Short Nerd Chief

Install Ubuntu 8.04 on Compaq Presario A900 laptop [HOWTO]

Posted by Fred on May 2, 2008

UbuntuLozengeStrapLogo compaq_qwubi_logo 

I have a Compaq Presario A900 notebook that I picked up cheap at Staples a while back.  It’s actually pretty decent, with a crisp 17″ screen and full desktop-style keyboard.  It came with Vista Home Premium and sufficient RAM to run it with Aero turned on.  With the recent release of Ubuntu Hardy Heron (8.04), I decided to see how hard it would be to install.  Ubuntu on a desktop is a piece of cake, but what about on a lower-end notebook?  It was pretty easy, with one sizable glitch.

The complicating factors here are (1) I have a CD burner but no blank media and (2) I have only a wireless Internet connection. So that means installing from CD won’t work and as it turned out I should have planned ahead for getting the WiFi working.  The first step is to grab some files.  I decided to install via Wubi, which installs Linux within a file in the Windows filesystem.  There are valid reasons not to do this and to install to a standard partition instead (which you can do without a CD via Netboot), but at this point it’s not clear how Ubuntu on this notebook is going to work out, and uninstalling Wubi is no different than any other Windows program.  Eventually, we’ll move the Wubi install to a dedicated partition if all goes well.  Here’s what you’ll need:

  • The Wubi installer for version 8.04
  • ISO for the Ubuntu 8.04 desktop CD.  This is not strictly necessary, as Wubi will download the files for you, but I found that grabbing the ISO directly was orders of magnitude faster.  This may change once the download servers cool down from the new release of 8.04.
  • The packages for ndiswrapper, which enables Linux to use Windows drivers for the Broadcom wireless chipset in this notebook. This is only necessary because I had no other way to get an Internet connection.  Some have reported better success installing from source, but the Ubuntu packages worked fine for me (which is good, because satisfying the dependencies manually would be a real hassle).  You’ll need both ndiswrapper-common and ndiswrapper-utils-1.9.
  • Windows drivers for the Broadcom chipset. To make things easier later, I put the two *.deb files and the Broadcom package on a USB stick, but you will be able to access your Windows directories via Ubuntu if needed (look in the directories /host and /media).

wubi Step 1: Make sure the Wubi installer and the Ubuntu ISO are in the same directory and run Wubi.  All you need to do is tell the installer how much space to give Wubi (the minimum is 4 GB, but I gave it 15), which drive to install to and a username and password.  You can also pick a desktop environment – Ubuntu gives you Gnome, Kubuntu is KDE and Xubuntu is XFCE.  After that it’s fully automated – the Wubi website explains the process.  After two reboots (be sure to pay attention and pick Ubuntu from the boot menu, or you’ll end up in Vista and have to reboot), you’ll get the Ubuntu log-in screen.

Step 2: Log into Ubuntu using the username and password you picked earlier.  You’ll get the default Gnome desktop. You can do many things, but you’ll notice you have no wireless connection. Indeed, Ubuntu doesn’t even think there is a wireless card present, because we haven’t told it to use an appropriate driver.  This is where planning ahead comes into play – we need ndiswrapper, but we can’t use Synaptic without a network connection.

Step 3: Plug in your USB stick.  A Nautilus window will pop up, and you can drag drag the two *.deb files and the Broadcom file to your home directory. Again, not strictly necessary, but it will make things easier.  If you’re not using a USB stick, choose Places — Computer on the top panel.  Double-click on filesystem and then host and you’ll see your Windows files, where you’ll find the three files in question.

Step 4: It’s easiest to use the Terminal at this point, so choose Applications–Accessories–Terminal.  Issue the following command:

sudo dpkg -i *.deb

You’ll be prompted for your password, and then the two ndiswrapper packages will be installed. To make ndiswrapper work, we’ll need to tell it what driver to use.  First uncompress the Broadcom file:

tar -xzvf WLANBroadcom.tar.gz

This will give you a directory full of driver files, of which we only really need two.

Step 5: Tell ndiswrapper what files to use by issuing the following commands in the terminal:

cd WLANBroadcom
sudo ndiswrapper -i bcmwl5.inf
sudo ndiswrapper -l
sudo modprobe ndiswrapper
sudo ndiswrapper -m

Time to edit a configuration file to add ndiswrapper. Linux evangelists will tell you to use vim or emacs, depending on their particular denomination, but I’m lazy, so:

sudo gedit /etc/modules

At the end, add a new line that says “ndiswrapper” (without the quotes). Exit and save.

Step 6: Almost done, but Hardy Heron has a bug that causes a conflict between ndiswrapper and another package, meaning ndiswrapper still doesn’t work. We need to work around this bug.  Back in the terminal, run this command:

sudo gedit /etc/init.d/

In the gedit window, paste the following:

modprobe -r b44
modprobe -r b43
modprobe -r b43legacy
modprobe -r ssb
modprobe -r ndiswrapper
modprobe ndiswrapper
modprobe b44


Exit and save.  back in the terminal, issue these commands:

cd /etc/init.d/ && sudo chmod 755
sudo update-rc.d defaults

Step 7: Reboot, and voila! Wireless should be working.  I know this works on the Presario, but the same steps should work on any notebook with this Broadcom chipset, including several other HP/Compaq products and Dell notebooks with the 1350 WLAN Mini-PCI Card.

[resources used include Invaleed’s howto for Ubuntu 7.10, and Ubuntu Forums howtos from HokeyFry and Mazza558]


8 Responses to “Install Ubuntu 8.04 on Compaq Presario A900 laptop [HOWTO]”

  1. […] Posts Install Ubuntu 8.04 on Compaq Presario A900 laptop [HOWTO]FeedDemon 2.6.1 [Regular Guy Reviews]Just how big is a death star, anyway?Use Brother HL-4040CN […]

  2. Siddhesh said

    I was unlucky and lucky at the same time with tis lappie. Lucky because I got an Atheros wireless card instead of the broadcom, so my setup experience was a breeze with Mandriva Spring 2008.1.

    The unfortunate part was that there seem to be some issues with the date/time settings. Most probably it is a cmos battery problem, but the vendor wants to blame it on ‘incompatible OS’. Let’s see how it goes.

    Really great laptop though.

  3. KB said

    siddhesh, how’s the date/time working now…!!??

  4. Coaihim said

    Thanks for this. Got one problem though. I got it working the first time. After that I installed all updates. I rebooted and couldn’t get wireless to work. I checked every step you described, but nothing seems to work. Could you please help me with this?

  5. Coaihim said

    Siddhesh, note that I too have the Atheros wireless card. I think the chipset of this card is Broadcom.

    If someone could help me with the above problem, it would be greatly appreciated.

  6. Mark said

    Hi guys,

    My laptop is Compaq 6515b with a Broadcom 802.11 a/b/g WLAN card. I have tried all the steps but still doesn’t work at all . Appreciate someone out there can help me please !

    below are the command which i tried :

    mark@mark-laptop:~$ lspci | grep Broadcom\ Corporation
    10:00.0 Ethernet controller: Broadcom Corporation NetLink BCM5787M Gigabit Ethernet PCI Express (rev 02)
    30:00.0 Network controller: Broadcom Corporation BCM4312 802.11a/b/g (rev 02)

    Can anyone out there help me on this please. Thanks ! my email is markthien at gmail dot com

    many thanks !


  7. Siddhesh said

    KB: I got a fix for it on searching google. Turns out it really was an OS issue. Mandriva was goofing up on the time, adding the timezone offset to the current time everytime it started up.

  8. jose said

    Hello, I’m absoluteley new to Ubuntu, linux and almost everything. So it’s difficult for me fix my problem. I try to do everything you say, but… I have put ndiswrapper-common, ndiswrapper-utils-1.9 and Windows drivers for the Broadcom chipset into my USB stick. Then I have put all this things into the folder called “host” in the ubuntu zone of my computer. And finally, I have written down in a strange window called “terminal” the things you said bellow, but nothing happens. It gives some kind of “error” message.

    Thank you very much,

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