Alienware laptops are a very powerful system however they are usually shipped with Windows XP SP2. However you can use an alternative operating system such as Linux and FreeBSD provided you have the proper drivers. I strongly recommend if you do use Linux to search for a power user and minimalist distribution such as Slackware for a good base, FreeBSD only come in one distribution. Slackware, in my opinion, is the best distribution due to it's size, customizability, a ease of installation due to very simplified documentation. Please note that IF you choose to use Linux you will NOT be able to fallback to the Intel 900GMA graphics chip included with most Alienware Centrino based laptops like the Area-51 m5500. I also recommend using a newer kernel such as 2.6.xx series for better performance.
1.) Just about all the hardware for these systems are supported by the kernel drivers. All you have to do is make sure the proper modules are loaded at boot time.
2.) The 56k/v.90 Software Modem will more than likely be non-functional BUT Motorola does provide a generic driver for both the 2.4 and 2.6 kernels. Try them out and see which one works for you.
3.) Most Alienware laptops use Nvidia chipsets or the Intel 900GMA chipset, however some newer models use ATi Mobility chipsets. I HIGHLY recommend the Nvidia chipsets more due to Nvidia's incredible reputation with solid and reliable X11 drivers. ATi claims to have made their Proprietary X11 driver better but past experiences with ATi have left a sour taste in my mouth.
4.) Realtek does provide an ALSA driver though it's already supported natively with the Intel HD Audio Bus driver. However the ALSA driver provided does give more support to the Realtek ALC880 chipset itself rather than just the Intel HD Audio Bus.
5.) I HIGHLY recommend a USB Mouse just in case the Synaptic touchpad doesn't register. A little 20 dollar USB mouse from Wal-Mart won't be too elaborate and break your bank.
6.) Lastly extra drives such as Flash Drives, USB Floppy, and others will require setup in FSTAB before usage. If you don't have a drive that will be occupied don't bother with it.
Alienware and Linux... an FAQ you may want to read.
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