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Bought New Laptops: lenovo X260 and Toshiba Chromebook 2

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My blog post about buying a new laptop was so far the blog post with the most feedback I've got. My considerations regarding to openess and my hardware requirements seem to have hit a nerve.

In this blog post, I will tell you about my decision.

lenovo X260

Since I got a great offer for a lenovo X260 without Windows operating system, I swallowed my privacy-pride and bought it. I got it with a German keyboard (unfortunately), no operating system (yeah!), standard battery capacity, 256 Gigabytes of SSD, intel i5 Skylake CPU, and 8 Gigabytes of RAM for clearly less than thousand Euro which is a great deal.

The hardware is very nice: great quality, nice keyboard, many connectors including three times USB 3.0, HDMI and mini-DisplayPort and a small form factor. The split battery (fifty percent removable, fifty percent built-in) is a great feature when you're planning to get at least a second battery: switching battery while the thing keeps running. The speaker sound is a bit disappointing though.

I installed Xubuntu 15.10 for now, planning to re-install from scratch with Xubuntu 16.04 LTS.

So far, my open issues are the not working card reader and the keyboard/mouse/trackpoint stop working when I close the lid (without going to sleep mode). Suspend to disk does not work either. Let's see how Xubuntu 16.04 is going to improve on those issues before I invest more time finding a solution for it.

Great resources for issues with this hardware: Forum u:book X260 (German) and archlinux.org where workarounds and solutions for the lid-issue and others are mentioned.

Toshiba Chromebook 2

I got curious.

Reading that much about cheap Chromebooks that can be freed via off-the-shelf GNU/Linux and free or semi-free BIOS, I wanted to play around with it by myself.

So I bought a refurbished Toshiba Chromebook 2.

The hardware is really nice: really small, nice styling (hello Apple MacBook Air!), good finish/haptics, very good speakers underneath the keyboard, long battery life, USB 3.0, awesome (glossy) display, limited but quite good-to-type-on keyboard.

ChromeOS was as disappointing as I thought it would be: it's basically a Chrome web browser with the option to download some stuff. On the other side, I was very impressed how fast ChromeOS was booting including accessing the WiFi to start "working" in the cloud. Very limited possibilities to run local software, no tweaking the system to meet your requirements, and of course: no GNU/Emacs ;-)

Freeing the neat device was OK following decent howtos.

Bad luck with coreboot: there is only a custom firmware with a SeaBIOS payload as described here. However, that's "free" enough for now. At least there is no intel ME on-board.

Booting Xubuntu 15.10 resulted in a working life-system: everything seemed to work out-of-the-box, although I did not spend too much time here, before installing Xubuntu on the SSD. After the first boot to the newly installed system, the touchpad stopped working. There seems to be a driver issue with the kernel.

With my GNU/Emacs settings and Org-mode data, I was able to start working right away. Its limited CPU power takes its toll but working speed is at least acceptable. I love the crystal clear high-density display and the awesome sound. It's the perfect mobile movie watching device.

Being lightweight, with the (almost completely) free BIOS and GNU/Linux, the Chromebook is the perfect companion to community-events such as Linuxtage or events of the CCC.

All in all, the freed Chromebook is a great platform for the standard computer user, for parents or grand-parents, for simple office work, or being mobile.

However, I prefer using my X260 for everyday laptop work. I just need the extra power of the i5 cores, the non-glossy display, the "normal" keyboard, and the much bigger SSD.

I don't know, what I'm going to do with the Chromebook. Maybe I'm going to sell it, maybe my girlfriend gets it when her old HP surrenders completely.

Setting up GNU/Linux Via Org-mode

One last thing: since I had to set-up four notebooks within a short period of time, I invested some effort to a semi-automatically set-up procedure using Emacs Org-mode and Babel with remote shell execution similar to Ansible Playbooks. This way, I was able to get a decent base configuration which is very quick and easy to re-apply on arbitrary GNU/Linux systems. Stay tuned ...

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