Linux on the IBM Thinkpad T40

This document details installing and configuring Ubuntu Linux 6.06 LTS (Dapper Drake) on my IBM Thinkpad T40, persephone. Information on older versions of Linux is elsewhere.

This information is now hideously obsolete (just like the T40 itself) and is not maintained; it is left up in the hopes that someone might find it useful.

Table of Contents

The Hardware

This is an IBM Thinkpad T40, model 2379-D5U. The base configuration is:

  • Intel Pentium-M 1.6GHz, 1MB L2 cache, 400MHz FSB
  • 512MB PC2100 DDR SDRAM (266MHz), max 2GB
  • ATI Mobility Radeon 9000, 32MB RAM, AGP 4x
  • 14.1" TFT at 1400x1050 resolution, true color
  • 80GB 4200rpm ATA100 IDE hard drive
  • SoundMax Integrated Digital Audio chipset
  • Intel PRO/1000 Gigabit Ethernet
  • IBM 802.11a/b wireless (Atheros AR5211)
  • 56Kbps modem (Agere AC'97)
  • CD-RW/DVD in drive bay
  • Parallel, IrDA, VGA-out, SVid-out, 2x USB 2.0, 2x PCMCIA, Bluetooth
  • about 4.9 pounds

It's a pretty sweet machine. Rather expensive at the time, though, and not so sweet compared to new machines today, but still perfectly serviceable nonetheless.

This machine does not qualify for the Intel Centrino label as it does not use the Intel wireless card. Instead, it has a dual-band card (802.11a/b) from Atheros, which is a nicer card anyway. Other T40 models may use the Centrino component. Centrino on Linux is now supported by Intel, or so the rumor goes, and it also works with a Windows device driver wrapper like ndiswrapper.


IBM (and most other companies) usually ships their Thinkpads without a set of OS CDs or even recovery CDs. Instead, there is a "Predesktop Area" reserved on the hard drive that contains a complete disk image of the factory installation state. The predesktop area is not a separate partition; the BIOS simply hides the last couple gigs from the operating system. This can actually cause problems for some installers that aren't fooled by the BIOS and see the entire disk; the installer writes a bootloader with a geometry that disagrees with what Windows sees and all kinds of bad stuff happens. Since I don't dual-boot my machine, I haven't had to deal with this problem.

Naturally, there's no sense in letting perfectly good hard drive space go to waste, so I'm going to blow away the predesktop area. You need to disable the predesktop area in the BIOS. Go to Security and set the IBM Predesktop Area to disabled.

Blowing away the predesktop area prevents the hard drive based recovery system from working, so you cannot restore the machine from the hard drive. This isn't really an issue because you can get recovery CDs from IBM that do the same thing without occupying several gigs of your hard drive. To get a set of recovery CDs, call IBM Technical Support. If you bought the machine within the last 30 days, they will send you the CDs free of charge; otherwise, you may have to pay for it (I was quoted $35). If you just bought the machine, you should get the CDs regardless of whether you intend to install Linux, because it's free and you never know when you might want them. They're very nice about it; I got mine next business day.

Other people have instructions for going through the appropriate hoops to keep the predesktop area and XP (for dual-boot) happy. See the links at the end of this document.

You should also go to the IBM website and download a copy of the Hardware Maintenance Manual for your model. This is an excruciatingly detailed guide to every nut and bolt (literally!) in your machine; it's the same book their field service reps use. Pages and pages of diagnostic codes and other goodies and complete diagrams explaining how to disassemble your Thinkpad into its component atoms. You might not want to print it out, however, as it is a couple hundred pages long.

Suggested BIOS Tweaking

These are some suggested changes you should make in the BIOS.

  • Spread the IRQs around a bit (Config/PCI). This is probably totally optional.
  • Disable anything you are not using, such as the serial port that isn't physically there (unless you have the dock).
  • Disable the predesktop area (Security/IBM Predesktop Area). This lets you use your full hard drive but you lose the hard-drive restore capability. This is a non-issue if you have the recovery CDs.
  • Set the boot display to VGA+LCD (Config/Display). That way, if you ever break the LCD panel, it'll use an external monitor on boot.
  • I'm really not sure what the point of Legacy Floppy Support is when IBM doesn't even make a floppy for the drive bay.

My BIOS is revision 1RET85WW, dated 12/15/2003, although it probably doesn't matter.


This goes pretty much like any standard Ubuntu install. The installer doesn't ask you for much of anything anyway, and it almost gets everything right. You'll get a functioning desktop system, but suspend isn't quite working as expected and the video settings, while functional, are less than optimal.

I think it goes without saying that you should enable all the repositories: non-free, universe, multiverse, the whole kitchen sink. Virtually everything you need is already in a package if you enable all the repositories. I did not have to compile a single thing to get the system working as below.


I liked Austin Murphy's nice overview chart so much that I decided it'll be a nice thing to have. There's a lot of green, which means pretty much everything works. See individual sections for details.

Part Status Last update Comment
Video - X 16 Jun 2006 Use radeon driver
Video - DRI and 3D 16 Jun 2006 Use radeon driver
Video - External Displays 18 Jun 2006 pending
Keyboard 16 Jun 2006 Optional: Xmodmap your Fwd/Back keys
Trackpoint/Touchpad 16 Jun 2006 Use native Xorg Synaptics driver
Ethernet 16 Jun 2006 Use e1000
Modem 21 Jun 2006 Driver loads, probably works for data
Wireless LAN 16 Jun 2006 Works out of the box
Sound 16 Jun 2006 Use ALSA
PCMCIA 22 Jun 2006 Works with pcmcia-cs/pccardctl
Hard Drive 22 Jun 2006 DMA enabled. Optional: enable 32bit IO
DVD/CD-RW 16 Jun 2006 Works out of the box
Power - Basic Status 16 Jun 2006 Use acpi
Power - Suspend/Resume 16 Jun 2006 Use acpid, not gnome-power-manager
Power - Frequency Scaling 16 Jun 2006 Use speedstep-centrino and cpufreqd, not powernowd
Bluetooth 20 Jun 2006 Module loads; haven't tried
USB 16 Jun 2006 Just works, hotplug included
TCPA Chip 22 Feb 2004 GPL driver exists, haven't tried
Special Buttons 16 Jun 2006 Use tpb


  • Complete functionality. Everything works and functions completely to my satisfaction.
  • Partial functionality. Important aspects are working, but functionality is very incomplete.
  • Driver exists. I did not personally test, but it may work.
  • Not supported. Does not work with acceptable functionality.

Video and X Windows

The Ubuntu installer sets us up with the ati driver and correctly detects our funny resolution of 1400x1050. Everything seems to be working if you use it like a desktop, including DPMS. However, we can do significantly better, especially with regards to 3D acceleration and power management.

Section "Device"
        Identifier      "ATI Radeon"
        Driver          "radeon"
        Option "DynamicClocks" "on"
        Option "AGPMode" "4"
        Option "RenderAccel" "on"
        Option "EnablePageFlip" "on"
        Option "BIOSHotkeys" "on"
        BusID           "PCI:1:0:0"

First, we switch to the radeon driver. The AGPMode, RenderAccel, and EnablePageFlip options improve 3D performance.

The BIOSHotkeys option enables the various Fn-keypresses. Fn-F3 will blank the screen until another key is pressed. Fn-F7 is supposed to toggle the external display, but this doesn't seem to actually work and my external display is always on. Finally, the Fn-Space screen zoom is implemented in software and so it doesn't actually do anything by default on Linux (however, it can be addressed; see the keyboard section).

Finally, there is a known issue with Radeon chips consuming unreasonable amounts of power while suspended. To fix this, we added the DynamicClocks option above. We also need to add the radeonfb module to /etc/modules; you don't have to pass any special options or do your own custom initrd like some websites tell you. On Ubuntu, merely having this module loaded ensures that it enters D2-sleep appropriately. The difference is quite dramatic; the system lasts three times longer in suspend with these fixes.

There are a few options that I have not included that you might want to play with:

There is the MergedFB option that allows you to do Xinerama-like (dual head) stuff natively. I've heard good things about it and seen it in action on a T43, but haven't bothered to try it on mine.

Setting the AccelMethod option to EXA instead of the default XAA supposedly makes the Composite extension go faster.

TODO: check if dynamicclocks is preserved across hibernate

You will want to install radeontool, which allows you to blank the display in software. This is used by the suspend scripts and Ubuntu should have installed it by default.

If you want to play with over/underclocking your Radeon, you can try the rovclock utility. I haven't played with this as I have no need for it, but it is there.

External display (VGA) does work (in clone mode), just plug it in. Even video playback seems to work. Since 1400x1050 is not a standard resolution, it will look odd and cut off, and the refresh rate may be less than desired. The resolution switcher applet (resapplet) in Gnome can switch to 1024x768 (for most projectors) just fine. Ideally we'd be able to drive the external display at a more reasonable resolution, but for presentation use it works well enough out of the box.

I do not know if TV-out works.

More information is available at:
ThinkWiki: Graphics Power Management
ThinkWiki: Radeon driver options


It's a keyboard, what about it wouldn't work?

There are the various Fn-key combinations that do things. Let's go over some of them:

Screen Blank (Fn-F3) is taken care of if you enable the BIOSHotkeys option in X as described above.

The Wireless Toggle (Fn-F5) works and is discussed under Bluetooth.

The screen brightness controls (Fn-Home and Fn-End) are hardware controls and work independent of the OS. If you want an on-screen display to reflect these changes, the tpb package discussed later does this.

The ThinkLight toggle (Fn-PgUp) works independent of the OS. If you want to flash a status message when this happens, tpb also takes care of that.

Screen Zoom (Fn-Space) is implemented in software under Windows and consequently does nothing under Linux. However, tpb can give you a callback for this event and you can use it to call your favorite Linux screen magnification tool if you want to make it work. Alternatively, you can use it for whatever toggle you want.

The suspend and hibernate keys (Fn-F4 and Fn-F12) generate ACPI button events and can be dealt with by acpid. See the power management section.

There are two extra keys on the keyboard right by the arrow keys: Forward and Back. You can use Xmodmap to give them some keysyms. The keycodes are 234 and 233. For example, you can put the following in your ~/.Xmodmap

keycode 234 = F21
keycode 233 = F22

This assigns Back and Forward to F21 and F22. Now add something like xmodmap $HOME/.Xmodmap to your session and you're good to go. If you intend to use them only within Gnome (say, for switching workspaces), you don't even need that as Gnome is happy with raw keycodes in the Keyboard Shortcut app.

If you want Forward/Back to behave like Forward/Back under Firefox, you'll need to tell Firefox about it. Go to your Firefox chrome directory (something like /usr/lib/firefox/chrome). Unzip browser.jar with unzip. Now edit content/browser/browser.xul. Go hunt for the bit with keyset id="mainKeyset" and stick in these two lines:

<key id="goBackTP" keycode="VK_F21" command="Browser:Back"/>
<key id="goForwardTP" keycode="VK_F22" command="Browser:Forward" />

Repackage browser.jar with zip -rD0 browser.jar content/browser/ and restart Firefox.


Ubuntu sets you up with the Touchpad and Trackpoint all ready to go. There isn't that much to do.

The relevant section of my xorg.conf looks like:

Section "InputDevice"
        Identifier      "Configured Mouse"
        Driver          "mouse"
        Option          "CorePointer"
        Option          "Device"                "/dev/input/mice"
        Option          "Protocol"              "ExplorerPS/2"
        Option          "ZAxisMapping"          "4 5"
#       Option          "Emulate3Buttons"       "true"

Section "InputDevice"
        Identifier      "Synaptics Touchpad"
        Driver          "synaptics"
        Option          "SendCoreEvents"        "true"
        Option          "Device"                "/dev/psaux"
        Option          "Protocol"              "auto-dev"
        Option          "HorizScrollDelta"      "0"

Note that this is very slightly different from the default Ubuntu setup. I want a proper middle mouse button and don't care much for middle-button-scroll (the default behavior in Windows).

Since there are technically two mice at play here, the trackpoint and the touchpad, we need to tell the server layout to use both of them

Section "ServerLayout"
        Identifier      "Default Layout"
        Screen          "Default Screen"
        InputDevice     "Generic Keyboard"
        InputDevice     "Configured Mouse"
        InputDevice     "stylus" "SendCoreEvents"
        InputDevice     "cursor" "SendCoreEvents"
        InputDevice     "eraser" "SendCoreEvents"
        InputDevice     "Synaptics Touchpad"

For more options for the touchpad, do man synaptics

If you want, you can use the qsynaptics tool to configure your touchpad settings. Ubuntu already has a package for this.


It works and even survives a suspend/resume cycle correctly. Use the e1000 driver.


The onboard modem is a part of the sound card and the ALSA drivers are already there but not loaded by default. You want to load the snd_intel8x0m driver (via /etc/modules, as usual). You also want to install the sl-modem-daemon package to actually create the modem device and manage it. Once you have both of these things, you can test the modem with:

slmodemd --alsa --country=USA hw:1

This creates the modem device, which you can then use with your favorite dialer. Obviously, if you don't live in the United States, you should change the country to match. If it works, you should change /etc/defaults/sl-modem-daemon to include:


Now the sl-modem-daemon service (invoked from /etc/init.d) is set up with your settings. Run the service to enable the modem.

The Gnome network stuff will autodetect the modem if slmodemd is running correctly. I haven't tested PPP dialing because I have no PPP service to dial, but I have no reason to believe it will fail.

Finally, I should point out that this driver only supports basic dialing. If you want features like voice dialing you'll need to install sl-modem-source and play with it.

For more information, the main resource is the Linmodems page, which includes the latest drivers and lots of useful utilities.


The IBM Dual-Band a/b card is actually an Atheros AR5211 and it is supported under Linux. I chose this card specifically because it is not the Intel PRO/2100 Centrino, which lacked native Linux support at the time I purchased the machine (that has since changed). We should vote with our dollars.

This works straight out of the box with the madwifi restricted driver. If you are not so fortunate to be using a distribution that supports it out of the box, you should download and build these drivers yourself.


The onboard sound chip claims to be a SoundMAX. ALSA sound seems to work. The installer sets it up with the snd-intel8x0 driver. I have yet to find any issues with it. It survives suspend/resume cycles without problems.

What's more, it comes all set up out of the box with hardware mixing working. No more of this "sound server" nonsense; multiple applications can use sound simultaneously and behave as expected. In fact, I recommend you disable the sound server (ESD) in Gnome and install the alsa-oss package instead.


Works out of the box; tested with an ancient 14.4 XJack modem. Ubuntu sets you up with pcmcia-cs and the more recent pccardctl from the pcmciautils package. This is all standard stuff that any distribution should have.

Hard Drive

It works fine, obviously, or we would be this far. DMA is on by default in Ubuntu. If you want to enable 32 bit IO, edit /etc/hdparm.conf and uncomment the appropriate line.


My machine came with a Toshiba SD-R9012 DVD/CD-RW in the drive bay. Ubuntu picks it up just fine. It can read DVDs and burn CDs without problems.

I have never attempted to hot-swap the drive as I have nothing to swap it with. Other people have tried this sort of thing before, though. See the ThinkWiki page on hotswapping for details.

For fun details on how to set up actual DVD playing in software, see my Ubuntu setup page.

Power Management

Power management is almost but not quite working out of the box. I suspect the first kernel update (2.6.15-25) broke something, as lots of other laptop users on the forums have reported similar problems. We need to do several things.

First off, suspend in X is rather unstable un the default configuration. We need to add one kernel parameter to fix this. Edit /boot/grub/menu.lst and look for the like that starts with #kopt. Add acpi_sleep=s3_bios. Mine looks like:

# kopt=root=/dev/hda5 ro acpi_sleep=s3_bios vga=normal

The vga=normal bit disables graphical boot, which is a personal preference. You don't need to include that. Obviously, the root should point to whatever your root actually is.

Do a sudo update-grub to update the bootloader. The changes will take effect upon reboot.

The Gnome power management stuff does not work out of the box. I tried for a little bit to get HAL/DBus to do the right thing, but concluded it would be easier to just go to my old setup with custom scripts.

We'll use acpid to fix our problem. The actual setup is pretty easy; in /etc/acpid/events there are a bunch of files that represent various ACPI events. You change these to point to the scripts you want. The main ones of interest are lidbtn (lid open/close), ibm-sleepbtn (Fn-F4), and ibm-hibernatebtn (Fn-F12). It's easy to make them point at a custom script; for example, my lidbtn looks something like:

# /etc/acpi/events/lidbtn
# Called when the user closes or opens the lid

event=button[ /]lid

That points to a custom suspend script, which looks like:


radeontool light off

chvt 12

# make the suspend call
echo mem > /sys/power/state

radeontool light on

chvt 12

To make a hibernate script (using software-suspend), just change the mem to disk in the suspend call. Naturally, if you want to suspend/hibernate from software, you just have to call these scripts.

The calls to radeontool toggle the backlight and all those chvt calls deal with the fact that the display is kind of funny when resuming. Swiching to a virtual console and back again corrects this, so the script does it automatically.

By the way, there are already pre-existing ACPI scripts provided by Ubuntu, but they don't work as nicely and are significantly more complex.

Finally, we'd like to set the system to throttle the CPU down when running on battery power. Ubuntu tries to set us up with powernowd which definitely does some sort of frequency throttling, but I'm not familiar with configuring it and so I replaced it with what I do know: cpufreqd.

Install all the cpufreq related utilities from the repositories. Add speedstep-centrino to /etc/modules. The /etc/cpufreqd.conf configuration file is self explanatory and the default is pretty reasonable (full speed on AC, drop down to low power after a few minutes on battery).

If you want the Gnome CPU Frequency Scaling applet to give you the option to manually set speed, /usr/bin/cpufreq-selector needs to be setuid.


There's a parallel port on the back. I set it to ECP. Linux sees it just fine, but since I don't have anything to plug into it, I can't test if it works. It really should, though; this isn't rocket science.

Serial and IrDA

There is no actual old-school 9-pin serial port on the machine. The circuitry is all there, but the connector is not. I suspect the dock or port replicator might have it. Since I have neither of these things, I simply disabled the serial port.

IrDA might work, but I don't have any IrDA devices to test it with, so I really can't say. Other people have gotten it to work.


Press Fn-F5 to turn on the Bluetooth radio, which is apparently connected via an internal USB port. It loads bluetooth driver. Everything seems happy, but since I don't have any Bluetooth devices, I have no idea if it really works. It should, though.

One thing to note: if you press Fn-F5 again, it turns off both Bluetooth and Wifi. Pressing it again activates both of them. If you want to have Wifi on without Bluetooth, you need to remove the modules ath_pci, ath_rate_sample, and ath_hal, and reload ath_pci. Then mark the interface up with ifconfig ath0 up. After this you can use WiFi as normal without Bluetooth. This is the fault of the default ACPI scripts (/etc/acpi/events/ibm-wireless and /etc/acpi/; if you want to spend the time to do so, it wouldn't be that hard to make it cycle through Wifi/Both/Bluetooth/None. I haven't bothered because I never use Bluetooth.


Ubuntu sets up USB for you (usb-uchi, ehci-hcd, usbcore). It works with all of my toys. The USB subsystem does survive a suspend/resume cycle, so you don't need to do any monkeying around. Things get automounted and automagically recognized, so there is little work to do here.

Special Buttons and Gadgets

You can get all kinds of cool Thinkpad-related stuff to appear in /proc/acpi/ibm by loading the ibm_acpi module. You should definitely do this. Ubuntu does this by default.

There are four special buttons above the keyboard: AccessIBM, VolDown, VolUp, and Mute. These are not conventional keys and generate no scancodes.

The volume control functionality is implemented in hardware and works independently of the operating system. The Multimedia Key stuff in Ubuntu's Gnome configuration actually notices the hardware volume changes and displays it onscreen. However, it is not enough to enable the AccessIBM button. What we want is software that can handle both.

Fortunately, such software exists. Grab the Ubuntu tpb package, or install it by hand from source. Download Markus Braun's tpb program to enable the use of the AccessIBM button and on-screen display. You can assign an arbitrary shell command to the button (such as opening a terminal), and if you build it with on-screen display support (requires libxosd and related packages), you get on-screen displays for volume changes and various other messages. Very cool. Instructions for setting this up are included in the download.

My $HOME/.tpbrc looks like:

THINKPAD    /usr/bin/gnome-terminal --working-directory=/home/walter/
APM         ON
OSD         ON
OSDFONT     -*-helvetica-medium-r-*-*-25-*-*-*-*-*-*-*

This makes AccessIBM launch the Gnome Terminal and enables a nice and large on-screen display for volume/brightness meters and message notifications.

The ThinkLight, which is a keyboard light mounted on the screen, works automagically with Fn-PgUp. The screen brightness controls (Fn-Home, Fn-End) are hardware controls and work independently of the operating system. If you have tpb installed, you can have it display messages on-screen when status changes.

For additional fun with the ThinkLight, install gaim-thinklight, a plugin for Gaim that blinks the light whenever you receive a message. You need ibm_acpi loaded and install the provided suid thinklight command-line executable. Ubuntu already has a package for this.

There also exist Thinkpad Configuration Tools for Linux. These tools provide most of the functionality of the PS2.EXE DOS-based configuration tool and its various Windows-based descendants. This will let you change things like the behavior on lid-close on the fly, without rebooting into the BIOS. Before we go on, however, I'd like to point out that most of the functionality here has been superceded by ACPI support, so you probably don't want to bother with this unless you have a specific need in mind. I install them but have never had to use them in daily work. There are Ubuntu packages available (tpctl).

The primary tool is tpctl or ntpctl, which can be used at the command line. The project has also recently released a GTK2-based graphical configuration tool that duplicates the same functionality; it is probably preferable if you use X regularly.

To make tpctl usable by non-root, you need to make sure you have permissions. I suggest creating a thinkpad group, adding yourself to it, and then changing permissions on /dev/thinkpad to give the group write access.

TCPA Chip (IBM Embedded Security Subsystem 2.0)

The T40 comes with a TCPA chip which isn't terribly useful. IBM Research provides an open-source Linux driver along with white papers and example code. I haven't felt the need to actually play with it. The readings available there are actually pretty interesting and informative, and are well worth a read before you dig out the torches and pitchforks.

Come to think of it, this is the only thing that Ubuntu does not provide a package for.

Other Optional Stuff

Since Ubuntu aims for maximum out of box compatibility, it loads a lot of modules that aren't necessary. What would we possibly do with the Panasonic hotkeys module? So let's remove some modules that we don't need.

The module blacklist is (for whatever reason) enough, so we will make the modules go away by aliasing them to nothing. Create a file /etc/modprobe.d/bad-modules (you can actually name it whatever you want as long as it is in that directory) containing the following:

# Get rid of modules we don't like
alias sony_acpi off
alias pcc_acpi off
alias tsdev off
alias tc1100_wmi off


Several pages from other people were valuable in researching solutions for this laptop. They are provided below as references and should be useful if your hardware and software configuration does not match mine.

  • ThinkWiki - THE place for Linux on Thinkpad
  • IBM Personal Computing Support - Linux: Linux for IBM Personal Systems
  • Bill Wohler's Debian on an IBM Thinkpad T40p
  • Theodore Ts'o's Linux on T40p
  • Klaus Widener's (dead link) (Running Debian Linux on an IBM Thinkpad T40)
  • Fabrice Bellet's Linux on the Thinkpad T40
  • Austin Murphy's Linux on the IBM T40
  • Valient Gough's (dead link) (SuSE 8.2 on an IBM Thinkpad T40p)
  • Carlo Hamalainen's (dead link) (Linux on an IBM T40 1.3Ghz laptop)
  • (dead link) (Mandrake 9.2 on IBM T41)