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December 22, 2009

New Laptop Time

{I am getting} {scary messages} in {curly brackets} in my laptop's {dmesg}.  The universal warning signal for imminent hard drive death and data loss.  I get dropouts of about 30 seconds at a time with no hard drive activity (before the kernel realises and reset the link), during which time the computer is mostly frozen (no HDD I/O possible), and this seems to be happening more and more often.  In addition, the power connector is broken - the central pin in the laptop's connector snapped off.  Since the pin stays fixed in the hole in the adaptor's plug, it still just about works if it's carefully pushed in and the cable wrapped round to put pressure in the right way.  However, I don't know how long either of these will hold out.

Of course I'm backed up to the hilt with distributed version control, so I'm not in immediate danger of losing anything particularly important.  However, it's apparent that I'll need to buy a new laptop in the near future.  At the moment I'm looking at a Lenovo Thinkpad T500 with WSXGA+ (1680x1050) screen and Radeon graphics, but does anyone have any other suggestions?  My non-negotiable requirements are:

  • Linux-friendly wifi and graphics.
  • Dual core, or at least HT.  This really does make a huge difference.
  • Widescreen.  1680x1050 with a 15.4" screen gives a resolution I like.
  • UK keyboard layout (i.e. UK market, ideally with delivery to Germany possible).
  • DVD drive.
Ideally it would also have:

  • Decent battery life, or the possibility to buy spare or larger batteries during the next few years once the original one becomes a plastic box of jelly.
  • VGA output.
  • Fast-ish hard drive (7200rpm or higher.  I'm not sure how much of a difference this makes, but I do a lot of compiling and so on.  No need to go overboard with solid-state disks for hundreds of extra pounds.
I'm not too bothered about:

  • Bluetooth (I don't use it at the moment).
  • Huge hard drive - I get on fine with only about 80Gb at the moment.
Any suggestions on a comment or email to this address..


Sounds fine, but I really do not know any recent comprehensive comparison which would eg. show the more subtle feature differences like noise, heat generation or keyboard/touchpad+stick functionality.

Radeon is great wrt free drivers, Mesa 7.8 (current development tree) now even has OpenGL 2.0 / GLSL support upcoming.

You will want the fastest hard drive, since it has been the bottleneck of modern computers for at least 10 years. Seek times have improved probably at most 20% from the drives 15 years ago (7200rpm still dominates)... SSDs would be nice and would make a big difference but still cost too much when it comes to the proper drives like Intel's. The laptop makers rarely tell what brand the hard drive is, but eg. WD Black series is good, likewise Hitachi 7K500. Most probably it's Seagate, though, which is not too bad but not as good either. Intel X25-M 80GB currently costs about 200€ (sorry for euros...), but next year there will be good-enough Intel models for about 100€ probably. Maybe then finally they are an sensible option.

Integrated Bluetooth doesn't hurt besides ca. 10€-20€ cost. You could also have fun figuring out what's expected from a PAN-enabled phone to have Network Manager connecting via it successfully :) I have pand running on my Neo, and when pairing with (eg. ) gnome-bluetooth I get the option "do you want to use this device for Internet connections", after which Neo shows in Network Manager menu. Which is all quite cool, although the actual connection doesn't work. Manually it does work fine by IP forwarding the Neo's GPRS connection over bnep0.

Beware that most Ati video card, despite the free software radeonhd driver, use a non free binary blob firmware for BOTH 2D/3D included in the Linux kernel but in binary form and released under a non free license.

Almost all Lenovo laptops have broadcom wifi cards that can't run with free software drivers.

People usually discovered all of these when using a fully free software GNU/Linux distribution such as gNewSense:


Last beta version is debian based.

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