Category Archives: Laptop

External monitor as Discrete

I use my laptop primarly at home with an external monitor as discrete, meaning that I have the laptop monitor turned off and I only use it. At times this is also called a dedicated monitor. GNOME can be set to disable the laptop monitor and enable the external but it wasn’t able to hotplug the monitor after I returned the laptop, and at times wouldn’t do so after resuming from sleep. Also in the proccess I discovered that the X.org server DPI setting wasn’t being done correctly and that GNOME’s text scaling needed to be adjusted. So I decided to do it in a script and it turned out to be pretty easy.

I wrote the basic script that toggles monitors depending if the external monitor is present, then it detects correct physical size dimension of the screen so the the correct DPI can be set. After this, I added a startup script (.desktop file), a pm-utils script to runafter resuming, and a udev script to detect andset the monitor when plugged in. The udev rule is generic but appears to be working for a lot of people, it relys on Kernel Mode setting (KMS) so doesn’t work for me wiht the catalyst driver, but every thing else works great. I put it on github for any who like to look at it.

The bash script cannot be used right away instead a couple bit will need to be directed:

 The package cannot be installed directly and be expected to work, some edits
 will need to be made.  First, in the resume script '80_discretemon' a username 
 will need to be defined; next, the monitor names will need to be defined as
 created by the driver in 'discretemon'.

Also, the monitors can be defined in xorg.conf but the fix for after resume from sleep, remains.

Section "Monitor"
  Identifier  "0-LVDS"
  Option      "VendorName" "ATI Proprietary Driver"
  Option      "ModelName"  "Acer Aspire Laptop Screen"
  Option      "DPMS" "true"
  Option      "TargetRefresh" "60"
  Option      "Position" "0 0"
  Option      "Rotate" "normal"
  Option      "Disable" "true"
  DisplaySize  344 194 # only works with xrandr disabled.

EndSection

Section "Monitor"
  Identifier  "0-DFP1"
  Option      "VendorName" "ATI Proprietary Driver"
  Option      "ModelName"  "Samsung SyncMaster SA350"
  Option      "DPMS" "true"
  Option      "PreferredMode" "1920x1080"
  Option      "TargetRefresh" "60"
  Option      "Position" "0 0"
  Option      "Rotate" "normal"
  Option      "Disable" "false"
  DisplaySize  476 268 # only works with xrandr disabled.
  Option      "DPI" "102 x 102"
EndSection

Acer Aspire 5560G-7809 Laptop: A Gamble Worth Taking

Typically it hasn’t been recommended to buy an Acer, at least in my circles. From the surveys I’ve seen generally Acer rankings are last of the major computer manufacturers. Astonishingly they rank close to the top of units sold. When I saw this, I deduced that Acer likely made possibly shabby computers sold at basement-prices to a portion of the population that was virgin. So I’m not sure what I was thinking when I bought my Aspire laptop except, “If that’s true, thats a really good price; I have to have it.” I had been using a ten-year-old laptop up to now so this was by best shot to the moon orbit.

I heard about laptops that were “Desktop Replacements”. I was hoping to find something in that area: a powerful-ish core in a mobile unit (with a decent gaming card). I’m not sure the Aspire 5560G-7809 [1][2] would qualify as one officially but performance in Windows and Linux is good (at least as best as I can qualify from a 10-year-old laptop perspective). The basic specs:

Specifications
Processor AMD A6-3420M Quad-core 1.50 GHz
Memory 4GB DDR3-1066/PC3-8500
Hard Drive 320 GB SATA 5400rpm
Optical Disk DVD-RAM/±R/±RW-Writer
Screen 15.6″ 1366 x 768 Glossy LED
Graphic Card Dual-Graphic -/AMD Radeon HD 7670M

All this for $550 dollars from TigerDirect. The closest comparable model was from HP for $750. I was really recommended to change the RAM speed so this was the first thing I did. Along with the laptop I bought a two stick pack of PC106-1333 8GB memory from PNY for $41 dollars only to have it be non-compatible (or I guess it could have been busted [but passed memory test]). After that I got it from crucial because of their Guaranteed-compatible promise and the speedup is noticeable.

I admit that I got the 5560G because of the graphic card to be able to play games, it was extremely appealing to me. The Notebookcheck tests on it seemed to me to be real good for a mobile graphic card. I was able to get into Dungeon and Dragons Online and the playability was good with the auto-detected medium-high graphic settings. Been thinking about SWTOR, hmm.

I’ll probably one day get a Solid state Drive down the road for it, the 5400 hard drive speed is definitely hard to miss at times. The one from crucial sounds pretty appealing, at $170 dollars though ughh, and I’m not sure I can live with 125GB.

The screen is nice and bright and seems to have good color replication though it does have a limited-gamut and viewing angle (a typical 1366 x 768 these days I’m told). It uses an LED which is nice; glossy, not so. Having it be so reflective worried me at first I was real surprised though when I turned it on how it made that shiny virtually indistinguishable.

Keyboard and touchpad feel good. The keyboard is full-size and key pushes offer an easy, uniform resistance. I really like the touchpad. The surface provides a nice bit of friction for feedback and the size fits really well. Wish manufacturers would get away from touchpad tapping on as default however (be nice if even there was a hardware way to turn it off).

The look and balance is nice as well (if you can’t tell the look from the photos). Doesn’t weigh too much and doesn’t feel off-kilter like other laptops I’ve experienced. The hinge is sturdy and pivots nicely.

Pluses and Minuses

  • + Price
  • + Graphic Card
  • - 5400rpm Hard Drive
  • - RAM Speed
  • - USB 2.0
  • ? USB port in front of DVD-writer

Linux

Site note first: I can’t believe I am saying it but I like Windows7. It’s well put together and has good help. Out of the box everything worked pretty well. What can I say though, I like hacking; plus I love open-source.

I’m not sure how I got so lucky buying this but after installing Ubuntu everything just worked. The reason I haven’t been using Arch exclusively anymore was because no matter what I tried I could not get suspend to work. Because I came to have limited time and needed my laptop to be able to suspend, I had to give up Arch. After I install Ubuntu 12.04 I hope to be a able to install Arch again and put Ubuntu’s Unity on top of it.

Final Thoughts

Gnome 3 and hence Ubuntu’s Unity are new and have problems with the Radeon drivers (both the proprietary catalyst driver and the open-source version) and desktop effects are laggy. I had thought to buy a laptop with an Nvidia graphic card because I had good experience with it before but after reading this post Linux users should probably think twice about buying laptops with optimus technology. So the only question I have left is how will this laptop do over time? For now at least, I’m very very happy.

Missed Touchpad Button Clicks

I had gotten this laptop as a gift/hand-me-down from someone else. Since the first thing I did was install Linux, I hadn’t thought otherwise that the buttons hadn’t been treated to well: left-click was very stubborn, often missing on some very obvious pushes. The action/response of the button resembled a sticky button. Because right-click was better, I created a script that would switch/toggle left and right click. I toggled it twice to test it (so that it reverted back to the original) when and found that left-click was working normally. Not sure why this fixed the problem and have yet to see another problem like this but I’m glad it’s good again. I created a script to quickly do this then added .desktop file to have it load on Login. The script:

Then I created a desktop file touchpad-button-fix.desktop in ~/.config/autostart to start it on Login:

Additional, the touchpad button may revert to it’s original behavior after resuming from sleep. To run the script upon resume it will need to be defined to pm-utils. Put this in /etc/pm/sleep.d/90_touchpad-button-fix:

Then make them executable:

sudo chmod +x ~/.config/autostart/touchpad-button-fix.desktop
sudo chmod +x /etc/pm/sleep.d/90_touchpad-button-fix
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