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Thread: laptops...

  1. #1
    Moderator VJ's Avatar
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    Default laptops...

    Perhaps a bit of a rant, but my colleague just got a new laptop (Dell xps13), and one of the worries is the number of ports and dongles you need. This laptop has 3 usb-c ports, headphones and one micro SD card slot. And that is it! So... one USB-port is used for the powersupply (nice: you can chose either one on the left side, or one on the right side), but if you then want ethernet and a monitor, you are already looking at a docking station or various dongles. The laptop supports Displayport Alternate Mode, but then you need a special dongle which may not even support a hdmi adaptor (read in the specs) and eats up one USB-C port exclusively. So the alternative is a usb-c based video card, or better yet a docking station (and there goes your portability). The laptop came with a usb-c to usb dongle, so at least you can connect one old-fashioned style device.

    I got curious and started looking around a bit. Some HPs even have just 2 usb-c ports, which includes the one you need for the powersupply.

    Am I old fashioned in this?
    My one big laptop has the following ports: powersupply, ethernet, modem, pc-card, 1x firewire, 3x usb, hdmi, vga, headphones, microphone, sd reader and Sony memorystick reader. My old small laptop had powersupply, ethernet, modem, CF-card, 2x usb, vga, headphones, microphone and sd reader.

    I get it that everything is expected to be cloud based, but this lack of ports gets a bit problematic.
    In addition, there is the problem that not all usb-c ports are equivalent: only 2 of the 3 can be used for a powersupply, only one of the three can be used for the displayport alternate mode, two ports can be set to supply power to another device while the laptop is switched off, ... And the only indication of these functionalities are some very small icons that don't say that much.

    The easy "just plug it into any connector in which it fits"-adagio won't work anymore...

    I'm guessing we are getting into a whole new type of mess with usb-c...
    pixar
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    Crabby Smurf Umfriend's Avatar
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    Oh I hear ya! I got power, ehternet, USB-C x1, USB 3.0 x2, USB 2.0 x 1, HDMI and DP and some sort of card reader that I have been wondering about for over 15 years when they came in printers. Never ever used one. And yes, USB-C is, AFAIK, intended as a standard connector but not a standardized interface and I am like,m WTF?

    My beef with laptops? The more powerful the CPU, the morewerful the GPU. But I don't want no stinking GPU. I want CPU, Mem and IO (and connectivity to 2 DP screens which can be driven by Intels iGPU ) and then a great cooling solution like they have in gaming laptops but tailored and adjustable. I kind of Pure Analytics[superscript]tm[/superscript] laptop aimed at any performance except 3DGFX, portability and comfort. Can't be to hard to design, but selling it...
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  3. #3
    Moderator VJ's Avatar
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    I found that Anker has a relatively small docking station which passes through power and has a few usb ports (so it doubles as a hub).

    Dodocool has a dock which passes through power, has ethernet, vga, hdim and some usb ports. It looks quite compact. but then try to make sense of the notes:
    1. Make sure that the host USB-C port on your device complies with the USB 3.0/USB 3.1 specification.
    2. To use the HD output port or VGA port, the host USB-C port from your device must support DisplayPort Alt Mode. The HD output port and VGA port can't be used at the same time. Use either of them.
    3. To use the Power Delivery function to power and charge a connected USB-C laptop, the host USB-C port from your device must support USB-C Power Delivery. The USB-C input charging port can't be used for data transmission.
    4. Please do not rely on the USB-A ports for charging your phones, tablets or other devices. The three USB 3.0 Type-A ports on the hub support a total output of up to 5V/900mA.
    5. For a stable connection, do not use this hub with high power consumption devices. When connecting to a power source, it supports up to two hard drives.
    6. NOT support charging for HP laptops and tablets via the PD USB-C charging port.
    7. NOT compatible with Samsung tablets and ASUS Zenbook UX330UA.
    8. Charging Power Delivery enabled Dell USB-C laptops via the PD USB-C charging port requires using your 55W or above original power adapter.

    Point 3: whose input charging port? The laptop's or the dock's? Does it mean that you need to connect it with 2 usb ports to the laptop if you want to charge it?

    Dell could have just added some usb-c ports on the supplied powerblock, along with e.g. an ethernet connector, so that it doubles as a usb hub/ethernet adapter AND powersupply (when plugged in). At least you would not have much of a cable mess (and it seems reasonable that when you consider an ethernet cable, you would also consider having the laptop plugged in.

    It seems like a lot of usability compromises were made in the name of design...

    And yes, the usb-c is a standardized connector but with many possible optional interfaces: power delivery, displayport, usb, PCIe and probably some I forgot to mention. And then there is the question of direction! If a port supports powerdelivery: does it mean to take power or to give power? How much power?

    It reminds me a bit of the mess with old scart connectors on TV, where some supported RGB, others CVBS and still others SVideo. And you needed the check in the manual with scart port supported which standard and make sure that your cable also was up to it. But that was usually a one-time installation issue. The usb-c mess already starts with mobile phones: which of the interfaces do they support? (you already had it a bit with usb-otg: invisible on the phone whether it works or not).
    pixar
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    Super MURCer UtwigMU's Avatar
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    Fujitsu has popout Ethernet
    https://www.theverge.com/circuitbrea...-ethernet-jack

    I recently unboxed new X1 Carbon at work and it had mini Ethernet port with dongle. Has also 2 USB A 2 thunderbolt HDMI. The T470 is also not so bad. Business laptops have always been better than consumer laptops.
    I think current small laptops unlike 10 years ago are unable to function as your primary PC due to lack of flexibility and you still can't build mega-core desktop without ATX. So the direction is primary full ATX desktop and auxilary small laptop.

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    Moderator VJ's Avatar
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    Never saw that pop-out thing... quite clever actually....

    I don't fully agree with your statement on the small laptops: there is a lot of flexibility as USB-C hubs or docks offer everything you need. It just creates a lot of clutter. It also requires quite a bit of work to figure out which dongles or combination of dongles are ideal for your purpose. And the added cost and volume (they are quite light) of those dongles should not be underestimated.

    I think in the case of my colleagues laptop, part of that clutter could have been avoided by having the psu double as a dock. It could be made to contain some connectors that are more likely to be used in a stationary situation (ethernet, hdmi, displayport, ...) and have a detachable cable that goes to the power outlet. That way, it can double as a psu, as a portable dock when on the move and as a stationary dock. Dell almost has a device like that, the DA300, which basically is a usb-c dock. It just does not pass through power, so it cannot be put between psu and laptop. The merging of that with the psu would I think have been ideal. Both combined are still smaller than psus on old laptops. Or they could do like on some old Thinkpads: a docking station that clicks onto the bottom and contains an extra battery and other connectors; that would also give you the choice between very portable and very connectable.


    Maybe it is because it is all quite new, I mean, I can see that in time we would have one or two usb-c docks, that we could use both for our laptops and phones, some usb-c storage, maybe even audio devices and external pcie devices (e.g. videocards) and perhaps we would not need much more than that. And I think that is the vision... but it will be a mess until we reach that point as nobody has usb-c stuff and usb-a is so widespread. Even now, the number of usb-c ports on desktops is limited.
    pixar
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  6. #6
    Crabby Smurf Umfriend's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by UtwigMU View Post
    I think current small laptops unlike 10 years ago are unable to function as your primary PC due to lack of flexibility and you still can't build mega-core desktop without ATX. So the direction is primary full ATX desktop and auxilary small laptop.
    I am unsure what you mean by this. Laptops of all sizes are way better now relative to desktops than they were 10 years ago IMHO. Mainly because of SSDs. Sure, a 200W TDP CPU won't work well in small laptops but the use cases where a user would have a different experience between a 200W Threadripper gen 2 or a 45W Intel CPU with 6 cores / 12 threads seem few and far between to me.

    What is a small laptop? It's not that hard to design one with quite a number of ports.
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    Super MURCer UtwigMU's Avatar
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    I'm comparing X61 with ultrabase vs current gen X1 carbon.

    The problem with current laptops.
    There are no more good keyboards (Typing this on last classic 7-row Thinkpad). Even new thinkpads are not as good.
    They are too thin because media and apple have brainwashed people like my boss that thinner is better. Whenever he looks at a laptop being thin is important at the expense of everything else.
    Thus you get non-user removable batteries. non-easy replacable hard drives (unlike old thinkpads where it took 1 screw to replace HDD), soldered on RAM. In cheapo (and sometimes not so cheapo) laptops CPU always throttles - you see everyone using a "laptop cooler". They killed optical which is fine but they should have left option for cheaper 2nd HDD.
    USB Ethernet and dongles are also not good for primary PC.

    Big laptops haven't fared well either. The P52 is still 2kg, only a bit less than T42p but no hot swap drive.

    Another problem is the Windows. My Win10 laptop won't hibernate half the time when I tell it to and sometimes when it does and I turn it on, all my apps are closed. My brother's bought brand new half a year ago T470 (1200€+VAT) has had trackpoint or touchpad stop working randomly twice. Had to update drivers once and disable and reenable in BIOS the other time. My Linux laptop always hibernates when I tell it to and always comes out of hibernation fine.
    Last edited by UtwigMU; 17th June 2018 at 13:04.

  8. #8
    Crabby Smurf Umfriend's Avatar
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    Ah, OK. But the X61 with ultrabase is around 2.5Kg, over twice the weight of the X1, no? At that weight, there is a lot to choose from. But yeah, I get your point.
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  9. #9
    Moderator VJ's Avatar
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    Ok, many modern keyboards are an issue... I'm still surprised at how comfortable the small keyboard on my P1510 was, compared to many regular size keyboards on current laptops. I think in part it is this "chiclet design". A second thing is the touchpad: I've never met anyone who really could work well with it; it always seems like people are messing around with it. Most people also had issues with the trackpoints (that little joystick thinghy), but I loved those. You could really do mouse movements accurately without having your hands leave the keyboard. And yes, the fashion for needlessly thin laptops is getting ridiculous.

    The other hardware aspects (battery, hdd) do not impact the devices ability to be a primary computer (in my opinion), but rather may limit its lifetime. I've not noticed the throttling much, but I have noticed that some laptops are loud (e.g. the Dell xps13, or my girlfriend's Toshiba). I think that ethernet and so via USB-C could and should be as performing as others (in some laptops), but it just adds clutter. Still, in theory, with the correct usb-c dock, a lot can be solved. It is even possible for a laptop to be powered from a monitor while using the same cable for power; the monitor could serve as a hub and hold the ethernet port for the laptop (so plug in your laptop to the monitor and you get power, video out and ethernet. So such docks, in a monitor or not, would be useful when wanting to use the laptop as a primary computer. I think we still need to get to the point where usb-c is that omnipresent, but that will take a long time, by which I fear they will come up with a new standard. Another often overlooked problem of usb-c is security: you don't know what device is at the other end of the cable: is is just a power supply? or is there some storage device that should not be trusted somewhere?

    I do agree on the OS issues, but it is not just Windows. My linux at work stopped showing video output on displayport due to some incompatibility with the dell bios (I'm now back on vga, as there is no solution; this occurred after a kernel update). My girlfriend's linux installations have problem with the mouse: if you don't move it the first 5-10 seconds after login, you are fine; if you move it within that time, it will stop registering left and right click after about 15 minutes. On Windows, the microphone of her laptop is no longer working, since some random point. On my windows, scrolling with my Logitech mouse does not honor the steps and at random one click of the mouse wheel scrolls a huge amount. The list of such small annoyances goes on and on... it seems to me sometimes that the current PC platform just got too complicated and messy. Problems used to be diagnosable for someone with knowledge, now it is usually attributed to some incompatibility and the suggestion is to reinstall. But it ends up that most of such problems remain unsolved.
    pixar
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  10. #10
    Super MURCer UtwigMU's Avatar
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    You have one ultrabase at work and the other at home.

    Which distro are you using?
    OpenSuse fixed a few annoyances from 42.2 to 15.

  11. #11
    Moderator VJ's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by UtwigMU View Post
    You have one ultrabase at work and the other at home.
    Yes, but the same could be done with a good usb-c dock...

    It is not really fair to compare a computer like that with the ultra portables... I still like the USB-C concept, as it allows for very good docks (after all, PCIe can go over USB-C), but it will be hell to figure out what good docks are (e.g. does it have it an ethernet adapter that connects through PCIe or one that is just a USB2 to ethernet bridge, does the display-port adapter use the displayport alternate mode or is it basically a usb videocard, does it support power delivery, ...). I'm hoping the market adjusts fast for that, but at the same time I'm afraid that the adoption for USB-C will be too slow. By now, I would expect most desktops to have at least 4 USB-C connectors, but most mainboards just have one. By contrast, my Pentium 166 had USB headers on the mainboard well before I saw any USB devices; even my Pentium II in 1998 had some USB ports while I still was wondering what you would connect to it (I got my first pendrive in 2001 or so). But that really created an omnipresence of USB ports. Now I feel manufacturers should just push it through and put all usb-c ports and add a usb-c -> usb hub to compensate for it. This would at least make people not have to mess with adapters for usb-c devices, lowering the threshold for buying usb-c devices. Now you know you will need adapters with usb-c devices on a desktop (on laptops, usb-c seems to be gaining momentum).

    Quote Originally Posted by UtwigMU View Post
    Which distro are you using?
    OpenSuse fixed a few annoyances from 42.2 to 15.
    At work I'm using an institute-customized Ubuntu 16.04 LTS. The problem with the non-functional display port is described and appears above some kernel version for quite a limited number of Dell desktop pc's. So Dell does not care to fix it with a bios update and for some reason nobody seems to fix the kernel.
    The issues my girlfriend has with the mouse occur with different distributions (but never with Windows), I'm not sure which one is installed now but I think it is something Ubuntu based.
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  12. #12
    Super MURCer UtwigMU's Avatar
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    You can install latter kernel to earlier version of Ubuntu. I did it once on Debian when I installed latter kernel in Debian stable to support HP DL 320. Try with live CD with latter kernel first. You can also downgrade kernel.

    If you want very stable experience at the expense of a bit dated Office and Firefox, you can install Centos.

    You could also try putting in cheap video card.
    Last edited by UtwigMU; 18th June 2018 at 06:57.

  13. #13
    Moderator VJ's Avatar
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    It is the computer at work, I don't have much to say over it. Luckily it gives good VGA output. Later kernel does not solve it; going back to an older kernel is not recommended.

    My point is just that it is no longer just a Windows problem: all OS started showing these weird quirks and things that are difficult to solve. It just got all too complicated. I don't know if Apple is better (it should be, as they have more control over the hardware), but I feel that if it gets worse in PC-land, we might see some changes happening. Perhaps Apple, perhaps other platforms (e.g. Windows on Snapdragon), ... The newly created USB-C mess is also not helping...

    Back to my colleagues laptop: he managed to silence it by removing some Intel tool; apparently it set the fan at full speed when CPU was at 30% usage or more. Not sure why that setting is so aggressive and why it seems to work without such an aggressive setting (unless now it is throttling more and he does not notice it).
    pixar
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    Just in case, he got the Dell DA300 usb-c dock. And it looks great: small, cylindrical and sporting hdmi,vga, displayport, ethernet, usb and usb-c (a shame it does not support power delivery). You just twist both halves to reveal or roll up the short cable. But due to its size and the way the cable naturally bends, it easily positions behind the laptop, where it does not bother you. The DA200 had a straight flat cable and had to be positioned on the side of the laptop, potentially with cables sticking out of all sides thus limiting space for using a mouse; so the DA300 is really an improvement.
    pixar
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