I bought a new laptop computer.
My old Lenovo laptop is probably 6 years old. I’ve maxed out the ram and eeked out all the life I need to get out of it. It’s been running a dual-boot config with Win XP and Ubuntu. I’m not a Windows-hater, but I really like Linux. However, as a web developer with a need to test my apps in IE on Windows, I wont be getting away from Windows anytime soon.
I’ll share my thoughts on Windows 8 and touchscreen computers in another post.
I purchased an ASUS N56VZ-RH71 from Microcenter. I live in the Kansas City area, and we have one locally. This allowed me to play with this notebook before puchasing. You can check out the specs on the ASUS website. I got the i7 with 750GB 7200RPM model. At about $1K, it seems like a lot of machine for the money, and should serve me for years, if my last laptop was any indication.
Once I got it home, I tested that latest Ubuntu (12.10 at time of this writing) would work well by booting from an Ubuntu USB flash drive that I created.
So how well does Ubuntu work on the ASUS N56VZ? Excellent! Everything just works with 2 minor exceptions:
Make the screen brightness hotkeys work
UPDATE 2013-11-08: BIOS 216 killed my screen brightness work-around. BIOS 217 did not help. BUT…have found that this works:
# echo 1500 > /sys/class/backlight/intel_backlight/brightness
Well, one actually bugs me a bit, but I’m getting closer to resolving it. All the special function hot keys work except f5 & f6, which are the screen brightness down/up buttons. It boots defaulted to max brightness, which on this laptop is crazy bright. This thing is 100 nits brighter than most laptops on the market. Good news is that the Settings / Brightness and Lock administration tool does work to set the screen brightness. (There are 10 levels to choose from.) I also discovered the file that contains the setting (1 – 10) and created a script that simply echoes a number into the file–which instantly changes the screen brightness accordingly. What is missing is for the ACPI system to capture the event from those 2 keys and pass it to my script.
So what to do? I tried all kinds of things, but it looks like these guys have it figured out. A quick read of that thread suggests they have developed a patch, but you might end up with an issue preventing bootup (yikes!). Apparently the issue is fixed in kernel 3.7 (Ubuntu 12.10 comes with 3.5 at this time.), but it looks like some other upgrade breaks the hotkeys in a different way, and there is yet another fix. For now, I’m going to just live with it–I have found that a brightness of 6 just works well in most every indoor situation for me. If I need to adjust it, I can use the slider in the settings tool or my shell script.
Enable the external subwoofer
This laptop has the most impressive sound system I’ve ever seen on a laptop. “Audio by Bang & Olufsen ICEpower”. It comes with a small, external subwoofer that plugs into a special port on the left side. Of course it worked in Win8, but did not automatically work in Ubuntu. I got it working, but I don’t think it’s working as designed. I found various instructions for telling Linux that I have a 2.1 system, but some of these resulted in system errors. What I’m running right now is a 4.0 system–so Ubuntu thinks I have 2 front speakers and 2 back speakers. It appears to be sending the right-rear sound to the subwoofer, but it actually sounds really good….and let’s be honest–I’m probably not going to bother plugging in an external subwoofer most of the time anyway. When I’m home I have a better sound system in the house anyway. When I’m at a coffee shop, I will use headphones. Cool feature, though, if you tend to do mini presentations with your laptop.
I’m quite happy with this machine. It cold boots in about 20 seconds. It wakes up from suspend in about 5 seconds. Battery life stinks, but it’s a big, heavy, powerful notebook. The full HD 1920 x 1080 non-glossy screen is very nice. I’m getting older and my eyes are not as good as they used to be. For me, I think the 13″ HD screens are too small for long hours of screen time.