. It does a pretty good job of detecting the hardware. I used a Knoppix cd instead of just using the standard Gentoo cd because my cd burner wasn't working.

Proceed with installProceed with install

Gentoo has an overview on how to install using a Knoppix boot. You can find it at . You can just follow this for the most part. I will describe the choices I made at certain points. I know they work, you are welcome to attempt to deviate where you wish.


For I created the following partitions for Gentoo.

/dev/hda3 /boot ext2 64 MB /dev/hda4 extended /dev/hda5 swap 512 MB /dev/hda6 / ext3 35 GB

I would have preferred to use XFS or JFS for my root partition, but I wanted to be able to access the drive from Win XP. If the journalling daemon annoys me enough I'll probably switch it to something else.


I used dev-gentoo-sources as my kernel after having some performance issues with concurrent disk reads/writes. Ext3 is more to blame for this (as is the 5400 rpm drive) than the kernel, but the kernel was the simplest thing to change. You will need to disable DRM. I would suggest enabling ACPI and the ethernet drivers.

Kernel ModulesKernel Modules

You should only need two modules. Everything else can be compiled in kernel.

Fire GL 2Fire GL 2

You need the latest ati-drivers package... the stable package will not recognize your graphics card and you will get very strange, cryptic, and generally unhelpful error messages when trying to start up XFree86.

# ACCEPT_KEYWORDS="~x86" emerge ati-drivers
Mad WiFiMad WiFi

If you want to use the built in wireless card you will need to install this module. We need to tell emerge to get the masked packages. You also need to tell the driver to use the led on the thinkpad. And one last thing is to turn sandboxing off; for some reason having this on kills the module compilation.

# ACCEPT_KEYWORDS="~x86" COPTS="-DSOFTLED" FEATURES="-sandbox" emerge madwifi-driver

After the madwifi-drivers package is installed, you need to make sure the ath_pci module is loaded on boot. This can be done by adding ath_pci to the modules autoload file.


I used GRUB as my bootloader. Just follow the directions given in the Gentoo Handbook and things should work alright. Just remember to subtract partition numbers by one,e.g., /dev/hda3 becomes hd(0,2). If you forget you will get some nasty results. Don't forget that you still have a working windows partition.


Use the utility that comes with ati-drivers to configure your X server. You should be able to go up to 1600x1200 without difficulty. For the monitor frequency settings I just used the highest available defaults. If somebody knows of the correct settings send them my way. I can modify this page and my config to make use of the proper settings.

# /opt/ati/bin/fglconfigure
Future ProjectsFuture Projects

I am currently experimenting with different ACPI configurations. As soon as things settle down I'll post more on what I did here.


A setup that will autodetect and intelligently connect to networks seems possible. I just need to spend the time to install and configure ifplugd.

End ResultEnd Result

In the end I have a laptop that can dual boot into Gentoo and Win XP and can be restored to the condition that I received it in. I have not yet tested pcmcia, bluetooth, or infrared. I am confident that pcmcia will work. The other two I'm not so sure about.