News summary, May 2012

This is a summary of various news which caught my attention during the last month.


  • Valve’s Steam, Left 4 Dead 2 and probably some of their other games will be ported to Linux. This is great news, I love you Valve!
  • CD Projekt RED released a free upgrade to the Enhanced Edition of The Witcher 2 which provides 10 GB (!) of new content. Other developers such as Electronic Arts are run by people who care most about making money, but this developer is run by true artists who want to deliver a great game besides making money.
  • The long-awaited Black Mesa: Source mod is still alive. I was disappointed in the lack of news but recently they have started communicating again. According to an interview (part one and two) the reason for the delay is that they have very high standards for their work and weren’t satisfied with the game yet. I’m looking so much forward to the final product.
  • Another free game made by volunteers is Wing Commander Saga. It has been released recently and looks quite impressive, I haven’t tried it yet.


Dell is working on Project Sputnik which aims to produce a laptop for developers. It’s based on Dell’s XPS 13 ultrabook and Ubuntu 12.04. This is great news, because the two companies that I know of which ship notebooks with Linux – System76 and ZaReason – don’t offer ultrabooks. The smallest they have to offer are 14 inch models weighing two kilos. Also, I appreciate the design of the XPS 13 more, the only disadvantages are the glossy screen and the lack of an Ethernet port.

As I wrote on this weblog earlier, under Linux my Acer TravelMate Timeline 8371 initially didn’t have suspend working. It still consumes more power and its fan turns noisy much more frequently than if Windows were used. It would be great if Dell’s laptop would have everything working out of the box. However, I have one important requirement: it should work just as well with other Linux distributions as it does with Ubuntu. That means there should be no special software or drivers tailored to make everything work with the Ubuntu version shipped with the laptop. If they can realize that, count me in.


We have a choice of two open source Linux-based operating systems for smartphones, Android and more recently Tizen (which has not been shipped with any smartphone yet). Fortunately Mozilla has introduced a new contender: Boot to Gecko (B2G). While Android is open source in name, I feel that Google exercises too much control over Android and has become too powerful. I don’t trust them with the personal data they gather from me.

Mozilla on the contrary is a party which I do trust. B2G has more credit for openness and has a great vision behind it which distinguishes it from the competition. Additionally, B2G is far less demanding on the hardware, so it could run on much cheaper smartphones. I can’t wait to get my hands on a smartphone which uses B2G.

Additionally, if you buy an Android phone you contribute to Microsoft’s profit because they are extorting manufacturers of Android smartphones with patent threats. I don’t want to pay for a smartphone if even one cent of the manufacturers income is spent on royalty payments to that immoral company. Motorola, which has been acquired by Google recently, is fighting back. In May Microsoft won a legal case against Motorola because Motorola infringed on one of Microsoft’s patents on generating meeting requests from a mobile phone. Read the parent’s description to see how ridiculous and trivial this patent is. Once again I’m glad we don’t have software patents in the EU.


  • The Netherlands is the second country in the world to adopt net neutrality. I consider this very important for freedom on the Internet and I praise our politicians who decided to impose it.
  • As I wrote in my second to last post, I was worried that the Dutch People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy isn’t protective enough of freedom and privacy, especially on the net. Thankfully I’ve been proven wrong now that they voted in favor (article in Dutch) of canning ACTA.

Some news regarding my TravelMate 8371 notebook

A while ago my Acer TravelMate 8371 notebook’s monitor developed a darker spot in the lower right corner. The problem was annoying at most because it did not let through as much light as it had before, but sufficient reason to send it for repairs. After coping with the problem for some months, I decided to send it to Acer for repairs a few weeks ago in September. Had I waited any longer, the two year warranty period would have passed.

I had very negative experiences with Acer’s customer service, as you can read in the archive of my weblog, and when I requested the RMA I again feared for the worst. The person helping me asked if the Windows installation on my notebook was Dutch or English. I answered that I had installed Linux after I had been given a refund for my Windows license. Apparently Linux or anything different from Windows was not an option in the script of the rigid call centre agent or the RMA process used at Acer, so she concluded it was an English Windows. Fortunately my fears proved to be unnecessary when I got the notebook back a week or so later. It had been sent on long trip to Acer’s repair centre in the Czech Republic and I noticed the monitor was replaced and everything was fine.

Meanwhile, bug #240802 in KDE’s bug tracker which I filed because something in KDE prevented the audio device on my notebook from switching to power saving mode no longer occurs on the latest development version of Kubuntu 11.10. It was probably accidentally fixed. The other bug, bug #15612 in the Linux kernel’s bug tracker (currently down due to security problems), has been fixed by very helpful developer. It took quite some effort on my part because I had to learn myself how to compile my own kernel after applying a patch to the kernel source with the help of documentation on the internet, which was an educational experience. The catch is that the developer is not going to implement the fix before it has seen wider testing, which has yet to happen. That’s understandable, but on the other hand frustrating because owners of my notebook still have to implement the workaround to fix suspend.

At the moment I have the Fedora 16 beta installed on my notebook because I wanted to check out GNOME 3.2. I’m pleasantly surprised with the power consumption, which is around 8,3 Watt according to PowerTOP while idle with WiFi enabled. That’s a lot less than the values I encountered with my previous tests which I wrote about in my previous blog posts. The latest Kubuntu 11.10 development version sucks 10.2 Watt under the same conditions. Not sure if this is caused by differences between Ubuntu and Fedora or the difference between GNOME and KDE, to figure that out I’d have to test with Fedora’s KDE spin. 8,3 Watt is still a far cry from the figure of 5,9 measured on Windows Vista for my notebook, but it’s acceptable because it prevents the fan from becoming audible. I hope to learn some tricks to decrease power consumption on Fedora 16. Also, because Fedora 16 does things different from Ubuntu you have to apply the workaround for the suspend fix as follows: the grub configuration file to be edited is located at /etc/default/grub and then the command grub2-mkconfig -o /boot/grub2/grub.cfg should be executed to make the changes take effect.

Sadly, the Nokia N9 got canned

As you can read on the Wikipedia article of the Nokia N9 now, the smartphone won’t be released in the major markets, probably including the Netherlands. Apparently Nokia, being Microsoft’s slave now, thought it necessary to self destruct the capital and effort invested in the development of the N9 and kill off this product which competes with it’s future Windows Phone smartphones. Even when the N9 was floored already after the announcement that Nokia would discontinue the development of MeeGo in favour of concentrating on Windows Phone, that evil bastard Elop couldn’t resist giving it a last fatal kick to head. I’ll never buy anything from Nokia again and I hope that pathetic company with it’s Windows Phone products gets overwhelmed anyway by the competition consisting of iPhones and Android-based smartphones.

Or even better, other manufacturers could pick up MeeGo, which is entirely possible because MeeGo itself is not dead, only the N9 is which was the only smartphone using it so far. But I’m not seriously disappointed, because mobile Internet has become expensive anyway I prefer to wait until the pricing becomes more reasonable before I buy a new smartphone. Until then I’ll continue using my dumb phone.

My first smartphone to be: the Nokia N9

In June Nokia announced the Nokia N9 smartphone which is the first smartphone to run on the MeeGo operating system. As it looks like right now, this will become my first smartphone when it will be released. I’ve been looking at Android smartphones for some time, and while I think Android is a good operating system, I think MeeGo has some important advantages over Android. Both operating systems are based on the Linux kernel, but I feel Android has been modified too much while MeeGo delivers the features of a complete Linux distribution. The user interface and hardware look very impressive as they are demonstrated on the website of the N9.

Unfortunately some software shipped with it is closed source. In that regard Android has the advantage in the form of custom open source firmware created by the community, for example in the form of CyanogenMod. For me the presence of some closed source software is not a serious problem as the developer community can do the same for the N9 as the CyanogenMod developers did for Android, creating open source replacements for the closed source software. I understand this makes some people sceptical for who this is important though.

A more important problem is that it’s not only the first, but also the last smartphone running MeeGo we’ll see from Nokia. Nokia, now with that evil ex-Microsoft employee Stephen Elop as it’s CEO, decided to switch to Windows Mobile for all future smartphones. It’s an absolutely shameful decision to throw away the work done on MeeGo, as has been written elsewhere already. This could make you see the N9 as stillborn in a certain way, but I think that if it’s a good product we have to show Nokia the great error in it’s ways by massively buying this smartphone.

However with the telecom providers in the Netherlands increasing prices for mobile Internet I have my doubts about switching to a smartphone. Right now know I use a dumb phone with a SIM-only plan for € 5 a month, getting a smartphone and an appropriate plan for it would be very costly in comparison. And even though the N9’s battery life should be adequate, it’s still a far cry from my dumb phone which can last nearly two weeks on a charge.

Testing the Intel X25-M 80 GB Postville’s performance on the 8371

Encouraged by a comment on my previous post about my Acer TravelMate TimeLine notebook, I have benchmarked my Intel X25-M 80 GB Postville solid state drive using IOzone. My results are as follows:

Iozone: Performance Test of File I/O
        Version $Revision: 3.308 $
        Compiled for 64 bit mode.
        Build: linux

O_DIRECT feature enabled
Auto Mode
File size set to 262144 KB
Record Size 4 KB
Record Size 64 KB
Record Size 512 KB
Command line used: iozone -I -a -s 256M -r 4k -r 64k -r 512K -i 0 -i 1 -i 2
Output is in Kbytes/sec
Time Resolution = 0.000001 seconds.
Processor cache size set to 1024 Kbytes.
Processor cache line size set to 32 bytes.
File stride size set to 17 * record size.
                                                  random  random
    KB  reclen   write rewrite    read    reread    read   write
262144       4   38211   42784    46048    45918    8684   37782
262144      64   69923   77192   115359   113808   91553   74527
262144     512   77909   60055   220997   221988  204858   77677

Through Google I found comparable benchmarks. This one was posted on the Ubuntu Forums. It should be noted that this is a 160 GB X25-M, the poster mentions that his one is a ‘G2’ which means that it’s a second generation one with the Postville code name like mine. Probably the greater amount of storage would have some benefit for performance, but I’m not sure. These numbers are taken from the benchmark without TRIM. If I understand correctly it doesn’t matter if you use an X25-M with the latest firmware which supports TRIM (like I do), because there is no support for it in Linux/Ubuntu yet and it looks like it won’t be in the next Ubuntu release either. With Google or in that topic you can find an explanation on how you could use a recent version of hdparm and some kind of trick to use TRIM, so that’s how that poster probably got his follow-up benchmarks with TRIM. I didn’t bother because I think I’d rather wait until the support for TRIM is mature enough for it to work out of the box. The poster used an HP Elitebook 8530p with an Intel Core 2 Duo T9400 CPU and 4GB DDR2-800 RAM.

                                                  random  random
    KB  reclen   write rewrite    read    reread    read   write
262144       4   55854   61601    77975    77408   18740   37199
262144      64  102575   87223   200613   201029  141870   70205
262144     512  110951   93840   244588   242498  233184   95013

I found a second post with benchmarks on another forum, but unfortunately no more than that. In the specific post I just linked it’s not mentioned, but in an earlier post in the same topic the poster gives the model number of his SSD, INTEL SSDSA2M080G2GC, which means he has the same model I have. He posted his benchmarks at 5 December mentioning that it they were made with the most recent firmware. If I recall correctly, that’s still the latest firmware at this moment. So he’s using the same firmware as I am, the first firmware to include support for TRIM. Not sure what system was exactly used for the benchmark, but the poster mentions it’s a notebook. I’ve asked him and I’m waiting for a response.

                                                  random  random
    KB  reclen   write rewrite    read    reread    read   write
262144       4   39360   46785    53897    51421   11412   39529
262144      64   71098   54363   130520   129911   98805   74485
262144     512   81657   78925   207837   210842  218651   81242

So which conclusions can be drawn from this? No definitive. I should also take into account I’m using the EXT4 filesystem on my X25-M in combination with an alpha version of Kubuntu 10.04, which uses the 2.6.32 kernel. Benchmarks done by Phoronix show that with this and other recent kernels EXT4 suffers from performance regressions. The numbers presented by the benchmarks done by the poster  on the Ubuntu Forums leave my X25-M in the dust, but comparing to the last benchmarks doesn’t give such a dramatic difference. The greatest difference can be found in the benchmark with the 4KB blocks (first row). If anyone has a better interpretation of these benchmarks and the context to offer, please comment.

Edit 12 February 2010: the following results were achieved with the ext3 file system, using the noatime option. Contrary to my expectations it’s not better, but sucks more.

                                                  random  random
    KB  reclen   write rewrite    read    reread    read   write
262144       4   45452   42928    43576    43587    9120   40782
262144      64   59020   73224   109954   108622   90028   74706
262144     512   81555   82546   172479   171934  174380   82114

My Acer TravelMate Timeline 8371 notebook

As I wrote in my previous post, I’d write about why I bought this notebook and my experiences with it so far. I’ll also write about the choice of a Linux distribution for the notebook, and about battery life, in two future posts.

Let me start with my criteria. I have already written about my old notebook in the past, and after that I wrote what my requirements were for a new notebook. I wanted a portable notebook which is thin and light, with 13,3 inch as maximum screen size. I wanted long battery life, more than three hours. Performance was less important, I didn’t intend to use it for gaming or anything else which is resource intensive. I also wanted Intel hardware because Intel supports Linux very well. The material choice for the notebook should be modest and sober, a lot of notebooks aimed at consumers pretend to be expensive mirrors because they use ugly shiny plastic in abundance and have glossy displays. The materials used for those notebooks are often easily damaged or scratched as I experienced firsthand with my Fujitsu-Siemens notebook. That was a piece of expensive junk, so I wanted to avoid that for my next notebook. And I didn’t want to spend much money.

Until recently there wasn’t anything on the market which could meet these criteria. There has always been a class of notebooks which could meet them partially, like the X-series Lenovo ThinkPad notebooks for example, but  these were far too expensive, much more than € 1000. When the Intel Atom processor was introduced it was cheap and consumed little energy, but it was mostly restricted to netbooks not larger  than 10 inch. VIA’s Nano processor, meant to compete with the Atom, didn’t show up much in interesting notebooks. So far ARM’s plans to enter the netbook market haven’t been realized either. It finally got interesting for me when Intel decided to introduce the Consumer Ultra Low Voltage (CULV) platform, aimed at notebooks which are thin and light with a relatively long battery life and a low price, positioned between netbooks and normal notebooks. Despite the negativity in the last link I provided, fact is that Intel now provides an alternative for those who don’t need the performance and don’t want to pay the high price for the high end ultraportables. AMD launched the Athlon Neo processor to compete, but laptops utilizing those processors fell dramatically short on battery life for me.

The Acer TravelMate Timeline 8371 met all my requirements. According to the specifications it weighs 1,65 kilograms, delivers over eight hours of battery life and it has a 13,3 inch monitor with LED-backlight and a 1366 x 768 resolution. It doesn’t have an optical drive, which is an advantage for me, I don’t need one. I got the 353G32N model, which is the most basic, it uses the SU3500 processor. It’s a single core processor, but that’s fine with me, a dual core processor would consume more energy and I wouldn’t need the extra performance. It comes with 3 GB RAM and a 320 GB hard disk drive. It cost € 531,50 which is great value and only slightly more expensive than most netbooks, if you substract the € 70 you can get with a Windows refund it’s even less.

The TravelMate Timeline 8371 is a business version of the consumer-oriented Acer Timeline 3810T notebook. The consumer version is already unassuming in it’s usage of materials, unlike other consumer notebooks, but the TravelMate version is a real business notebook, and it’s also cheaper than the cheapest consumer-oriented Timeline which sells for € 622,68 at the cheapest. I like the materials and sober black look of the 8371, but I haven’t used it enough to say anything about how durable the materials are. The dimensions of the notebook are exactly right for my backpack, which has a compartment with thicker ‘edges’ offering more protection, probably meant to transport more delicate stuff like notebooks. This compartment has a very small zipper opening and I was worried that my notebook wouldn’t fit through the opening, but fortunately it does.

I don’t have much to say about the touchpad and keyboard, they’re fine. I’m reasonably fast with the touchpad, but it’s still not as convenient as using a mouse. That’s why I intend to learn how to use more keyboard key combinations to issue commands instead of using the touchpad. I’m less positive about the monitor, the vertical viewing angle is very shallow. That might not be obvious at first, but if you don’t look at it exactly straight, colors will be different. I noticed because I use a Dell 2007WFP 20 inch monitor on my desktop PC, which uses an IPS panel. IPS has excellent viewing angles, so the difference in color of the background on my weblog for example quickly caught my eye. If you’re not to picky you won’t notice though. A more serious complaint is that the monitor’s backlighting seems to be flickering sometimes, sometimes I observe the lighting intensity change when it’s displaying a static image. Most of the time I can’t hear the fan when the notebook is in operation, it’s very quiet. But when you start working while the battery is charging, the fan inexplicably starts turning very fast even though the CPU isn’t being stressed. I upgraded the BIOS (I had to use these instructions on Linux) from version 1.13 to the most recent 1.18 to see if it changed anything, but it didn’t. Same goes for suspend which doesn’t work with 1.13 or 1.18 yet. But maybe that should be fixed in the Linux kernel or somewhere else in the software stack?

One of the first things I did after receiving the notebook was replacing the hard disk drive (HDD) with a solid-state drive (SSD), the 80 GB Intel X25-M. The second generation, the ‘Postville’ to be exact, which is an improved version of the first generation. It carries a hefty price tag for 80 GB, € 187. But it is an SSD, which means that it is dead silent, consumes less energy, is more reliable and has a longer life expectancy, but most of all, that it’s fast. The X25-M is the fastest SSD you can get, so it definitely makes a HDD bite the dust. At the moment, a beta version of Kubuntu 9.10 which is not updated to the final release is installed on my 8371, from the moment the splash screen appears after GRUB to the moment KDM appears takes no longer than 2 seconds. My desktop which is equipped with a decent HDD (a Western Digital WD6400AAKS 640 GB for those who’d like to know) and the latest Ubuntu 9.10 takes 15 seconds to do this. I don’t do much data-intensive work with my notebook so the advantage isn’t great, certainly compared to the price, but it’s one of those little things like an extremely fast startup which makes the difference. It would certainly be more useful to replace the HDD in my game PC with an SSD, but then the relatively small amount of storage space would be a problem. Nevertheless, it’s certainly worth it’s money in my notebook.

The process of removing the HDD from the 8371 and replacing it with the SSD was easy, you just turn the notebook upside down and open the hatch on the lower right side. Take out the HDD, attach the SSD to the same mounting mechanism as the HDD, and you’re done. I didn’t go so smooth for me, I wanted to verify if the SSD worked first so I didn’t put the hatch cover back in it’s place before I checked. To my dismay it wasn’t detected by the notebook, and neither was the HDD if I put it back in. I started to panic and put it in and out many times, to no avail. I decided to ask in a forum topic of fellow Timeline owners if they had any problems with replacing the HDD, I was answered that it could not go wrong with a description of the procedure to follow. I had already followed the described procedure, with the exception of closing the hatch with the cover. Apparently the hatch cover was necessary to fix the HDD or SSD in it’s position. Once that was done everything worked fine.

I’ve included a few photo’s which aren’t very good due to my dSLR. Some reviews can be read here and here. Here is the page on Ubuntu’s wiki dedicated to the Acer Timeline series. There are also a few bug reports, one concerning the internal microphone which doesn’t work (never tried to use it myself) which is bug #445614 and bug #429456 concerning the failure to suspend.

Acer TravelMate TimeLine 8371 laptop

Getting a Windows refund from Acer in the Netherlands

In September I bought an Acer TravelMate Timeline 8371 notebook. In a following blog post I’ll write about my motivation for buying it and my experiences with it, but this first post will be dedicated to describing the troubles I had to weather to receive a refund for the Windows license. As a Linux user I use Linux as operating system, so I didn’t want to pay for the Windows license which comes bundled with my notebook. Buying another notebook which comes with a Linux distribution pre-installed was not an option, because I specifically wanted the TravelMate Timeline 8371. Not only that is my motivation, but I also hate Microsoft for their business practices, so every opportunity to prevent them from making money is a welcome one.

First I verified that others were successful in getting refund, as a Google search on ‘acer windows refund’ revealed that a Belgian Acer customer received a refund. Belgium is not the Netherlands of course, but it’s close. Even if no one had been successful yet, I would have been prepared to file a lawsuit. Before ordering the notebook I sent an e-mail to Acer to ask if it was possible to get a Windows refund. I received an answer on 14 September, stating that it is not possible ‘because Windows is pre-installed’. Of course the person who wrote this answer is ignoring that the Windows End User License Agreement does give the customer the right to ask for a refund.  I decided to call Acer. The person who received my call initially told me as well that it wasn’t possible, but after insisting that it was possible because I found testimonies on the Internet, he decided to ask a colleague who confirmed that it was possible. He told me that merely € 15 would be refunded though. No worries, it was a matter of principle for me anyway. He told me about the procedure: I shouldn’t unbox the notebook and send it to Acer at my own cost.

After confirming that Acer would grant the request for a refund, I ordered my notebook, which cost me € 531,50. It was sent to me on 18 September. When I received it, I called Acer again for details on the procedure. After being put through three times (!), I finally got someone on the line who was able to help. He told me the procedure was slightly different than I was told before, it wasn’t necessary to keep the notebook unboxed (I did sent it to Acer in it’s unboxed state though, anyway) and I would be refunded € 70 for Windows Vista Business (it’s a TravelMate, a notebook targeted at business customers). All I would have to do is send the notebook along with a form I needed to fill in to request the refund. So far so good, the € 70 instead of € 15 was a lot more reasonable and apparently capable people work at Acer’s helpdesk as well, besides the nitwits who aren’t informed of the procedures.

On 23 September I sent my notebook to Acer, I noticed it was received by Acer the following day according to the the track & trace system of the package delivery company. On 30 September I received a voice mail from Acer, asking where the bill of my purchase of the notebook and the form were. According to the instructions I had to include a copy of the bill with the form to request the refund, which I did. I had placed them in an envelope which I had attached to the package containing the notebook with adhesive tape. So the same day I called back and told a colleague of the person who spoke in my voice mail that the the bill and form were inside the envelope attached to the package containing the notebook. The fact that they had to ask me where they could find it worried me, so on 1 October I called again to verify if they had found it. The person who received my call said it would be investigated and that I would be called back tomorrow. The next day they didn’t call me back. I called again on 6 October, and after being put through I was told again that I would be called back ‘soon’. I began to realize their definition of ‘soon’ is out of touch with reality, and when by the next day I still hadn’t received a call by afternoon I decided to call myself. Without the need to put me through the person who received my call told me they had found the form and bill and that the notebook would be sent back to me again. I had my fears after experiencing the abominable performance of Acer’s helpdesk so far, but after this I thought the whole ordeal would have a happy end after all.

My hopes were premature, as I discovered the hard way on the following day, 8 October. When I saw the package, I noticed the package as well as the envelope had never been opened. All they had done was attach a report of the repair center on the package, stating under ‘Diagnose/Repair details’ that ‘The OS installed without problems, no problems found’. I was totally gobsmacked, dumbstruck, dumbfounded, not knowing whether I should laugh, cry or become enraged. Not only did this pretended ‘diagnose’ have nothing to do with my request for a Windows refund, apparently they thought that if the notebook was never unboxed there wouldn’t be any problem with it. The moron at the repair center didn’t notice the envelope at the package, or more likely they were too rigid in their procedure or too lazy to open it, because I can’t imagine they wouldn’t have noticed it. The moron at the helpdesk lied to me, or possibly misinterpreted the information, when he told the envelope was found. Acer really crossed the line this time, they had already wasted two weeks and too much of my time without being capable to do a simple task.

Back to calling the helpdesk I thought. The first person I got on the line put me through, and I had to select a choice in a spoken menu. After selecting my choice nothing happened, and I was somehow routed back to the main spoken menu which you always get to hear first if you call the helpdesk. Again I tried to get to someone on the line through the usual menu choices to get support for my TravelMate, but this time it was too busy and I had to call back, the recorded voice told me. I called a second time later that day, and I tell the whole story to the other person on the line. After she said she finally understood the problem, I was suddenly disconnected. The only cause of this which I can think of would be that the person on the other end of the line accidentally or deliberately pressed the disconnect button, it wasn’t my Internet connection (I use VoIP telephony). At this moment I was seething with anger, but called for a third time. Fortunately the person who received my call didn’t put me through and easily understood my problem. He told there had been an error in communication, he gave me a new RMA-number and sent me a UPS-label so the notebook would be sent to the repair center again at Acer’s cost. He told me I had to sent the envelope separately instead of attaching it to the package. He put me in the waiting line for a few minutes to finish handling the case, but before he could speak to me again, I was once again rerouted somehow to the main spoken menu. So for the fourth time I called again and told the connection was cut, I was put through again. I asked to which address I should send the letter, and I knew enough.

I called UPS to make an appointment to collect my package and sent the form and bill to Acer. This time they received the package on 14 October, and they sent it back on 15 October if I’m correct. The repair center’s report stated this time that the partitions and license were removed and the system was sent back, as it should be. The following week I was called by Acer again to ask for my bank account number so they could deposit the refund there. A few days after the phone call I still hadn’t seen a transfer of the refund to my bank account, and decided to contact Acer again through e-mail and the phone. My efforts to get the question answered how long it would take for the refund to reach my bank account proved to be fruitless because the helpdesk was clueless and incompetent once more to make a long story short. In the end I decided to be patient, and after waiting some time longer I finally noticed € 70 transferred to my bank account by Acer on 30 October. € 70 on a total price of € 531,50 is 13,2%, quite a notable amount of money.

The moral of the story? If you persevere you win, 1 – 0 for me versus the evil empire called Microsoft. Acer’s helpdesk put me through hell, but fortunately a few people work there who are genuinely interested in helping the customers, besides all the incompetent rotten apples. Don’t misunderstand me, even though Acer’s helpdesk frustrated me to no end I always remained polite during my phone calls, even though I spared no opportunity to blacken Acer’s service in this blog post. Acer should be punished for dealing with it’s customers like this, but if you ask me if I’d buy an Acer product again I’m not sure I’d say no. The TravelMate 8371 simply is a good product for a good price, and in September 2009 the competition didn’t have a product which satisfied my requirements. I don’t want to know how high the telephony costs are for calling Acer’s 0900-number (a number prefix for telephone numbers in the Netherlands which charge an extra fee per minute), probably far too much and a notable share of the € 70 I gained. I’m glad my parents pay the phone bill.

Cheaper portable notebooks

Over half a year ago I wrote a post with my reflections on buying a new notebook. At this moment I still haven’t bought a new notebook, and in hindsight I think it was a good decision to keep waiting.

Since I wrote that post, the category of expensive portable notebooks like the Sony VAIO TZ, Dell XPS M1330, Dell Latitude E4200, Dell Latitude E4300, Lenovo ThinkPad X300 and Lenovo ThinkPad X200 has remained expensive. All cost more than € 1000. A few are far more expensive, like the Lenovo ThinkPad X301 and the Sony VAIO TT. Some exceptions are less expensive than € 1000, like the Lenovo ThinkPad SL300, but still too expensive to my liking. Of course there are a lot of other notebooks with 12″ or 13,3″ diagonals (Acer for example offers a lot), but they can’t compare to the quality of the notebooks I just mentioned, and often provide low battery life less than 3 hours. That doesn’t make  I don’t consider them.

Even though that has remained the same, a lot has changed. The market is crowded now with netbooks, which feature significantly less performance than the traditional portable notebooks, are even smaller with maximum screen sizes of 10″ and occupy a price range of € 200 – € 400. A while ago I considered buying the Samsung NC10, which distinguishes itself with a battery life of more than 6 hours and costs approximately € 400. But new developments made me change my mind.

So far Intel’s dominance over the netbook market with it’s Atom CPU and accompanying platform was uncontested. Recently however, AMD has released it’s competing platform for ultrathin notebooks, and the HP Pavilion dv2 will be the first notebook to use the platform. AMD is aiming for notebooks with larger screen sizes than 9″or 10″ which is common for netbooks. During Intel’s virtual monopoly of the netbook market, it restricted the screen size of netbooks using the Atom N270 to 10″ to prevent cannibalization of it’s more expensive CPU’s.

With more competition around the corner, this will probably change. I don’t think a screen size of 10″ is adequate, 12″ or 13,3″ at the maximum is the best compromise between portability and comfortable screen size. Also note that currently, the cheapest 15,4″ notebooks can be found under the price of € 400, the maximum price of the average netbook. Even at that lower price point, the 15,4″ notebooks outperform the netbooks. Netbooks are still relatively expensive, which will probably change as more competition arrives at the market.

Fortunately, there is even more competition coming for Intel and AMD. VIA will also enter the market with it’s VIA Nano. It will be used in the Samsung NC20 and FreeStyle 1300n notebooks, both featuring screen sizes larger than the common 10″ size for netbooks as well. MSI intends to introduce the X-Slim X320 and Asus the S121, which both come with an Atom CPU and a 13,4″ and 12,1″ screen respectively.

What is possibly more interesting is that ARM prepares to enter this market as well. The ARM CPU’s use the ARM architecture instead of the CPU’s produced by Intel, AMD and VIA, which use the x86 architecture. At this moment Microsoft Windows doesn’t support the ARM architecture, so ARM has made a deal with Canonical to make the Ubuntu Linux distribution available for their hardware. Qualcomm and Freescale will produce ARM CPU’s for the netbook market. These products would be very attractive to me if they are supplied with Ubuntu, I’d rather not pay for Windows if I’m not going to use it anyway. This could be a great for mainstream Linux adoption.

Other hardware on my wish list

My previous posts covered which (sub)notebook and which hardware for my new PC I want to buy, but there’s more on my wish list. I’m a perfectionist who spends a lot of time thinking about exactly what I should buy, if it has the right price/quality ratio a.k.a. bang for the buck and what priority I should give that purchase. In my case, I don’t deliberate so carefully on my wish list because I don’t want to spend too much money, the point is I want to be satisfied with what I buy, I don’t want to be disappointed. In this post I’ll write what other hardware is on my wish list and what I want to purchase within a few months, descending from high to low priority and including an approximate price.

DSLR camera – Olympus E-410 – € 350

Currently I use a point-and-shoot camera, a Canon PowerShot A510. It’s a nice camera for it’s class, but I want better image quality. Not only the quality of the camera itself influences image quality, but the file format in which the camera saves photographs does as well. One of my gripes with the A510 is that it saves photographs in the JPEG format which uses lossy compression, and therefore decreases image quality. I think a digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera can meet my demands for better image quality. SLR’s also have the option to save photographs as raw image files, which avoids the JPEG format’s compression artifacts. DSLR camera’s are sold without a lens or with a kit lens. I don’t think I need a separate lens, which is also more expensive, so I’ll buy an DSLR with a kit lens. My budget for an DSLR camera is €500 maximum, which restricts the choice considerably, but still a lot of SLR’s can be found in this price range. I think the Olympus E-410 would be my best choice, it received a favorable review, it’s compact and one of the cheapest DSLR’s at € 350. I think that’s quite cheap for an DSLR, I’ve also seen the Olympus E-400 at € 300, but according to the review of the E-410 it’s successor has a better image processor and other advantages. I know the Olympus E-420 and Canon EOS 450D are coming, but those will probably be considerably more expensive at their introduction.

Wireless residential gateway – Linksys WRT45GL – € 55

When my parents signed up for an ADSL Internet connection years ago, the Internet service provider included a residential gateway from the SpeedTouch brand. Some time ago that residential gateway was replaced with a SpeedTouch 546 v6 because the old one died. The SpeedTouch 546 doesn’t provide much features in it’s web interface, one thing which I miss in particular is the ability to use quality of service (QoS). I need this feature because three other PC’s are hooked up to the residential gateway, sharing the Internet connection. My brother uses his Internet connection intensively just like me, and if I’m downloading something my PC will consume the entire bandwidth of the connection, which gives him tons of lag if he’s be gaming online. With QoS certain traffic can be prioritised so the bandwidth will be shared equally. I want the Linksys WRT45GL because the WRT45G-series was the first residential gateway device that had it’s firmware source code released under the GNU GPL. That opened the possibility to create alternative firmware for the device. These alternative firmware projects provide the features I want. I highly appreciate the fact that it’s open source, which gives me more choice and features. It’s also nicely priced at € 55 and it supports Wi-Fi as well, which would be very useful if it works. In the past I tried getting a wireless SpeedTouch residential gateway to work, but somehow the reception of the Wi-Fi signal was very bad in my house, barely a few meters. The house I live can’t be the cause, it’s just a renovated farm without stuff which could influence Wi-Fi reception. That SpeedTouch was probably a bad apple, I assume the WRT45GL will work. Even if it doesn’t, it would still be a very worthwhile purchase because of it’s features.

Video game console – Playstation 3 – € 389

On PC monitors we have already been able to use high resolutions for a long time in PC games, the low resolutions used by console games turned me off. Now that this generation of consoles can finally display games in a high 1080p resolution (except for the Nintendo Wii) and have fine-tuned Internet multiplay options, I’m getting interested in buying a video game console. The Wii isn’t interesting for me because it can’t display in 1080p, lacks in graphical quality of it’s games and aims at a different public than the more serious gamers with it’s different control scheme. The Xbox 360 is produced by Microsoft, which means it’s not an option for me because I boycott Microsoft for it’s unethical business practices. The Playstation 3 remains as my only option. Currently there aren’t much interesting games available for it yet, so that’s a reason to wait for games like Grand Theft Auto IV, Final Fantasy XIII, Killzone 2 and Soulcalibur IV. Another reason to wait is that we will most likely see hardware revisions of the PS3 which will be cheaper, consume less energy, are smaller and possibly offer more features. Just like the original PS2 which also had many hardware revisions.

Monitor – Dell UltraSharp 2408WFP – € 636,89

I’m using the Dell UltraSharp 2007WFP now, which is a 20 inch monitor with an S-IPS panel. In the future I might want to use a 24 inch monitor for the PS3, because almost all 24 inch monitors use a WUXGA resolution of 1920 by 1200 pixels. This resolution is enough to display the PS3’s 1080p resolution without scaling it down. The 2408WFP features DisplayPort and HDMI connections besides the usual DVI-D connection. So a PS3 can be connected directly with a HDMI cable, a DVI converter isn’t even necessary. Besides the advantages of the larger resolution for the PS3, a larger resolution is nice to have as well when you’re using it with a PC. Unfortunately the 2408WFP also has it’s downsides, as reported in this and this review, the input lag worries me because I often play first-person shooters. Default color accuracy isn’t very good, so I’ll need to borrow or buy a colorimeter to calibrate the monitor. Even so, if I’d buy a 24 inch monitor now, I’d buy the 2408WFP. But because I can still use my 2007WFP, I think I’ll wait a bit, and see if interesting new 24 inch monitors will become available. The LED backlight is an interesting development, Acer has recently released larger monitors with LED backlights. Further in the future we might see OLED monitors.

Mobile phone/smartphone – Neo FreeRunner – $ 399

The mobile phone I’m using now is a Motorola RAZR V3i. I only use for it phone calls, sometimes SMS. Checking the time and setting alarms is very useful functionality for me, since I’ve been using this phone I’ve abandoned my wrist watch and alarm clock. It has a camera, but like all other mobile phones the quality of the camera sucks compared to stand-alone camera’s, I’ve never found a use for the camera. It’s a nice phone, but it’s got some disadvantages. The V3i is not a smartphone, and the fact that it is a clamshell design bothers me a bit, a candybar design is more practical. It’s getting dated because it doesn’t support HSDPA, which is getting cheaper these days. The smartphone which I intend to buy as a replacement for the V3i is the Neo FreeRunner, which primarily attracts me because this smartphone runs on Linux and allows the user to customize the software. However, it doesn’t include 3G among it’s impressive featureset, and the phone doesn’t look good in my eyes. That’s why I’ll probably wait for it’s successor. The Nokia N810 also runs Linux and is allows users to modify it’s software, but unfortunately it’s not an alternative because it’s an Internet tablet which can’t connect to cellular networks. In the meantime I could buy a phone to bridge the gap until there’s a successor for the Neo FreeRunner, the Samsung SGH-U100 is appealing because of it’s small size. Even though it’s the slimmest phone in the world, I doubt if I should just buy a phone because of it’s size, is it that important for me? The U100 can be found for approximately € 200. If features are important, the Nokia 6120 Classic would be a good choice. If a low energy consumption with a long stand-by time is important, I could go for the Nokia 3110 Evolve, which features 370 hours of stand-by time versus 200 hours for the V3i. If the price is more important than features, size or energy consumption I think I should go with a budget phone. What I also value But I shouldn’t be too eager to spend money on a new phone, because my V3i still works.

Choosing the hardware for a new PC

I always buy the separate pieces of hardware required for a PC myself, and then assemble it, or pay the hardware store to assemble it. I never buy factory built PC’s from large producers like Dell, HP or Acer, building your own PC allows you to completely customize it so that it meets your demands better. I like to play computer games a lot and I don’t want to spend more than € 800. Dell and friends either don’t offer PC’s with a graphics card that is powerful enough for my needs, or their comparable configurations are a bit more expensive than the collection of separate pieces of hardware that I selected. This time building a silent PC is also a priority, most factory built PC’s aren’t quiet enough.

The PC I currently use allows me to play most of the latest games I like, but it’s two and a half years old now, which is old for a high performance PC. It has an AMD Athlon 3500+ CPU, 2 GB RAM and a GeForce 7800 GT graphics card. Most of the time I play Enemy Territory: Quake Wars and Counter-Strike: Source. My PC can handle CS:S fine, but ET:QW often displays a temporary decrease in the frame rate if a lot of activity is going on. Those frame rate drops can be quite disruptive and often result in my untimely death. So I need a newer graphics card, and a newer CPU would be required as well because the Athlon 3500+ is still a single core CPU, while quad core CPU’s are already available for some time. A new CPU also means a new motherboard, and it would be wise to get faster new RAM and a new hard drive as well. So in fact I’m going to replace all the contents of my enclosure, including the enclosure itself. I could keep my currently enclosure, but I want to get a better one.

I intend to buy most of the hardware I want at Azerty, a Dutch Internet store with a very large assortment of hardware. I’ll only need to buy the graphics card at a second Internet store. All these part, including delivery costs, cost approximately € 770. I expect to sell my old PC for approximately € 200, so the real cost for me will be € 570. I think that’s rather cheap. hardware has gotten cheaper in general, two and half years ago I paid more than € 350 for a GeForce 7800 GT graphics card, now it’s less than € 150 for a GeForce 8800 GT.

Enclosure – Antec Solo – € 75,23

Compared to my old enclosure, an Antec SLK3700BQE, the Antec Solo is a serious improvement. The SLK3700BQE has an annoying door which constantly needs to opened to push the power button or to access the DVD drive, the Solo doesn’t have a door. The Solo possesses some features the SLK3700BQE doesn’t have, like dampening sheets at the side panels inside the enclosure for noise isolation and elastic suspension for the hard drives to prevent hard drive vibration and noise. The Solo is one of the enclosures which is recommended by Silent PC Review, a popular website covering PC silencing. Arguably the Solo still looks a bit cheap with it’s black finish and silver grey front, but that color would actually fit in very nicely with Dell 2007WFP monitor, Logitech Z-5500 5.1 speakerset and Logitech UltraX keyboard, which also are black with silver grey. The Solo is a bit more expensive than other enclosures because it doesn’t come with a power supply. For example, the Antec NSK4480 is € 10 cheaper at the same internet store and comes with a 380W power supply. That is all right for me because I want to buy a separate power supply anyway, which is more quiet and efficient. The higher price of the Solo is worth it for the extra features. I have also considered the Antec P182, which offers some interesting advantages like a separate chamber for the power supply and a nicer design. It’s an interesting choice but unfortunately the P182 is € 40 more expensive, so I stick with the Solo.

Power supply – Enermax PRO 82+, 425 Watt – € 64,32

The new Enermax PRO and MODU series are currently the highest ranking recommended power supplies at Silent PC Review. This power supply is very efficient and quiet, which is exactly what I want. 425 Watt is enough for me, and I’ll settle with the PRO version which doesn’t have modular cabling like the MODU version. The 425 Watt MODU is € 10 more expensive, which isn’t much, so I might want to buy that one anyway even if the advantage of modular cabling isn’t that important. With modular cabling you can get rid of unnecessary cabling in the enclosure easier, which might be better for airflow and look more tidy. The next best thing before the PRO and MODU series is the Corsair VX450W, which is just a little more than € 2 cheaper. In case the PRO series wasn’t available at my internet store yet I’d choose that power supply.

Motherboard – Gigabyte GA-P35-DS3 – € 86,97

For the Intel Core 2 Duo processor I want to use I need a motherboard which supports this processor. I’m not going to use overclocking or RAID, which means that cheaper motherboards will be adequate for me. I’ve settled on the Gigabyte GA-P35-DS3 for the simple reasons that this motherboard uses Intel’s current mainstream chipset, the P35, and because it’s one of the cheaper solutions. The cheaper P35 motherboards can be found for € 20 less, but what sets the P35-Ds3 apart from others is that it uses a RealTek ALC 889A codec for it’s onboard audio, which is a better than the onboard audio solutions provided by other motherboards. This is important to me because I don’t want to buy a separate sound card. An alternative is the Gigabyte GA-P35-DS4, which posesses DTS Connect among it’s extra features over the DS3. DTS Connect can convert analog 5.1 sound sent by games to a DTS, so that the analog 5.1 sound can be sent to the speakerset over a digital connection. This could have a positive influence on the sound quality, because apparantly the 889A codec is still inferior to the more expensive separate sound cards when an analog connection is used, according to this review. But I still don’t understand the advantages and disadvantages of DTS Connect and a digital connection completely, so I’m not really sure. Besides a choice between an analog connection or a digital connection with DTS Connect, there also is a choice between waiting for motherboards with the P45 chipset or buying a motherboard with the current P35 chipset. Because it’s better to wait with buying a graphics card at this moment, it’s probably a good idea to wait for the P45 as well because the new graphics cards and the P45 will be introduced around the same time.

Processor – Intel Core 2 Duo E8200 – € 146,62

Reviews here and here conclude that buying  an Intel Core 2 Duo processor with the latest Wolfdale or Yorkfield core is the best choice now. AMD’s processors might be a bit cheaper, but they are outperformed by the Core 2 Duo’s and they consume more power and run more hot. I could buy a E8200 or E8400 dual core processor, or I could buy a Q9300 quad core processor. A quad core processor only makes sense if you use multithreaded software which can take advantage of quad core processors, which is made clear in those two reviews. I might spent some time in the future doing 3D rendering with Blender, but probably not enoughto warrant paying the extra price for a quad core processor. However, the E8200 can currently be found for under € 140 while the slightly older Q6600 quad core can be found for just over € 170. The price difference isn’t much, so why not. But first I’m going to wait a bit before the prices of the new Wolfdale and Yorkfield cores settle down in comparison with the Conroe and Kentsfield cores which preceded them. The E6750 and E8200 are currently equally priced, but some Internet stores are probably overcharging on the E8200 because demand is higher than supply. This is especially evident with the Q9300 which is € 220 at minimum while the Q6600 can be found for € 170.

Thermal interface material – Arctic Silver 5 – € 4,14

This review shows that Arctic Silver 5 isn’t the best, but it still reduces temperatures with nearly 10 °C compared to the thermal grease that is pre-applied to the Intel heatsink (which is shipped with their processors). With the exception of Intel’s thermal grease, the differences are small. Arctic Silver 5 is the best which is available at my Internet store and it’s not very expensive.

Thermal interface material remover – Arctic Silver ArctiClean – € 5,00

If the need arises to remove thermal interface material, Arctic Silver ArctiClean might come in handy.

Heatsink – Thermalright HR-01 Plus – € 36,37

Silent PC Review recommends a lot of heatsinks. Initially I wanted to buy the Scythe Ninja, but after reading complaints about it’s push-pin mounting system I decided to go with the Thermalright HR-01 Plus which uses a better mounting system. The HR-01 Plus is an improved version of the HR-01 which is recommended by Silent PC Review, and does support socket 775 unlike it’s predecessor. The Thermalright Ultra 120-eXtreme is at the top of the list of recommended heatsinks, but it’s € 45,26 at my Internet store. That’s not a huge price difference, but I think it’s overkill to pay so much money for ‘just’ a heatsink. Besides, according to it’s review at Silent PC Review it doesn’t give an advantage compared to the Ninja or HR-01 Plus in situations with low airflow like I intend to create. What’s important to me as well is that I’m able to mount a 120 mm fan on this heatsink. If I wanted to cut costs I’d probably buy an Arctic Cooling Freezer 7 Pro for € 16,18.

120 mm fan – Scythe Slip Stream SY1225SL12L – € 7,00 x 2

I will buy two of these, I will place one on the HR-01 Plus, and I will use the other to replace the stock exhaust fan of the Antec Solo, which isn’t as silent as the SY1225SL12L. The SY1225SL12L runs at a fixed low 800 rpm, so I won’t need to use tricks to undervolt it to get it to run slower. According to these test results it’s very quiet and performs good.

Graphics card – Sparkle SF-PX88GT512D3-HP Cool-pipe 3 – € 174,95

The NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GT with 512 MB performs better than the ATi Radeon HD 3780 with 512 MB according to this review. The difference isn’t large. There are reasons to buy an ATi graphics card, ATi actively supports the development of an open source driver for Linux, unlike NVIDIA. I use Ubuntu Linux when I’m not using Windows XP for gaming, so that is very important to me. A lower idle power consumption than the 8800 GT is also important. However, performance is more important to me at this moment. There isn’t a large price difference between the 8800 GT and the 3780 HD. As I said silence is important for this new PC, so want to buy a graphics card that is passively cooled. The Sparkle SF-PX88GT512D3-HP Cool-pipe 3 is a passively cooled 8800 GT, according to this review it’s a nice product. Unfortunately this graphics card is the single product which is not available at Azerty, where I buy all my other parts. I need to buy it at another Internet store, which means added delivery costs and less convenience than buying everything at one store. Azerty does sell a passively cooled Radeon HD 3780, the Sapphire Ultimate Radeon HD 3870, for € 158,46. Another alternative is to buy the cheapest versions of the 8800 GT or Radeon HD 3780 which are available at Azerty – the XpertVision GeForce 8800 GT or the PEAK Radeon HD 3870 which sell for respectively € 130,90 and € 129,06 – and mount the Arctic Cooling Accelero S1 passive graphics card cooler on them. The second revision of the Accelero S1 costs € 15,68 at Azerty. I’m not sure if I’d rather go the ‘safe’ way and buy a graphics card which is cooled passively out of the box but a bit more expensive, or if I’d buy the cheapest actively cooled graphics card and mount an Accelero S1 on it. However, at this moment waiting would probably be the wisest choice, because the future products of NVIDIA and ATi/AMD, respectively the GT200 and the RV770, could possibly be released in the beginning of June. Those could offer a serious improvement over the current generation of graphics cards.

Random Access Memory – Kingston KVR667D2N5K2/2G (2 modules of 1024 MB, PC-5300) – € 30,18

RAM is really cheap these days, it’s tempting to buy 4 GB of memory but that probably won’t be necessary. I chose RAM with a PC5300 specification, which means that it has a clock frequency of 333 Mhz. This means the memory has a speed synchronous to the speed of the Front Side Bus of the E8200, which is 1333 Mhz. Because a quad data rate is used, this translates to 333 Mhz as well. This means that memory with a lower specification than PC5300 would slow the E8200 down. Memory with a faster specification won’t give better performance unless overclocking is used, which I don’t intend to do.

Hard disk drive – Samsung SpinPoint F1 320 GB – € 51,82

The SpinPoint F1 series has been around for some time already, but only more expensive models with more storage space were available until now. Because 320 GB is enough for me, I don’t want to pay more for more storage space. The 320 GB model also features just one platter, which means that it consumes less power and performs better because of it’s high data density. According to this (German) review, it’s a very good hard drive. Western Digital also released a 320 GB hard disk drive with a single platter, but according to this review it’s performance is limited by it’s high random access time. Performance, silence and price are all three important factors for me when it comes to choosing a hard disk drive. This hard disk drive excels in none of those aspects, but it is the best compromise.

DVD burner – Lite-On LH-20A1S – € 21,27

I almost never burn CD’s or DVD’s, so all I need is cheap DVD burner which is just good enough. It should have a SATA connection because I don’t like those wide PATA cables obstructing the airflow in my enclosure. Almost all hard disk drives already use SATA, but CD/DVD drives/burners seem to a bit slower in switching to SATA. It should also have a black bezel, because my enclosure is black as well. The Lite-On LH-20A1S meets those requirements and performs well according to this review.

Antistatic wrist strap – € 7,87

An antistatic wrist strap prevents static electricity from possibly damaging the hardware. I’ve never used them before and I’ve never damaged hardware with electrostatic discharge, but apparantly it’s better to be safe than damage that expensive hardware.