Linux on the ThinkPad A21m

Wake Forest University has a special relationship with IBM, dating back to the inception of the Plan for the Class of 2000. Faculty and students are issued with new IBM ThinkPads on a staggered two-year rotation. The model I had from 2001 till 2003 was the ThinkPad A21m.

Specs | Linux installation | XFree86 | Network card | Modem | Audio
CD writer | Serial port | APM | Wacom USB tablet | IBM resources


The WFU-issue Thinkpad A21m came with

Linux installation

It is not difficult to install Linux using free tools, without damaging the MS Windows98 system that is pre-installed. One procedure that works is

My disk partitions:

Disk /dev/hda: 240 heads, 63 sectors, 2584 cylinders
Units = cylinders of 15120 * 512 bytes

   Device Boot    Start       End    Blocks   Id  System
/dev/hda1   *         1      1020   7711168+   c  Win95 FAT32 (LBA)
/dev/hda2          1021      1038    136080   82  Linux swap
/dev/hda3   *      1039      2584  11687760   83  Linux

With this setup it's necessary to include the lba32 option in /etc/lilo.conf so that lilo can handle the booting of linux from a location above cylinder 1024.

The ThinkPad's hard drive, floppy and CD drive are all recognized by Linux no problem (but see below for more on the CD). You will probably want to enter BIOS setup (F1 on booting) and move the parallel port from the "dumb" location of 0x3BC to 0x378, particularly if you want to use a parallel-port zipdrive.


XFree86 version 4.3.0 supports the ATI Rage video (module "ati"), and can drive the TFT display at 1024x768 resolution, with a color depth of 24 bits per pixel. Unfortunately the 3D hardware acceleration (direct rendering) that the chipset offers does not seem to be supported yet under Linux. Direct rendering is supported for some of the Rage Mobility chipsets in the current XFree, but apparently not this one: it's an "M1" and seems to be based on Mach64. Keep an eye on for news!

Tip from Craig Kulesa: You don't have to ask for 3-button emulation in the mouse section of XF86Config. Under X, the "extra" big button for the TrackPoint works as a middle button.

Here's my XF86Config (for XFree version 4.2.0).

Ethernet Adapter

The WFU A21m comes with an integrated ethernet controller, the Intel Pro 100+. You can drive this using either the driver module supplied with the linux kernel (I'm currently using kernel 2.4.20), namely eepro100.o, or a driver available from Intel. I had a few problems initially with the former, so I'm currently using the Intel module. This is available in source form; you can find it on the Intel website by starting at

Follow the link "Software & Drivers" and select Linux from the drop-down list of operating systems.


The Wake Forest A21m comes with an integrated Xircom 56K modem. This works fine with the ltmodem driver available at


The ALSA drivers support the Thinkpad's CrystalClear SoundFusion PCI Audio fine -- after you disable PCI Bus Power Management in the BIOS menu. Hit F1 at startup, and disable Config - Power - PCI Bus Power Management (it's the last entry, you have to scroll down to find it). I configured version 0.9.0rc2 of the ALSA driver code as follows:

./configure --with-sequencer=yes --with-oss=yes --with-cards=cs46xx

CD Writer

A nice feature on the Wake Forest model is an integrated CD writer (the Sony CD-RW CRX700E). By default, Linux recognizes this as an IDE CD drive, and assigns it to /dev/hdc. This is fine for reading from the drive, but if you want to use the writing feature you have to reconfigure the drive to use SCSI emulation. There is a HOWTO on this.

Serial port

In the BIOS setup I ensured that the serial port was enabled, and set at ioport 0x02f8, irq 3. Find it under Linux at /dev/ttyS1. I can use my (aging) Epson PhotoPC 550 just fine, with GNU gphoto to talk to the camera.


Advanced Power Management, that is. I haven't done very much with this since my ThinkPad spends almost all its time connected to AC. I did enable APM support in the Linux kernel build. Craig Kulesa offers details on this topic.

I've found that asapm is a nice little battery-monitor doodad.

Wacom USB tablet

I bought myself a reconditioned Wacom Intuos 9x12 graphics tablet, USB version. It works fine with the ThinkPad. Here are details.

IBM resources

It's worth checking from time to time for BIOS updates, and even Linux drivers for some bits and pieces, with IBM.

Allin Cottrell ( August, 2002