My new new laptop!


Updated: September 6, 2010

No, it's not a typo. I have yet another new laptop, which I've been given as a birthday present. So we're not talking about LG RD510, which I bought last year! We're talking a brand new beast. While RD510 was/is dedicated to Linux, running quadruple boot from the internal disk and another three distros from an external disk, with three more yet to come, this new laptop has a different mission.

This machine was conceived with high-end gaming in mind. My older rigs running Windows are not quite on par with the latest games, so I needed something new and powerful for that. Which led me to proactively commission my birthday present.

Teaser 1Teaser 2

First, hardware

It's HP Pavilion dv6-2130ej, with i5 quad-core processor, rated at 2.4GHz, with 4GB DDR3 RAM, Nvidia GT 320M card with 1GB VRAM and a 7,200rpm 500GB disk. Extra four GB of RAM should arrive soon. Of course, there's the usual plethora of peripherals, with three USB ports, SD card reader, micro-SD card reader, FireWire, e-SATA, VGA, HDMI, infrared, Bluetooth, Wireless N, and a 1.3M camera.

Hardware

The machine has a 15.6-inch 1376x788 screen and a 6-cell battery. Like RD510, the keyboard also has its own numlock pad, which I really really like. As you can see, it's a fairly decent machine. Now, software.

Dual boot - Windows 7 and Ubuntu

I decided to grace this machine with two operating systems, Windows 7 for gaming and Ubuntu 10.04 Lucid Lynx for all kinds of fun work, some gaming and virtualization.

In fact, this article complements the dual boot guide extremely well, as it gives you a hands-on experience into setting up a Windows 7 and Ubuntu side-by-side configuration from scratch. Let's begin.

Windows story

The machine came preinstalled with a 64-bit Windows 7 Home Premium edition. Despite obvious doubts, I let the machine boot. The HP installation assistant asked me if I wanted to configure all kinds of programs, including Norton anti-virus software. Politely declining the torrent of unneeded stuff, I reached a desktop crowded with HP icons.

The disk had only one usable partition, plus a recovery partition. The C drive was crammed with no less than 45GB of data, without a single byte that belonged to me. I could not bear it, so I decided to make my own setup. What more, the existing partition layout prevented me from having a proper dual boot and separate data partitions, as intended.

So I decided to install my own copy of Windows 7, from scratch, nice and clean like, without any preconfigured mediocre nonsense. Translation: more money invested, but it was a calculated and expected expense.

The first thing I did was boot from the Ubuntu live CD, so I could partition the disk with GParted. Ubuntu came up and recognized every single bit of hardware installed. More about that later.

I created a very detailed setup. At first, I manually setup a 200MB system partition for Windows, but Windows installer did not use it. Furthermore, the installer complained about the target partitions being formatted with FAT32, without automatically converting the filesystem. While the second issue was fairly easy to deal with, in the end, I was left with a surplus 200MB primary partition. And so, I was forced to go through the partitioning process once again.

This time, I did not create Windows partitions, instead I left a 50GB unallocated free space, created an Extended partition and populated it with logical partitions for both Windows data drivers and Linux root, home and swap.

GParted

The second attempt was far more successful. However, once into the desktop, I was faced with numerous difficulties. Windows 7 did not have drivers for most of the hardware, the most notable examples being the Wireless card and the Nvidia driver.

It took me several hours browsing the Internet to find the correct drivers. HP has probably the least friendly download center in the world, with generically named executables that do not quite do what the short description field advertises. For instance, the driver for the wired card turned out to be the Wireless driver.

Once the Wireless was going, it was easy. I was also hoping to install the Nvidia driver from the official website, but it turned out that version 256.xx of the driver was only beta at that time and had not been certified for 64-bit versions of Windows. I installed the HP version instead, which works just fine. Bluetooth was also a bit of pain and the Touchpad required the extra drivers to allow me to disable the touch clicking feature, which makes for very awkward typing.

Some three hours later, the machine was fully setup. Oh, I shall be telling my installation saga in much more detail in a separate article, with emphasis on the differences between Windows and Linux, but now, let's focus on the good bits. HP ended up running a 64-bit version of Windows 7 Ultimate, configured thusly:

Replaced the default wallpaper with a night shot of a skiing resort in Alps somewhere. Disabled the new taskbar thingie and re-created the classic Quicklaunch menu, as intended. Other than that, I did not fiddle too much with the basic cosmetics.

Desktop

Only built-in firewall plus UAC for security, as nothing else is really needed, System Restore turned off and image state guaranteed by the free version of Paragon Backup Software. Separate partitions for games, data and backups.

Partitions

The Disk Management Utility does see the Linux partitions, but for some reason, it sees them as primary partitions rather than logical partitions. This creates an impossible situation where there are five primary partitions on the disk. But no matter. I also created a skeleton of my user data folder in the Data drive, to keep the C: drive from being crammed with totally personal stuff, like pictures or downloads.

The software repertoire is fairly simple and lightweight, as it should be for a gaming machine, with Firefox, Notepad++, 7-zip, VLC, IrfanView, InfraRecorder, and a few other useful, mostly open-source and cross-platform freeware utilities. Steam client was setup in the Games partition. I did also install Secunia PSI, in order to monitor software installs. P.S. Fore more details about useful Windows software, do take a look at my latest must-have collection.

With pagefile set to a static value of 8GB and 10% recycle bin allocation, plus all of the installations, C drive data takes about 30GB. When imaged, the data is neatly compressed into a file slightly smaller than a single DVD, which is quite convenient.

At the end of the day, HP boots with 42 processes and 700MB memory consumed. It takes about thirty seconds to reach the login screen and another 2-3 seconds to fully functional desktop. Performance is excellent. The system is snappy. Programs load in about 1-2 seconds at most. Suspend & resume take no more than 2 seconds either way.

Compared to my 4+ years old desktops, the old XP workhorse is still unbeatable when it comes to performance and memory usage. It's the 64-bit part and the gaming that really make the difference in favor of Windows 7.

Gaming wise, I tried a few more recent games like Tropico 3, Call of Duty and ArmA II, and a few goodies but oldies. Even at high detail, the games blaze fast and true. The only downside is the jet trail of heat from the graphic card. Compared to RD510, the graphic card heats more, but the disk is cooler, probably due to faster rotation. As to games, expect a torrent of new reviews coming soon. Here's a few teasers:

Games 1

Games 2

Games 3

Games 4

As you may have noticed, there's a lot to be said about this installation. I will cover the entire procedure in a separate article, with far more detail given to different steps and an overview of software and games used. Overall, excluding the initial setup woes, the system runs extremely well. There are no problems or errors of any kind. I'm extremely pleased. Satisfaction level: 10/10.

Ubuntu story

The Ubuntu part was so much easier. It started with partitioning in the live session, which proved once again, how simple, versatile and flexible Linux really is. The distribution picked up every single bit of hardware on the machine.

The Wireless driver was not configured from the start, because HP Pavilion runs a Broadcom network adapter, which has its own proprietary software. Lo and behold, the distro popped its Hardware Drivers window and offered to install both the Wireless driver and the Nvidia driver.

Restricted drivers

The installation was also simple and quick, taking some fifteen minutes to complete. I created a 20GB /root, 6GB swap and 100GB /home, knowing well that I could use the Windows NTFS partitions for data sharing.

GParted

GRUB 2 installed without any problems. Compared to results reported in my tutorial, where the beta version of GRUB mistakenly identified Windows 7 as Vista, this time, a correct label was used.

After the installation ...

Ubuntu desktop

Basically, I had everything. Except changing the desktop wallpaper and installing codecs for MP3 and Flash, the system needed very little tweaking. Oh yes, I installed the Nvidia drivers, without any issues.

Nvidia

The system boot takes only 17 seconds to reach a fully usable desktop, approx. half the time it takes for Windows 7. The memory footprint is also half that of the Microsoft counterpart, but the suspend & resume takes more time, approx. 5-6 seconds. Compared to RD510, the HP machine is about 50% faster, most likely because of the faster disk.

Bootchart

System monitor

The Linux part of this article may be awfully short, but that's because the setup was quick, painless, uneventful. It's really a plug-and-play situation and it should offer you a great comfort knowing you can have an ultra-modern, fast and secure system at the snap of your fingers.

I'm not trying to compare Windows and Linux here head to head, as they serve different purposes, for but daily productivity, it's obvious that Ubuntu grants a smoother, simpler transition from bare bones to full desktop. Satisfaction level: 10/10.

Closing note

And that would be all. I'm very pleased with this new machine. It's sleek, elegant and powerful. Most importantly, it opens a new dimension of possibilities before me, mostly related to gaming, but not just gaming. With a powerful processor, rich with extensions, I'll delve even deeper into the world of virtualization. And let's not forget 3D art. Either way, I will be sharing my experiences with you.

Men need few things in life to be happy. In the toy category, I've just received a brand new and shiny present to play with and I could not be happier.

Dedoimedo out.

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