HP Probook 4720s on Ubuntu 11.04 64bit

  Last Winter I posted [1] about installing Ubuntu 10.10 64bit on a HP Probook 4720s with 6GB RAM which was only a moderate success, as it required a manual driver update for the WLAN, the touchpad right-click would not work reliably and the external microphone produced only static noise. Now that the new Ubuntu 11.04 is out with a completely overhauled user interface I’m naturally tempted to give it a try. The short story: it’s a big improvement but you need to tweak your way through various scripts and settings to get there.

Installing the Live CD on a USB stick

  I downloaded [3] the 64bit Desktop live ISO and installed it on a USB stick. I had to format the stick with FAT and use Unetbootin (sudo apt get install unetbootin), as the “Startup disk creator” would complain about permissions with the default Ext4 filesystem.

Booting the Live CD from USB

  An hour later I am looking at and, as I write, working with the Ubuntu 11.04 running from the USB stick. The WLAN works out of the box, the right click is still broken and for a lack of a suitable microphone I couldn’t fully test whether the external microphone jack works. I say fully, because I managed to record some sound by connecting a pair of headphones to the microphone port as headphones employ the same electromechanical principles as microphones. I’ll repeat that experiment with proper microphones later.

Installing Ubuntu for real

  Just like the last time, I’m installing Ubuntu on a flash card so that, hopefully, the internal harddisk can spin down during pauses and save some battery. During an unrelated experiment aimed at reducing startup times with a previous version, I noticed that Ubuntu incorrectly assumes the flash card to be a rotational device and thus not taking advantage of the fast seek times. This was particularly painful during the last Ubuntu installation, as writing to the flash card was very slow resulting in a two hours installation procedure. My flash card is at /dev/sdc1, so I told Ubuntu that it is a non-rotational device:
sudo echo 0 > /sys/devices/pci0000:00/0000:00:1d.0/usb2/2-1/2-1.4/2-1.4:1.0/host7/target7:0:0/7:0:0:0/block/sdc/queue/rotational
Since the laptop has abundant RAM, a partition scheme without swap space was chosen with an Ext4 boot partition. Though I’d like to use Ext2 which reportedly speeds up flash devices, the resulting installation refused to boot – so for now it has to be an Ext4.

Booting the installed Ubuntu

The first runs were disappointing – the boot process froze several times. Even when the OS booted into the login screen there were problems with the WLAN as it either would not find networks or would not connect to them. Shutting down the OS freezes the laptop also. The cause seems to be some modules loaded for the WLAN which are not necessary and get in each other’s way. To work around this, you need to blacklist that modules:
sudo vi /etc/modprobe.d/blacklist.conf 

and add these lines:

blacklist rt2800pci
blacklist rt2x00pci

Save and reboot (if you can 🙂 and you should be fine.

Restoring user home directory

Moving the /home directory to a safe partition is described in detail here [4]. 

Fixing the touchpad

I installed the “synaptiks” package and configures two- and three- finger taps to trigger right-clicks. On a funny side note: in order to perform a right click, you have to try not move the pointer. I’ll be looking into this further and try to come up with a better solution.

Keyboard tweaks

Under Keyboards -> Layouts I chose the “Hawlett-Packard Pavilion dv5” and enabled on that panel under Options -> Misc. Compatibility Options -> Shift with numeric keypad keys works as in MSWindows.


Directly after installing, Ubuntu offered to install a proprietary graphics driver which seems to run a little smoother than the default driver but powertop reports more wakeups, hence a higher power consumption. I tried to revert to the standard driver which turned out to be a bad idea, as the screen would switch on and off periodically (hint: the recovery console will do the trick getting you back to the proprietary driver)

[Update 2010.05.16] Fixing Flash video performance: Very worthwhile material [2] on tweaking Ubuntu 10, but still applies here.

sudo mkdir /etc/adobe
echo "OverrideGPUValidation=true" >~/mms.cfg
sudo mv ~/mms.cfg /etc/adobe/

[Update 2010.05.16]

[1] Ubtunu 10.10 64 bit on HP Probook 4720s

[2] Poor battery life on Ubuntu 10

[3] Ubuntu 11.04 downloads

[4] Partitioning home moving

Linux On Laptops

24 thoughts on “HP Probook 4720s on Ubuntu 11.04 64bit

  1. Hey,

    where did you get synaptiks from?

    As I'm mainly using a mouse the touchpad issue doesn't bother me atm, but i hope it'll get resolved.



  2. Hi,

    I am having troubles with the 4720s as well and only pclinuxos gave me wlan out of the box, but the touchpad is terrible as well as other things. So I want to try your solution(s) with ubuntu 11.04. Only problem is that I want to be able to use Skype, which is a 32-bit program. Can I perform your steps also with a 32-bit edition of Ubuntu?

    Tnx, Ron


  3. Hi again,

    Just saw that Skype has a 64-bit version for ubuntu as well, so I booted the live cd. But it hangs with the purple screen and 5 red dots…
    Passing kernel options acpi=off or noapic doens't help. What can I do?

    Tnx, Ron


  4. Hi George,

    Tnx, I removed those options, booted the livecd and it hangs at

    * starting configure network device
    [ 85.650113] phy0 -> rt2800pci_mcu_status: Error – MCU request failed, no response from hardware

    That is the wonderful wlan card (i hate it already), but what to do now? Is it an option to disable network in the BIOS before installing and afterwards enabling it?
    Another option maybe installing an older ubuntu and upgrading to 11.04?
    Maybe you have a solution?

    Tnx, Ron


  5. Hello Ron,

    You would normally blacklist the rt2800pci module, but as far as I know you cannot do that on the live CD. Thus I'd say that disabling it in either the BIOS or if your Laptop has a switch or keyboard combination use that. Then you should be able to boot from the live CD, make an installation and blacklist the module in the installation.

    Alternatively you could start the installation from a VM and install directly on a USB stick and tweak that until you are sure you like the new Ubuntu.


  6. Hey George,

    So far so good, I am in the installed Ubuntu (disabled Wlan in Bios) and survived the error with the configuration server (had to do something with permissions).
    Wlan does not work however. Should I try your options from your post from last winter?


  7. Hello Ron,

    Good to learn that you are still with us 🙂
    Just check this post's section on blacklisting the duplicate wlan modules:

    sudo vi /etc/modprobe.d/blacklist.conf

    and add these lines:

    blacklist rt2800pci
    blacklist rt2x00pci

    By the way, a warm restart will probably not do, you really need to switch the power off and on again.


  8. Oke,

    Blacklisted the pci-modules. So I left the sta-modules not blacklisted !
    But after a cold reboot still no network.


  9. By the way, iwconfig gives me a wlan with as first line:
    Ralink STA ESSID: “” Nickname:”RT2869STA”

    Is this positive?


  10. Hello Ron,

    I didn't know there were 4720's with a 2869 chipset, thus I can't really say. I assume that you have already re-enabled the WLAN from the BIOS? If it still doesn't work, I would try to boot without blacklisting, find all the relevant loaded modules via:

    lsmod | grep rt

    (ok, there are some obvious mismatches like parport, but you get the idea)

    and then take turns in blacklisting… 😦


  11. My router is on channel 10. And when un-blacklisting the RT2800pci the laptop freezes on boot.

    Still I am very thankful for your help, cause this laptop is giving me headaches sometimes. Only PClinuxOS has out of the box support but I broke it after I upgraded some packages, very weird. Then I noticed your blog and now I hoping it makes the sun shine some day 🙂


  12. By the way, why not downloading and installing the Ralinktech driver for this card? Doesn't work? They have version ready for RT3090. That is the right driver I would say. Any problems I can expect when I install this driver, or maybe the driver as mentioned in the ubuntuforums ( to which you link?


  13. Hello George,

    No luck with the ubuntuforum from your link. Is using the windows driver with ndiswrapper maybe an option?


  14. Hi Ron,

    Couple of points: Like I wrote, the WLAN in 11.04 is working fine, at least for me. Could it be that during your experiments you replaced a driver or broke a configuration setting? Although the new kernel is out it will most likely take some time until it find its way into an Ubuntu release.


  15. How exactly did you get Ubunt to install. You say you used Unetbootin. Whaat is youe exact partitioning scheme abd how did you set this up in the Ubuntu installer. This has been the trickiest install I've had to do in this century.


  16. Hello Nikato,

    It is important that you use FAT for the USB partition. What operating system (version) are you using for the installation and which version of Ubuntu are you trying to install?


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