Samsung NP-P580 Notebook and Linux, of Course

I have been looking for a replacement for my main notebook/desktop system for quite a while now. It will soon be four years old, the fan is getting noisy, and it has developed a nasty tendency to hang every once in a while, no matter what operating system it is running.
Written by J.A. Watson, Contributor

I have been looking for a replacement for my main notebook/desktop system for quite a while now. It will soon be four years old, the fan is getting noisy, and it has developed a nasty tendency to hang every once in a while, no matter what operating system it is running. The problem is that as I use it as a desktop system I want to have a docking station, and the laptop manufacturers seem to think that only business users need docking stations, which in turn means that the prices for such systems tend to be double or more compared to roughly equivalent non-docking systems. So I have been watching special sale advertisements and close-out offers for quite a while now.

Last week I finally found a good candidate - a Samsung NP-P580 Pro notebook, priced at about 640 Swiss francs (about 460 pounds). I already have two Samsung netbooks (N150 Plus and NF310), and both have been good, solid, reliable systems. The price was about half of the usual for docking-capable notebooks, and the optional docking station seems to have all of the connections I want. So I ordered it at the end of last week, and got it on Monday.

Samsung NP-P580

My first impression of the system was that it is very wide. The display is 15.6", compared to 14" in my current Lifebook S6510, but because it is a 16:9 ratio rather than 4:3 the difference in width is more than I expected. In fact, it is so wide that it doesn't fit in my backpack. It is so wide that the keyboard actually has a separate numeric pad, which I suppose is a good thing if you need it, but I seem to keep reaching too far to the right when I want to hit Return. On the positive side, it has a real touchpad with real buttons, not a silly ClickPad thing (the truth is that I hate the ClickPad so much that I had checked to be sure about this before ordering). Other than that it looks like a pretty standard mid-range notebook, with a plastic case. No metal, titanium or whatever in this price range, of course, although the palm rest is made to look like brushed metal (but it is still plastic). It has a pretty standard array of ports and connections, including 4xUSB (only USB 2, not USB 3), one of which is also an eSATA port, VGA and HDMI ports, SD/MMC media card slot, wired and wireless network connections and Bluetooth.

Inside the case it has an Intel Core i5 460M, which is a dual-core processer with hyper-threading, so it shows up as four processors in the system; 4GB of DDR3 memory, and the integrated Intel HD Graphic adapter. I believe that this model was also available with an nVidia graphic card, but this one does not have that, which may explain part of the lower price. The wired ethernet adapter is a Marvell Yukon 88E8059, and wireless is an Atheros AR9285; Bluetooth is a Broadcom 2070 adapter. The disk drive is a 320GB SATA unit, and it has an integrated CD/DVD drive, not a removable bay drive. Hmm. With my previous notebooks of this type I had gotten used to having a removable CD/DVD that I could replace with a second battery, so I will have to give up on that.

One other thing I noticed right away about the exterior and case - there are nicely labeled access panels on the bottom of the case for the memory and hard drive, so I will can replace those if/when I want. That's a nice advantage after having so many netbooks with a one-piece case that requires a lot of effort (and courage) to open up.

It came preloaded with Windows 7 unProfessional, so the first task was to get that running and configured. There was a bit of good news, the system was not loaded with a bunch of garbage that I had to delete, the only think like that was McAfee Internet Security. There was a lot more bad news, of course - I had to drag it through Windows Update, which has already consumed three hours or so, and it STILL hasn't offered to install SP1. Grrr. It started with "78 Important Updates" to install, then reboot, then four more, then reboot, then six more, then three more, then reboot, then x more, then y more, then reboot, then z more... Anyway, I hope that sometime today it will be done with updates and running SP1.

After three hours of that I was tired and disgusted, so I decided to do something much more interesting - install Linux. As I was doing this, I realized that I haven't written very specific instructions for this in a while, so I'll run through it in a bit more detail than usual this time. The first step is deciding where and how much disk space you want to use for Linux. In this case Samsung made it quite easy, because as part of the initial Windows setup they split the disk into C. and D: partitions, and I got to specify the sizes of each. I simply gave D: the amount of space that I wanted for Linux.

Once Windows installation is done, I booted my Linux Mint (Debian) 201109 Live USB stick. I know that Mint (and Ubuntu) always include gparted on their live media, so I can use that to reallocate the disk partition(s). I'm sure that there are plenty of other disk management tools that can be used for this, depending on what distribution you prefer. In this case all I had to do was delete the D: partition and recreate it as an Extended Partition, then make the necessary logical partitions within that for the various Linux distributions I plan to install. That whole process took less than 5 minutes. Then I went ahead and installed the new Linux Mint 201109 Gnome distribution. That was an absolutely routine installation, it took about 15 minutes and at the end it booted up to the installed Linux system with no problems of any kind. Everything works, including wired and wireless networking, Bluetooth, dual monitors (with an external monitor on the VGA port), sound, touchpad, everything. It took about another 5 minutes to install the latest updates, and the system was ready to use. I tried the obvious Fn-key functions, such as volume up/down/mute and brightness up/down and they work just fine. I even used the Fn-sleep keys to suspend the system, and that worked; press the power button and it is ready to use again in about two seconds. I added the CPU Frequency Monitor to the panel, and verified that frequency stepping was working automatically.

Now that my "workhorse" Linux installation was done, I decided to try something a bit more adventuresome. I recently downloadled a daily build of the openSuSE 12.1 development, so I decided to give that a shot. Once again the installation was easy, taking just a bit longer than installing Mint, because they ask a few more questions along the way, but it was also done in less than 20 minutes. I installed the KDE version, so I could compare it to the Gnome version of Mint. Once again, everything in the list above for Mint seems to work, even including the Fn-keys and Suspend/Resume. The interesting

I will be installing a few other Linux distributions on this system over the next day or two, including PCLinuxOS, Fedora and SimplyMEPIS. Since I don't use Ubuntu much any more, I'm not planning to install the current distribution (Natty Narwhal), but I will try the Oneiric beta-2 release when it comes out tomorrow. Based on my experience with the first two Linux installations, I don't expect any of them to be any problem at all. If I run into any problems I will mention them here.

In summary I would say that what was important here was how easy the Linux installations were, and how well they worked. Because I tend to buy systems that are very new and different when I am playing around and exploring new hardware, the things that I write in my blog might make it sound like installing Linux generally involves a lot of fiddling and adjusting configurations and drivers. This is absolutely not the case, and especially when you buy a "bog-standard" system you can expect to simply install Linux and have it work, as it has on this system. I'm really looking forward to the docking station arriving (it was back ordered), so that I can get everything connected and configured and replace my current Lifebook with this new system.

jw 21/9/2011

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