Finally, a new laptop

It was high time I got a new laptop, the old Dell Inspiron 2200 had done quite well over the years, but was starting to fall apart and increasingly was just not up to the demands placed on it. I spent a while mulling over the options (don’t need too much raw power, but want some reasonable features), and ended up going for an Acer v5-171, this is the entry level model with the Core i3 processor, some sort of Ivy Bridge, whatever these silly names mean, more than adequate for my needs – doesn’t have the AES encryption I’d get with an i5, but I can probably live without that, and it doesn’t have Turbo Boost, but I don’t even know what that is. What it does have is a 0.5TB disk, 6GB of memory, and is clocked at 1.9GHz. There are 3 USB ports, one is USB 3.0, and a dinky little card reader on the front that I didn’t notice for a while. The keyboard is small, but quite usable, in fact it’s only a little narrower than the keyboard on my old Inspiron. It’s got those modern, flat keys that I didn’t think I liked, but actually, it’s quite pleasant to type on.

Here’s what Intel say about the CPU:

http://ark.intel.com/products/72057/Intel-Core-i3-3227U-Processor-3M-Cache-up-to-1_90-GHz

And what PCWorld say about the laptop. I wasn’t swayed by the “As Advertised on TV”, I hardly ever watch it, and in fact, the spec is better than what is describe here:

http://www.pcworld.co.uk/gbuk/acer-aspire-v5-171-11-6-laptop-silver-19414897-pdt.html#longDesc

The main alternative was the Asus S200 with a touch screen, though I hate fingerprints, and with either a rather inferior processor or a rather superior price.

I was intending to have a dual booting system with the Windows 8 it came preinstalled with (I bought it for the handsome price of £329 from the local PC World, who tried to hit me for an extra £30 for their setup service, I explained that I really didn’t want or need that, or the extended warranty, or a copy of Office, just the computer please… The helpful assistant Maya was very pleasant about all this and worked out that she should tick the “No Marketing” box without having to ask) but it didn’t take long to give up on that idea; I can’t say my quick sojourn round Windows 8 filled me with much joy, and I’ve been happily using Linux (and Android) for everything for some time now, so after spending 10 mins or so failing to work out how to set up UEFI dual booting (or even how to boot off the Live USB stick in UEFI mode), I flipped over to BIOS Legacy Mode on and told Ubuntu (12.10) to wipe the disk with extreme prejudice. I used to like playing around with partitioners, mulling over how big my swap partitition should be, or if I should keep system files and user data separate, these days I just let the installer get on with it.

After that, pretty much everything just went through just as it should. A deja vu moment of having to add “acpi_backlight=vendor” to the boot options to get the brightness control to work (one day I’ll find out what it means), but apart from that, everything works just fine, straight out of the box.

The screen is a little smaller (physically) than I’m used to, everything these days seems to be 1366×768, but in this case it’s all within a 10.1″ display, so the detail is lovely and crisp, but some things are a bit small for my poor old eyes so some investigation of accessibility options is called for (I recommend the NoSquint Firefox extension). There is a pixel stuck at red (played with lcdnurse to no avail) and the touchpad is a bit sticky (seems better after fiddling with the sensitivity). The sound is pretty poor (though we now seem to have a Spinal Tap-style volume control that goes way beyond 100%, which helps a little). Haven’t tried headphones yet.

Assuming the Power Statistics tool can be trusted, it uses 4W with screen off, 6W with minimum visible brightness level, going up to 8W for a normal level and nearly 10 on maximum. Heavy graphics & CPU use pushes things up to 16 or 17W. Wifi doesn’t seem to make much difference. The battery is reckoned to be 36Wh, so that should be a little over 4 hours, not much by modern standards, but enough for my modest needs. Not too much of a heat problem, the base of the laptop is a little warm but nothing too uncomfortable.

Out of curiosity, I investigated UEFI a bit more: to fiddle with any of the secure boot options in the BIOS you have to set the “Supervisor Password” it seems (I suppose that should have been obvious – initially, it’s the only modifiable field on the secure boot screen). Having done this, in the same BIOS screen, one can select the .efi files from the Ubuntu installation USB stick to be bootable from (/EFI/BOOT/ seems to be required directory) and then, mirabile dictu, we can boot into Live USB installation. I tried “Boot Repair” but got a warning about not having an EFI partition and would I like to add one (presumably if I had done the original installation in UEFI mode, this would have been created for me, I’m not sure I can really be bothered right now though).

Resetting to Legacy Mode and rebooting, we get back to the original installation and all is still well (it always amazes me when things still work after fiddling around, from the time I pulled the CPU out of my Sinclair Spectrum and put it back, and it Still Worked – I had less appreciation then of how easy it is to break the pins on DIL ICs). Only thing not working is that stuck pixel (not visible with light colours though) and though Bluetooth looks like its working, it won’t detect my phone. I wonder if this is related to this in dmesg:

[ 0.952921] WARNING: at /build/buildd/linux-3.5.0/arch/x86/mm/ioremap.c:102 __ioremap_caller+0x335/0x380()
[ 0.952925] Hardware name: V5-171
[ 0.952928] Modules linked in:
[ 0.952932] Pid: 1, comm: swapper/0 Not tainted 3.5.0-17-generic #28-Ubuntu
[ 0.952935] Call Trace:
[ 0.952943] [] warn_slowpath_common+0x7f/0xc0
[ 0.952948] [] warn_slowpath_null+0x1a/0x20
[ 0.952952] [] __ioremap_caller+0x335/0x380
[ 0.952958] [] ? bgrt_init+0x47/0x126
[ 0.952964] [] ? acpi_get_table_with_size+0x5f/0xbe
[ 0.952969] [] ? acpi_hed_init+0x30/0x30
[ 0.952974] [] ioremap_nocache+0x17/0x20
[ 0.952978] [] bgrt_init+0x47/0x126
[ 0.952984] [] do_one_initcall+0x12a/0x180
[ 0.952990] [] kernel_init+0x140/0x1c9
[ 0.952995] [] ? loglevel+0x31/0x31
[ 0.953000] [] kernel_thread_helper+0x4/0x10
[ 0.953005] [] ? start_kernel+0x3c4/0x3c4
[ 0.953009] [] ? gs_change+0x13/0x13
[ 0.953015] ---[ end trace d285ec97245f6911 ]---
[ 0.953064] GHES: HEST is not enabled!

That last one sounds like one of those cryptic lovers notes that used to be in the classified ads of The Times.

I love boot messages:

[ 9.573227] cfg80211: Calling CRDA to update world regulatory domain
# I expect they were staying up late, waiting for that call.
[ 9.574528] pci 0000:00:00.0: >detected 131072K stolen memory
# I thought stealing RAM had gone out of fashion, now it's so cheap
[ 9.980692] init: failsafe main process (758) killed by TERM signal
# Doesn't sound very failsafe

Enough lame attempts at computer humour, back to the laptop. Being an old stick in the mud, this is my first time with Ubuntu 12.x with Unity and all that. I’m not convinced I want my laptop to look like a phone, but I’m prepared to go with it for the moment and give it my best shot, though it’s tempting to just find whatever the modern equivalent of TWM is and use that. There are some nice features for sure, it seems that now Thunderbird runs in the background because on rebooting I find an envelope icon that it turns out is telling me that Gaylord Madrid is now fully funded: go Gaylord, go (if you’ve got a few bob to spare, I recommend parking it with http://www.lendwithcare.org). And I’ve just discovered that the Windows key (which Linux seems to be calling Super – it would be nice to have a real Space Cadet keyboard of course) actually does something useful. The trackpad of the Acer is a bit of weak point, so making more use of keyboard shortcuts could be a good idea – as a long-time Emacs user, I really ought to get used to using Ctrl-T in Firefox to start up a new tab, for example.

So, pretty happy all in all, a nice bit of kit, some shortcomings, but we aren’t exactly high end here so that’s to be expected. Next time I’ll know what to do with UEFI, but going single boot from the start has got to be the right thing.

For the record:

$ lscpu
Architecture: x86_64
CPU op-mode(s): 32-bit, 64-bit
Byte Order: Little Endian
CPU(s): 4
On-line CPU(s) list: 0-3
Thread(s) per core: 2
Core(s) per socket: 2
Socket(s): 1
NUMA node(s): 1
Vendor ID: GenuineIntel
CPU family: 6
Model: 58
Stepping: 9
CPU MHz: 779.000
BogoMIPS: 3791.51
Virtualisation: VT-x
L1d cache: 32K
L1i cache: 32K
L2 cache: 256K
L3 cache: 3072K
NUMA node0 CPU(s): 0-3

$ cat /proc/cpuinfo
processor : 0
vendor_id : GenuineIntel
cpu family : 6
model : 58
model name : Intel(R) Core(TM) i3-3227U CPU @ 1.90GHz
stepping : 9
microcode : 0x15
cpu MHz : 779.000
cache size : 3072 KB
physical id : 0
siblings : 4
core id : 0
cpu cores : 2
apicid : 0
initial apicid : 0
fpu : yes
fpu_exception : yes
cpuid level : 13
wp : yes
flags : fpu vme de pse tsc msr pae mce cx8 apic sep mtrr pge mca cmov pat pse36 clflush dts acpi mmx fxsr sse sse2 ss ht tm pbe syscall nx rdtscp lm constant_tsc arch_perfmon pebs bts rep_good nopl xtopology nonstop_tsc aperfmperf pni pclmulqdq dtes64 monitor ds_cpl vmx est tm2 ssse3 cx16 xtpr pdcm pcid sse4_1 sse4_2 x2apic popcnt tsc_deadline_timer xsave avx f16c lahf_lm ida arat epb xsaveopt pln pts dtherm tpr_shadow vnmi flexpriority ept vpid fsgsbase smep erms
bogomips : 3791.51
clflush size : 64
cache_alignment : 64
address sizes : 36 bits physical, 48 bits virtual
power management:

$ glxinfo | grep -i opengl
OpenGL vendor string: Intel Open Source Technology Center
OpenGL renderer string: Mesa DRI Intel(R) Ivybridge Mobile
OpenGL version string: 3.0 Mesa 9.0.2
OpenGL shading language version string: 1.30

$ lspci
00:00.0 Host bridge: Intel Corporation 3rd Gen Core processor DRAM Controller (rev 09)
00:02.0 VGA compatible controller: Intel Corporation 3rd Gen Core processor Graphics Controller (rev 09)
00:14.0 USB controller: Intel Corporation 7 Series/C210 Series Chipset Family USB xHCI Host Controller (rev 04)
00:16.0 Communication controller: Intel Corporation 7 Series/C210 Series Chipset Family MEI Controller #1 (rev 04)
00:1a.0 USB controller: Intel Corporation 7 Series/C210 Series Chipset Family USB Enhanced Host Controller #2 (rev 04)
00:1b.0 Audio device: Intel Corporation 7 Series/C210 Series Chipset Family High Definition Audio Controller (rev 04)
00:1c.0 PCI bridge: Intel Corporation 7 Series/C210 Series Chipset Family PCI Express Root Port 1 (rev c4)
00:1c.1 PCI bridge: Intel Corporation 7 Series/C210 Series Chipset Family PCI Express Root Port 2 (rev c4)
00:1c.2 PCI bridge: Intel Corporation 7 Series/C210 Series Chipset Family PCI Express Root Port 3 (rev c4)
00:1d.0 USB controller: Intel Corporation 7 Series/C210 Series Chipset Family USB Enhanced Host Controller #1 (rev 04)
00:1f.0 ISA bridge: Intel Corporation HM77 Express Chipset LPC Controller (rev 04)
00:1f.2 SATA controller: Intel Corporation 7 Series Chipset Family 6-port SATA Controller [AHCI mode] (rev 04)
00:1f.3 SMBus: Intel Corporation 7 Series/C210 Series Chipset Family SMBus Controller (rev 04)
03:00.0 Network controller: Atheros Communications Inc. AR9462 Wireless Network Adapter (rev 01)
04:00.0 Ethernet controller: Broadcom Corporation NetLink BCM57785 Gigabit Ethernet PCIe (rev 10)
04:00.1 SD Host controller: Broadcom Corporation NetXtreme BCM57765 Memory Card Reader (rev 10)

$ lsusb
Bus 001 Device 002: ID 8087:0024 Intel Corp. Integrated Rate Matching Hub
Bus 002 Device 002: ID 8087:0024 Intel Corp. Integrated Rate Matching Hub
Bus 001 Device 001: ID 1d6b:0002 Linux Foundation 2.0 root hub
Bus 002 Device 001: ID 1d6b:0002 Linux Foundation 2.0 root hub
Bus 003 Device 001: ID 1d6b:0002 Linux Foundation 2.0 root hub
Bus 004 Device 001: ID 1d6b:0003 Linux Foundation 3.0 root hub
Bus 001 Device 003: ID 064e:e330 Suyin Corp.

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2 Comments on “Finally, a new laptop”

  1. caxton57 says:

    Hello,
    Great article, in fact funny, both you and I appear to to have made the same survey of the market place (I am looking for a 11.6″ system to replace my ageing netbook, to be used in-transit) and come to the same conclusions. I have an issue however, I want to run 64-bit operating systems under virtualbox and require my new laptop to have this capability, that is the CPU needs to support vmx (also called vt-x or vanderpool). The Intel CPU in both the Acer V5-171 (PCWorld version), and ASUS S200E-CT158H,
    supports vmx. You have to be very careful with both these companies, they sell products (i.e. Aspire V5) but mix and match cpu’s which may or may not meet your needs (i.e. S200E-CT157H (note change of 8 into 7) has a CPU which doesn’t support vmx). Both the CPU & the BIOS (turn on/off) have to support vmx for virtualbox to be happy, some laptops ship with a vmx capable CPU but have no BIOS mechanism to turn it on (actually there is a big market in BIOS fixes from Russian to fix this – not that I would trust that), and a number of people have been caught out and purchased a laptop not fit for their intended purpose.

    The ASUS S200E-CT158H, has a BIOS setting to turn vanderpool on/off (found out by going into BIOS at a store, with sales assistant watching over me!).
    The ASUS is more expensive, and has 4GB or memory soldered into the system (ASUS would never tell you that), so it can not be upgraded in the future. When running virtual machines the biggest resource constraint is memory.

    The Acer has 6GB (assume 4GB & 2GB DIMMs) out of the box, in two easy to get at slots (Youtube), and appears it can be easily upgraded to 8GB by swapping 2GB. Some say it can be upgrade to 16GB. I have not been able to determine if the Acer can set vmx mode in the BIOS, again (another store), I went into the BIOS of the Acer and it is greatly cut down compared to the ASUS (which had advanced tab) and I could not see the vmx mode setting.

    I have found the following site which states all is well but I do not fully trust it as the CPU does not support vt-d as can be seen from the Intel link, if he got that wrong, what can I assume about the VMX statement. No one else in the world (Google) seems to have done this.

    http://ubuntuforums.org/archive/index.php/t-2027947.html states following:
    …It can do VMX and DMA remapping (VT-d) out of the box, so no need to hack up the BIOS to enable them for KVM virtualization…

    I would be grateful if you could perform a test on your Ubuntu system. You should have the cpu-checker pkg installed, if not it is very small install (two binaries) which checks for the above, and post the results on your web site.

    /usr/bin/check-bios-nx
    echo $?
    /usr/bin/kvm-ok
    echo $?

    Thanks in advance.
    John.

    • matthew says:

      Hi John,

      Thanks for the comment (my first on this blog!) & some very useful information.

      Looks like we are luck with the Acer:


      $ sudo check-bios-nx --verbose
      ok: the NX bit is operational on this CPU.
      $ echo $?
      0
      $ sudo kvm-ok
      INFO: /dev/kvm exists
      KVM acceleration can be used
      $ echo $?
      0

      and I had a play around with VirtualBox last night – seemed to run a 64-bit CentOS guest fine.


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