Installing Debian Linux on a


I inherited a couple-year-old Vaio recently from a coworker. It was running an old install of Redhat 7.1 with partial support for the various Vaio extras. I chose to reinstall to the current Debian in order to access more of the features of the machine. A number of web pages were useful to me in this task; I'm putting this online in the hopes of helping others out as well.

After one weekend's work, pretty much everything works: X, network, audio, power management, the jog wheel, and the docking station CD/DVD drive. I haven't tested the USB functionality (no USB periphs) or DVD playing yet.

The following instructions assume you are familiar with installing a new kernel. If not, see here.

Initial Debian Install

The initial install is sort of tricky, given that the computer itself has no floppy or CD drives. You need the docking station in order to install. I docked it and used a set of the Debian install floppys to get things started, before switching over to a network install to download the rest of the system. I used the eepro100 network driver, which worked - sorta. Which is to say that it would download for a few minutes, then stop working for five or ten minutes, giving lots of timeout errors, then resume working again for a bit, and so on. This is a frequently-reported problem with R505s and the eepro100 driver.

My solution was to do a very minimal network install, just enough to get the base system up and running, and then immediately upgrade the kernel to the more recent 2.4.18 Debian kernel package, which fixes most of the networking difficulties.

Debian newbies, you do a kernel upgrade thus: apt-get install kernel-image-2.4.18-686 kernel-pcmcia-modules-2.4.18-686install those (you may need to add a line "initrd=/initrd.img" in your /etc/lilo.conf) and then reboot. The network driver for the 2.4.18 kernel is much much happier and will allow you to proceed with the rest of the install successfully

However, even in the upgraded state, I sometimes still saw timeout problems. So I switched to the 2.4.20 kernel (as needed for ACPI and other fixes, detailed below) and changed to the Intel e100 driver instead. I haven't seen any networking problems with this configuration.

Video card / X Windows

X installed painlessly. Choose the i810 chipset. Everything worked flawlessly out of the box here.


Use the i810 audio module. This too worked pretty flawlessly, though the default Debian install is stingy with permissions - I had to manually chmod a+rw /dev/mixer /dev/dsp to get audio to work for non-root users.

Power Management

This laptop uses ACPI instead of the older APM standard, and ACPI is only partially supported under linux. I haven't gotten suspend to work yet, but the battery and AC adapter detection are pretty flawless. Rebuild your kernel with ACPI enabled and all should be happy - check /proc/acpi/ to see if things are working.

by default, the gnome panel battery monitor applet looks at battery 1. this needs to be changed to battery 0 in the properties panel and then the battery will work fine.

Jog Dial

Recent kernels include support for the jog dial mounted with the trackpad. Enable the sonypi module in the kernel. had to add device /dev/sonypi (major 10, minor 250) add those options to /etc/modules.conf then recompile kernel with sonypi, ACPI, ieee1394 enabled. sjog works - but brightness control is backwards and volume control doesn't work at all. (Volume control was fixed by changing permissions on /dev/dsp and /dev/mixer to add write access)

DVD/CD Drive

This took a little bit of work, but it's not too bad. You need to compile and load a kernel with the ieee1394, ohci1394, and sbp2 modules. (Plus SCSI support!) You should add these files to /etc/modules so they are loaded automatically on system startup. With those kernel modules installed and loaded, you should be all set to go.

The docking station drive shows up as /dev/sr0 = /dev/scd0. The default /dev/cdrom symlink is to /dev/hdc, so delete this and add a symlink to /dev/scd0 instead.

I haven't tried DVD playing yet, but mounting CDs works fine.


I'm still working on getting this up and running. The word I hear is that "If you want to use the PCMCIA slot for wireless, you'll need to use the drivers in the pcmcia-cs package, instead of those in the kernel. This is because this laptop has a PCI-PCMCIA bridge, which isn't supported by the kernel drivers at the time of this writing. pcmcia-cs will also give you cardbus management tools (cardctl and cardmgr). (source)"

Useful Links: Linux Sony Wiki

This page last modified 2003-01-29 by Marshall Perrin