Slackware 15.0 in a Thinkpad T580

After toying with Windows 10 for some hours the time arrived to install Slackware 15.0 on the newly acquired Thinkpad T580 (20LA) laptop.

Newish hardware like the T580 is uncommon in the house network. The previous new computer, the office desktop installed six years ago, at that time contained hardware that was a some years old despite being new out of the box. The house network Thinkpad T400 was obtained about four years after release. This is the normal way of updating computers in the house network — wait some years to ensure the device is well supported in Linux circles. Likewise with the T580 except this system is a laptop. Laptops always have their own peculiarities. Also unique is this is the first system with an NVMe SSD.

This newness presented an opportunity to learn a few things. Outside of virtual machines, installing Slackware from scratch is not a common event in the house network. Typically systems are cloned and tweaked. This saves time with installing all packages and synchronizing.

The first step was straightforward: disabling secure boot, TPM, and Intel Active Management Technology (AMT). Disabling secure boot is required because otherwise Slackware cannot be installed. Disabling is helpful because the BIOS boot order can be changed to boot directly from a USB stick rather than using the boot menu. These features might be useful in an enterprise environment or by people who continually look over their shoulders, but none of this is needed in this humble home network.

The next order of business was learning more about NVMe SSDs. One annoyance is these disks are identified as /dev/nvmeXnY. This takes longer to type than /dev/sdX and these disks are treated differently by the Linux kernel and tools. For example, poking around with a live ISO revealed that smartctl tests do not apply and some features of hdparm are unavailable. The obtuse change in device naming means some shell scripts in the house network need attention. Old habits and all that.

The next step was resizing and moving the Windows partitions. This was straightforward with the Windows Disk Administrator and gparted. The important step was deciding how much disk space was desired to populate the Slackware partitions. The gparted tool had no problem recognizing the NVMe disk and creating new partitions for Slackware.

Booting from the Slackware 15.0 ISO failed. Testing the USB stick in another computer was fine. The salvation was to change the T580 BIOS from strict UEFI booting to both UEFI and legacy booting. Then the USB stick booted.

The Slackware 15.0 installer had no issues with the NVMe SSD. An emergency boot USB was created. More tricky was installing a bootloader. A mild attempt was made using the expert mode, but the dialog results indicated that aborting the attempt might be prudent.

There were no problems booting the laptop with the emergency boot USB. More trickery was needed searching the web to install GRUB in an EFI partition. The following steps seemed to be the magic after booting with the emergency USB stick.

    mount /dev/nvme0n1p1 /boot/efi
    mkdir -p /boot/efi/EFI/boot
    grub-install —target=x86_64-efi —efi-directory=/boot/efi —bootloader-id="Slackware 15.0” /dev/nvme0n1
    grub-mkconfig -o /boot/grub/grub.cfg
    cp -a /boot/efi/EFI/Slackware\ 15.0/grubx64.efi /boot/efi/EFI/boot/bootx64.efi

Slackware is known as a no-hand-holding distro, but this is a tad convoluted even for Slackware. Slackware 15.1 will default to GRUB. Hopefully this roughness gets smoothed some.

After the fresh install the Slackware system was massaged and synchronized to fit into the house network. Then observe and tweak for a few days watching for kinks and wrinkles.

The first real use of the laptop before receiving a low battery warning lasted about 6.5 hours with Slackware 15.0, KDE, and wireless. This is not as long as other people have reported but is about 4 hours longer than the T400. Booting to console with screen blanking and without running a desktop environment (DE) found the external battery BAT1 lasting at least 9 hours.

The laptop seems to run cool while on batteries. No uncomfortable heat on the bottom, fan noise, or warm air from the side vent. Pushing the CPU sometimes produces lukewarm air from the side vent. Some Kill-A-Watt measurements showed the laptop using about 14 watts when using KDE although occasionally spiking to about 32 watts.

With the house network speed tests the 802.11ac wireless is averaging about 215 Mbits/second on 2.4 GHz, a nice improvement over the T400 802.11n 133 Mbits/second average. The 5 GHz tests increased to about 245 Mbits/second from about 150 Mbits/second.

Happily, the KDE battery status widget seems to be launching all the time.

Having a number keypad is a pleasure.

Posted: Category: Usability Tagged: Slackware

Next: GRUB Screen Size in a Thinkpad T580

Previous: The House Network