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Further comments on choosing a new laptop

Previously I've been musing on what to get for a decent "travel laptop".

This Wed night, the decision was accelerated when the December 2014 Asus Zenbook which
had a broken hinge and was held in a frame was upgraded to Linux Mint 20.1 (yes I know
20.2 just came out a few hours later). As we plugged in an external USB backup disk,
the screen went black. After a few tries I carried to workbench and a screw fell out!
More investigation showed BOTH the internal SSD and external drive were fried. Must
have had a bad short. Sigh.

So Thurs morning I went to Canada Computers and bought an HP 14-fq1040ca. 16G RAM,
1TB SSD, 1920x1080 NON-touch screen.

Here's the interim story and tentative verdict:

- It was relatively easy, if annoying to start up Windows 10, kill Cortana speaking,
  refuse all "do you want" requests etc.

- It was easy to use Disk Manager in Windows to shrink Win10 to around 60 GB and
  make a recovery DVD with an external burner. It didn't seem to want to allow a
  USB flash drive for recovery, though I've made one for an earlier machine.

- Linux Mint 20.1 booted fairly easily, but wifi won't fire. I used a wired
  USB-Ethernet and installed fairly easily. Learning that F10 is the key to get
  at BIOS and put USB HDD first in boot sequence was almost the most difficult
  part. However I did try with Secure Boot still enabled, and at the end of the
  install I was copying information about MOK setup when screensaver kicked in.
  (some blue air at that point)

- Back into BIOS and turn off Secure Boot. Reinstall Linux. (Fortunately about
  6-7 mins only. Machine quite fast)
  I could probably be persuaded that Secure Boot is a "good idea" if there were
  a really good tutorial on the why and how. For now, I think I'll take the
  easy route.

- Now can boot Linux, BUT if I booted Win10, then I found "boot drive missing"
  and had to boot live-USB and do boot-repair. Trick was to boot-repair, go
  into Win10 and run a bcdedit command in admin-enabled CMD.exe to point to
  \EFI\ubuntu\shimx64.efi which gives choice of Lin and Win. I also found
  how to turn off Fast Boot, Sleep, and Lock in Win10 Power settings and did
  this, as well as disabling Bitlocker encryption. i.e., keep things simple.

- Now both Linux and Win10 boot, but screen a bit dim. Wifi still needs a
  dongle (I actually went and got a TP link tiny one that is now $10. Then,
  of course, found drivers.)

- Several false starts to find an appropriate wifi driver. Unfortunately, inxi
  simply says "Realtek: driver N/A". Fortunately came across a really useful
  Github repo from lwfinger (Larry Finger) and also some askubuntu postings
  that suggested the driver needed for HP laptops is often RTL8852 (the
  rtw89 choice on Finger's collection). I had to build the material, but
  that went smoothly. Now wifi fine.

- Dimness of screen led to similar search. Turned out Linux Mint is rather
  helpful. 1) I got an upgrade suggestion to 20.2, which is quite a small change
  relative to my previous experience.
           2) In the upgrade manager, "View" allows an option "Linux kernels"
  and I installed 5.11. Reboot made screen nice and bright. Had to rebuild rtw89
  for the wifi. Installed brightness-controller-simple to allow for dimming the
  screen. Fn keys don't seem to work. Maybe next kernel iteration.

- Machine has an SD slot that takes full sized SD. I put in one with a microSD
  in a full sized carrier. Only a couple of mm stick out, which means you can
  carry extra data (I have a 256GB one somewhere for family photos). However,
  I burned latest BunsenLabs Lithium 64 bit to see if I could boot from it.
  No joy. (Old EEEs do allow that. Pity.)

- Still have to try bluetooth and audio and USB C slots. Probably won't bother
  with the fingerprint reader (I think it is the on/off switch, where I find
  very difficult to feel whether I've actually done anything.)

Assessment: This HP laptop is pretty good value for money for Linux users with
some willingness to do the necessary fiddling around. Given I've had hinge
issues on 3 machines, 2 of them within 3 years of purchase, I decided to go for
the $171 extended service that Canada Computers offers (they fix in house -- no
having to ship somewhere -- at least that is what they advertise). I spent a total
of about $350 on two of those machines and the third is the tale of woe at the
top of this posting. While I still have some customization to do, the HP box
is up and running and seems fine.

The price at CC was the same as at Staples.ca and the HP store, but both those
were out of stock. CC had 3 more at Merivale (I got the last in Kanata), and
there are a bunch of offerings with different Intel and Ryzen processors and
memory sizes and SSDs. BUT -- one or two had 1366 pixel screens -- Caution!
They also have some 15.6" offerings. I like the 14" size and weight as a
compromise for travel. Mary and I have some delightful MEC backpacks with a
padded, waterproof slot for laptop that these fit in perfectly. We did a
3 week carry-on only with these and found it was so much easier than messing
with a suitcase.

Summary: Probably good choice for experienced Penguins. Not for new2Linux,
simply because too much fiddling about compared to install on a 2-3 year old
machine where drivers are already in kernel.

Cheers, JN

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