Archive for the 'travelmate 8200' Category

Re: The Acer TravelMate 8215WLMi

A sizeable minority of searches which bring people to this blog seem to have to do with enabling hardware virtualization on the Acer Travelmate range of notebooks.

Although this feature – specifically: Intel Virtualization Technology (VT for short) – is present in at least some of the Intel Core 2 Duo processors which ship in the TravelMate 8210 series, such as the T7200 powering my 8215WLMi, it is disabled in BIOS by Acer.

This (probably) allowed them to share a single BIOS image across multiple models; maybe even across their entire Centrino/Centrino Duo range. And, at the time, other notebook manufacturers did something similar – Sony, among them, with most models in their Vaio range.

Recently, my own 8215 wore out – after two-and-a-bit years of near-constant use, the fan quite literally ground to a halt. Lest the innards melt and ooze out through the vents, I replaced the machine outright with a shiny new Dell.

Up until the end, I had periodically checked on-line for ways and means by which one might enable VT on the 8215. The last such trawl threw up a pair possibilities: upgrading the BIOS with a compatible version from an alternative vendor; and patching the existing BIOS NVRAM so as to unlock VT.

I never got around to pursuing either, but I post them here on the off-chance that someone else might find them useful. It’s timely, as well: the recently announced XP Mode of Windows 7 will require hardware-accelerated virtualization to work.

Upgrading the BIOS from an Alternative Vendor:
The BIOS in the 8215WLMi is based on PhoenixBIOS, from Phoenix Technologies. BiosAgentPlus.com claims to be able to “quickly identify and update” PhoenixBIOS, among others. This is a paid-for subscription service (USD$29.95/year, as of writing) and there’s no indication (or claim), anywhere, that they will provide a subscriber with anything other than the latest BIOS from the manufacturer. In fact, having checked this out to write it up here, it’s not clear that this is worth pursuing any further.

Patching the existing BIOS:
As noted above, the BIOS in the 8215WLMi is based on PhoenixBIOS, in common with several other makes of notebook, such as the aforementioned Sonys. At least some of the users in this forum claim to have successfully patched the PhoenixBIOS-based BIOS in their respective Vaios to enable VT, and this poster claims to have been able to patch the BIOS in his Acer 5684 “in order to enable the VT flag.”

In one respect, this seems a more promising option, for which the Phoenix BIOS Editor may be useful. But to mess with a PC’s BIOS like this is to run the risk of bricking the computer. So, caveat hax0r.

Feisty Fawn and the Waved Dead Chicken

Given the positive experience of the, erm, dead chicken, I had to try out Feisty Fawn on the Acer.

Since the Acer’s CPU is (notionally) 64-bit, I tried my luck, first, with the 64-bit version of the distro. Somewhat to my surprise, this worked, virtually perfectly, out-of-the-box. But the (apparent) absence of a 64-bit version of Skype fairly quickly had me switching (downgrading?) to the 32-bit build.

Feisty Fawn ships with an out-of-the-box option to tart spruce up the desktop with 3D visual effects, but this would not work, on the Acer, without installing the restricted graphics drivers and XGL and using the latter to configure a login session.

I hit upon this more or less by accident whilst using this guide to configuring Beryl. Having installed the bits, configured the login session and then used it to log into the system, I found I was able to enable the built-in Desktop Effects from the system’s Preferences menu, and thereafter never felt the need to bother with Beryl.

A few weeks in, and I’ve not noticed any effect (good or bad) on system stability. From time to time, three of the four workspaces which were available when the system was installed disappear. There are various guides out there to restore the additional workspaces and, thereby, the cube, but coming from the worlds of uni-workspaced Windows and OS X, this goes unnoticed, most of the time.

By contrast, the effect of the appallingly-named “Wobbly Windows” can linger with one even after logging off: coming to Ubuntu from Windows, the effect is sufficiently subtle not to distract; but move from Ubuntu to Windows and its absence can seem (at least for a short time) jarring.

Suddenly, Windows Vista’s windows appear a bit old-fashioned and, well, fragile..

The Acer TravelMate 8215WLMi

I got one of these late last year, to replace an aging (but much beloved) piece of Dell-provided lump of iron (trust me, they’re heavy things to haul about).

The Acer is a fine computer, but there are a couple of aspects to it which, had I known about them beforehand, would have discouraged me from choosing it ahead of, say, another Dell:

  • Firstly, although it is fitted with a Core 2 Duo processor, the configured BIOS – as of the present version (1.3517) – prevents the system from supporting hardware-accelerated virtualization (which Intel market as “Intel® Virtualization Technology“), no matter what others may claim.
  • Sound quality from the speakers is actually worse than that from the Dell it replaced.
  • Sometimes, the case rattles ever-so-slightly when I’m typing. This is very annoying, but, when the case doesn’t rattle when I’m typing, the curved keyboard is very nice to type on.

To be fair to the Acer, it comes equipped with an integrated microphone, which, a woman from Dell told me, the Precision M65 does not; at the time, when one’s choices seemed otherwise equivalent, this was almost enough to swing it for the Travelmate, since I use Skype quite a bit.


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