|Sound Support Under Linux
The ThinkPad 390E uses the ESS Solo-1 chipset for audio.
At the time of writing, there are three options for getting sound
happily working under Linux.
- NEW! Kernel sound support. Kernel 2.2.12 (less than one
day old) has an experimental kernel module for the ESS Solo-1
have built 2.2.12 with nothing more than the "Sound
Support in Linux" option and the "ESS Solo-1" option (configuration screenshot here), and basic
sound functionality appears to be working. I can play music
CD's, play MP3's, wav's, au's, and view Quicktime/AVI/MPEG movies. However, applications that use ULaw like
xboing (and RealAudio G2?) seem to be broken, as you can't just cat audio files to
/dev/audio with this driver. The sound quality is a bit harsh as
compared to the OSS/Linux and ALSA drivers, below. The driver
does not handle suspend-resume cycles, but unloading and
reloading the esssolo1 module after resuming works fine. This driver
is experimental, but it's quite usable, and it appears to
be on the right track. If support improves, standard
Linux distributions like Redhat will soon be able to support
sound with the ESS Solo-1 right out of the box.
- OSS/Linux Sound Support. Although not free or "open" by
GPL'ed Linux standards, the folks at OSS include
excellent ESS Solo-1 support in OSS/Linux.
Currently this is the best-functioning sound support option for
the ThinkPad 390E, IMHO. It simply works! You can even
apply OSS/Linux to the stock Redhat 6.0 kernel without
However... while inexpensive, it's not free. If you compile the
latest and greatest kernel, you may need to
wait a few days until an OSS binary patch for that kernel is
released (unless you modify the kernel source and change the
reported kernel version). Also, the OSS sound module takes up a
significant amount of memory (about 500 KB), although it can be
easily loaded and unloaded from memory. The new stock kernel
driver takes less than 30 KB to load, by comparison.
- ALSA Drivers.
The Advanced Linux Sound Architecture project (ALSA) is
writing an open-source alternative API for sound under
Linux. They include
drivers for the ESS Solo-1. But while they look great on paper,
I've had much more difficulty getting ALSA working, and even with
OSS compatibility modules loaded, a lot of applications seem to
break with ALSA (x11amp, xanim, gmix, etc.). Perhaps others have
gotten it to work with the ESS Solo-1, but frankly I'm very
happy with OSS. It's a 2 minute install, and it just
works. I would be interested in a step-by-step description
of getting ALSA sound really working on the ThinkPad
Cottrell has written the best one I've seen thus far.
||Ease of Installation
|Kernel 2.2.12+ Modules
||Functional, experimental sound support
||Requires compiling the latest kernel
||Very complete. Full-duplex, PCM, MIDI, etc...
||Easy, autodetecting installation
||Very complete! -- But incompatible with many existing applications
||Laborious! (begs for an RPM distribution)
The 390E has "sufficient" speakers, but only marginally so. There
is not much audio power, and little bass response. On the other
hand, I've not heard a single laptop with good audio. This is
the one single aspect of the 390E which is merely "average". The
quality of the audio output, however, when routed to a real
amplifier/speaker system, is excellent.
Back to Linux on a TP 390E
Last modified: Fri Aug 27 04:00:16 MST 1999