Caveat Emptor

I STRONGLY ADVISE AGAINST BUYING THIS LAPTOP.

I purchased mine in September 2003. In the first week of ownership it became clear that there were problems with the LCD panel and with file corruptions during heavy usage (overheating?). I immediately sent it back for repair under the 12-month NEC UltraCare warranty, which promised prepaid shipping and a 24-hour turnaround. Prepaid it was, but 24 hours it was not. In fact, they gave me the run-around for two weeks - twice as long as I had the machine myself - before they admitted that they have trouble getting parts for the E120, and could not say when or even if they could get the necessary parts in.

They then offered me a new replacement laptop (and could not explain why they did not offer me one sooner), but as they obviously could not support this model, I was not happy with that solution. Fortunately, TigerDirect.ca, where I bought it, agreed to take it back as a return, even though by then it was more than 30 days since I ordered it. Kudos to them for helping out in my hour of need!

In the brief time that I had it, I did manage to install Linux on it, so this page is for those who have one and would like to try to do the same.

TuxMobil - Linux on Laptops, Notebooks, PDAs and Mobile Phones Linux On Laptops

Linux on the NEC Versa E120 Daylite
NEC Versa E120 Daylite
  • 10.4" XGA transflective screen
  • 800MHz LV Pentium III-M
  • VIA Twister-T chipset:
    • S3 Savage4 graphics (8MB shared)
    • AC'97 stereo audio
  • 256MB PC133 SDRAM (768MB max.)
  • 20GB UDMA/100 hard-drive
  • USB 10X CD-ROM
  • Versaglide/NX touchpad with scroll
  • Connectivity: 10/100 LAN, 56K V.90 modem
  • Ports: 3x USB 2.0, 1x Firewire, 1x VGA
  • Card slots: 1x Type I/II PCMCIA, 1x Type I/II CF
  • 10.63" x 8.66" x 0.77-0.93"
  • 3.1 lbs
  • supplied with Windows XP Pro
  • NEC specs
Impressions
Screen: the transflective screen does work nicely outside. It is definitely dimmer and lower contrast than a "normal" screen indoors, but was nonetheless readable under every lighting condition I encountered. The backlight does have a colour cast that screws up colours, especially green, but the colours are OK in reflective mode. Bottom line: if you don't need to use it outside, look elsewhere.

Keyboard: the manufacturer's specification is misleading here. It is 19mm pitch within a row, but the rows are only 16mm apart! A few keys are in odd places (notably ~, on the bottom row) and some non-alphanumeric keys are as small as 14mm in order to fit them all in. The overall feel is not bad, and I could type fairly comfortably on it, but your mileage may vary.

Battery Life: NEC does not offer a spec on this. I did not run an exhaustive test, but the ACPI information suggested that, at best (processor at 533MHz, backlight off, machine idle), the main 4-cell battery will last for about 2.3 hours, and at worst (processor at 800MHz, backlight on full, kernel compile) a little more than half that. Expect about 3 times those durations (i.e., 7 hours at best) with the optional 8-cell second battery.

Wireless: I became intrigued when I noted that (a) some annotated pictures of the E120 on European and Asian sites showed "antenna board" locations, (b) the included applications CD has a wireless driver, and (c) the miniPCI slot is free. However, according to NEC tech support, North American machines do not have antenna boards. You can try your luck retro-fitting an antenna if you like ...

Linux compatability: I would say that the Linux compatability is very good (see below). There are a few things that I did not try (Firewire, PCMCIA, CF, modem), but just about everything else works. Exceptions are: some ACPI issues, but that is no worse than any other laptop until the kernel gets this sorted out, and the touchpad scroll button.

Linux Configuration
I shrank the Windows partition with BOOTITNG to make room for Linux, and set it up for dual-booting. In what follows, things that work are in green, things that don't work are in red, and things that sort of work are in amber. Things I have not tested are in white.
I use and recommend gkrellm2 for system monitoring. There are many plug-ins for doing all manner of things (note that the ones listed on that site are not necessarily most recent versions). There are ebuilds for many of them in Gentoo's portage system.
Item Description Module(s) Comments
Distro Gentoo 1.4   I have used Red Hat and SuSE before, but I wanted to be rid of the bloat, so I decided to try Gentoo. I am actually very happy with it, and would recommend it. The install is more laborious than most, but is quite easy with the Gentoo installation instructions (print them first!), especially if you do a GRP install off their pre-compiled CDs.
Kernel 2.4.22   Gentoo offers a variety of customized kernels as part of the install. I initially chose 2.4.22-ac1, but then did a custom build from vanilla sources so I could use swsusp (Power Management).
Processor 800/533MHz Low Voltage Mobile Intel Pentium III Processor-M with Speedstep in kernel Speedstepping works through ACPI (see below). Use the gkx86info gkrellm2 plug-in to monitor the processor frequency.
ACPI & Power Management ACPI patch, acpid, swsusp ac, battery, button, fan, processor, thermal The /proc/acpi entries are there and
  • ac_adaptor correctly shows on- or off-line, but acpid does not report AC events properly
  • battery correctly shows battery information
  • button: acpid correctly reports button events for lid and power
  • fan: I did look into fan much, but it does come on and changes speed as the system heats up.
  • processor performance (speedstep) and throttling are recognized.
  • sleep state S1 (standby) works, and resume works once the button is configured appropriately, but this is of limited value since not much powers down. S3 (suspend-to-RAM) and S4 (suspend-to-disk) are not supported in 2.4 kernels (should be in 2.6), but swsusp gives a working software S4-style suspend.
  • thermal shows current temperature OK, but critical temperature stated is above the melting point of most materials on the planet!

You can use the gkacpi plug-in to monitor battery state and processor temperature.

Hard-drive Hitachi DK23DA-20 in kernel DMA enabled by default. hddtemp has a gkrellm2 plug-in that allows you to monitor your drive temperature.
Optical Drive TEAC 210PU usb-storage Note that NEC's spec says that this is a 24X unit.
Pointing Device ALPS Glidepoint in kernel Scroll-button does not work.
Graphics S3 Savage4 8MB
(in VT8606 Northbridge)
savage Tim Roberts' driver is supplied.
X-windows X11R6 xdm See Gentoo Desktop HOWTO.
Audio ADI AD1886 codec
(in VT82C686B Southbridge)
snd_via82cxx Gentoo had no sound support in their 2.4.22-ac1 kernel that I used initially. I put it in for my rebuild, and installed the ALSA driver (see Gentoo Sound HOWTO). Volume control via hardware works.
Ethernet Realtek RTL8139C(L) 8139too I initially had to blacklist 8139cp to stop hotplug trying to load it (I turned that module off in my rebuild).
Modem Ambit Lucent Scorpio   Untried
USB (in VT82C686B Southbridge) usb-ohci, ehci-hcd CDROM works.
Firewire
IEEE1394
Texas Instruments TSB41LV01 ohci1394 Untried
VGA out   hardware Works with Fn-F3
PCMCIA Ricoh R5C476II in kernel Untried.
CF Ricoh R5C476II in kernel Untried (supposed to work like PCMCIA).
Dual-boot grub ntfs, vfat You have to set up your own fstab entires if you want to read Windows partitions under Linux. NTFS works read-only, FAT32 works read-write.