My present laptop is a Sony Vaio SVS1512ACXS. My son bought it when new as a light duty game machine, but later upgraded, and when my previous laptop died he gave the Vaio to me. It has these major characteristics:
Unfortunately the Vaio is starting to show its age. Several times while booting it has locked up. Incubation for several hours with line power unplugged brought it back; BIOS reset did not help. Eventually the disability is going to become permanent. So I'm picking a replacement.
My major activities with the laptop are software development, system administration, and web browsing including webmail. Desired but less intense activities are graphic arts and video performance. Gaming is not a priority. What hardware is required to support these activities?
The machine will be used a lot, many hours per day. for complex tasks involving multiple windows. This implies:
Operating system: Linux, OpenSuSE
Leap 42.1. This is
non-negotiable; I'm not going to have anything to do with Windows.
However, for the laptop finally selected I'm going to
need kernel 4.4.0 from the
Tumbleweed (rolling, advanced) variant.
Battery life: There are two modes of use: plugged in to wall power,
and on battery. The tablet is very nice, being able to run
on battery. The old Xena could do 3 hours (when new); the CPU burned
30 watts at idle. That was useful only for short unplugged forays,
and most of the time I used it on wall power.
The Vaio's battery (no longer new) lasts only 2 hours at 30W.
CPU power: The faster the machine runs, the more it eats battery. Most of the activities I do require very little CPU. But not all of them: compiling a big project, or running a differential geometry simulation, takes serious CPU power, and slug-like performance is not appreciated. I will need to compromise very carefully in this area and use the compute server when needed. Modern chipsets use way under 30W, like, I just bought an Intel NUC with Core i5 and a rotating disc, at 9W idle.
Disc: Software fits in an honest 10Gb; my home directory currently has 450Mb of which 237Mb is web browser caches (oink). Disc choices:
RAM: Right at this moment /proc/meminfo reports 8Gb total, 6.5Gb free, i.e. never used (since booting) for anything. I really don't use a lot of RAM. However, populating both sockets significantly speeds up memory access, for memory intensive tasks; but I've learned that a benchmark I thought was memory limited, wasn't.
Virtualization: This is a fairly important plus. All AMD CPUs have virtualization. No Intel Atoms have it. Some mainline Intel CPUs have, some don't, particularly CPUs intended for laptops. I used virtual machines on the laptop before the Vaio, for development work: if you trash the OS it's not a big hassle to recover, as it would be on a physical machine, and the physical machine has its own work to do that should not be interrupted.
Let's consider 2.5Kg as a hard upper bound on the mass of the laptop. One of my old laptops was this heavy. It didn't bother me, but my wife hated it for that reason. A lighter machine would be nice, though I'm not looking for an ultralight because it's too fragile. Along the same lines, thinness is not a major selection criterion.
Do I require an optical drive? It's a nice feature but in practice I don't use it for playing media, and for software installation I currently successfully use a network installer on USB storage -- or the whole installation DVD on USB; I've installed successfully both ways.
Aband is a nice addition but I don't have an access point for it.
dock(separate keyboard) is essential.
PC Magazine's Best Laptops for College Students
By Laarni Almendrala Ragaza (2015-11-11). PC Magazine has several
10 Best lists oriented to different audiences. The table below is a
composite of several of those lists, focusing on machines that have a chance of
winning, and excluding those that are obviously unsuitable, meaning each list
has only one or two surviving members. The
College Students list was
the most productive.
must-havefeatures that would justify the higher price, so these are (mostly) excluded.
|Acer Aspire E5-573G-57HR||4*||$559||i5-5200U @2.2||15.6in||5.3lb||8.0hr|
|Acer Aspire Switch 11 (SW5-171-325N)||4*||$530||i3-4012Y @1.5||12.5in||3.3lb||6.3hr|
|Dell Inspiron 13 7000||4||$1000||i7-5500U @2.4||13.3in||3.7lb||8.0hr|
|Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Series (7559)||4*||$800||i5-6300HQ @2.3||15.6in||5.9lb||7.5hr|
|Lenovo Yoga 3-14||4||$843||i5-5200U @2.2||14in||3.7lb||9.2hr|
|Lenovo ThinkPad W550s||4||$1798||i7-5600U @2.6||15.5in||5.5lb||6.7/17.3hr|
By Matthew Buzzi (2015-09-10). Pro: great price, discrete graphics, strong performance, long battery life. Con: He thinks the touchpad feels flimsy. No Bluetooth (later info says it does have it). No keyboard backlight. Bottom line: he thinks it's very good.
The Acer Aspire E5-573G-57HR's niche is a desktop replacement (whereas other reviewers place it as an entry level gaming machine). When the article was written it was picked as the current Editor's Choice. Not an IPS display but reasonable angular range. Keyboard has a numeric pad (looks a lot like the Vaio). Ports: 2x USB-3.0 (on left), 1x USB-2.0 (on right), VGA, HDMI, 3.5mm phone jack, RJ45, card slot, 802.11ac, and this paragraph says it has Bluetooth but the summary says it doesn't. (Other sources concur that it does have Bluetooth-4.0.) GPU: nVidia GeForce 940M with 2Gb VRAM. Excellent multimedia performance.
Jimc says: On paper this one looks like the leader. However it will be important to get my hands on one, and to try out the display and the touchpad. I should find out what Wi-fi/Bluetooth chip is in it (these days, they are usually integrated on the same chip), and verify that the Linux driver works. Found; kernel 4.4.x required. People re-installing Windows (recommended in forums) should previously download drivers for the wired NIC, Wi-fi and graphics, put them on a USB memory stick, and provide them during installation.
In the model number, E5-573G-57HR, the ending segment refers to the processor and (possibly) the screen size; a variety of these are available on Amazon. When searching for other reviews of this machine I'll search for E5-573G.
By Joel Santo Domingo (2015-03-24). Pros: Tablet with detachable keyboard; nice magnetic hinge. 1080p IPS display. Nice price. Cons: Top-heavy over keyboard. Wimpy speakers. Adaptive brightness set too aggressively.
Jimc says: I'm afraid that I wouldn't be happy with the machines with smaller screens. Better that I should make the existing Asus Transformer Pad Infinity perform well in my role.
By Joel Santo Domingo (2015-07-20). Pro: Sharp detail from IPS touch screen. Core i7 CPU and SSD. Cons: A little bulky as a tablet. Bottom line: As a hybrid laptop/tablet it stands out with premium features.
You can invert the screen and use it as a tablet, but it's a bit bulky for this mode, best as a laptop. It does well in performance tests (but a competitor is slightly faster on most of them). The aluminum palm rest is a plus.
Jimc says: The Core i7 processor definitely adds to the price. The smaller screen is discouraging; see the Inspiron 15 7000 in the next review. I think this one is not going to win my competition.
By Matthew Buzzi (2015-12-29). This is from PC Magazine: The 10 Best Laptops of 2016 by Joel Santo Domingo and Laarni Almendrala Ragaza (2016-01-07). These are their most preferred laptops across all categories. Among these, only this one gets through my exclusions.
The Inspiron 15 7000's niche is a gaming machine. Pros: Affordable, solid gaming performance, nice features. Cons: Heavy. Tinny speakers at high volume. Bottom line: With its strong build, ample storage, and full HD display, the Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Series (7559) is an excellent entry-level gaming laptop that delivers better performance than you'd expect for the price.
This machine has become the new Editor's Choice for entry-level gaming laptops, displacing the Alienware 15, very similar capabilities at 2.4x the price. Graphics: nVidia GeForce GTX 960M. Jimc says: This machine is nice, but seriously overkill for my applications, and the mass is discouraging (as is the Acer Aspire).
By Joel Santo Domingo (2015-04-24). Pro: Innovative hinge. Full HD IPS touch display; large screen for a convertible hybrid. 9 hour battery life. Con: Feels huge in tablet mode. Shallow key travel. Adaptive brightness is too aggressive. Micro HDMI port (reviewer says it's proprietary but that apparently means you need a micro to standard adapter). Bottom line: It's a good system in a category with fierce competition.
Jimc says: This machine's strengths are in areas that aren't so valuable for me, so I'm not putting it in the lead.
By Brian Westover (2015-05-21). This is from PC Magazine: The 10 Best Business Laptops of 2015 By Joel Santo Domingo, Laarni Almendrala Ragaza (2015-09-02). All of these are over $1000. Without reading the reviews I can tell that all of them are overkill for my application (or, I think, for anyone's application in the laptop area). I'm going to read the review for the Lenovo ThinkPad W550s, for completeness.
Pros for ThinkPad W550s: Excellent build quality. Slim, ruggedized chassis. High-quality keyboard. Good-looking 15-inch 3K touch screen. Cons: Dual-core processor and lower-end graphics card fall short on performance tests. (He expects a quad core processor, I think.)
It's a good blend of mobility and performance, but clearly balanced toward
portability (jimc says: at
just 5.5lb?). The Lenovo ThinkPad W540
(Editor's Choice) has a lot more performance. 2880x1620px display.
Lenovo's keyboards are the best on the market, including this one. It has
a J-mouse, and 3 separate buttons above the touchpad (plus clickable zones on
the pad). Includes fingerprint reader. (Can Linux use it? Not very likely,
unfortunately.) A 512Gb SSD is included in the price. There is
an internal non-removable battery plus a second removable one which raises
the runtime to an astonishing 17.3hr.
|Operating System||Win-8.1||Win-10 Home|
|Processor: Intel Core…||i5-5200U @2.2GHz||i5-5200U @2.2GHz|
|Screen||1920x1080px 15.6in||1920x1080px 15.6in|
|GPU: nVidia GeForce…||940M, 2Gb||940M, 2Gb|
|RAM (DDR3L SDRAM)||8Gb||8Gb|
|Disc||1Tb rotating||1Tb rotating|
The only difference (in the major specs) is the version of Windows. Here is the product page for E5-573G-52G3. Internal part number is NX.MVRAA.004. The reviewed 57HR product page. The full datasheet apparently is in an iframe; click on the link (not targeting a separate window) and it will appear. Again, the datasheets are word for word identical except for the version of Windows.
|Part Number||NX.MVRAA.002; 52G3 = NX.MVRAA.004|
|Operating System||Microsoft Windows 8.1 (64bit); 52G3 = Win-10 Home|
|CPU||Intel Core i5-5200U @2.2GHz 2x core|
|RAM: DDR3L SDRAM||8Gb provided, 16Gb (2 sockets) max|
|Card slot||For SD format|
|Disc||1Tb rotating, 5400rpm, SATA|
|Optical drive||Not included|
|Screen type||Active Matrix TFT Color LCD (not IPS)|
|GPU||nVidia GeForce 940M, 2Gb VRAM|
|Wi-fi||IEEE 802.11ac (which chip?)|
|Ethernet||IEEE 802.3 gigabit|
|Misc Devices||Webcam and mic (no fingerprint reader)|
|Ports||2x USB-3.0, 1x USB 2.0, HDMI, VGA, RJ45|
|Input Devices||Keyboard and touchpad (not touch screen)|
|Battery||4 cells x 2500mAh LiIon (about 30 watt-hours)|
|Dimensions||15in wide x 10.1in deep x 1.1in thick|
|Mass||About 5.29lb (2.40kg)|
|In the box||Laptop, LiIon battery, charger|
in the box section mentions the battery as a separate
item, the users manual (and comments by forum participants) indicates that
embedded, i.e. not removable. [Confirmed when disassembling.]
Warranty summary (4 languages: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese):
How to obtain drivers and manuals; also BIOS updates:
In the headline (says
in the upper right corner is a menu icon, 3 horizontal lines. Click it.
In the menu that appears, expand the Support section. Go to Drivers and
Manuals. Use one of the search options; I succeeded with the product and
Aspire E5-573G. Expand the relevant category; in this case,
Documents. Click on the target document's download link. You will get a
zip file; unzip it and view the payload.
The Amazon.com product page is titled: Acer Aspire E5-573G 15.6-Inch Gaming Laptop (Intel Core i5 5200U, 8GB, 1TB, NVIDIA GeForce 940M 2GB, Windows 10 Home). Sold by and ships from Amazon, a plus from my point of view. Current price is $500. Oops, overnight it's not sold by Amazon and the price is $558. Watch the vendor carefully. Possible upgrades:
I'm evaluating the i5-5200U, 15.6in screen, charcoal. Additional features:
Amazon reviewer comments: Most of them love their machines. A minority have dead on arrival, or obvious software setup screwups that they should have been able to resolve themselves. There are several complaints that the touchpad is too twitchy; this means that you need to get into the Windows properties page, or equivalent Linux /etc/X11/xorg.conf.d file, and adjust it for a less aggressive basic speed and acceleration.
precision touchpad. No DVD but there's an expansion bay so you could put in a second drive. Add a second memory stick; by activating dual channel access you get 25% more performance.
Jessie(jimc research: it uses kernel version 3.16.0), and had endless trouble with drivers. (Jimc says: Not surprising; recent chipsets need recent kernels and X-Windows driver packages.)
What do other reviewers think about the Acer Aspire E5-573G? I don't find actual (reputable) reviews of the machine, beyond the one in PC Magazine, but there are useful forum posts about problems running Linux and how to deal with them.
OP Valbogov (2015-09-xx). With BIOS 1.25 he could not install any Linux distro using either UEFI or Legacy. Downgrading to 1.15 allowed installation.
Rombr (2016-01-xx) asks if BIOS 1.31 is an improvement. Flavio is using 1.31 and successfully installed Ubuntu and Elementary.
Oreshkov (2015-09-xx) reports the error message: ACPI unable to load System Description Tables. The flasher refuses to downgrade.
Slowfoobar (2015-09-xx) gives these instructions to downgrade:
Aspire E5-573Gwith the correct OS.
Slowfoobar (2015-09-xx) replies to a query, everything seems to work except
wi-fi. He thinks the card is Qualcomm Atheros QCA9377 (pci id 168c:0042),
which then was not supported by the ath10k driver but is expected eventually.
Jimc confirms, kernel 4.1.15's ath10k_pci.ko is not aliased to 168c:0042.
modinfo ath10k_pci (or the filename) and look for the aliases.
In another thread, ath10k_pci from kernel 4.2.3 did not have support.
Jimc snooped in kernel 4.4.0 and it does have the alias.
Justin (Acer tech support, 2015-12-xx) says the engineering department is doing research on the issue of not booting Linux.
Several users (see Rombr and Flavio above, 2016-01-xx) report that BIOS 1.31 fixes the problem.
giananimohit (2016-01-xx) reports a new BIOS 1.35 and asks if it's going to work. (Jimc says: yes.)
My targeted machine is the E5-573G (not V5-573G). I think the V5-573G is an older model that coincidentally has a similar model number. Take a grain of salt with the information on this page, if applying it to a E5-573G. I've deleted all the notes from this wiki page because the E5-573G differs so much that the notes will confuse people. Plus discussion about the Atheros AR9462 Wi-fi chip; the E5-573G has the Atheros QCA9377 (pci id 168c:0042).
OP Salvatore_Palomino (2016-01-xx) reports that the ath10k driver fails to support this chip (jimc confirms for kernel 4.1.15). Bucky Ball replies with a link, which is to another forum reply that contains a link to a precompiled kernel module from (not sure who).
A neighboring reply points to
this Ubuntu forum thread about Atheros QCA9377. It would appear that
the ath10k_pci driver in Ubuntu 15.04
Vivid Vervet supports the
chip. But apparently this release (announcement updated 2015-09-13)
is using kernel 3.19. Maybe with drivers backported from 4.4.x?
Wily Werewolf has kernel 4.2 and I don't know for sure
which chips it supports; the OP's evidence is that QCA9377 is not supported.
OpenSuSE Tumbleweed has official kernel version 4.4.0 (and there are several 4.4.0's for 42.1 in developers' homedirs). I downloaded it, and ran modinfo on ath10k_pci.ko -- PCI 168c:0042 (Atheros QCA9377) actually is supported.
Wi-fi is mandatory for my use of the machine. Pretty clearly I'll have to use kernel 4.4.0. Should it be from Tumbleweed, or a version for SuSE 42.1 from developers' homedirs? In the past for a similar problem I've used the Tumbleweed package successfully. Since I will be using only one package from Tumbleweed (or the developers), how am I going to keep it updated with security patches? And will my package management scripts refrain from installing it on the other machines?
The goal here is to find a brick and mortar store that has the E5-573G.
Best Buy doesn't have the targeted model. It does have the V5-573G which is not the model I'm looking for and is not really comparable.
Staples has the E5-571P-31LT, but not the model I'm looking for. CPU is a Core i3-4030U (4th generation), so this is an older model. Their other Acer models look less promising.
Costco's website shows what they describe as:
Their price is somewhat higher than Amazon's for this model. It's worth a trip to Costco to see what they physically have in their computer department. Result of trip: lots of Hewlett-Packard machines, useless.
I'm considering two add-ons for this laptop. First, if I add 1x 8Gb memory (about $34) the two sticks will be interleaved using the dual channel feature. One reviewer quotes 25% increase in performance (not a lot of details). When I did that on the recently purchased NUC, memtest86+ reported that the memory bandwidth increased 1.5x, but that wasn't reflected in benchmark speeds -- I think the particular benchmark was supposed to be memory limited but really wasn't. Even so, I think I'm going to dumbly increase memory. The way I use memory, it would be better if I could have gotten 2x 4Gb, but the E5-573G's on Amazon all have 1x 8Gb.
Second, I'm thinking about replacing the 1Tb rotating disc with a SSD. It will cost me about $88, and I will have a $60 rotating drive unemployed. The benefits are much faster disc access, much lower power, and no fragility if the drive is tilted or bumped. Also, some users need very quiet operation.
In the reviews for the E5-573G, 6 people say they installed the Samsung 850 Evo 250Gb or 500Gb SSD (2.5in SATA-3). Others mention installing a SSD but don't state the brand. Nobody mentioned any other brands. This family is the #1 most popular SSD on Amazon. I think I'm going to follow the herd over the cliff.
Amazon's product page for the Samsung 850 Evo family has sizes from 120Gb to 2Tb (oink) with prices about proportional to size. Today's price for the 250Gb drive is $87.99 (sold by and ships from Amazon). Key parameters: