Linux on an AST J-series Laptop (J30/J50)
Note: I have an empty tray for a replacement HD available
for anybody who wants one. No screws, just the wrapper. Handy if you
have 2 HDs and can work from either.
Some time ago (16 Dec 1996) I obtained a second hand
but I've sold it in 1998, and have no more access to this
otherwise fine machine.
First a summary of the J30 specs and my basic conclusions
(in which I have also merged comments from the people acknowledged
at the bottom)
- CPU: P100 (40 bogoMIPS) w/ 256 L2 cache. (J30)
- 8Mb memory on board (but my machine came expanded to
24Mb, the maximum is 8+32=40Mb).
Standard PCI bus (PCI probing kernel
detected 2 unregistered devices, I'm working on getting
- onboard 14.4 modem (COM4), which has no error correction or compression,
and isn't very good. Use a PCMCIA modem card is you can. I used
the on-board modem a few times, and have seen data lost in one instance.
- 10.4" Active Matrix (TFT) screen with
graphics controller, fully supported by
XFree3.2. I could run it easily in 800*600, although in 640*480
the screen was not fully utilized horizontally. Even runs
16 bit color in 800x600. No experience with external monitor
yet, but it's dynamically configurable via a function key.
You can download my XF86Config, but it's
at your own risk. Please use XFree86 V3.2 or up. You can also have
a look at
- SmartPoint trackstick PS/2 mouse, which can also be used
with external mouse.
You must have the external mouse present at (cold, not warm!!)
boot-time in order
for you to use both mice (which you then can).
The two buttons are on the palm-rest part of the keyboard and
Emulate3Buttons works fine.
- APM basically works fine, although I am still trying to figure out
why it sometimes doesn't want to come out of suspend mode.
I have also had a what appears to be a overheating problem of
the machine (CPU?) and am trying to reproduce it. Perhaps
a problem in APM. It also can make the real time clock run slow
(but see comments on this below).
NOTE added: a kernel patch (Courtesy Dong Chen)
is now available that appears to solve this problem.
- I get several hours (2-3) out of the Li-ion battery. When you take
it out, put it back in while keeping the tab pushed in the "open"
- 775Mb hard drive, mine is a bit noisy and has a high pitch noise.
It's removable, but the trick is
to keep the button pushed to the right (the "open" position)
of the machine while carefully taking out the drive.
Spare slots *without* a hard disk are very hard to get by.
November 1997: I bought, for the amazing sum of USD-260, a
new 2.2Gb (Toshiba) drive. WOrks like a charm, the high pitch noise
is now gone too. I have a
to tell you how you can
move Windows-95 over to this new drive without the floppy
install, and it uses linux!
- Standard 1.44M floppy, bit slow as I often find on laptops.
- Infrared port on the back (COM2 I believe), but not used yet.
Allows for two-way communications with other complying ports.
Range isn't very far (few feet).
- During operation the green "Fn" (function) has some very useful
options: on-the fly changes to the APM can be made, as well
as contrast/brightness, sound level, switch LCD/external monitor.
The power button
can dynamically be reconfigured as suspend button.
Fortunately there is a
reset button on the back, which should get you out of almost
- The ESS card works nicely when set up as an SB16 clone.
The vital data is (default) 220h, int5 and dma1.
The config program wants some more values, I just
told it to use dma5 for the 16 bit sound. Seems to work.
The microphone is located under your right palm. You can see two small
holes with some metal inside, just on the edge of the top. I discovered
this when I was compiling the linux kernel with sound support. For some
reason the driver leaves the microphone open and recording, because when I
put my hand over the holes, it created some really interresting feedback
noises in the speakers.
The speakers are a bit weak, I think, but the audio outlet almost blew my
- PCMCIA: 2 standard slots. This is what I've tried:
I should add that I and others have experienced some odd behavior
during installation if you use a PCMCIA device. I had to disable
the sound (IRQ 5) since it was conflicting with the ethernet
that I was trying to use to install a new distribution. Tobias
had trhe same problem with his CD-ROM.
- modem worked out of the box (I use it frequently)
(the on-board 14.4 modem indeed seems to have some problems)
- cd-rom (EXP CD940 CD-ROM) works, but i needed to
update /etc/pcmcia/fixed.opts. I don't have this (or any)
CD-ROM anymore, so can't comment more on this.
- My el-cheapo $67 ethernet card seems to work like a charm.
- An Adaptec EzSCSI (I believe it's called). Worked nicely
with a JAZ drive.
- serial port (COM1): i'm using a
(900Mhz spread spectrum wireless) modem on that port, runs like
a charm, although I think I am loosing packets on the serial port(s)
due to some IRQ problem or so. A PCMCIA modem suffers from the
same, so I think it's something with the J30.
Since this laptop doesn't have a CD-ROM I had to install from floppies.
Probably the easiest is to install the A and N series (8 + 6 floppies)
and bring up a PLIP link and install the rest from the other machine.
If you have enough diskspace using ncftp in recursive retrieval
mode is the fastest, since NSF is still a bit slow in linux.
- Dynamically configurable APM features using the green "Fn" key.
(but see below)
- X-windows ran out of the box in 800*600 resolution mode, even does
Perhaps not everybody will agree here, or has different experiences,
but these are some of
the "features" I'm less impressed with, or others have reported on:
- The CPU gets quite hot if using at 100%.
It's mainly the area below the lower right
part of the keyboard, close to the PCMCIA slots. My modem card got very
very hot, I'm quite worried about it. Somebody else comments he
was afraid the floppies
might melt... Now that I think I have the APM linux software "under control",
the heat problem is definitively less. Of course when the CPU is
100% utilitized, it still does get hot!
- I also have problems removing and inserting the removable hd,
but it seems that it's just a matter of pulling the lock away hard enough.
The whole hd thing seems very fragile, so be careful. I have not dared to
try and take it out.
- Although it's a P100, compiling the kernel (zImage+modules) takes
quite some time. The disk I/O isn't super, and the whole projects takes
about 40 minutes (cf. 20 minutes on my SCSI based 486DX4-100).
- The mouse pointer sometimes appears to get stuck in a auto-motion,
as if it's calibration is off. Just let it wander, this machine recalibrates
if the motion is persistent over a long time (10 seconds or so).
Despite it's anti-slip surface
you sometimes need to have a napkin nearby and cover your mouse
finger! I would also advice to
have a fair amount of spare ones nearby, they don't seem to last too
long (few months?). My J30 was supposed to come with spares, but didn't.
Just call AST (1-800-727-1278), they will gladly send you one
(but that still hasn't happened to me).
Recently (January 1998) my keyboard-mouse died, I am now working with
the external mouse, but this clearly needs to get fixed. When can I find
time to part with this machine.
In March 1998 my screen died; since it's in the warrenty, it in the shop
and being replaced. At the same time the keyboard (which every now and
then has "Keyboard Failure" at boot) was replaced to fix the mouse.
- As for the external monitor the only problem I had was that
when I exited X-Windows the monitor didn't seem to like that but if I
simply used the Fn key and turned it off and then back on it worked fine.
Here is a list of bizarre occurences I had on the machine. Some of them
really don't have a reasonable explanation yet, although one can always
suspect the bad disk cache/bad memory problem I may have on this machine.
- Lockup in suspend mode when the power button is configured as power.
linux cannot get out of this suspend mode (need to check if W95 can)
- After long idle time suspend mode cannot be awoken anymore. Suspend
button will beep twice loudly and nothing will get the system
back except a (cold) boot via the reset button on the back.
built a kernel with what I thought was the PCMCIA stuff for the cdrom,
but X windows wouldn't run anymore (core dump) and the card
manager never came up... Actually it turned out I added all the special
debugging features for Pentium laptops, and so this is probably not a good
idea to add to the kernel. Need to double check.
- Clock running about 10 times slower. A reboot fixes this. This may
be related to the fact that you have the RT option enabled, but this
has to be tested. I am not aware of a slow clock under Win95.
- Closing X-windows doesn't always return the console mode in a sane
way. (although I have not had any recent problems with this). (take that
back: now I cannot return to console, screen remains black). Adding
proper support for APM appears to fix this?
Here will be a list of questions for you, from the general public
of J30 owners, that we, the other J30 owners, have not been able to
solve yet. Answers and suggestions can be sent to the email address
- does one need different XF86Config files for
active matrix and doubles scan, or are
they guarenteed to be exchangable? Related perhaps: is the
performace on both the same. Answer appears to be: different, e.g.
DoubleScan cannot do 16 bit color.
- fvwm2 has an intermittend problem with focus. Sometimes moving
the mouse into another windows leaves the focus in the other window.
Problem confirmed by others.
- Is there a tty based utility I can run as part of startup
to turn off the microphone feedback?
How do I (can I?) alter the system beep sound and volume on VC's and
- are irqtune and hdparm known to be safe on the j-series?
(the answer I think is yes)
- does the j-series require the kernel work-around options for
either the cmd640 or rz1000 chipset?
(the answer I think is no).
- Is there a source for drive caddies without drives?
(AST seems not to be willing to sell caddies without a hard drive)
Answers: (1) PC Service Source 1-800-464-2781, $36.75 (USD) Part #
Also visit the
Linux Laptop Page.
Jan Fredrik Leversund
Andrew K Bressen
Tobias Kenneth Prettol
Last updated: 11-jun-2000
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