This page will serve as a running log of my GNU/Linux experience with HP’s model 6710b business notebook. After enjoying success running Ubuntu Linux 6.06LTS (Dapper Drake) on a borrowed HP nc6230 business notebook, I decided to stick with HP and purchase the 6710b. Selection criteria (in order of importance) included:
– Available without Windows pre-installed
– 1680×1040 WSXGA+ display
– HP reliability and durability
– Intel video chipset
– Lighter than many 15.4″ notebooks – just over 5-lbs.
8 Jan 2008
Ordering my 6710b was “slightly challenging”. After visiting the product page at HP’s small business website and clicking the “Configure my PC” link, I was presented with an error page that read “no configurations available”. Feeling discouraged, I accepted HP’s otherwise-annoying floating chat link to contact a representative. Encouragingly, she was very helpful, and provided a direct link to where I could configure a 6710b to my liking.
The link she provided was to a version of the machine that has a required wireless WAN option. I opted for my carrier of choice, and attempted to check out with a price a little over $1600. I was no match for the shopping cart’s error-checker, however, and was promptly informed that I couldn’t purchase the machine with both a Core Duo label and freeDOS selected. I tried a few other label options, but couldn’t get to the checkout page.
Concerned, I called HP sales and was promptly connected to a small business sales associate. She walked through the configuration with me, noting that a non-WWAN-enabled version of the notebook is available for under $1400! We switched to this base model, and began again – only to find that she experienced the same problem.
After a brief hold, she told me I had 2 options: either opt for a Broadcom wireless card, or make the stomach-turning switch to Windows Vista. I had noticed the Intel wireless card for sale separately (as one of the many checkbox-selectable accessories on the configuration page) and had an idea. I presented a 3rd option: purchase the notebook with no wireless card installed, buy the accessory Intel card, and install it myself. As it turns out, “Option 3” worked just fine, and my new HP anti-Windows co-conspirator happily sent my order off to Shanghai to be processed.
15 Jan 2008
FedEx tracking says the new notebook shipped from Shanghai a few hours ago. It’s expected to arrive tomorrow.
16 Jan 2008
After FedEx opted not to leave my 6710b at my house without a signature, I headed out to their distribution center to pick it up. Everything was as-advertised, though the overall size of the machine was a tad bigger than I expected! I’m used to the 14.1″ nc6230, so adding an extra inch-and-a-half is a big jump.
After checking for the proper keyboard-removal procedure at HP’s web site, I swapped out the included 512MB DIMM for a pair of 2GB sticks from Crucial, and installed the previously-received Intel WLAN card.
Selecting a Distro
According to the 6710b page at the Linux Laptop Wiki, the ACPI hardware used in the 6710b requires a distro with a kernel newer than 2.6.21. Earlier kernels could cause CPU problems as they don’t provide automatic control of the processor fan.
This provided a good initial screen for distros. I’ve most recently run Ubuntu 6.06LTS, but I’ve got plenty of experience with Gentoo, RedHat and Mandrake (before it was Mandriva) from past lives. Given my tight time budget these days, I opted to stay close to what I’m comfortable with. Linux Mint offers a 2.6.22 kernel, but only “officially” supports Gnome – and after Jer converted me I really prefer KDE now. Simply Mepis looked promising, but only offers a 2.6.15 kernel. I ended up going with Kubuntu 7.10 “Gutsy Gibbon”, as it offers a 2.6.22 kernel and abundant familiarity with my previous system.
17 Jan 2008
After downloading the Kubuntu Gutsy i386 ISO overnight and burning it to DVD, I tried out the liveCD with the new notebook. What works out of the box?
– CPU fan via ACPI (phew!)
– CPU frequency scaling
– Display at (uber sexy) native 1680×1040 resolution
– Wireless LAN, including WPA security
After installing sans network connection, I rebooted and connected the wireless LAN. After enabling the repositores commented out in /etc/apt/sources.list by the installer, I fetched security updates and installed pidgin.
Next came a run of Automatix2, for obvious reasons…
After getting situated for the moment, I decided to test out a few features… After my initial install, the following works without complaint:
– All of the above “out of the box” features from the liveCD
– Touch-sensitive Mute and Vol-Up/Vol-Down buttons
– Touch-sensitive WLAN button (LED does not work yet – but I suspect I know the fix…)
– Normal Synaptics touchpad operation, including scroll area
– Suspend/Resume – though LCD backlight defaults to “battery” dimming level on resume – requires remove/resinsert of AC adapter to regain full brightness.
– Hibernate/Resume – looks strange while it’s doing its business, but it works fine!
Battery life appears to be predicted around 3 hours on a full charge, with the screen dimming set to the lowest level.
19 Jan 2008
Tried out sound this morning; music plays happily via ALSA. The touch-sensitive Vol-Up/Vol-Down slider is a little touchy; for now I’ll adjust the master volume via kmix, but eventually I’d like to figure out what conf file controls this and get it under control.
26 Jan 2008
Newly confirmed-working: Built-in SD/MMC/MS/XD media card reader.
After a little over a week using the new 6710b as my “daily driver” I can confidently say that this is the absolute best experience I’ve had running Linux on any computer, with the fewest compatibility issues, in Linux-and-my nearly decade-long relationship. Excepting the fact that I must cycle the AC adapter plug to restore the screen to full brightness after a standby or hibernate cycle, and the WLAN LED, everything has worked out of the box. I suspect a few quick config file edits will be all that’s necessary to resolve both of these “issues”, but as of now neither are sufficiently bothersome to warrant spending any appreciable time to resolve them.
Over the past week, most of my system-management time has been spent installing the software packages I need/want, getting used to the new Dolphin file manager, and setting up the little shortcuts I use to make life easier during day-to-day computing tasks. I have yet to try to get the fingerprint scanner working (don’t even know what software packages or drivers one would use) nor have I tried using the external video output or “presentation mode” touch button. I also have yet to try out sound input extensively, though Audacity’s level meters follow the mic input when it’s activated in ALSAmixer, and I’m able to record and playback brief test files.
7 Feb 2008
After Canonical announced they would be supporting Parallels Workstation via the normal Ubuntu software installation tools, I decided to give it a try. While I do very nearly everything I need to do in Linux, there are 2 specialized programs I use occasionally, which aren’t available for anything but Windows. They’re the excellent PCB Library Viewer from http://www.pcblibraries.com/ and the programming software for my Icom IC-F3021 two-way radio.
The Parallels installation took less than a minute, as did the signup process for a trial product ID. I’ll happily purchase the $50 license for software that works well, and the results of today’s trial will make that determination.
Over the past few months, I’ve been noticing an increasing propensity for my 6710b’s battery light to flash yellow, rapidly, whenever the machine is turned off and the AC adapter is unplugged. As it began to occur more and more frequently, it became quite an annoyance – the machine can’t be turned on in this state, despite the fact that the battery has a full charge and will happily operate the computer if the AC adapter is removed at runtime.
After a bit of Googling, I learned that a) the rapid-yellow blinking means that the battery is toast, and b) others have had issues with the HP battery, and a warranty replacement usually did the trick. So off to HP’s tech support I went…
I called in for the first time from the car, on a longish highway trip. I was initially told that I’d need the machine in front of me to run HP’s battery diagnostic utility, which is only available for Windows XP and Vista. After explaining to the tech that I run Ubuntu Linux, he informed me that I’d need to speak to the “Linux team” and would still need direct access to the machine.
Upon calling back, I was told that there is no “Linux team” – at least not for the 6710b, which is not officially supported for use with Linux. After explaining my situation once again and suggesting that this was likely a hardware problem, the tech contacted someone at a higher level. On returning to the line, he advised me that HP would be sending a replacement battery, but if this didn’t fix the issue, I’d need to load Windows in order to use the battery diagnostic utility.
The new battery arrived in the mail the next day – kudos to HP for sending it overnight air – and I gave it plenty of time to warm up (from the 35°F ambient outside) and an overnight charge. The next day, upon shutting down and removing the AC adapter, I got the same symptom: rapid-blinking yellow battery light.
Before calling back HP tech support or – gasp! – loading Windows, I thought perhaps a BIOS update might be in order. Upon navigating my way through the “Drivers and Software” section of the HP support web site, I landed at this page, which listed a BIOS image dated 18-August-2008. Clearly newer than the BIOS image currently on the machine – which was built nearly 11 months ago – I decided to give it a try.
Unfortunately, HP wrapped their FreeDOS bootable version of the BIOS ISO image in a Windows-only executable. After expanding this via Windows 2000 under VirtualBox, I burned it to a CD and used the straightforward installer to flash it onto the motherboard.
From that point on, the 6710b has not exhibited the rapid-blinking yellow battery light after the machine is shut down and the AC adapter disconnected.
After a few months’ use, I noticed that the battery light still goes into it’s blinky “zombie” mode on occasion. With HP’s “August 2008” bios loaded, this seems to be reversible by cycling the AC adapter or doing a remove/reinsert on the battery – but it’s still annoying. I noticed that HP has released a new bios update at the 6710b downloads page, so I tried installing it this morning. So far, so good – no blinky yellow light – but time will tell. I’ll report back here after a few battery charge cycles, and let you know how the 15-Jan-2009 bios image works…
The HP Compaq 6710b business notebook is a phenomenal host machine for sufficiently-recent Linux distributions, provided a few prerequisites are met:
– A 2.6.21 or newer Kernel must be used to avoid hardware damage
– The configuration as-tested uses the Intel Pro/Wireless 4965 wireless card; I would expect more problems with the available Broadcom card.
If you configure and order your 6710b with Linux compatibility in mind, you should have no issues installing and running recent distribution releases. Even if your 6710b does have a Broadcom card, ndiswrapper support in recent distros has come a long way, and you might find you still have a very good experience.