What Is The Best Laptop For Linux
There are two parts to this story. One is prior to yesterday (10-08-2012), and the other (you've guessed by now, right) is from this week onward. My opinion is only half changed…
A couple or three years ago, one of my customers called me and needed a laptop. Ordering online wasn't an option, as I needed something fast. This meant that I needed to test something out with a livecd right in a store somewhere.
There are some small local stores in my vicinity, but their prices tend to be 50% or more higher than something at a box store. WalMart pays squat, so the electronics people they hire (the ones I've talked to anyway) tend to know less about computers than my eight year old.
We aimed for Portsmouth/Newington New Hampshire. There's a Best Buy down there and I figured they'd have enough of a selection that I could find something reasonable. I took a Xubuntu livecd with me.
We walked in and were soon staring at a blue shirt. I told the fellow that I needed to try a laptop out before I bought it with this (holding up the cd) and wondered if I might have a few minutes with each model that looked promising. I was told that their computers would not boot to such a cd without getting messed up. "Really," I implored. I do it all the time on client computers. Surely there must be some mistake. I was informed I'd have to buy one without trying it out first.
How about… no. I hoofed it over to Staples.
At Staples, I gave the same story to the person in the red shirt. He thought about it (that was a good sign) and walked off to talk with someone. He came back with "We'll sell it to you, and you can return it if it doesn't do what you want." I asked if I could have some counter space somewhere to have the trial right in the store. No problem.
I ended up walking out with an Acer Aspire 5515. First try! The video and wireless worked fine. Later I realized there was a hitch with the regular ethernet port, but that wasn't nearly as important as the wireless card, and the fix took all of about five minutes anyway.
Now, I'm running a 5517 that I got from the Staples store in Biddeford Maine (I didn't bother trying it out — just took a chance) a few months later. I've had zero hardware compatibility issues, and have run both Ubuntu and Fedora on it.
My wife, a few months later, purchased a 7750Z. Same deal. No hardware issues at all. Other than a face plant it did off the counter one day (and only the hard drive bit it on that fall) it has been as great as the others.
I'm not sure what Acer is using at the moment on most of their laptops, but they would be where I aim first when hunting for a new laptop. I'd also aim for a Staples, since they were so good about catering to my needs.
The problem this week was another customer (different one though) kind of in a hurry for a laptop, and the display model was the only Acer left in the Staples I was calling. I was told they'd have to get rid of the Staples specific software (whatever runs on their demo models for folks to see) and do a factory restore before I could purchase the laptop. I asked if they could just get rid of the Staples demo stuff and give me an empty laptop. I'd have been more than happy with just a blank drive, since I was going to be throwing Linux on it as soon as I got back to the customer's business. No Can Do. For some reason, Staples has a policy against blank hard drives, even when they're going to cost the company more money (in time and labor) than one that got restored. AND, I was told the process would take three days.
It also took a while to figure all this out., since the folks at Staples are on corded phones and the laptops are far away from the help desk. This is kind of a retarded setup. We're armed with cordless phones where I work, and I don't think we could function without them.
I went to my customer's place on Tuesday (10-9-12) to fix something else, and ran a short recon mission to Staples when I had a few spare minutes. The Acer was there, and a demo HP that would probably have worked. I've had such good luck with the Acers though that I really wanted to stick with that. The tech I dealt with was shocked that the process was supposed to take three days, and confessed that such a process had just been completed on another laptop in about ten minutes. This was more in line with how long I thought it should take.
So the brand was good, price was right, looked like the time frame would work, and everything seemed grand. I went back to Staples with my customer, paid for the laptop, and waited a bit for the wipe/restore procedure. The tech said ten minutes, and I would have been happy with a half-hour or forty-five. We waited some more.
After what seemed like a bit too long (I have no idea — maybe Staples can provide security footage and give an exact number) I asked what was going on. Apparently what frigged things up was a salesman who had changed the default password on this particular laptop. He also wouldn't answer his phone or respond to messages from the store manager.
I'm curious as to why we couldn't have just used the Linux livecd I had in hand to wipe the drive. The laptop was paid for. If it was a BIOS type of password, why couldn't the tech pull a jumper or something to remove it? Are they not trained or not allowed? Today, everybody looked bad. I'm going to have a hard time referring other folks to Staples if knucklehead company policies continue being a hindrance to customer service.
I looked Staples up on Facebook, thinking I might make some headway with them that way. I did not get far before I realized I would just get passed around. I'd already talked to a tech. If they're read the link I gave them (which is now this post) they'd have gotten the whole story. Perhaps there's a block on their internet connection that lets them get on Facebook but stops them from visiting open source software sites… Here's the Facebook messages.
I'm done now — except to say that at least the tech was a pleasure. It was everyone on the tree above the tech that belongs in the Knucklehead Department.