A few weeks ago I bought a Toshiba Satellite T235D at MicroCenter, intending to remove Windows and install Ubuntu Linux on it. That didn’t work out and I ended up returning it and paying the restocking fee.
After that debacle, I wanted to buy a computer that just works with Ubuntu, out of the box. My requirements could be described thus: oversized netbook with at least two CPU cores, “virtualization assistance” CPU feature, no CD/DVD drive, at least a 768-line display, and someone’s assurance that it’d work with Linux. I wanted not widescreen (4:3 aspect ratio), but those displays have pretty much disappeared from the market lately.
Ubuntu’s web site states that the Dell Vostro V130 will work with Ubuntu 10.04 LTS. I wanted to install a more recent version, but that was good enough assurance for me to start with. I placed my order a couple of weeks ago and I got it in the mail this past Thursday. In this post, I’ll document my unboxing and first impressions running Ubuntu 10.04 on it.
It’s worth noting that the model I bought, certified for Ubuntu 10.04, had a surprising lack of options. Memory was limited to 2GB — no more, no less. The one hard drive available was 250GB, 5400RPM disk. The CPU is a Celeron Processor ULV U3600 (2M Cache, 1.2GHz, 800 MHz FSB). This configuration with Ubuntu 10.04 preloaded sells for $429 plus shipping as of today. More expensive models come with more memory, solid state or spinning disk, and a Core processor instead of a Celeron, and Windows — you can’t buy those models without a Windows license.
The computer came in a basic shipping box that was surprisingly light. Of course that’s because the computer itself is so lightweight.
Inside the box were the computer, the power supply with a three-prong mains end (extra adapter required if you want to plug it into common household extension cords), “Resource CD,” warranty, safety brochure, and dummy setup guide.
The overall appearance of the computer is exactly what I wanted: thin, non-flashy design. Built-in human interface components include:
- stereo speakers
- two-button touchpad — apparently single-touch (see below)
- compact laptop keyboard with no number pad
- 13.3 inch 19:9 aspect ratio LCD display (1366×768 pixels)
The keyboard measures 11 inches from edge to edge, with the keys are spaced out 0.75 inches horizontally and 0.69 inches vertically; the keyboard includes a Super key (with a Windows logo on it). There is no pointing stick and no keyboard light.
The display has an anti-glare coating and is not glossy; it’s made for work, not media playback.
Front edge ports:
- 1/8″ mic input
- 1/8″ speaker/headphone output
Back panel ports:
- two more USB ports
- DC power input
Right edge port:
- SD / MMC / Memory Stick slot
- Bluetooth (Doesn’t work. More on that later.)
Altogether the computer weighs about 4.25 pounds (3.5 pounds if you don’t count the external power adapter). It fits nicely in my bag and doesn’t feel like a burden to carry around with me every day.
The battery is rated at 30Wh, and reportedly provides 2.5 to 3 hours of running time depending on who you ask. The system must be disassembled to change the battery. Warning: if you often need to work without access to AC power, the Vostro v130 is probably not a good match for you!
Observations on the Included Software
Since I’d rather be running a more up-to-date version of Ubuntu, I immediately set about making sure I had some method of going back to the off-the-shelf state and then testing all the important hardware features before erasing the hard drive and starting over. Short short version: Everything works except Bluetooth.
First, I had to start it up and go through the Ubuntu pre-installed system setup wizard. The most amusing part of this wizard was a click-through EULA from Dell that I was forced to agree to, even though the text of the EULA isn’t included in the wizard.
The message seems to indicate that the text is included in the Resource CD The EULA text is included in the “Warranty” booklet. I had a quick look at the CD on my office PC and it looked like a bunch of DOS-based diagnostic programs. I didn’t bother booting it or attempting to read the EULA.
Later on, the wizard offered to write a “Recovery” package to a fresh thumbdrive which would be made bootable. This package is intended to restore your hard drive to the initial state it had when it left the factory.
Hint: If you don’t want to sacrifice a thumbdrive to this process and just want an ISO image file, you can skip it here and then find the Dell Recovery utility in your Applications menu once you login. From there, it will allow you to write to an ISO image file as an alternative to a using up a whole thumbdrive. The ISO image is about 1GB. Store it somewhere else offline where you have 1GB to spare, and if you ever need it you can use the Ubuntu Startup Disk Creator (on any Ubuntu system or from an Ubuntu Live CD) to install it on a thumbdrive; or you can write it to a DVD and boot it from an external DVD drive.
In any case, you probably aren’t going to even need this backup image! The only difference I could find between the original configuration and a clean Ubuntu install was a Firefox toolbar. (Yay for minimal bloatware!) Be assured that you can always just download the standard Ubuntu 10.04 LTS installer and rebuild from that if you need to.
After I got to the end of the setup wizard I logged in and downloaded the latest updates for 10.04 and tested a bunch of things. Here are my results:
|Backlight control works?||Yes|
|Volume control works?||Yes|
|Can configure display device (internal, external, etc.)||Yes|
|Can change display resolution, rotation?||Yes|
|Record from webcam?||Yes|
|Adjust power management options?||Yes|
|Hard drive sleep?||Yes|
|Bluetooth works?||No. Shows up in notification area but does not function.|
|Drag two fingers to scroll?||Not configured, or hardware doesn’t support it.|
|Pinch to zoom?||Not configured, or hardware doesn’t support it.|
|Drag along touchpad edge to scroll?||Yes|
|Read battery status?||Yes|
|Read temperature sensors?||Yes after installing lm-sensors and sensors-applet|
|Read fan status?||No fan device driver found.|
|Fans respond appropriately to CPU temperature?||Yes|
|Read CPU speed?||Yes. (CPU Frequency Scaling Monitor.)|
|Automatic CPU speed according to load?||Yes|
|Temporarily lock CPU speed?||Yes|
|Time to arrive at login screen from a cold start||29 seconds|
I knew about the Bluetooth failure before I completed my purchase. It’s documented at least once on the Ubuntu forums. Note that as of this writing, the product page for the Vostro v130 with Ubuntu states that the system includes Bluetooth connectivity. Technically this is poor or false advertising if the hardware is there but doesn’t work with the included software!
I’ll update this post if I find a fix.
I’m a happy customer and I got what I wanted. Over this past weekend, I was able to install Kubuntu 10.10 on it, and except for the Bluetooth failure, I’ve had no trouble with it at all.
If you’re looking for a cheap, thin, and light laptop to run Ubuntu, the Dell Vostro v130 is a good deal for $429 plus shipping.
Update (23 May 2011) I’m currently running Ubuntu 11.04 with KDE Plasma desktop and pretty much the same performance and compatibility results as shown above.
Update (3 Oct 2011) The Vostro V130 has been discontinued and it seems that its successor is the Vostro V131. I cannot find an option to buy this machine with Linux and not Windows, but the Ubuntu web site asserts that the Vostro V131 is Ubuntu-certified. I suggest that if you want one, call Dell on the phone and keep trying different ways to ask to buy the Linux version until someone is able to help you. If someone knows the correct store URL for this product please let me know!