HP Pavillion dm1-1020ez - Oops, I did it again!

Well, I've done it again. Bought another sub-notebook.
Written by J.A. Watson, Contributor

Well, I've done it again. Bought another sub-notebook. I guess that's what it should be called; too large and powerful to be a netbook, and too small to be a laptop. After just a couple of days of working with it, I love it. Specs for the HP Pavillion dm1-1020ez:

- Intel Celeron DualCore SU2300, 1.2 GHz - 2 GB memory - 320 GB SATA disk - Intel GMA 4500 MHD graphic controller - 11.6" 1366x768 display - Realtek RTL8102e 10/100 wired ethernet - Broadcom 4312 WiFi b/g - Bluetooth - 5-in-1 SD/MMC/MS/xD card reader - Webcam - Ports: 3 USB, HDMI, VGA - 28.9cm x 20.4cm x 1.98-3.06cm, 1.46 kg

I think those are very good specifications for such a small and light system. The Celeron DualCore CPU is one of the primary reasons I bought this one, I wanted to see how it compares to the Intel Atom, AMD Athlon Neo and VIA C-7M. The keyboard is "92% of full size", but the good news for me is that I think it is exactly the same keyboard that is in my HP 2133 Mini-Note, which is truly excellent. The screen is what HP calls "HD LED BrightView Widescreen - what is important to me is that it has a good resolution (I still don't like 1024x600).

It came with Windows 7 Home Premium. Sigh. Grrrr. Well, I've already had a few requests for help from friends who have Win7 systems, so I suppose I'm going to have to keep one around as a "reference" system. But honestly, it sucks. It just really gulps down huge buckets. Boot time is slow compared to any of the Linux distributions I've loaded on it, even after removing the pre-installed Symantec rubbish and Microsoft Office "trial version". Once it managed to boot Windows 7, the first thing I noticed was that the user interface is full of gratuitous changes from any previous Windows version... ugh. I could go on, but why bother. Here's the perfect example - why the heck have they changed the "Shutdown" menu AGAIN, now the power-button looking thing is gone, replaced by "Shut down", while the "Shutdown" option is gone from the menu, so I guess you have to click the button rather than selecting from the menu... but I thought "Suspend" was supposed to become the new "shutdown", so you could turn off and turn back on much faster... Enough said.

When I went to install Linux, I found that HP and Microsoft have now found a way to use all four available diskpartitions - one for the Windows bootloader (don't ask me why, I don't understand), one for Windows 7, one for Recovery, and one for HP Tools. So the first thing I had to do was make a set of recovery DVDs, so I could delete the Recovery partition and create an Extended Partition to hold the Linux distributions. That took well over an hour, to create three DVDs. Once that was done, I was ready to install Linux...

The next thing I learned is that this thing is very cranky about booting from CD or USB disks. I still haven't figured it out, but sometimes it starts to boot and then just stops cold. In most cases doing a power cycle and trying again gets it going, fortunately. The frequency of the problem is related to which distribution I am booting, and I have seen one small hint that what is really happening is that there is a device that is not recognized, but I haven't really tried to track it down yet.

Once I get a LiveCD to boot, the installation is quick and easy. So far I have installed Ubuntu 9.10 (standard and UNR), openSuSE 11.2, Mandriva One 2010.0 and Linux Mint 8. The only problem I have with any of them is the Broadcom wireless adapter, which I expected - this is the same adapter as in my 2133, and it is a royal pain. The only distribution that gets it completely right is Mandriva, and it is really a treat. The display is gorgeous, the wireless network came up on the first try, and everything else I have tried so far works. With Ubuntu and its derivatives, there is supposed to be a notification from the Hardware Drivers utility that proprietary drivers are required for the Broadcom device; I get those when running the LiveCD to do the installation, but once I boot the installed system, I can't get them again, it just keeps telling me "no proprietary drivers". Strange. This applies to UNR and Mint as well, of course. With openSuSE, I used the install_bcm43xx_firmware utility, but the wireless network still doesn't seem to work. Even more strange... I will track both of these problems down in the next few days.

For the time being I will be using Mandriva as my primary operating system on the dm1, while I try loading a few other distributions and i try to track down the problems I've seen already. There is something about this notebook that I just really like. I think it is the best compromise I have seen so far in a small and light notebook, and not only because it has a fairly high resolution in a small screen. The weight is good, the keyboard is excellent, and for those who have complained about the HP 2133 having buttons on to the side of the touchpad, this one has them more typically placed. Oh, and it is very nice that the flash card reader will take Memory Stick cards as well as SD/xD, that has been a problem with several of my other sub-notebooks.

More on this over the next few days.

jw 12/1/2010

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