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Linux on the General Dynamics Itronix XC-6250 Laptop


General Dynamics Itronix is a company that makes "ruggedized" laptops. At the time of writing, their newest, ruggedest laptops are in the "GoBook Max" line. For $175, I purchased an elderly GD Itronix XC-6250, which boasts a 200 MHz Pentium 1, 32 MB of memory, and a 3 GB hard drive. It has 2 PCMCIA slots, a parallel port, a serial port, a VGA port, and a built-in-modem. However, it has no drives with removable media (e.g. CDROM drives, floppy drives). I have gotten GNU/Linux to boot on it and gotten the PCMCIA system working (which did not work with the driver distributed with the kernel). This resource is for those who lack the time to mess around with the system until it works.

I am not making this as a full howto. I assume you have installed Linux on a machine before. If not, you may want to read about the standard process before actually wiping out anything on your laptop. This is only intended to be a secondary aid to let you transfer that general knowledge to this specific laptop.

Preliminary Networking

If you have a cheaper or older model that has no removable media, getting data (your new Linux-based OS) onto the system can be a problem. Instead of using traditional CD-ROM media, you will have to use some sort of networking. I bought a 16-bit PCMCIA ethernet card from Netgear to do this. However, Windows 95 did not have the drivers, and without drives or a connection, there was no way to get them. Therefore, I used a parallel-port direct-connect cable and the Windows "Direct Connect" tool to link to a Windows computer that was able to acquire the drivers. I then copied the drivers over.

For networking, I then used the ethernet card rather than the parallel cable because ethernet is so much faster. This network connection allowed me to transfer the necessary installation data to the laptop.

Basic Precautions

If your laptop has a bootable drive with removable media (e.g. a CD-ROM drive), then this will not be an issue for you. However, if you lack this, know that messing up the operating system can render your machine unbootable. In this case, you will have to purchase a PCMCIA CD-ROM drive or floppy drive. These cost on the order of $100-$200, which may be more than you paid for the laptop. Therefore, if possible, be careful to always maintain one bootable system. I have two Linux installations, so if I manage to screw one up, I can boot from the second one and fix the first.

Disk Partitioning

Note: I am talking about this a little in advance. The actual partitioning will not take place until the installation process. However, it is wise to think about this issue before you actually do it.

I was lucky enough that my hard drive was already partitioned into two 1.5 GB partitions. Therefore, I was able to remove one and have both Linux and Windows installed simultaneously, leaving me a safety net (see Sec. 3, BASIC PRECAUTIONS). If your computer has only one partition and you have no bootable media, make sure that you have your network working under Linux before installing Linux onto a partition previously occupied by Windows. Preferrably, you would use a partition editor (e.g. parted) to shrink the single Windows partition to leave enough empty space (100-200 MB) to install Linux.

Source Media

You have to have some copy of a Linux system to install it. Usually, this will come on a CD-ROM. You must have some way of accessing this source from the installer in order to install. If you have multiple partitions on your hard drive, you might be able to keep a copy of the source on one partition and install to the other, as I did. If you lack this, you will have to get networking working from your installation boot of Linux to access the source media over the network. This is a bit of a hassle; read below for instructions on the PCMCIA system. Fortunately, I was in the first category, so I didn't have to worry about the PCMCIA stuff until later.

Booting to an Installer

The primary issue with installing is the lack of bootable devices. As a result, it is necessary to use some other method to boot. I used loadlin, a DOS program that re-initializes the system and loads a Linux kernel and ramdisk. If these terms are unfamiliar, you may want to read about them now. For a kernel and initial ramdisk image, I used the kernel and initrd that came with the Slackware distribution I was using.

PCMCIA and Networking

I don't know how much of this applies to your laptop, but it certainly affected me. The kernel has PCMCIA support, and it even has a driver for the PCMCIA bridge used in my laptop. This bridge is the "Cirrus Logic CL 6729". The appropriate driver is the i82365 module. This module is available in the kernel, but the kernel driver DOES NOT WORK WITH THIS HARDWARE. The module loads (the logs all look right), but any PCMCIA cards inserted are recognized as "anonymous memory".

However, the standalone PCMCIA drivers (available at http://pcmcia-cs.sourceforge.net/) do indeed work. All you have to do is unzip the kernel sources, unzip the pcmcia-cs package, and compile it according to the pcmcia-cs instructions. I compiled on a second system because of limited space and processing power on the laptop. I then copied the modules over (replacing the kernel driver files) and loaded the i82365 module via modprobe. After that, my network card was recognized properly. For configuration of PCMCIA cards, see your distribution's documentation.

Things that Still don't Work

Some things still don't work. I cannot activate the backlight under Linux. During lilo and while the kernel is loading, it can still be turned on, but as soon as the kernel loads, it fails. I assume this is because the kernel is grabbing some interrupt, but I am not entirely sure how to determine what interrupt or get the kernel to let it pass by.

Also, APM always reports the battery charge from when the APM module was loaded, which is a bug. There may be some simple configuration option to fix it, but I don't know it.

I broke my touchscreen, so I can't get it working. Here's a hint; test any power supply before you use it, as 15 volts (instead of the standard 12) will burn out your touchscreen. My VGA-out also doesn't work, but that may have been burned out too.

Other Resources

This page is a courtesy for TuxMobil by Leon Barrett <lrbarret_at_artsci.wustl.edu>
v0.1, 17 January 2004

TuxMobil: Linux with Laptops, Notebooks, PDAs, Mobile Phones and Portable Computers

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© Werner Heuser 1997-2015 · http://tuxmobil.org/itronix_xc6250.html · last change Thu Mar 12 2009