My New Laptop Review


Ok, it’s been over three weeks since when I got my windows-free laptop. During this time, I’ve ran KUbuntu 10.10 with KDE 4.5.?ย  for about a week, then I moved to KDE trunk as usual and now it’s time to share my two cents (and personal random thoughts and rants) about this laptop ๐Ÿ™‚

Technical Specs

The full reference is listed over here; below, I’m listing only the changes I’ve made from the configuration showed in the website.

  • Cpu: Intel Core i3 330M (2 cores@2.16GHz with 4 threads running concurrently);
  • Hard Disk: removed the default 320GB hd and replaced with a 128GB Kingston SSD;
  • Ram: upgraded to 4GB ddr3.

One really cool thing about this laptop is the possibility to mount up to two (sata) hard drives and, since my old laptop has a sata drive too, data recovery was amazingly easy: I simply had to remove my old hd and install it in my new laptop, and then move the content of my home directory to the new location, that’s all!

Design

Design is the first thing you notice when you unpack you laptop, be it its finishes or its input/output ports placement. Design (and design choiches) affects the way you are going to use your notebook, and it is responsible of the sensations you feel when you see it for the first time1.ย  Since I really care about design, let’s start with showing some pics I took to both my new and old laptop, and sharing my nit-picking opinions (I’m sorry for the quality of these pictures, I made it with my cellphone):

New laptop
My new laptop
Old laptop
My old laptop

The overall look of the new one is quite good: the 17.3″ screen is absolutely amazing, and the satin-finished chassis gives a professional appearance to the whole.ย  I said “quite good” because, on the other hand, this laptop gives me a sensation of brittleness due to its tiny screen pivots (in the old one, they are firmer and bigger).

One thing I reallyย  miss in this laptop is the presence of the multimedia keys (play/pause/stop/next/previous); every time I need to change track within amarok, I need to switch the application I’m currently working on, or set a weird shortcut to do the dirty work for me ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

Other minor annoyanceย  are the ports placement. Let’s start, for example, with the audio jack port. In the following picture I’ll show where they are situated, and the nuisances arose with a wrong2 positioning.

Audio jack placement, new laptop

Audio jack placement, new laptop

Audio jack placement, old laptop

Audio jack placement, old laptop

Audio jack, new laptop

Audio jack, new laptop

Audio jack, old laptop

Audio jack, old laptop

As you can see, the audio jacks has been moved from the bottom-right border (old laptop), to the top-right border (new laptop); since I’m used to wear headphones for about 90% of my time (so does my brother too, in order to listen our favourite songs, watch our favourite movies etc.. without bothering each other), this means a headphone cable always annoying my right hand3. The annoyance is even greater when you play a game (did I mentionend quakelive? :P), and you notice that your movements are not as fluid as before. An other detail I miss a lot is the wheel volume controller. You can clearly see it in the Audio jack placement, old laptop picture: it’s the first element from the left. This could sound silly, but how many times happened that someone has turned on his/her laptop in the College library, and the infamous login sound spreaded loudly all over the rooms? With a simple wheel scroll-down, the quiet of the library would be preserved ๐Ÿ™‚

The power supply jack is an other example of not so wiseโ„ข placement.

Power jack, new laptop

Power jack, new laptop

Power jack, old laptop

Power jack, old laptop

In fact, it is now placed between other I/O devices (ethernet, usb, e-sata and ieee1394), rather than being situated near an edge of the chassis, far from other ports. So, in the worst case (which also happens to be mine), the power supply cable lies along the whole length of the back panel, occluding the other ports and forcing me to manually move it away every time I need to plug-in my external hard drive, or ethernet cable.

Ok, now stop being fussy, and let’s talk more interesting stuff ๐Ÿ˜‰

Hardware compatibility

This is a major point for every Linux user, so I’m going to describe the issues I’ve encountered while running a KDE SC 4.5 from a live-cd distrubution, from an apt-gegt updated version of it, and finally from trunk (KDE SC 4.5.86).

  • KUbuntu 10.10 (with KDE 4.5.?) live-cd: wireless adapter, webcam, bluetooth, memory card reader, screen brightness fully working, suspend/hibernate too. Unfortunately, the audio was completely absent: I’ve tried to tweak alsa and phonon, with no results. Desktop running at the maximum resolution, but with desktop effects disabled.
  • KUbuntu 10.10 installed on hard drive: upgraded to 10.10.1, with KDE 4.5.3: again, wireless adapter, webcam, bluetooth, memory card reader, screen brightness, suspend/hibernate fully working. After tweaking alsa-base conf, I got the sound working from the audio jack, but still no sound from the speakers. I experienced a lot of X crashes with the Ati proprietary video drivers, but switching to the experimental ubuntu repo (ppa.launchpad.net/ubuntu-x-swat/x-updates/ubuntu/) did the trick ๐Ÿ™‚
  • KUbuntu4 10.10.1 with KDE 4.5.86:ย  wireless adapter, webcam, memory card reader, suspend/hibernate fully working. Bluetooth keep crashing kded, so it’s disabled for now (I barely use it, however). Screen brightness is not working anymore, so here it is an other interesting thing to investigate during this holidays :P. Audio still refuses to work from the speakers, this is kinda disappointing but I’m also confident that in the next few upgrades it will be fixed. Plasma desktop works like a charm, with all effects enabled and very little footprint, compared with two months ago. Good job, guys ๐Ÿ˜‰

Performance

Ooh, I really enjoyed writing this chapter!

After installing KUbuntu for the first time, I wasn’t that curious to see how much time the SSD took to boot the operating system up. The reason is simple: as every one of you most likely did, I read a lot of reviews about SSD performaces and the opinions were (almost) always the same: the more performant are the Intel ones, next the Corsair, and then the Ocz and Kingston drives. I was absolutely amazed when i discovered that my fresh Kubuntu install took only ~9 seconds to boot, against my usual 30 seconds and more!

Now, with after a month of use, upgrades, and a full switch to KDE from trunk, the boot time is still impressive, around 11 seconds5. Check the video below, if you don’t trust me ๐Ÿ˜›

[blip.tv ?posts_id=4560072&dest=-1]

As you should have guessed from a small detail on that video, I was so curious to test the boot speed on other operating system that I grabbed a copy of Windows7 license kindly offered6 by my University, created a partition,ย  installed Win7, and performed some tests. And guess what? It took 23 seconds to show the login screen, really slow compared with Linux boot. But the interesting part of the test isn’t come yet. I’ve measured the boot time of my brother’s laptop (a cheap model, 6 months old), powered by an usual sata drive@5400 rpm,ย  surprisingly scoring only 31 seconds! Just 7 seconds of improvement between a fresh Win7 install on a SSD, and a 6 months old installation on a 5400rpm sata drive… sounds like Windows’ Failboat delivered a huge present to its customers, again.

However, boot performance aside, let’s come back to our Linux/KDE world. Benefits of an solid state disk are more than just boot speed. The whole desktop experience is more fluid, fast and resposive (of course credits must be given to the Cpu and Ram too, see below). One example for all, OpenOffice: every time I opened an office file with it, it took ages to load and open it. Now, the app is amazingly quick.

The same for Dolphin: I have the bad habit to put everything in my home folder to save time and, when launching dolphin in the past, it took over 6-7 seconds to show up: now that time is significantly decreased.

Last, but not least, is the quietness of the whole computer: when it’s not performing heavy tasks, the loudest noise you can hear is the cpu fan.

Ok, I’ve talked a lot about solid state disk performance. Now, it’s time to spend some words about the cpu. As I’ve already said, it is responsible of the snappiness and fluidity of the whole desktop. But, from a developer perspective, what really matters is “How much time does it take to compile the package X.Y?” ๐Ÿ˜›

With my old laptop (running a Core Duo T7200@2.0GHz), I measured the compile time of the QT framework (Qt 4.7.0 RC1, on early September), with the following configure switches

$./configure -qt-gif -debug -fast -system-libpng -system-libjpeg -system-zlib -dbus -webkit -no-phonon -plugin-sql-mysql -developer-build -declarative -opensource -script -scripttools -nomake examples -nomake demos -prefix /opt/qt4

and a MAKEFLAGS environment var set to -j3. With this setup, it took 94 minutes to compile everything.

With the same setup, and MAKEFLAGSย  set to -j6, the new laptop scored an incredible result of only 40 minutes! But the detail that impressed me even more, is the overall responsiveness of the desktop: I could chat, watch videos on youtube, and desktop effects were running seamlessly, with small lags between the action that triggers the effect, and its actual accomplishment! With my old laptop, all of this was a mere dream (if someone owns my same old cpu, and ever tried to do what I did, knows exactly what I’m saying).

Kudos to the Intel Engineers for this awesome product, and of course to the Linux kernel developers too, who were able to exploit cpu resources at their best!

And now, the graphics card and the ram. The best way to pushย  graphic card and ram to their limits is toย  –play the latest game?– , of course no! It’s performing real-time computation on graphical data, which means 3D modeling a high-poly object. Unfortunately, I don’t have Maya for Linux here, so I downloaded and installed ZBrush (take a look at it, it’s a very impressive piece of software) and started modeling a sort of alien face using HD geometry. For a graphic card designed to be installed on a laptop, I must admit I was surprised of the level of details I’ve been able to reach.

Wait, the review it’s not finished yet! There is still the audio performance to talk about. Even if the audio is half working on linux, and I hope to get it fixed soon, having an other OS gave me the opportunity to test how all the components works. And, hell, the speakers plus the subwoofer are really kick ass! They play sounds clear and loud, very very loud!

Conclusion

In consideration of all the points I’ve discussed in this post, I give to this laptop 8 out of 10 as final score. The performances are good, but the hardware compatibility with Linux is not as good as I would expect from a high-end laptop. If I was a person with no experience on tweaking linux, I’d probably switched to Windows after the second try on the audio configuration process. Design is fine, but could be better for, again, for a high-end laptop.

I hope I don’t have annoyed you with my loooong and enthusiastic review about my laptop, Merry Christmas and Happy New 2011 =)
A special thanks to my friend Alberto, who spent his time to help me with the ATI driver setup (and his trolling mood too :P), and to my beloved girlfriend Mariaelena, who bears the weight of my nerd vein!

_______________________________________________________________

1: Sounds kinda romantic, isn’t it? ๐Ÿ˜› โ†‘
2: In my opinion, of course. โ†‘
3: This might sound silly but, hey, try working on a computer with your right hand 10 centimeters farther than you were used to, and then we will talk about it.โ†‘
4: Well, let’s say the basics packages of K/Ubuntu 10.10.1 because, if you read some of my older blog posts, I completely build KDE and QT from sources, so I don’t need the ones supplied by Ubuntu (I apt-get remove all of them after every new system install). โ†‘
5: Now, I’m REALLY curious to see how long does the boot sequence take on an Intel Extreme SSD … โ†‘
6: Whooops, i forgot the <sarcams></sarcams> tag here.โ†‘

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8 responses to “My New Laptop Review

  1. And screen? How can you guys use those bad low-resolution screens with close to zero vertical screen estate? You’re a coder, so you need place to code, and code is vertical. IMO any 16:9 low-res (that is, standard – these days, unfortunately, 766 and friends *is* the standard) doesn’t fit any sufficient amount of code. You should be looking for FullHD if you’re going to code on that machine, first and foremost, that’s the rule, actually. Now that’s why I still don’t have a laptop – I’m waiting for a sane price for the FullHD laptops in Russia, actually ๐Ÿ™‚ (well, not quite true, the fact is, I’ve already got two machines at my disposal, both desktops (one htpc), don’t need a third one) The best laptop screen FYI is the Dell Studio XPS 16 RGBLED FullHD screen. Dell Studio 17” FHD is also cool, pretty close to the XPS 16. Now all the rest is unfortunately, pretty bad. (Except for the Mac, of course, but who buys that for the price they’re selling it for)

    Like

    • I think you probably didn’t read the link with the technical specs: http://enface.it/ita/octave180w_tec.php ๐Ÿ˜‰
      My screen actually is a 1600×900 (not that 766 and friends crap:)), and perfectly fits my needs. If I were even more picky, I would bought the 1900×1200 version (which is not listed in the reference, but the advisor told me the head-office guys can replace it without avoiding the warranty, as they did with my SSD drive) but, since that kind of screen is well suited for doing graphics stuff (and I have veeeery little time for it), or watching HD movies (and there is already my tv for that), 1600×900 is good for me.
      Are you still sure Dell has the best laptop screen ? =P

      Like

  2. First of all:where did you get that laptop? Seems to be some in-house development or more like AMG for Mercedes, if you know what I mean ๐Ÿ™‚

    Now my apologies for not reading it all carefully, that’s the automatic information overload protection working fine here =P
    And 900 is nice per se, but for 17”, I wouldn’t take that over the FullHD (1200). Really.

    And Dell…. well, I haven’t seen that screen, but according to the figures shown in the reviews, it still is and will long be the best one. The only problem is that the brightness deteriorates over time, that’s why they’ve obviously stopped producing them… well, I’m not sure. The new screen is a wee bit less bright but still perfect.

    P.S. Read that now, your previous post, explains everything about the company pretty well. But they’re not in Russia… crap… or do they ship? If so, thank you a bunch for giving me a possibility to find a new dream laptop (Dell XPS 16 aside =P)

    Like

    • Hey don’t worry, it’s ok ๐Ÿ˜‰
      Aha I love the analogy with AMG, I love cars too (my favourite is situated in Stuttgart too, but it’s not Mercedes =P ) ๐Ÿ˜€
      Back on topic: This brand is italian http://www.enface.it. About three years ago there also was a .com domain, but now it seems expired so I really don’t know if they ship outisde Italy, I’m sorry =(. Try sending them an email, and wait for their answer.
      About the high level of customization: it impressed me too because, when I bought my firts Enface laptop, there wasn’t all this freedom of choice. But, this second time, when I asked for an SSD drive, the advisor made a call to the head-office to check it feasibility, and then offered me the option of the HD screen too. Times are changed, in good ๐Ÿ™‚
      Sorry for the bad quality of the pictures, I made it with a Nokia N73 … I’d have enough money to buy a Canon 40D. Believe me, the laptop looks good here ๐Ÿ™‚
      Cheers!

      Like

  3. Make sure you have disabled SWAP altogether, and removed ext4 journal (man tune2fs), and mounted /tmp as tmpfs filesystem.

    And I highly recommend building all packages in /tmp or /dev/shm to prolong the life of your precious SSD drive: autotools `configure` script for a single run can create/erase/modify up to 10000 files.

    Like

    • Thanks a lot for your advice, since last week I was looking for the more sensible way to prolong my SSD life.
      Anyway, I have a couple of question:
      1) why disabling swap? under heavy load, my system uses about 120-150MB of swap;
      2) why should I remove ext4 journaling?

      Cheers!

      Like

    • Unfortunately they didn’t have the model I ordered in their office, because that screen size is not that common to be ordered. I relied on my previous experience with the other laptop and, oh well, next time I won’t make the same mistake again ๐Ÿ˜›

      Like

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