FreeBSD on Laptops

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FreeBSD works fine on most laptops, with a few caveats. Some issues specific to running FreeBSD on laptops, relating to different hardware requirements from desktops, are discussed below.

FreeBSD is often thought of as a server operating system, but it works just fine on the desktop, and if you want to use it on your laptop you can enjoy all the usual benefits: systematic layout, easy administration and upgrading, the ports/packages system for adding software, and so on. (Its other benefits, such as stability, network performance, and performance under a heavy load, may not be obvious on a laptop, of course.) However, installing it on laptops often involves problems which are not encountered on desktop machines and are not commonly discussed (laptops, even more than desktops, are fine-tuned for Microsoft® Windows®). This article aims to discuss some of these issues. Several people have also documented their experiences with FreeBSD on specific laptop models on webpages which are not part of the FreeBSD documentation. You might very well find some information if you type the name of your laptop model and the word “FreeBSD” into a search engine of your choice. Additionally there is a FreeBSD-specific online database which aims to give information on hardware issues with laptops, The FreeBSD Laptop Compatibility List.

For communications with other FreeBSD laptop users, check out the freebsd-mobile list.

1 Xorg

Recent versions of Xorg work with most display adapters available on laptops these days. Acceleration may not be supported, but a generic SVGA configuration should work.

Check your laptop documentation for which card you have, and check in the Xorg documentation to see whether it is specifically supported. If it is not, use a generic device (do not go for a name which just looks similar). You can try your luck with the command Xorg -configure which auto-detects a lot of configurations.

The problem often is configuring the monitor. Common resources for Xorg focus on CRT monitors; getting a suitable modeline for an LCD display may be tricky. You may be lucky and not need to specify a modeline, or just need to specify suitable HorizSync and VertRefresh ranges. If that does not work, the best option is to check web resources devoted to configuring X on laptops (these are often Linux oriented sites but it does not matter because both systems use Xorg) and copy a modeline posted by someone for similar hardware.

Most laptops come with two buttons on their pointing devices, which is rather problematic in X (since the middle button is commonly used to paste text); you can map a simultaneous left-right click in your X configuration to a middle button click with the line

      Option "Emulate3Buttons"

in the xorg.conf file in the InputDevice section.

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