Random things

Powered on Stark to test a boot stick, and figured I’d let the system go update itself. Went downstairs to wash out my coffee cup, and coming back, the line of sight from down the hall to where I left it on my desk reminds me of one of the things I don’t miss about the old Latitude: the screen!

Stark was from a transient era. One in which more consumer oriented laptops began to adapt Intel’s concept of an “Ultrabook” and more business oriented laptops refused to give up their ports until you pry’em from their cold dead motherboards. But almost universally, they all agreed on having a shitty screen compared to basically everything else in computing at the time.

As such, while the laptop served me very well it wasn’t without compromises. The typical 1366×768 pixel screen was basically trash, but it did support external displays and that’s how I tended to use Stark. Onboard was a VGA port (ha!) and the size (mini)HDMI port that nothing else really adapted, but as it got older docking stations able to drive a pair of DisplayPort/HDMI outputs were cheaper than having one shipped off eBay, and the Intel chips back then maxed out at three display pipelines anyway. Ditto irksome things like having an eSATA at the price of a super speed port, having to dedicated a USB port to a Bluetooth dongle, and needing a fanny-pack type battery to get runtime that wasn’t a joke, and weighing almost a kilogram more than I wanted to lug around every day.

But the machine also had its upsides. Like a TPM for encryption, a modular slot that could be fitted with an OEM optical drive or a replacement fitting for a second 2.5″ SATA, and a Core i5 that actually served well up until the rise of Electron applications like Teams and Slack. It also helped that I had enough Latitude D/E series compatible chargers around to never worry, except when working away from an outlet.

All in all, Stark has the unique position of being a computer that managed to not piss me off more often than not. That’s not something many computers can say. So, I think Stark was a successful machine, even if it’s going to stay retired, lol.

ARM Power

When you realize you haven’t charged your laptop in more than a week and it still has half a charger left.

Stick that in your x86, Intel!

Apple’s M1 MacBook Air has that Apple Silicon magic

The M1 laptops cresting the horizon are a unique view for me. See, my iPad Pro is the first, and to date, only Apple product I’ve ever owned. Even then it was only partly by choice. But ever since my first Android tablet, the Asus Eee PAD Transformer TF01: I’ve desired to see ARM based laptops and desktops be a real thing.

Thus it is safe to say that I find Apple’s new Macs intensely interesting in a way I haven’t looked at them in years. Back when there was no real alternative to the MacBook Air, I found the machine interesting; along with the desire for a Retina screen on the smaller model. I don’t think there’s ever really been a MacBook Pro released that I cared about, on that end of the spectrum we’d have to look backwards to the Power era for me to largely give half a fuck. Most of Apple’s computers are simply too expensive for my tastes, which usually ends all temptation from square one.

I find it interesting how times have changed. The new Air would be a great laptop for my traditional use cases. Not so much a development system though. As hardware it’s a super win, as software not so much.

But there’s the real caveat. For most that I really do with laptops that warrants such a price tag: I need Linux x86-64 software compatibility. Plus, I have a strong desire for 32 GB of memory with how much pressure my 16 GB Latitude has been under for years. In fact, above xterm level there’s it much about macOS that I actually care about compared to NT or Android. The best reason to buy a MacBook in my views have generally been if OS X is your bag, and most folks I’ve known who fit that bill, live in their GUI. For me the only reason to care about macOS is that it’s got Unix underpinning it’s shit.

A Decade of iPad

Personally, I think that netbooks worked out far better than anyone should have expected; and I feel that the rise of the iPad and Chromebook is due to realizing that you don’t need to make a netbook that is a piece of crap. Nor do you necessarily need to spend several grand of laptop just to update Twitter.

Tablets are a remarkable option that is mostly hamstrung by software and accessories. As a docked machine, it’s just a matter of software. My iPad Pro runs circles around my aging Core i5, but docking an iPad doesn’t change the software into a Windows desktop, nor should it.

I find that tablets tend to serve best when you are doing general computery things rather than highly focused tasks. If you’re a heavy user of keys other than alphanumerical, such as modifier based keyboard shortcuts then you’re not going to like typing on tablets. The more efficient you must be at manipulating text: the more you will require a full sized physical keyboard, regardless of your device’s form factor. Likewise if you need pixel precise interaction, you’re probably going to make a middle finger gesture if anyone tries to replace your mouse or track ball with a touchscreen, lol.

In many cases, throwing a keyboard and mouse, or even an external monitor works far better with tablet or phone like software than desktop like software. Don’t believe me? Try using Windows 95 with only your fingers, and then try using your phone with only a keyboard and mouse.

The whole windows desktop paradigm and software designed around a desktop PC does not adapt to a tablet as well as it did to notebooks. But software that doesn’t suck on a tablet, does not necessarily suck on a delete desktop. Software is what you make of it but hardware determines how you physically interact with it.

Most of the negative aspects of my relationship with desktop oriented software is mired in antiquity. I’m sure we would all have done things differently if you landed an Intrepid class star ship on earth in the 1960s than if you tried to grow CP/M into NT, and a host of other histories.

Most of the negative aspects of my relationship with tablet oriented software is mired in quality. I’m sure bug free software does not exist, and will never be the result of Google or Apple, lol. Typically my groan at my iPad is the buggy operating system, much as with Android my problem tends to be Google’s additional  software.

Chrome OS has stalled out

Personally, I’ve come to have mixed feelings about Chromebooks but that mostly owes to a mixture of my own tastes and Google’s performance.

Pretty much if you’re happy to live in a full screen browser session, or can’t remember the last time you dragged anything other than a browser window around—Chrome OS is for you, and the appliance factor is a win. Just buy a better model with a better processor than average.

By contrast I’d like me, your interest is largely in an Android powered laptop: you will be disappointed or suffer the same slings and arrows that iOS users do. That is to say things work pretty well but you must avert your eyes from the problems more often than you should have to.

Android actually works pretty well with a monitor, mouse, and keyboard. I’ve done that a crap fuck ton since Honeycomb. Chromebooks offer an easier path to the docked experience, and a tremendously easier path to a laptop style form factor.

But by in large Android on my Chromebook has been far more buggy and glitchy than any Android tablet that I’ve ever connected to a monitor, mouse, and keyboard; and I’ve done that to more than a few! The flip side is that the hardware strain of running Android apps tends to be less than heavy, complicated web applications.

So there are times that a cheaper Chromebook running an Android app can be more ideal than throwing the web app at the same hardware, or more appealing than buying a Chromebook that has a Core M or i series processor instead of dinky Celeron and Pentium processors.

Combined with the limited choices for high end Android tablets, not to mention ones with a true hardware stylus, my Android experience on my Chromebook is chunk of why I decided to buy an iPad Pro—because a Chome OS tablet won’t replace my Android tablet the way it could most people’s Windows beater.

Musing from an E6430S

The things I’d actually change about my Latitude:

  1. Not weigh 3~4 lbs.
  2. Have more than 16GB of RAM.
  3. Have USB-C where the USB2 + ESATA is.
  4. Swap the rear USB3 and side VGA cables.
  5. Have internal Bluetooth instead of dongle in my rear USB3 port.

Notice, these are pretty much in the order of impossible, lol.

Newer machines offer faster processors and better capabilities for USB-C than Stark does, but not by much. I think the hardest to solve is the weight problem. The closest thing to a lightweight laptop in Stark’s formfactor is the X1 Carbon, and I say that’s lightweight relative to its peers rather than my tastes.

And there in lays why when I reach for my laptop at home, it usually has more to do with an x-terminal than a keyboard. Because my tablet’s weight is < 0.5 kg and my laptop’s weight is < 4 kg.

On the flipside, one of these days I should probably dig up one of the old E-series docks and see how well that works with Linux. I seem to recall the D-series docks worked pretty good with FreeBSD if you followed polite undocking procedures, and I don’t think Linux gives as many farts about the hotplugging.

Forbes: The New Pinebook Pro Will Challenge Google Chromebooks For $199.

Can’t say that I’ve ever cared a lot about Rockchip’s SoCs but that actually sounds pretty damned tempting. The chipset should deliver a really nice bang for the buck. Very tempting indeed!

At least as far as 14″ laptops with anything weaker than a Core i7 and 32 GB of RAM can go, and for those you would have to shift the price tag over a decimal place. Let’s just say for $200: you have no right to complain about the horse power that a Cortex A72/A53 like that can deliver.

Intel’s chipsets targeting that $200 price point tend to struggle just playing my music and opening tabs without stuttering. In fact getting tired of that is the number one reason my Chromebook will likely get retirement this year or next year.

Hmm, I wonder for the hell of it how bad the Graphics driver is for the RK3399’s GPU. Last time I tried a Mali it was on an Exynos 5 and I was most unimpressed by the desktop graphics performance. But that was quite a few generations ago.