HP Pavillion dm1-3105ez

I mentioned two weeks ago that I had acquired a new sub-notebook in preparation for a class that I was going to take. Well, the class is now over, and I have some time to write about the computer.

I mentioned two weeks ago that I had acquired a new sub-notebook in preparation for a class that I was going to take. Well, the class is now over, and I have some time to write about the computer. It is an HP Pavillion dm1-3105ez Entertainment Notebook.

HP dm1-3105ez

I have decidedly mixed feelings about it. On one hand, it is a really nice system, both in terms of overall appearance and configuration. It has an 11.6" (1366x768) display, and the extra inch and a half compared to typical netbooks certainly does make a difference. It has a dual-core 2.4GHz AMD E-350 CPU, 2 GB DDR3 memory, 320 GB disk, and a very nice keyboard. On the other hand, it is such a new product that it includes a couple of pieces of hardware that the drivers in most Linux distributions haven't caught up with yet. The biggest problems are an Ralink 5390 WiFi adapter and a Synaptics ClickPad (second generation, I think). That should sound familiar, because those were exactly the problem areas with the Lenovo S10-3s netbook that I got a few months ago, although in that case it was a Broadcom 4313 WiFi and a first generation Synaptics ClickPad. The mainstream Linux distributions are just now coming out with those drivers included.

Before I go any further, let me say that I don't need any "check Linux compatibility before you buy" lectures. I know what I am doing, I've done this a lot of times, and one of the reasons I get these leading-edge systems is to watch how the driver support develops, and occasionally to help in testing of them.

So, with that out of the way, how does it do with Linux? Well, everything that I have tried so far installs and runs (openSuSE 11.4, Linux Mint 11, SimplyMEPIS 11, Ubuntu 11.04, Debian 6.0.1). But none of them recognize the Ralink WiFi adapter, so I have to use wired ethernet, and all but openSuSE have significant problems with the Synaptics ClickPad. That, however, is the first glimmer of hope - openSuSE gets the ClickPad absolutely right, it moves, clicks and taps very reliably, and it even has a small LED in the left corner which lights up while you are typing to show that the touchpad has been disabled - so you can't accidentally send the cursor zooming across the screen with your thumbs. When it works correctly like this, I have to admit that I actually kind of like the ClickPad. But when it does not work correctly, in various ways with all of the other distributions, it is guaranteed to send you screaming into the night, so I just use an external mouse and forget about it.

The Ralink WiFi adapter is an even bigger problem. None of the distributions I have tried recognized it at all. A bit of searching showed that this adapter has been around for a little while, and seems to be mostly in a few models of HP notebooks. It seems that the driver for it will be included in the next Linux kernel release (2.6.39), which means that for the most part in the second half of this year it won't be a problem any more. But of course I am way too curious (and way too impatient) to wait that long, so I kept looking. There is a section on the Ralink web page for software download for Linux, Mac and Windows. You can download the source code for the Linux driver, and instructions on how to compile and install it. I also found some more detailed information on the Ubuntu Forums, and from that I was able to install the driver on SimplyMEPIS in about 15 minutes. The WiFi connection is now working just fine, hooray!

The final problem, and in general the biggest problem, is the one I wrote about two weeks ago, when I was preparing this system for my class. This is the Windows 7 installation which insists on scribbling on the MBR when I have GRUB installed. I never did figure out how or why it is doing that, or how to stop it. In the end I had to take the advice offered by Moley and a couple of others, and set the system up to multi-boot with the Windows bootloader. Ugh. What a nasty, ugly bunch of garbage. Gosh, I know, this is only 2011 and it is asking a lot for Microsoft to have something that is a bit more appealing than what they developed over 15 years ago for Windows NT, but honestly... a text-only, white font on a black background... oh, please. Anyway, setting that up to multi-boot Win7 or openSuSE, and then using my normal Legacy GRUB configuration to further multi-boot the various other Linux distributions I have installed at least works, and it has stopped the system from self-corrupting. I can't even tell you how many times I reinstalled Windows and various Linux distributions while trying to get something else - anything else - to work. Bleah.

So, the bottom line is that this is a potentially very nice system. If you are up to the task of compiling the WiFi driver, and you are willing to use openSuSE so that the ClickPad works properly, then go for it. If you want to whine about Linux and driver compatibility, well, just shut up and buy something that is not quite so leading-edge, or wait a few months for the Linux distributions to catch up with the drivers. I would just about guarantee you that six months from now this will be just another "works off the shelf" Linux-compatible system.

Oh, and I got this one on sale for 399 Swiss Francs, which is about 280 Pounds or 320 Euros.