Apr 252010
Shiny New Notebook

Main old main PC is getting oldish. Time for an update! So I got myself a Dell Vostro 3700. “Business Notebook” it’s called, but I have no idea why.

My requirements were simple:

  1. Non-glaring display
  2. Lots of pixel (specifically more than 768 lines)
  3. Non-japanese keyboard (I hate the small space bar)

Other contestants were Lenovo (flunked the display category as the otherwise attractive SL series would be more than sufficient) and HP (no English keyboard). Smaller companies (like Mouse Computer) were not really competitive.

So far what I know about this notebook:

  • It has a 17″ screen, but the notebook itself is not as big as I feared.
  • The keyboard is not too bad. Not as good as the usual Thinkpad ones, but better than many other notebooks I tested.
  • 4 years on-site support included. No worries about potentially shoddy Dell quality.
  • Pre-installed is Japanese Windows 7. Not possibly to fix that to use English instead. But re-installing works.
  • Windows 7 has the same odd behaviour when the network breaks unexpectedly: it hangs and makes the computer unresponsive for seconds, then responsive for some milliseconds, and repeating this pattern. Note to self: do not meddle with the network settings too much.
  • Installing and updating drivers is unchanged since good old Win2k times. Only later I found out that Windows update would have found most updated automatically. So things do have improved in the last 10 years.
  • My Windows knowledge is still enough to get a Windows machine working well.

And here some noteworthy Linux items:

  • Kubuntu 9.10 (via PXE) is easier to set up than Windows 7 from CD
  • Dell uses 3 primary partitions. That leaves one primary left or only logical partitions. Luckily the BIOS can boot from logical partitions, so putting /boot in a small logical partition (and the rest under LVM control) is working fine.
  • Nearly everything worked out of the box. I only had to install the nVidia driver and the Broadcom driver as both are closed-source.
  • The only things not working is the screen brightness. While the Fn-keys work, the brightness does not change. It’s awfully bright. The current workaround is to change the brightness using the nVidia setting tool. Otherwise I’ll turn blind.

This is a serious upgrade in about every shape: CPU, memory, display pixels and I am quite happy with it. I wish I could turn off the fan though. While it’s not as noisy as my previous desktop machine, it’s much closer to me now and any fan is annoying.

Update:  Kubuntu 10.04 fixes the screen brightness problem mentioned above. Now the only outstanding item is how to disable the touch pad.

Update 2: The touch pad can be disabled (and generally) adjusted using the KDE Control Panel.

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