Archive for the ‘Laptops’ Category

My one year of using Fedora 20

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

The GNU/Linux distribution, not the hat, I might add.

So, like. The way this thing works is that first you remove (or just forget about) Gnome, and then you install your favourite window manager, and then you add at least the rpmfusion repositories (and possibly others depending on what special things you want to install. In my case these are bumblebee, google-chrome and adobe flash player).

Then you set up any specialities you want for your special hardware; in my case it was setting up bumblebee for the GPU and setting up some key bindings in acpid for controlling the screen brightness and disabling the default power button function. Then you fight with SELinux to make it allow what you just set up.

Then you… use it happily for a year, apparently.

It’s working fine and all the software is still very recent. At some point I should update to the next release and that is a bit frightening – but so far so good.

Unsurprisingly there are some hickups with the more exotic hardware I have; mainly Bumblebee tends to break when the kernel is updated, and the WLAN driver is fiddly. However, those are upstream issues and they won’t work any better in any other distribution so can’t really complain.

What did I end up with? Dell Precision M6800.

Monday, December 23rd, 2013

Continued from the previous post.

After looking through all the options, I bought a Dell Precision M6800.

This exact model has an i7-4800MQ, 16GB of RAM, Nvidia Quadro K3100M and a 512GB SSD.

Based on reviews, this has almost all the things I care about – so let’s go through the list I introduced previously (green texts are what I mentioned about the Toughbook CF-51):

  • This thing is stable enough. It runs Linux for months straight without major crashes. Everything works. You simply don’t get that with most hardware.

As far as I can tell after a few day’s use, this is mostly covered. More on that later in this post.

  • It’s got a 15-inch 4:3 display, which is tall enough to be comfortable to actually use, unlike the 16:9 abominations of today.

The display in these 17.3″ things is equally tall as in the one in 15″ 4:3 laptops.

  • Due to the form factor, the screen is further away from the keyboard than in today’s models, making the eyes and the back not hurt when looking at it. There is enough space for your hands to comfortably lay on in front of the keyboard.

The side profile for that part is almost identical to the CF-51. There is a slight issue though – the front edge of the keyboard is somewhat too sharp and messes up with your wrists. I need to stop being in certain positions that I used to, or maybe use something to raise the backside of the laptop up a bit.

  • The keyboard has this superior layout where the home, pageup/down and end keys are at the rightmost edge. The keyboard also feels great and the arrow keys are properly arranged.

You can’t get those for any 17 inch models these days. This has a numpad, which is useless and moves the keyboard to a suboptimal position, and the home/end keys aren’t very conveniently positioned. The feel is good though and the arrow keys are proper.

  • It’s shell around the keyboard is made of plastic, making it not heat up your hands, and outside is cast magnesium – shattering floors and other inferior objects on which you drop it.

As far as I can tell, this is largely constructed of multiple layers of some kind of rather heavily cast plastic. It’s probably less sturdy than the CF-51, but it’s hard to tell how much. It does feel very solid.

  • The touchpad’s surface doesn’t stick to your finger, it’s precise and by default requires much less finger movement than today’s large ones; its size makes it hard to accidentally touch and it’s dedicated buttons have the exact right pressure requirement.

The touchpad is good or very good, but suboptimally positioned due to the numpad. Fuck numpads. My initial impression is that it’s better than the CF-51′s.

  • The quality of the speakers in this thing is unheard of these days. You can actually listen to music using them without having to cringe to the sound quality at all. It sounds bright and clear. The frequency range is as wide as you can ever hope. The speakers are large enough to not fit anywhere in a smaller chassis.

The speakers of the M6800 sound a bit different than the CF-51′s. They seem to have a bit more frequency range and have a different kind of middle tone rendition. Definitely good; I can’t really expect more.

  • This thing doesn’t run it’s fans at all when halfway idle. 0 RPM. You can’t fucking beat that. And that is what I require.

Due to the plastic chassis, the M6800 can’t dissipate heat through the case. It deals with the issue by being idle most of the time, and periodically spinning the fans for a while to cool the heat sinks. I don’t have other options than to deal with this, as all modern laptops use the same approach. As a plus side, the laptop doesn’t feel hot from any part.

  • This thing is built to last. Yeah, it weighs 3kg but there’s a reason for it and I’m fine with that. It was also expensive because of that but I’m fine with that too.

Roughly the same idea with the Dell.

  • It has enough performance to be quite usable even today. That’s 6 years from launch in real use.

This is plenty fast today, so I expect it to be plenty fast for years, and then to be fast enough for the years following that.

  • I have two batteries of unknown age for it, still lasting multiple hours each. They are made by Panasonic from the ground up and you can’t beat that.

The battery life of this thing depends heavily on the usage. It seems to be able to idle for like 6 hours, but it drops quickly to lower than 2 hours if you engage the K3100M and give some actual work to the CPU.

  • It has plenty of connectivity: old-school serial, ps/2, VGA, USB 2, FireWire, gigabit ethernet, Wi-Fi, Cardbus and an SD card reader. I won’t need anything more than this for years to come.

A somewhat modernized variant of that list can be found in the M6800.

The CF-51′s display panel has a low DPI and a very low contrast (except if you’re lucky and get a 1600×1200 IPS in which case the screen is better than anything you can find, albeit somewhat dim).

The M6800′s panel is… well, very good. It’s colors are a bit unbalanced and need tuning away from the blue side, but other than that, it performs better than my desktop display, Dell U2412M (which has an eIPS panel). I especially love the deep black. Being just a high-end TN panel, vertical viewing angles aren’t much better than those of a regular TN panel though.

The Feel

Do you know the feel when you use eg. an expensive musical instrument? Or a large milling machine or stuff like that? It just sits there, almost like being glued to the position with some magic, working and waiting for you to give your input using it’s finely made controls. This laptop feels quite like that and I like it.

By the way, I decided to install and use Fedora 20. It has been relatively interesting. This is clearly a mature distro, but has it’s own tricks and surprises when coming from a debian background. As a desktop environment, I use IceWM and no display manager. I tried Gnome, then KDE, then MATE. None worked and they messed up ACPI stuff and the touchpad and whatever. I don’t recommend any of those, and neither GDM nor KDM nor LightDM. Same goes for any distro of course.

Issues!

I will next post about issues. There are many of them and most of them are because of Linux driver support. I will do some additional testing for it, as it is probably applicable to many of Dell’s new high-end models.

2013-12-23: Linux (Fedora 20) on Dell Precision M6800

I want a new laptop, but not any laptop.

Thursday, December 5th, 2013

I currently own a laptop. A Panasonic CF-51 MK3, the model with an intel GPU and a dualcore CPU. Launched in 2006, this thing is absolutely superior.

I’ll tell you why.

  • This thing is stable enough. It runs Linux for months straight without major crashes. Everything works. You simply don’t get that with most hardware.
  • It’s got a 15-inch 4:3 display, which is tall enough to be comfortable to actually use, unlike the 16:9 abominations of today.
  • Due to the form factor, the screen is further away from the keyboard than in today’s models, making the eyes and the back not hurt when looking at it. There is enough space for your hands to comfortably lay on in front of the keyboard.
  • The keyboard has this superior layout where the home, pageup/down and end keys are at the rightmost edge. The keyboard also feels great and the arrow keys are properly arranged.
  • It’s shell around the keyboard is made of plastic, making it not heat up your hands, and outside is cast magnesium – shattering floors and other inferior objects on which you drop it.
  • The touchpad’s surface doesn’t stick to your finger, it’s precise and by default requires much less finger movement than today’s large ones; its size makes it hard to accidentally touch and it’s dedicated buttons have the exact right pressure requirement.
  • The quality of the speakers in this thing is unheard of these days. You can actually listen to music using them without having to cringe to the sound quality at all. It sounds bright and clear. The frequency range is as wide as you can ever hope. The speakers are large enough to not fit anywhere in a smaller chassis.
  • This thing doesn’t run it’s fans at all when halfway idle. 0 RPM. You can’t fucking beat that. And that is what I require.
  • This thing is built to last. Yeah, it weighs 3kg but there’s a reason for it and I’m fine with that. It was also expensive because of that but I’m fine with that too.
  • It has enough performance to be quite usable even today. That’s 6 years from launch in real use.
  • I have two batteries of unknown age for it, still lasting multiple hours each. They are made by Panasonic from the ground up and you can’t beat that.
  • It has plenty of connectivity: old-school serial, ps/2, VGA, USB 2, FireWire, gigabit ethernet, Wi-Fi, Cardbus and an SD card reader. I won’t need anything more than this for years to come.

I require all this from a laptop. I’ve been looking for a replacement for this almost ever since I bought it (because I knew how hard it would be), and haven’t found one.

The only fucking problem with this thing is that it’s processing power doesn’t match today’s standards anymore, making compiling, game development, heavy javascript and stuff like that a pain in the ass.

I need at least four cores, 8GB of RAM, a half-decent GPU and a large screen.

Panasonic lost their chance by moving to smaller models and abandoning these full-featured laptops. Also, it’s incredibly hard to find out which of their models are quiet and which are not – A CF-51 with an ATI GPU makes constant loud fan noise. Can you find that information anywhere? Nope.

So – age doesn’t matter, manufacturer doesn’t matter, looks don’t matter, price doesn’t matter (too much). The above stuff matters. Where can I find a laptop?

2013-12-23: Continued here, and in the comments.