For the last 6 months my Samsung laptop backlight has been flickering at me randomly and indiscriminately. Having had enough if this cyber “water” torture I finally relented and decided to buy a new laptop. As my customers always have good experiences with Dell equipment I decided I should take my own advice and buy from them. Running Ubuntu and already owning a entry level SSD I decided I didn’t need anything flashy but it had to have a decent amount of memory for running a Vista Virtual machine as and when the need arose. It would also need a 17″ screen as working in lots of SSH sessions at the same time is a pain for me with anything smaller.
I basically went for the base spec Inspiron 1750 except with 4 GB of memory and I have to say it is the best Linux experience I’ve had so far with a laptop. Everything pretty much worked straight away with a minimum of fuss.
Ok so onto the things I had to do.
First thing is I was aware my existing laptop had a Nvidia card in and I was using the proprietary driver for 3D acceleration. At some point I had had to force Xorg to load this driver, probably after switching between Nouveau and said proprietary driver in experiments. This entry had to be removed before I moved the SSD over otherwise much fun was going to be had booting off a live CD to change it afterwards. The integrated Intel graphics driver seemed to work straight away, however, there was no 3D acceleration. After much mooching around on the internet I found the issue was specific to having moved from the nvidia driver as it overwrites the GLX library with it’s own version which of course isn’t compatible with the Intel driver. I deleted the rogue GLX file and reinstalled the xorg packages and after reboot glxgears was working like a charm.
A part of the water torture of my existing laptop was that it didn’t seem to like the SSD I had installed in it. As I had blogged before Samsung weren’t interested in sorting the problem out even though the SSD had Samsung chips in it. It took approx 23 seconds to detect the drive in the BIOS and get to the boot loader. Adding insult to injury I never seemed to get decent speeds out of it (which I wrongly assumed was the drives fault). The drive would stutter and fart (not literally) to poultry speeds of 50 – 80 Mbytes per second when it should have been doing at least 100 odd. After moving to the Dell it was a revelation “hdparm -tT /dev/sda” revealed 135Mbytes per second and of course the boot delay was gone. One more plus for the Dell.
The only slight fly in the ointment was the Broadcom wireless card. It was of a revision that the open source driver wouldn’t recognise so I was forced into using the proprietary one – available through “Hardware Drivers” in Ubuntu – although this works satisfactorily the ping times from other devices on my wireless network vary wildly and seem to stray more often than not in the hundreds of milliseconds category. Also if the laptop has been left on idle for a while the card or driver or both seem to go to sleep. This is a problem when my better half wants to get on the web and can’t because the router – which is my laptop – isn’t responding to helm. However it was a mere trifle in comparison to the problems with the Samsung.
The problem is caused by power saving mode when the AC is removed. The wireless card is switched into low power mode at this time. Editing “/usr/lib64/pm-utils/power.d/wireless” or “/usr/lib/pm-utils/power.d/wireless” for 32 bit and paradoxically changing any instances of “power on” to “power off” fixes the issue.
To enable access to all of the 4GB memory in Ubuntu 32 bit I had to change to the PAE or Physical Address Extension kernel, otherwise only 3.4GB was available. I have since changed to Ubuntu 64 bit.
Overall the hardware experience was a very good one measured by how long I had to fiddle to get things just perfect. On other machines this could take upwards of a day on the Dell was only a few hours – others wouldn’t spend as long and would live with the slight imperfections.
Aesthetically the laptop is plain at best. The shiny plastic doesn’t do anything to raise ones expectations of quality and neither does the slightly raised in the middle keyboard – perhaps a quality issue – or the feel of the keys. However like a Japanese car everything feels solid enough and isn’t going to fall off any time soon – unlike my daughter’s Sony Vaio with flimsy web cam lip which seemed to encourage the web cam’s demise after only a week.
Having since stripped apart the old Samsung R70 and removed anything not needed for server function, to reduce power consumption, the flickering screen issue has been fixed. Perhaps the inverter wasn’t plugged in correctly. I also applied some new thermal paste to get the temperature down from 70 degrees to a more comfortable 40, the R70 now uses around 18 watts when on battery.