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New Linux Laptop from ERACC – Self-Review

Edit Wed Oct  5 23:28:50 CDT 2011: The laptop in this review is no longer available. Our new laptops use nVidia video controllers and thus work fine for 3D with the nVidia drivers if that is what one wants. Go to Laptop Quote on our shopping site to see the specifications for these.

Laptop Running Mandriva 2010.2If you are interested in a new laptop pre-loaded with Linux or shipped with a bare drive for self-install read on.

About a month ago, April 22nd 2011, I quietly posted a “press release” about the laptop line we are using for Linux, FreeBSD and FreeDOS installations. Since we were just getting lined up for offering these laptops and had not actually installed anything on one yet, I did not want to post all over the world until we had a chance to vet one. Right after that post, I received an order (1) for one of these laptops with 64-bit ERACC Linux Laptop - Lid ClosedMandriva 2010.2 installed on the drive and eComStation 2.1 (2) and Windows 7 Professional 64-bit in virtual machines. We had not even gotten one of these laptops in for a test install and already had an order for one. I explained this to the fellow wanting the laptop and he said he did not mind financing a test install as long as he got a working laptop at the end of the test. I agreed, of course. Following is the most objective review I can create for this laptop, the good, the iffy, and the bad, regardless of my interest in selling them.

This laptop was ordered on a tight time schedule so some of the things I would like to do, such as install and configure with different Linux distributions and FreeBSD, had to be skipped. I will do those tests with the laptop we order for in-house use, once I have the funds for that. Or, one of you “out there” could order one of these laptops with a bare drive and beat me to that review. I would not mind that at all.ERACC Linux Laptop - Lid Open

The bad. I am aware that the Linux driver for the Intel HD 3000 video chipset is very new. The Mandriva 2010.2 release does not include this driver and rebuilding the kernel and video system to include this driver was not something the end-user wanted us to do even if there had been time to do it. He stated he does not need 3D video. So, the video is running in VESA mode. The VESA mode works good enough to use the laptop. I did post a request for a back-port to the Mandriva Bugzilla site. But was told that was unlikely to happen in the Mandriva 2010.2 release. Which is not surprising considering that the Mandriva 2011 release is imminent.ERACC Linux Laptop - Keyboard

The iffy. I tested suspend to RAM and suspend to disk. These appear to still need some work in Mandriva at least. After leaving the laptop suspended for 30 minutes in both cases I could not “wake it up” again. In both cases I had to power cycle the laptop. This might be considered part of the “bad” section to some. For me it is “iffy” as I have never used any suspend feature with my own laptops under any operating system. If I am not going to be using it, I just save my work and shut it down. In any case, suspend should “just work” no matter what laptop one is using.

The user ordered a serial Express Card for use to control some hardware that needs a serial connection. He said the serial control is not something that is a critical need, just desirable. This needs to work from within the Windows 7 Professional VirtualBox virtual machine. The serial express card is working just fine from Linux. I connected a MultiTech 56k MultiModem to the serial port and used minicom to send AT commands to the modem. I was able to control the modem from minicom. Unfortunately I could not get Windows 7 in the VirtualBox virtual machine to use the serial port. I tried every permutation of serial configuration over a period of about two days and never got Windows 7 to “see” the serial port. The client is going to keep the Express Card so we can keep trying to get it working with remote support. This is in the “iffy” section because it may work in the future even if it is not working now.

The good. Everything else I was able to test works. The sound is working. The wireless NIC connected to our wireless router and pulled an IP address from the wireless router after I entered the WPA2 security information. The wired NIC, when connected to our LAN switch, pulled an IP address from our Linux internet gateway. The DVDRW drive is working to read and write DVDRW discs. USB ports are working. The external headphone and microphone jacks work. I do not have any eSATA hardware, so could not test the eSATA port. As already reported above, the Express Card port works. Even the 1.3 Megapixel Web Camera works. I started Kopete and ran the video configuration to test this.

Here are a few more pictures for you to enjoy:

ERACC Linux Laptop - Left Front ERACC Linux Laptop - Left Side -  Rear
ERACC Linux Laptop - Right Side - Front

ERACC Linux Laptop - Right Side - Rear

The bottom line is this laptop is a good Linux system. For now we are still working on a quote page  to put up on our web shop for this laptop. So to get a quote one has to use our main contact form shopping site contact form and choose “Quote Request” from the Category drop down. If one wants to do a self-install, then request a quote with a bare drive. There are other laptop models we hope to offer in the future if we see there is a demand for laptops pre-loaded with Linux.

  1. Intel Core I5 CPU, 8 GB RAM, 500 GB hard drive. 3 year depot hardware warranty added. Default hardware warranty is for 1 year. (Back)
  2. Actually, the order was for eComStation 2.0 and a license for that was ordered. But eComStation 2.1 was released before the laptop install was completed so we automatically upgraded the order to the 2.1 release. An eComStation 2.0 license can legally be used with the eComStation 2.1 release. (Back)

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Edit Mon May 23 09:49:07 CDT 2011: change contact information to shopping site form for quote requests.

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6 comments to New Linux Laptop from ERACC – Self-Review

  • On our PC tower systems we offer to install any of the top 20 at DistroWatch. I am looking for which distributions that we install provide Intel HD 3000 "Sandy Bridge" drivers. The newest Intel graphics driver as of today is Intel's 2.15 driver. To have HD 3000 support a distribution has to have at least 2.14. It seems the distribution also should have Xorg server 1.10.0 or updated components thereof back-ported into the Xorg version in the distribution, corrections welcome. For all the requirements see the Intel URL above in this comment. I will add to this comment as I find the distributions with this support.

    Distributions that have HD 3000 graphics support now and driver version:

    • Ubuntu 11.04 – Intel 2.14 driver
    • Debian – Intel 2.15 driver
    • Gentoo – Intel 2.15 driver
    • Slackware 13.37 – Intel 2.15 driver
    • Arch Current – Intel 2.14/2.15 (In AUR)

    Distributions that will have HD 3000 graphics support in the next release & driver version (if known):

    • Linux Mint – Linux Mint 11
    • Fedora – Fedora 15 – Intel 2.14 driver

    If any of you reading this know about “Sandy Bridge” being supported on your favorite distribution, but do not see that here, please post a comment. Others reading this may benefit from your comment.

    (Note: this comment has been edited several times to update the information.)

  • [...] New Linux Laptop from ERACC – Self-Review The user ordered a serial Express Card for use to control some hardware that needs a serial connection. He said the serial control is not something that is a critical need, just desirable. This needs to work from within the Windows 7 Professional VirtualBox virtual machine. The serial express card is working just fine from Linux. I connected a MultiTech 56k MultiModem to the serial port and used minicom to send AT commands to the modem. I was able to control the modem from minicom. Unfortunately I could not get Windows 7 in the VirtualBox virtual machine to use the serial port. I tried every permutation of serial configuration over a period of about two days and never got Windows 7 to “see” the serial port. The client is going to keep the Express Card so we can keep trying to get it working with remote support. This is in the “iffy” section because it may work in the future even if it is not working now. [...]

  • You will most likely  never get the serial port to work the way you want under Windows 7.  The reason?  By design, Windows NT includes a hardware abstraction layer (HAL) that precludes direct access to the hardware.  Ostensibly, it was added to make crash-handling more robust, but more likely to allow the Alpha chip version (mandated by the settlement with DEC) to be created more easily.  You may have better luck with a USB-to-serial adapter, but I doubt it.
    The DEC settlement was over the fact that the guy that wrote most of WNT was the same guy that wrote most of VMS for DEC.  Did you ever notice that "WNT" is one letter each up from "VMS"?

    • Michael, thanks for the comment. I must say, that is encouraging news! Not. ;) Since the serial Express Card works just fine under Linux perhaps there is a Linux solution for the hardware our client wants to control. IIRC it has something to do with telescopes and/or stargazing. I will ask him about it and see if we can help him find a Linux solution.

  • kenholmz

    I understand a number of reasons to choose Virtual Box over VMware player. However, I am curious to learn whether it works any better with the serial Express Card.

    • VirtualBox does open the /dev/ttyS0 file for the card, but would only do so after we set the file to rw for all with chmod 666. Even making the user account part of the 'dialout' group , which is the group for the '/dev/ttyS*' files, did not work. But once VirtualBox could access the port, Windows 7 in the virtual machine never "saw" the card.

      I worked on this personally. I read documentation and bugged the IRC #vbox channel at chat.freenode.net for two days while working on this. I set the serial settings for the W7 VM to "COM1 – COM4" and the OS never saw the serial port. If I added a "legacy" serial port using the settings from VBox, W7 always reported the port as conflicting and disabled it. Of course installing any "driver" file from the included CD did not work. But I really do not believe that is necessary inside a VM since the port is working in Linux. I wanted to try setting odd parameters for the IRQ and Address, but ran out of time to experiment since the client needs to have the laptop for a trip he is taking this week.

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