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Old 31st January 2013
bsdnotbdsm bsdnotbdsm is offline
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Default NetBSD 6 installation on Thinkpad T420 laptop

This is my first post on Daemon Forums, I hope it'll be useful for some of you.

Lenovo Thinkpad T420
CPU: Intel(R) Core(TM) i5-2520M CPU @ 2.50GHz
RAM: 8 GB DDR3 1333MHz
HDD: Western Digital 320GB, 7200 rpm

NetBSD 6.0.1 amd64
Note on software: because of the graphics performance, I had to replace the default kernel (delivered as part of NetBSD 6.0.1) with an experimental one (details
on this, later).

I'm not a NetBSD guru, but I have 10+ years of experience with other *nixes(mainly Linux and FreeBSD). Therefore, this tutorial may give a bit more NetBSD-specific details than needed. I'm doing this primarily for myself, for documenting steps I might easily forget in the future. However, this aspect can be useful, especially for someone new to NetBSD

On the other hand, I think Daemon Forums is kind of a select club ... so I'm not going into that “step-by-step installation tutorial with screenshots” (for newbies). I'll not insist on (the order of) steps during installation procedure, or on how to add a non-root user. I assume the reader have installed at least … 10 Linux/Unix-based different operating systems and is familiar with disk partitioning, useradd, editors, /etc, etc

Last point, this tutorial is describing my experience with this particular laptop, Thinkpad T420. Anyway, some details will apply to other hardware configurations too...

I decided on NetBSD 6.0.1 amd64 because it is the latest stable release. Why amd64? Because the T420 is a powerful monster with i5 64-bit CPU and I want to get the best out of it.

Informations on how to get the installation ISO are found at netbsd.org/releases/
I've chosen to get the ISO by FTP from the master site, so I downloaded the file: iso.netbsd.org/pub/NetBSD/iso/6.0.1/NetBSD-6.0.1-amd64.iso

On the laptop, I prepared 20 GB of unformatted free space: 18GB for the / partition and 2 GB for swap space.
A note about swap: although some tutorials recommend to choose 2 X RAM size for the swap partition, from my experience I concluded that a system with 8 GB RAM can and will perfom OK even with no swap space (for the common “classical desktop” use case: X + web browser + media player + office ). Anyway, choosing 1-2 GB of swap space is wise, because you'll most likely experiment with the new system, compiling large programs for example.

During installation, I chose these options:
- Formatted / partition as FFS, it was the default choice;
- Allocated all 18GB to / (so, no separate partitions for /home, /usr, /var, /tmp)
- Full installation ( it required around 2.5 - 3 GB, I don't remember exactly how much);
- Skipped the boot loader installation on Master Boot Record (which is, I left the MBR untouched);
Explanation for skipping the bootloader: the T420 is a triple-boot system. There are two Linux installations and now the NetBSD, and I didn't want to overwrite the GRUB install. The NetBSD can be added to Grub boot menu very easy. Just add these lines in grub config file (usually /boot/grub/menu.lst):

title MyNetBSD
root hd(0,6)
chainloader +1
Of course this is my own grub entry, you'll adapt the “title” and “root” entries for your taste and configuration, respectively.

NOTE: Obviously, the skipping of NetBSD boot loader instalation is my special case, because of the multi-boot laptop. If performing the install with NetBSD as the only OS, just skip the grub hacking and install the boot loader on MBR.

Now back to setup of NetBSD: in the install process, all went fine. In the post install configuration phase, I tried to configure the network, but I couldn't figure out how to configure my wireless adapter to connect to my WAP configured with WPA2 encryption. Therefore, I just postponed this step for the first boot.

Post-installation impressions and configs:
So, here I am after the first boot, with my new NetBSD system. First checkings look OK ..
A first pleasant surprise was to see that both my network adapters - wired and wireless - are recognised (ifconfig -a displayed them both).

I strongly recommend taking the time to read:
bash-4.2# man 8 afterboot
It contains various informations like: how to check hostname, network interfaces, how to enable ssh root logins, how to set date/time, even how to compile your custom NetBSD kernel. It also provides references to other useful manual pages.

In the rest of the tutorial, I'll explain the setup procedures for the three elements I consider crucial for a desktop environment:
- networking
- sound
- graphics

Wired networking: works perfectly, with not much setup. My router has its integrated DHCP server enabled, so all I had to do is to add “dhcp” in /etc/ifconfig.wm0 (wm0 is the Intel i8254x Gigabit Ethernet card in my T420), then plug-in the UTP cable and restart the network:

bash-4.2# cat /etc/ifconfig.wm0

bash-4.2# /etc/rc.d/network restart
Wireless networking: Works OK, with some setup. The adapter is an Intel Wireless 6205 AGN, identified by NetBSD as iwn0.
As I said above, I need to connect my laptop to an encrypted WAP (WPA2 encryption), so I'll use the wpa_supplicant and dhclient (both are part of the NetBSD default installation).

For wpa_supplicant, first I enabled it to start at boot (as with most BSD's, the /etc/rc.conf is the file that controls the start-up services). So, I added these two lines in /etc/rc.conf:
wpa_supplicant_flags="-B -i iwn0 -c/etc/wpa_supplicant.conf"
The configuration file for wpa_supplicant is /etc/wpa_supplicant.conf:

bash-4.2# cat /etc/wpa_supplicant.conf 

For dhclient, the setup is easy. Enable it in /etc/rc.conf and specify the interface in /etc/dhclient.conf:
bash-4.2# cat /etc/rc.conf |grep dhclient 
bash-4.2# cat /etc/dhclient.conf 
lease { 
interface "iwn0"; 
At this point, I unplugged the UTP cable from the wired net adapter, rebooted the laptop, and … hooray! The wireless interface started, successfully connected to the WAP. I can surf the Net wirelessly from NetBSD!

Some final notes about wireless interface: it works OK with my D-Link DIR-615 WAP, connection is stable in time. The download/upload speeds are not impressive for a Wireless-N card, when compared to the same wifi card on Linux:
- download speed: ~ 1.6 MB/s (compared with ~ 1.9 MB/s in Linux)
- upload speed: ~ 1 MB/s (compared with ~ 1.5 MB/s in Linux)
However, it is very usable. As long as I am able to watch a movie on an FS mounted over the network, I am fully satisfied with the performance.

My Intel HD audio card has been recognised and configured by the NetBSD 6.0.1. I didn't do any manual configuration. Actually, I just installed aumix program, to control the volume.
The driver used by the soundcard: hdaudio
That's it. For more infos:
man 4 hdaudio
man 8 hdaudioctl

Graphics, Xorg, graphics acceleration:
T420 comes with an Intel HD 3000 display adapter.
And for me, right after finishing installation and setting up networking, the first unpleasant surprise came: the display resolution was stucked at 1024x768, but the native resolution for the T420 is ... 1600x900(works out-of-the-box in some Linuxes).
More than this, no graphic acceleration for this default configuration.
NOTE: I created my own “xorg.conf” file using “Xorg -configure” command, I explicity placed “Driver intel” entry there, but no success. X refused to start like that. The only X display driver that seemed to be accepted was “vesa”.

After extended googling, I've found that NetBSD does not have proper support for more modern graphics cards, with DRM(Direct Rendering Manager). Here's one of the first google results:

i3-500 sounds like something with the new on-CPU-die GPU.
Everything that new needs a xf86-video-intel that's currently
incompatible with NetBSD. Well, at least until we port/implement
GEM and KMS in our kernel ...
However, I haven't lost the hope.
After more extended googling, I've found this link: groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/muc.lists.netbsd.current-users/-L8qo-kyiS8

So this guy has ported DRM/GEM kernel driver from OpenBSD to NetBSD, and also ported the Xorg intel driver from Linux to NetBSD. Why not giving a try ?

His precompiled kernel + Xorg files are at: ftp.netbsd.org/pub/NetBSD/misc/gsutre/

Here's what I did:
1) I got the most recent version of the precompiled kernel, from the “drmgem-NetBSD-6.99.14-201210251710Z-amd64” folder.
So, I went to
and downloaded the two files:
- netbsd-GENERIC-drmgem (the kernel itself)
- usr-X11R7-drmgem.tgz (modified /usr/X11R7)

Now, exit the X session if it's the case, and from the command line:
2) Make a backup of the current /usr/X11R7 and copy the modified X11R7 to /usr.
bash-4.2# cp -R /usr/X11R7 /usr/X11R7_initial
bash-4.2# cd /root/NetBSD-6.99.14-201210251710Z-amd64/ # replace with the path where usr-X11R7-drmgem.tgz is downloaded
bash-4.2# tar -xzvf usr-X11R7-drmgem.tgz
bash-4.2# cp -R usr/X11R7 /usr/
3) Copied the kernel image to /:
bash-4.2# cp netbsd-GENERIC-drmgem /netbsd-drmgen
After these steps, the system is modified with all the requirements for enabling DRM/GEM features.

At this point, I rebooted the system, and when the NetBSD boot menu appears, I select “Drop to boot prompt” .
From the boot prompt command line:
boot /netbsd-drmgen
The system boots OK, it recognised my devices. I got the login prompt, logged in as root and did “startx”. And … Great Success! My installation of Xfce4 started with native resolution of 1600x900!
So, the thing ported from OpenBSD really works! Or at least … it's usable. Details a bit later.

Of course, with the modified kernel and modified /usr/X11R7, I can't say I'm running a pure 6.0.1 installation, actually the uname says:
bash-4.2# uname -a
NetBSD smallnetbsd 6.99.14 NetBSD 6.99.14 (GENERIC) #0: Sat Oct 27 19:27:36 CEST 2012  instsoft@yosemite:/tmp/netbsd-drmgem.usr/src/sys/arch/amd64/compile/GENERIC amd64
So, the kernel is an experimental kernel, and (at least part of ) the base system files are the ones installed from NetBSD 6.0.1 CD. But the system as a whole, it works!

I noticed two bugs during the X usage:
1) When I switch from X to text mode (eg doing Ctrl+Alt+F1) and then switch back to X mode, the desktop is “wrongly” displayed, the mouse pointer is “not in sync” with the desktop surface...
Actually, this bug was reported, I saw it during my searches for X fixing.
However, considering that it's uncommon to switch from X to text mode, I can say that this is not disturbing.

2) When watching a movie (applies to both DivX avi files and DVD files, I tested them both), sometimes the screen flickers (it's like a less-than-a-second flashy thing). I estimate this happens about 10 times for a 2 hour movie, at random times.
Again, considering the duration of this, I can say that I don't find this disturbing.

As a status of my graphics with the netbsd-drmgen kernel, have a look at my native resolution and FPS statistics:
bash-4.2# xrandr -q
Screen 0: minimum 320 x 200, current 1600 x 900, maximum 4096 x 4096
VGA disconnected (normal left inverted right x axis y axis)
LVDS connected 1600x900+0+0 (normal left inverted right x axis y axis) 310mm x 174mm
   1600x900       60.0*+
HDMI-3 disconnected (normal left inverted right x axis y axis)
DP-B disconnected (normal left inverted right x axis y axis)
HDMI-4 disconnected (normal left inverted right x axis y axis)
HDMI-5 disconnected (normal left inverted right x axis y axis)
DP-C disconnected (normal left inverted right x axis y axis)
DP-D disconnected (normal left inverted right x axis y axis)
bash-4.2# glxgears 
1180 frames in 5.0 seconds = 235.946 FPS
1326 frames in 5.0 seconds = 265.053 FPS
1343 frames in 5.0 seconds = 268.492 FPS
1405 frames in 5.0 seconds = 280.885 FPS
1401 frames in 5.0 seconds = 280.066 FPS
And that's it about my T420 +NetBSD 6.0.1 configuration!

Of course, I didn't have the time and means to test some other things such as bluetooth, Gigabit ethernet transfer speed, dual-monitor configuration, and many, many others.
But, for getting a working desktop computer, I dare to say I documented the required stuff!

Any comments are welcomed.
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