OpenSolaris: Driver Wrangling

By Chris Josephes
January 22, 2009

I've been running OpenSolaris 2008.11 on a laptop, a virtual machine, and a test server configuration for about six weeks now. I promised earlier that I'd write a few articles on how well everything worked and on the differences in the configurations.

Out of the three environments, the laptop required the most post-installation work. My laptop is a Gateway MX6450, which features an AMD Turion 64 processor. This model is at least two years old, and has a spotted reputation with heat and battery power. It's also a 64 bit single core system that isn't Vista certified, so I don't think Gateway is going to loose much sleep if I complain about it now

The initial boot and install process worked flawlessly. The experience was Ubunto-esque in its simplicity, like other reviewers have mentioned. I could run the Device Driver Utility during both the live CD run, and after booting up from hard disk. In both cases, they reported the same four errors.

No networking, but at least I had a working DVD drive and display. And even though I had audio drivers, they didn't work. I proceeded with the install, so I could boot up from the hard drive. I did some Googling to find drivers to replace the ones that were missing.

The Yukon driver problem was fixed by a simple download from the Marvell website. All I had to do was install one package and reboot. When the system came back up, it connected to my DHCP server and grabbed an IP address without any manual configuration. I fixed the audio drivers by following the advice of this article, helpfully titled How To Fix The Audio Driver Problem In OpenSolaris. Again, I followed the installation advice, rebooted the system and was rewarded with working audio.

Up to this point, I had a working 64 bit OpenSolaris installation with everything I needed. Unfortunately, there is no native support for the Broadcom BCM4318 chipset. Getting wireless to work would require building a driver, and settling for 32 bit mode only.

When network drivers are unavailable, users have fallen back on is using the ndiswrapper framework to take a Windows driver and build a native Solaris driver. Copy over the Windows drivers, compile a couple of programs, and then install the finished driver in the right location. In order to use 32 bit mode, I had to edit my GRUB configuration. I rebooted the system and sucessfully tested the driver with several Wifi hotspots.

I didn't expect 100% perfection, but I'm happy with what I have. The laptop is old, and Windows is the only OS you'll find that has the best laptop support right out of the box. Odds are, the only applications that I will use seriously are Firefox, Thunderbird, and Terminal.

If you're going to try an OpenSolaris installation on your own machine, check the Hardware Compatability List. It's the best resource you're going to find on user reports and driver availability.

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