Kasperian Moving Parts

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Need New Linux/KDE4-friendly Laptop

| 28 Comments

Dear Lazyweb,

I need to buy a laptop for personal use. I’ve been using Thinkpads as work laptops for so long that I think I’d like to try something else out for a change. It needs to be Dual Core/Core 2 Duo/whatever. Would be nice if it had a fast 200+GB drive in it. And it absolutely MUST have a fast, awesome graphics card in it that has zero problems with compositing, Linux, KDE4, suspend/resume, or anything else. Having dealt with nVidia cards for quite a while now, I’m guessing this means that the new laptop shouldn’t have an nVidia graphics card in it. I am so tired of the constant problems I have with KDE4 and the nVidia Quadro NVS 140M I have on my work Thinkpad T61–can’t use compositing for more than a day before the system becomes totally unstable and invariably X crashes, etc. =:( Maybe an Intel or ATI card? Also, it would be really groovy if the battery lasted longer than 3 hours, consistently.

Anyone have any suggestions? What have people had good success with in a laptop, been able to do compositing and full desktop effects in KDE4 without having any problems or system instability, etc., etc.? I was thinking of maybe trying a new MacBook, but having tried that before and absolutely hated the keyboard (wth, Steve, no home/end/page-up/page-down keys???), I’m not sure how long I’d last on it before pounding my forehead into it. And that’s about where my list of ideas ends. Any suggestions would be most appreciated.

Author: Jason 'vanRijn' Kasper

My name is Jason 'vanRijn' Kasper. I am the ring leader of the amazing Kasper family. I am unashamedly a Christian Nerd. These are our stories....

28 Comments

  1. I’ve had lots of luck with a low-end Dell Inspiron 1420 (Dell*buntu), on which I wiped the original Ubuntu install and have been running Kubuntu for about a year and a half.

    The hardware seems to work well for my use case, anyway. I’m still running Kubuntu Hardy and KDE 3.5.10 (KDE 4.3 looks like it might be my sweet spot for upgrading), and I don’t use any desktop effects, so I can’t comment on that.

  2. I’ve been looking for a latop that supports Linux out of the the box for when I am done with school this summer.

    Some friends have recommended System76 – http://system76.com

    In particular, I looked at http://system76.com/product_info.php?cPath=28&products_id=89 (Gazelle Ultra) which comes with an Intel graphics chipset.

    Tha laptops themselves are incredibely customizable from the system76 website.

    Not a customer (yet).

  3. I’d recommend a Dell Vostro 1310. I myself own one and it has quite a strong battery (4-5.5 hours) and everything works out of the box with OpenSUSE (I have to use s2ram –force, though, as the laptop appears to not be known to s2ram).
    In default cofiguration it does have an Intel onboard graphics chip which works absolutely perfectly wit compositing (gaming is not a good idea, I think thouh).
    As far as I know, you can even order it via phone at Dell without Windows.

  4. You are probably far more competent wrt Linux than I am thus most of this is probably well known to you. I however, still maintain that you have the ideal Linux laptop.

    I’m using the T61 (NVS 140) with kernel 2.6.28 -(K)ubuntu 9.04 beta and 2.6.29 – Arch – driver is 180.44. Composite doesn’t crash and the machine is stable. I’m on KDE 4.2.2 compiled and running with QT 4.5. (I have not testet the 185.13 Beta driver available at Nvidia ftp server.

    ATI is still behind Nvidia on propietary drivers, but the T400 has both ATI and Intel GMA X4500 thus should cater for both alternatives. MacBook Alu machines are all Nvidia (discrete and combo).

    I just did a test of hibernation/suspend – it works. Same goes for mute/volume +/- buttons and all other thinkbuttons.

    More important (imho) is that tp_smapi works and i therefore can keep my batteries working. Problem is with many other laptops is lack of batterymanagement killing the batteries in very short time as they are constantly charging to max. Further HDAPS, fingerprintreader and my Advanced minidock works just fine.

    My suggestion is therefore either to keep the one you got or:
    Get a T400 with both ATI and Intel GPU, LED backlit (a must), 9cell battery and a reasonable HDD + a tray hdd craddle. Then replace the HDD with a SSD later this year.

    (Intel’s X25M 160gb is too expencive, and the only Ocz one that may cut it (vertex 120/250 gb still needs a drop in price.)

    Alternatively get the T400 with the 80 gb Intel X25M and get a ultrabay hdd tray for a vertex 60/120 gb….

    If portability and batterytime is the top priority – have a look at Thinkpad X200s (CPU SL9400) with Led Backlit and 9cell.

    Batterytime will be good using powertop and sensible settings with powerdevil.

    Personally won’t consider anything but Thinkpads or MacBook Alu.

    Kubuntu 9.04 Beta (KDE on top of Ubuntu) did a great job with my hardware, latest Nvidia driver is in the repo and tp_smapi & Hdaps + thinkbuttons is rather easily available.

    http://shop.lenovo.com/SEUILibrary/controller/e/web/LenovoPortal/en_US/systemconfig.runtime.workflow:LoadRuntimeTree?sb=:00000025:00001CC7:&smid=0A759CA6FAC74C46BC91C724ECD09BA7

    http://shop.lenovo.com/SEUILibrary/controller/e/web/LenovoPortal/en_US/systemconfig.runtime.workflow:LoadRuntimeTree?sb=:00000025:00001CD0:&smid=27260E1983734A91A115802FE145A51A

  5. Hi There,

    I’m running Kubuntu Jaunty (with kde 4.2.2 and Qt 4.5) on a Dell XPS m1530 (Core 2 Duo 7500 + GeForce 8600GT).

    I’ve been using this laptop over Kubuntu Hardy through to Jaunty and haven’t had any major issues with it. It was slightly painful to get the camera working initially, but I didn’t have to do anything special when upgrading to Jaunty, so I’m guessing that’s been fixed.

    Other than that, all the hardware works flawlessly. Suspend and Resume are great. Compositing works like a charm and is super-fast. I’m running the Nvidia 180.44 driver and it works quite nicely with KDE 4.

    The only issue with the laptop is battery life (with a 6 cell). The battery has started to go flat in just over an hour now, and its only a year old.

  6. I recently buy an HP dv3500 which has an nvidia 9300M GS. I was very concerned about the graphics because of all I have heard.
    Well, I put Arch Linux (x86_64) in it and I can say nothing more than:

    It works like charm!!! Simply perfect.

    With proprietary drivers I can:
    – have dual screen (clone, extended desktop or extended desktop with overlaping),
    – run an openGL game,
    – view an HD movie,
    – use a composite effect (like Present Windows or Desktop Grid)…
    ____… all at the same time!!!_____

    Nothing compared with my old ATI x700 (with or without proprietary drivers).

    I know a friend of mine that does not have the same luke in an new Macbook 13,3″ with proprietary drivers for the nvidia 9400, so…

    I can say that nvidia was the best choice, til now.

  7. Stay with Nvidia if you want a display size > 1024×786. I still can not recommend Ati. Intel is great for netbook sized displays but too slow at greater size (but finally with DRI2!).
    I do not have a Linux notebook with a NVidia card but as Desktop it works _now_ without great problems (180.29).

    I am still searching for a suitable replacement for my really old Samsung P35. Still a great Linux notebook with 1400×1050, 15″, matte display, but heavily used and dated.

    Bye

    Thorsten

  8. ATI’s new 4890 sounds promising:

    http://arstechnica.com/hardware/news/2009/04/atis-radeon-4890-kicks-nvidia-where-it-hurts-1.ars

    And they’re latest Linux drivers actually don’t suck.

  9. hi all,

    i advice a Dell too. i’m completely satisfied by my Dell XPS M1330. i use fedora 10 w kde 4.2.1 on it and everything works great. (only the front mic don’t work yet).

    now if you seek for design too (other than power and compatibilty) i advice you get one of the latest Dell Studio XPS 13 – they are simply elegant and power horses. really.

    beside, Dell has the greatest assistance and quality. Really. I extended my warranty to 4 years when i bought my laptop and bought also “accidental damage” insurance. Well luckily for me i did. I had to use it 2 times. They basically replaced the whole thing without even saying a word if not “please call us back again if you need”.

    isn’t it great???

    and last but not least: i regularly update the BIOS with Dell GPL’d tools. i wrote i script for this too. just in case you can find it here:

    http://github.com/cga/dellbiosupdate.sh/tree/master

    this is the model i advice: http://tinyurl.com/dn6zlx
    you can even start from it and customize it.

    cheers

    ps: i put the US site since i don’t know where you are located.

  10. Hello, I’ve been using the 1st gen model of the System76’s Serval Professional (i think they are on gen 4 or 5 now) for 3 steady years now without hitch.

    It has a nvidia geforce go 7600 in it, and while i’ve had graphics glitched from time to time with the nvidia drivers, everything has worked smoothly and I’ve read that the new release fixes the few remaining issues with high end nvidia cards and KDE4/Compositing.

    The laptop also has the tendency to get hot, but I have been told by the System76 folks that was an issue with the first gen model but is no longer the case for the current lineup.

    The customer support is intelligent and understanding. When I asked them if I could install a new graphics card myself they sent me a (pdf) manual on how to take apart, swap, and put back together every piece of the laptop.

    so, i highly recommend a system76 laptop!

  11. Only on word: FULLHD display.
    The experience of use of KDE4 with this resolution is absolutely fantastic. I can not think of using the amazing KDE4 with a resolution lower than 1920×1080 …

    Having said that, a video card that has given me zero problems with the KDE4 Desktop effects is the NVIDIA 9600GT with driver version 180.44 (remember to force “Maximum performance” in PowerMizer when you are plugged with the AC adapter ..;)).
    A good laptop that I have and I recommend you is the HP HDX 16 (http://h10010.www1.hp.com/wwpc/it/it/ho/WF06a/321957-321957-3806904-3806906-3806906-3769205.html )

  12. oh, and to add to my mini-review. I have played games with wine such as ES IV Oblivion and Half-Life 2 from start to finish on this laptop, have done compiling (though I sometime prop it up to let the fan have its way), and professional/intensive graphics design and web work. The latter two I have done steadily ever since I received the computer.

  13. I too am having problems finding a replacement laptop for KDE4. My requirements are about the same as yours except I also want a 15″ or 16″ 1920×1200 LED screen – this makes it nearly impossible. I’ve looked at the Dell Studio XPS, which is almost perfect, but I’m worried about the battery dying quickly like on my current Dell. The Thinkpads with tp_smapi sound awesome, but lack the screen resolution.

  14. I’d recommend a T-series Thinkpad. You can get them during one of Lenovo’s multiple sales, and, with an intel chipset, everything Just Works.

    I’m running Kubuntu Intrepid with 4.2.2 packages, and its as smooth as butter. The keyboard on thinkpads feels really responsive, and the keys have a nice feel to them.

  15. I run Kubuntu on a Dell Vostro 1500 with Nvidia graphics.
    Works well – the proprietary nvidia driver seems to have fixed most issues with composting.

  16. fn+cursor keys get you pg up/down/begin/end on a macbook. But the new macbooks all have nvidias in them (even for the chipset), and if they still use the same wifi chipset as in earlier generations, ndiswrapper is needed. In short, I wouldn’t recommend buying a macbook unless nothing else fits what you are looking for.

  17. I run Kubuntu Intrepid on a Dell Inspiron 1420 (with KDE 4.2 from some PPA somewhere). It works beautifully for the most part with the onboard Intel graphics.

    From what I understand ATI X1000-series Radeon cards are also very well supported. ATI 2000-series and higher will *eventually* be there but they aren’t yet. (I have a 2000 series and the development version drivers for xf86-video-ati support 2D just fine except either KWin or the drivers don’t like Composite. :-/ ) I couldn’t get Catalyst to work as my kernel is too new and radeonhd didn’t work the one time I tried it. But like I said, Ati appears to be a good choice over the long term if you also need performance.

  18. Under no circumstances purchase an HP notebook of any sort.

    I spent a fortune a year and a bit ago on a dv9000 with nVidia graphics and to give it its due it has worked fantastically with Mandriva linux.. BUT..

    13 months into its life the nVidia card died with the well published, got too hot and fell over problem that all of these nVidia devices have (seen the same thing exactly in dell and toshiba).

    HP did not want to know about it and despite many calls, much heated discussion etc I had to shell out half the purchase price again to replace the MB in this thing while the others (dell and toshiba) on machines that were slightly older had their MB’s replaced without question.

    I did not have an extended warranty (my fault, but wasn’t offered at purchase) but HP’s after sales support is appalling. I simply could not talk to anyone in the organization that was not in an Indian call center or who could make an independent decision.

    I, nor any of my clients will EVER purchase an HP notebook again, and I’d strongly suggest you don’t either.

    From my experience, Dell would be the go.

  19. A few pointers:
    -as pjn said, don’t buy HP. I’ve had even worse experiences than what was mentioned there… repeatedly. e.g. botched repairs three times in a row…
    – I’ve only ever once had an nVidia card, so I can’t really speak to them in general. However, aside from the odd artifact, I’ve had no issues, and it was dead simple to set up, even on Arch Linux. I have had a lot of experience with ATI, and from what I’ve seen, their binary driver is far, far, behind nVidia’s (my desktop hangs HARD if I even try to use it at all – over 5 driver releases – and previous computers have had random glitches, lockups, etc.), and the FOSS drivers don’t support 3D/compositing on anything halfways recent.
    – Also, as a minor note, Alps touchpads are annoying in Linux. This shouldn’t be a major decision factor, but if you can, get one with a Synaptics touchpad.
    Cheers

  20. I’d recommend considering saving a few bucks and going with a laptop with an Intel Integrated graphics chip. If your not interested in heavy gaming, that is. I have found that, with a couple minor tweaks (you can find them at the KDE forum) I can get good, if not excellent KWin (or compiz) effects, and the stability is amazing. I have two different PCs with Intel graphics and they both work like a charm, though not quite as smooth as OS X Aqua effects.

    Otherwise, be aware that Compiz and KWin are not equal, and just because you get good performance with one is no guarantee for the other. I have a Dell Laitude D531 with an ATI Radeon card, and while it runs compiz like a champ – cube, wobbly windows and all – it won’t run KWin effects to save its life. I just use compiz as the WM for KDE4 and it works fine. The problem is probably in the proprietary drivers; I believe I had better results with an older version of the driver, but unfortunately I never took note of which one, and I am not inclined to try them all out and see. So be aware; Google is your friend.

    And, like others posted, I can’t recommend Dell enough. I have my sites on either a Studio 15 or an XPS M1530; both have excellent linux support and are fabulous machines. I have used Dells almost exclusively and have never had a problem with them.

  21. Having just purchased two new laptops, here are my suggestions:

    1. I second the comment above that you should NOT purchase an HP. I don’t think I’ve ever had a worse system than the Compaq Presario V3000Z that we just had to replace. It overheated all the time, had other major issues and failed just after the one year warranty with multiple inscrutable and unsolvable hardware issues.

    2. Avoid the Dell Studio 15. Most of them work fine in Linux, but some of them come with a flat panel that has issues with the currently Xorg Intel drivers. The latest development branch of the driver solves the problem, but if you find yourself needing to use a distro with an older version (for instance, from a Live DVD or install CD) you will get a lovely white on white screen with rainbow stripes. The Dell XPS M1530 we got instead has worked wonderfully.

  22. I am quite happy with my Toshiba U300. It is small and light, the screen is very good, and with a 9 cell battery it lasts 6-7 hours. Just about everything that matters works well even with older GNU/Linux setups. It is also fairly cheap, even if it is not quite as physically robust or as small as the “corporate” laptops from Dell, Lenovo or Toshiba itself.

  23. Didn’t want to start brandbashing – but can confirm HP trouble – 4 machines handed in 11 times – several issues with power, gpu, sound and screen. Had fantastic laugh watching the new MSoft-youtube-thing – there’s no way that add would sell a HP to anyone I know.

  24. I’m thinking about getting one myself! The DELL E5400 is really nice for what you pay; 14.1″ with 1440×900 should be good!

    The only bad thing is the Intel GMA 4500MHD, which I only heaar bad things about when it comes to 3D. I think it runs KDE4 composited well enough, but I’m not sure (someone with this card and KDE4 care to share?).

    However, it has nice linuxdrivers and is very battery-friendly so I just might get this!

  25. Wow, awesome, thank you everyone for your suggestions!! I need to set some time aside this weekend and look through all of these. To those who suggested that the Thinkpad is the ideal Linux laptop, I get what you’re saying, but my current laptop (the T61 Thinkpad) makes me very sad and I just can’t get KDE4 compositing to be stable on it. And by that, I mean that if I reboot and start X and use KDE4 with full compositing, it is blazingly fast and smooth and perfect. For about a half day. Then, X starts getting slow. And moving and resizing windows will often cause X to start flickering and shaking and if I don’t kill off kwin and/or plasma, my laptop will hard crash. This is not stability that I can live with, and currently, I have to use KDE4 without any desktop effects, which frustrates me to no end.

    Anyway, thanks again to all who commented! I’m looking seriously at the Dell and system76 laptops, and I’m pretty sure I’m not going to be tempted by the Macbooks.

  26. Oh, one other thing… The most compelling thing I read in the comments was the battery life issues. Apparently, Linux is much nicer to Thinkpad batteries than it is to other brands? Is there any research with hard numbers on this? Or is there anything that can be done or is being done about it? I’d love to pick up a relatively cheap Dell or something, but if Linux is going to beat the snot out of the battery and make me replace it in a year, that’s just unacceptable and sad. =:(

  27. Yellow,

    I have R61 (Quadro NVS 140M) and I had also problems with kde4 and composite. Finally I solved this issue by putting BackingStore” “false” to xorg.conf. Since then whole kde4.2 work stable.

  28. Heya Uniks, Hm. Okay, thanks for the hint. I’ve added that and thus far, it seems to be working better. What’s weird is that that option is not actually listed anywhere in /usr/share/doc/NVIDIA_GLX-1.0/README.txt.

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