MSI Wind U110 Linux Review

The MSI Wind U110 netbook has an excellent basic design: The new generation Intel hardware is made for long battery life and the MSI can really make it over 9 hours under Windows. The MSI's are one of the few netbooks of this generation which include a nice and bright non-glossy display.

The keyboard is excellent and can from my experience be used immediately without any issues. I actually like it better than my external keyboard. The only problem here was the tiny "'" key. But that's only important for English text and I'm sure in the version they sell in English speaking countries the keyboard doesn't have that flaw.

So they only thing that might be seen as negative is the lower display resolution compared to some other new netbooks that have an 11.6" display. But their display is usually glossy and thus disqualified for really using it anywhere outside and also of course costs battery time.

But for Linux it looks much worse. While the Poulsbo chipset was already roughly supported in Ubuntu 8.04, which was released over a year ago, the support for Poulsbo is still at least flaky. It needs binary blobs to work anywhere near well as far as I have read.

And unfortunately it's not yet working on the MSI Wind U110 or U115 netbooks. You can normally get the chipset to work pretty well - with the appropriate resolution and at least some 2D acceleration, but no hardware video acceleration (aka VDPAU or VA-API).

But on the MSI's the support isn't working yet. You get the message that the there was a null pointer dereference when trying to load the psb kernel modules that is "necessary for the driver to work" as the Xorg driver tells you. Though I've read it might actually work on a certain SuSe distribution.

That unfortunately means that the netbook can not currently be used for Linux. A small display combined with a bad resolution will definitely lead to headaches. Linux users will either have to use Windows until sometime - hopefully - Intel fixes it's drivers (and maybe even includes a working VA-API support!).

What else I've checked worked fine: Sound, USB, Brightness Adjustments. I haven't tested standby enough yet, but I think there were still problems. But that may very well also be related to the graphics chipset. And as far as I've read the standby to ram works fine at least with certain BIOS versions.

The MSI U110 comes with one RAM slot, which held 1 GB ram in this case and is extensible to 2 GB. There is of course an internal card reader included. A microphone and a headset jack and a USB port, a VGA and a 100 Mbit LAN port are on the right side, two more USB ports, the energy plug, a kensington lock connection and a fan on the left side.

Summary: For now only for Linux experts who are either willing to debug and fix the kernel module or figure out how to get SuSe running on it or people who are willing to use Windows until the problems are fixed (supposedly that might happen by the end of this year). But it's a great netbook with lots of battery time, a nice display and a great keyboard. Perfect for writing blog entries or a large word document.

Once the graphics work, I'll try installing and running Linux from an SDHC card to see it that saves even more power. But right now with the vesa driver the power savings aren't that good. I wonder if they are better with the real driver.

What works&What doesn't
  • Grafics (works pretty well now!)
  • Sounds works (needs a fix in Ubuntu 9.10)
  • SD-Card Adapter works (it's generally not very fast, though)
  • Standby (works in Ubuntu 9.10)
  • CPU low power mode (works for me, reportedly doesn't work in certain configurations)
  • Grafics low power mode (?)
  • Sound low power mode (creates problems and had to be deactivated in 9.10)
  • Webcam works with uvcvideo after pressing the short cut (Fn-F6).
  • Ethernet works in 9.10 after plugging in the cable (ASIX AX88772 USB 2.0 Ethernet).
  • Wifi works out of the box in 9.10. Needs additional drivers in 9.04.
If there are any questions feel free to ask.

UPDATE: X video works nicely now. Finally!!! :)

I even managed to get to work vaapi hardware video decoding up to FullHD 1080i.

Sound does not always work without problems. In Karmic 9.10 you have to comment out
#options snd-hda-intel power_save=10 power_save_controller=N
in /etc/modprobe.d/alsa-base.conf.
options snd-hda-intel position_fix=1 bdl_pos_adj=64
instead helped me as well.

Suspend to RAM works fine with newer kernels from Ubuntu 9.10 and the psb module active. But I think it crashed when I tried to use vaapi after that. It did. But that's fixed with the newest BIOS version (the most current one on 01. June 2010) for me now.

I've run powertop on a full battery(half a year old) to test how low I can get the power usage in X with it.

PowerTOP version 1.11 (C) 2007 Intel Corporation

Cn Avg residency P-states (frequencies)
C0 (cpu running) ( 1.8%) 1.60 Ghz 0.4%
C0 0.0ms ( 0.0%) 1333 Mhz 0.2%
C1 mwait 0.0ms ( 0.0%) 1067 Mhz 0.6%
C2 mwait 0.2ms ( 0.0%) 800 Mhz 98.7%
C4 mwait 0.3ms ( 0.0%)
C6 mwait 9.6ms (98.1%)

Wakeups-from-idle per second : 103.4 interval: 15.0s
Power usage (ACPI estimate): 5.6W (10.3 hours)

Top causes for wakeups:
53.7% (126.9) : acpi
26.4% ( 62.3) : psb@pci:0000:00:02.0
11.2% ( 26.4) : hrtimer_start_range_ns (tick_sched_timer)
2.3% ( 5.5) : Rescheduling interrupts
1.8% ( 4.3) : extra timer interrupt
1.3% ( 3.1) : hrtimer_start (tick_sched_timer)

I think the psb driver is not highly optimized for low power consumption yet, but the biggest problem is the pretty high number of "acpi" interrupts. We can see that with neither ethernet nor wifi active, the netbook can reach over 10 hours of run time. And this is with a battery that already lost 10% capacity. We should be able to get this down a lot more by finding the cause for the acpi interrupts and with some optimizations, mostly in psb.

3 comments:

  1. Hi, I just bought MSI Wind U110 netbook. When I starting Ubuntu 9.10 i have a problems with network - both wireless and wired hardware is not detected. Can you suggest something? Thanks

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hey may have changed the internal hardware. Or you didn't activate them. Is the wifi light on? Did you press Fn-F11 so it's on before you boot ubuntu?
    The ethernet driver only works once a cable is plugged in. Before that it's not connected at all in order to save power.
    If you've done all this you can post your dmesg, lspci and lsusb here: http://pastebin.com/

    ReplyDelete
  3. Never thought it would be such a simple reason - I really forget to toggle it on (Fn-F11). Thank you.

    ReplyDelete

I appreciate comments. And I do read them.