I have recently upgraded my main computer from an HP EliteBook 6930p to a Dell Latitude E6430. After 7 years of using HP business laptops, the transition to the Dell range is a welcome change. Here’s why:

1. LED screen
Both machines are 14.1″ laptops with a slightly higher screen resolution than the usual (and rather horrible) 1366x768px. While the HP is from 2009 and still came with a 1440x900px screen, this new Dell laptop has 1600×900. A lot of programmers / web workers actually prefer higher screen resolutions, and I meanwhile also, but in the beginning the tiny font was a problem. Since I usually only go for business laptops with docking stations, my main screen is an external 22″ monitor at 1680×1050 – so this screen issue is secondary to me.

What matters though is the illumination technology – which is based on cold-cathode fluorescent lamps (CCFL) on my old HP. As mentioned in my 2009 review of the HP 6930p vs. the Dell E6400, even the E6400 already had a nice LED screen, just as about half of all Lenovo T400 laptops sold. Of the 6930p sold since 2008/2009, most models only came with the CCFL version – and the few available LEDs only had a WXGA / 12800×800 resolution. It is only recently that someone came up with a hack to install a WXGA+ (1440×900) LED screen from a Lenovo T410 into an HP 6930p. I once thought about doing this hack and already bought the cables, but such 14.1″ LED screens usually sell for ~ 140 EUR alone. These days, second hand 6930p laptops sell for around 200 EUR, so any such investment would be rather stupid.

New laptop, new screen, issue solved.

The bitter truth may be that I should have picked a 14.1″ laptop with a WXGA+ LED screen in 2009 (e.g. the E6400 or the T400). The WXGA++ LED screen on the E6430 is an instant LIKE (even though the CCFL version had better colours).

It seems there are no 14.1″ laptops with really good screens. It’s either 12.5″ (Lenovo), 13.3″ (Apple) or 15.x”/17.x” if you’re interested in something like IPS panels.

Continue reading “s/HP/Dell”

Ubuntu, my 6930p and me

I am a Windows XP user.*

Please excuse the following rant, but I will try to explain why I’ve stayed with Windows XP – until now, that is. Feel free to comment further down below and convince me of something else.

The hardware setup: HP Elitebook 6930p notebook with HP docking station, external USB keyboard + mouse combo, 2.1 Creative Speakers, 22″ LG Flatron W2242T monitor + Terratec Cinergy Piranha DVB-T stick (with Sineo 1000 chipset). Extras on the notebook: internal Chicony webcam, internal HP UMTS modem (HP un2400 wwan adapter, as mentioned earlier).

Operating system: As long as it works fine, doesn’t require broadband connections due to frequent updates, won’t become infected by malware and on top of that also runs my favourite applications, I will make do with anything. I know that Windows XP is very prone to malware, but it does the job for me. At least compared to the following OS:

Windows Vista: nein, nein, nein, nein, nein, nein….

Windows 7: I actually have a fresh copy of Windows 7 which arrived via snail mail a few month after the purchase of my HP Elitebook 6930p notebook. Installed it in a VirtualBox, didn’t like the new menu, couldn’t find a way to switch it off, saw some external solutions to retain the old school menu. *May* switch to using Win7 one day. Not yet convinced why I should, though. I am the kind of guy that switches of Compiz in Ubuntu.

Apple OSX: doesn’t run on my machine, too expensive hardware + I am a typical Windows user = maximizing all windows + some things on Apple machines that I don’t like (even though I’ve understood that a smaller choice of available software tools isn’t necessarily a bad option as it saves you valuable trial & error time). I’d switch to Apple for Final Cut (Pro), though.

GNU/Linux: first experience with it ~SuSe 5.1 in 1998?, tried different distros over the years (like everyone else), eventually settled with Ubuntu because ….well, I am a Windows XP user! Also: I’ve accepted Gnome as my desktop.

You see, I am currently writing* this blog post inside an out-of-the-box Ubuntu 9.10. Firefox 3.5.7 is installed and deletes the complete row of characters (inside the WP’s tinyMCE editor) if I don’t pay attention. Already frustrating enough when an OS doesn’t do what I want it do – or worse: does more than expected. Not a good start. And then there’s this screen issue I am having: I just can’t figure out why this ATI Catalyst Control Center won’t start in admin mode. I urgently need to turn the 22″ monitor into the main screen (with taskbars on it). How do I do that? Sure, I could consult one of the many Wikis on Ubuntu and get it to work (Update: it is “sudo amdcccle”). Another issue: the DVB-T usb stick which doesn’t work at all within this Ubuntu 9.10 (I remember it used to run in 8.04 on my older HP nx8220 notebook but not really sure about it now. I do have another, older DVB-T stick which worked with Me-TV in 8.04). Or the internal UMTS modem which is kinda tricky because it requires extra firmware, presumably because it can adjust to local 3g networks (the trick is to have a tool which extracts its firmware from the Windows (!) driver and then loads all required settings). All of these things make me want to reboot my PC in Windows XP right now.

Heck, I couldn’t even switch to using Ubuntu all the time and would always have to run WinXP (full or in a virtual box) because my clients (!) also use WinXP. E-Mail clients and the browsing experience are adjusted to my clients (aka typical corporate IT setup). The other day Mzeecedric and I worked on a blog, and then we had to start all over again because it just didn’t look good on MSIE 7.x (while it shined like a beauty in FF 3.x @ Ubuntu 9.04).

Power management is also one of the reasons why I am using WinXP HOME (which otherwise is a no-go) on my Asus eee PC 1000HG netbook. The netbook also runs an Ubuntu distro with eee control applet, but it’s not the same power management as when running on WinXP with all Asus drivers and so on. Power management is a crucial issue on mobile devices though.

What I am asking for: a GNU/Linux distro, specifically adjusted to this HP Elitebook 6930p. Put it in my DVD drive, boot it up, install and have it ready to go. No further adjustments necessary and everything (EVERYTHING) just working out of the box. I’d be willing to cough up money for such a CD as I think it would be a good investment. And yes, I do understand that part of this Ubuntu experience is to find answers and check Wikis on my own, but then: I just want to work with my computer and have it ready to run, even in offline environments where there is no broadband or stable inet connection. Plus I am getting older and don’t want to waste time on my machine for stuff that I am taking for granted on my Windows XP installation. And I am saying this as a WinXP user, not a Mac user (most of my Mac friends aren’t geeks).

3x 3G modems

I recently bought a new notebook (HP 6930p) and made sure it also comes with extra antennas (next to the WLAN antennas on top of the display) so that I could install a Wireless Wide Area Network (WWAN, pictured below) adapter which I had to buy separately.

HP un2400 wwan adapter on the HP 6930p

The good part about this wwan adapter – an HP un2400, also known as Qualcomm Gobi 1000 – is that it supports different frequency bands so it can work in many different parts of the world. This, however, and maybe that it is hidden under a cover inside this computer so you don’t have to carry extra gadgets, is the only good part about this modem.

My other computer is a netbook which also has a wwan modem – an Asus eeePC 1000HG. Just slip in your SIM card (underneath the battery), boot into WindowsXP or Ubuntu and you’re ready to go online, simple as that.

HUAWEI EM770 Mobile Broadband modem on the eeePC 1000HG

The HP un2400 modem on my HP notebook, though, will ONLY work when the (main) battery is inserted. HP names “carrier certifications” as the reasons for this requirement as:

  • This prevents SIM fraud
  • This prevents any possible corruption if the SIM is removed while the notebook PC powers on


Just to remind you: the 3g modem on my Asus eeePC will work either way – whether the battery is inserted or not, it just works.

And then there’s this thing called “Firmware” – which also is a very peculiar process on the HP modem. Whereas most gadgets will normally come with their own (preloaded) Firmware (which may or may not be updated by end users), this Qualcomm Gobi modem requires an initial load of the firmware prior to its use (HP’s Connection Manager will take care of this under Windows XP). Once you restart your computer, you will have to reload the firmware. The only possible reason for this – to my understanding – is that it enables the modem to adjust to different wwan environments. But that’s about it. Needless to mention that you won’t find any drivers for this device for Win7, and I’ve only come across a few users who managed to get this device working under Ubuntu after lots of fiddling.

And again, no problems with my netbook & its Huawei EM770 3g modem. Real plug & play, regardless of the operating system.

“So where’s the problem?”, you may ask, “aren’t laptops/notebooks and netbooks designed to be run from battery power anyways?” – Well, yes, BUT! I always remove the battery on my notebook when I’m about to connect it to a stable power supply for a longer period. Like when I plug it into the docking station at home, I always remove the battery. I do this to save it from being constantly charged. It’s a precaution that helps me keeping the battery at ~90% initial charging capacity after three years usage (as seen on my old HP nx8220 notebook). It’s a proven method that worked for me and saved me from spending another EUR 80,- on a spare battery.

And the worst part about this wwan adapter is that HP locked the BIOS to _ONLY_ use these modems. It wouldn’t be possible to use the 3G modem from the eeePC on the HP notebook.


Now, this is the part where I actually want to talk about alternatives to these internal solutions, which are often still considered to be the optimal solution. As described above, it’s a not-so-perfect solution for those who want to use other operating systems then Windows XP and/or Vista. It’s an epic fail that HP still needs to realize. An epic fail on all of their “EliteBooks” as HP calls this series (HP 2530p, 6930p, 8530p).

The eeePC I have is also available without such a 3g modem – the price difference used to be EUR 100,- less. People (not me, I got it cheaper :-) actually paid this difference in order to get a netbook with an internal 3g modem. As for the eeePC, the price difference is (was) justified as you had to cough up about the same amount for an external modem some time ago.

However, now, in September 2009, things are a bit different. Be it Germany or Kenya, you’re actually able to get an external USB-based 3g modem for something like EUR 20,- to 30,- – which is a decent price, I’d say. Sure, you could even get it for less (in Germany) if you go for a 24month contract with a network provider but I am only talking about prepaid solutions here.

the popular Huawei E169

And these USB sticks are the very reason for blogging all this. I think that these external 3g modems are still the best solution for the following reasons:

  • they are supported by different operating systems & often well documented on the internet
  • they often come with their own software so you won’t have to worry about that part
  • power consumption on these devices is moderate, also because they are easier to remove (and wouldn’t require a software switch on the OS) – just unplug them
  • some of these sticks come with an extra socket for an external (UMTS) antenna
  • some of these sticks come with an extra flash memory capacity
  • they are relatively cheap these days
  • they can be used on more than one computer – just unplug them and hand them over to your friends (provided you have an unlimited data plan)

The disadvantage of course is that you’d have an extra device at the side of your notebook which blocks one of the often limited USB ports.

In the past I’ve also used thethering my Nokia phone to the computer and using its 3G capabilities to surf the net; and on my old & beloved (and now sold) HP nx8220 notebook I had used a PCMCIA (PC-Card) version of these 3G modems which I blogged about earlier. The PCMCIA version worked fine, albeit the PCMCIA port being known for quickly draining the battery (which also became obvious as it heated up pretty quickly). My new HP notebook has an ExpressCard slot, so this could also be an alternative if USB ports are really limited and already used for other devices.

To be honest, with this limitation of the internal 3G modem on my HP 6930p to Windows XP & Vista (and probably also Win7 one day), I’d probably go for another machine in future. I actually don’t know about the 3G modems on a Dell E6400 or Lenovo T400(s) – all of them seem to come with a Gobi device these days -, but I hope they aren’t as crippled as this Qualcomm Gobi? HP uses on their EliteBooks.? And signal strength (RX/TX ratio) actually isn’t so much better with the internal antennas which have to compete with the WLAN antennas for the limited space above the display. However, I understand that it isn’t the modem which sucks (some websites claim it even comes with an internal GPS chip?!) but rather HP’s policy which prevents us from using alternative operating systems and even locks the system down to this device only.

And with my policy of drawing a clear line between user data and the operating system + hardware, the external USB modem is just so much more convenient. It’s a plug & play device that adds modularity & flexibility to the system.

my HP 6930p review

It’s about time for another hardware review as it reflects what’s on my mind these days. I know that a lot of people just go for anything they are recommended, but if your income depends on the performance and reliability of your computer at home (= home office), you’ll maybe pay extra attention to this and I know a lot of geeks who are much more demanding when it comes to their computer.



Continue reading “my HP 6930p review”