Life with the Lenovo S10-3s

I really have very mixed feelings about this Lenovo Ideapad S10-3s. I've had it for about six months now, and I am still every bit as pleased with the design and packaging as I was the day that I bought it.
Written by J.A. Watson, Contributor

I really have very mixed feelings about this Lenovo Ideapad S10-3s. I've had it for about six months now, and I am still every bit as pleased with the design and packaging as I was the day that I bought it. It is noticeably more compact that any of the other 10" screen netbooks that I have (or have had), and I particularly like the keyboard. The "ClickPad" stills seems very gimmicky, and actually still causes problems with a few Linux distributions, but I am getting used to it, and when the driver gets it right, it is actually ok to use. I wouldn't say "great", or even "better than a typical touchpad", but it is ok. The problem is, when the driver doesn't get it right, the ClickPad turns into a royal pain in the backside.

But the biggest pro/con part, by far, is the Broadcom 4313 WiFi adapter. When it works, it's fine - it connects quickly, throughput is good, it cooperates well with power management in the operating system... you just basically don't notice it, which is the way it should be. But there are still problems with it, and they are absolutely NOT limited to Linux, I have also had quite a fight with it on Windows 7 recently. So, here is a quick rundown of what I have loaded on the S10-3s right now, and how it works.

Windows 7 Home Premium: Initially, it seemed to work just fine, which you would expect since this system came preloaded with Windows 7 Stupor Edition. But at some point, I suppose after some Windows 7 update was installed, the WiFi stopped connecting. I couldn't figure out what was going on, or what had happend. I searched the Internet, and found LOTS of other people who had the same experience with the 4313 - worked ok, and then suddenly stopped working - mostly with the S10-3s, but also with a few other laptops as well. I spent ages installing, removing, configuring, adjusting, turning WiFi on/off/whatever via Fn-F5, installing Windows updates, searching Lenovo support and driver download... I should have just wiped Windows from it again, but I have this very stubborn streak in me that flares up when something doesn't work. Anyway, after quite a lot of lost time and effort... it suddenly started working again. Grrrr. No idea what finally straightened it out, I was simply in the process of doing the same things I had done before, perhaps just in a slightly different order, and suddenly Windows announced "wireless networks available". On top of all this, Windows also doesn't seem to get the ClickPad quite right; the right button works, but the left button doesn't, so you have to "tap" for that. This might be something that could be fixed by adjusting the touchpad settings, but I haven't tried that yet. The bottom line is, if Windows is your operating system of choice, the S10-3s can be very pleasant to use, as long as the WiFi doesn't start acting up.

openSuSE 11.4: This is the fastest, easiest and most stable of the Linux distributions I have on the S10-3s. Everything just works out of the box, including the WiFi and ClickPad. Boot time is a bit slow compared to many other Linux distributions, but not enough to be a real problem. It is also worth noting that when the original openSuSE 11.4 distribution is installed, it complains a lot about the graphic performance of the S10-3s being too slow, but once you install the upgrades that doesn't happen, and performance is good.

Debian 6.0 / Ubuntu 11.04 / Linux Mint 11 / SimplyMEPIS 11: I have lumped these all together, because as Debian derivatives they all share the same general characteristics on the S10-3s. There is some sort of interference between a kernal module called "acer_wmi" and the Broadcom 4313 driver, which keeps the WiFi from working out of the box. The solution seems to be quite simple - just blacklist acer_wmi in /etc/modprobe.d - but some people still report having very occasional problems (including me). In addition, the ClickPad doesn't seem to work quite as well on these distributions as it does on openSuSE, it is a lot more "touchy", and subject to wild movement when you are trying to click-and-drag. But if once of these distributions is your preference, the do in fact install quite easily, it takes about two minutes to fix the Broadcom problem, and once that is done they are useable, if not perfect.

Mageia 1: This is the other distribution which installs and runs with no problems right out of the box. I obviously haven't had much time to really work with it yet, but at least the WiFi and ClickPad both work properly right off. If this distribution weren't so new, and I had just a little more experience with it, I would probably rate it above openSuSE on this system.

Fedora 15: This was the biggest disappointment, to be honest. Fedora has a policy of not including drivers which are still in "staging" unless someone at Fedora is directly involved with the driver. This is not the case with the brcm80211 driver, so it is not yet included in Fedora 15 - even with all the latest updates installed. They point out that the STA ("wl") driver will work with the 4313, which is true, but as I have said before, there are serious performance problems when you use that driver with the 4313. So honesty, at this time, I would still not use Fedora on the S10-3s unless for some strange reason I wasn't interested in using wireless networking.

Zenwalk 7.0: This could be the dark horse in the mix. The initial release didn't include the 4313 driver, but it has been added in an update since then. I haven't gone back and tried to configure it yet, but I did try out pretty much everything else under Zenwalk, and it all seemed to work very well. If the brcm80211 driver now installs and works, this could also be a good alternative. I will post an update about this when I have some time to try it.


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