A little more freedom

A few weeks ago, I decided to address the fact that my Toshiba laptop have next to useless battery life. The arrival of an issue of PC Pro that included a review of lower cost laptops was another spur and I ended up looking on the web to see what was in stock at nearby chain stores. In the end, I plumped for an HP Pavilion dm4 and it was Argos that supplied yet another piece of computing kit to me. In fact, they seem to have a wider range of laptops than PC World!

The Pavillion dm4 seems to come in two editions and I opted for the heavier of these though it still is lighter than my Toshiba Equium as I found on a recent trip away from home. Its battery life is a revelation for someone who never has got anything better than three hours from a netbook. Having more than five hours certainly makes it suitable for those longer train journeys away from home and I have seen remaining battery life being quoted as exceeding seven hours from time to time though I wouldn’t depend on that.

Of course, having longer battery life would be pointless if the machine didn’t do what else was asked of it. It comes with the 64-bit of Windows 7 and this thought me that this edition of the operating system also runs 32-bit software, a reassuring discovering. There’s a trial version of Office 2010 on there too and, having a licence key for the Home and Student edition, I fully activated it. Otherwise, I added a few extras to make myself at home such as Dropbox and VirtuaWin (for virtual desktops as I would in Linux). While I playing with the idea of adding Ubuntu using Wubi, I am not planning to set up dual booting of Windows and Linux like I have on the Toshiba. Little developments like this can wait.

Regarding the hardware, the CPU is an Intel Core i3 affair and there’s 4 MB of memory on board. The screen is a 14″ one and that makes for a more compact machine without making it too diminutive. The keyboard is of the scrabble-key variety and works well too as does the trackpad. There’s a fingerprint scanner for logging in and out without using a password but I haven’t got to checking how this works so far. It all zips along without any delays and that’s all that anyone can ask of a computer.

There is one eccentricity in my eyes though and it seems that the functions need to be used in combination with Fn for them to work like they would on a desktop machine. That makes functions like changing the brightness of the screen, adjusting the sound of the speakers and turning the WiFi on and off more accessible. My Asus Eee PC netbook and the Toshiba Equium both have things the other way around so I found this set of affairs unusual but it’s just a point to remember rather than being a nuisance.

HP may have had its wobbles regarding its future in the PC making business but the Pavilion feels well put together and very solidly built. It commanded a little premium over the others on my shortlist but it seems to have been worth it. If HP does go down the premium laptop route as has been reported recently, this is the kind of quality that they would need to deliver to just higher prices. Saying that, is this the time to do such a thing would other devices challenging the PC’s place in consumer computing? It would be a shame to lose the likes of the Pavilion dm4 from the market to an act of folly.

Battery life

In recent times, I have lugged my Toshiba Equium with me while working away from home; I needed a full screen laptop of my own for attending to various things after work hours so it needs to come with me. It’s not the most portable of things with its weight and the lack of battery life. Now that I think of it, I reckon that it’s more of a desktop PC replacement machine than a mobile workhorse. After all, it only lasts an hour on its own battery away from a power socket. Virgin Trains’ tightness with such things on their Pendolinos is another matter…

Unless my BlackBerry is discounted, battery life seems to be something with which I haven’t had much luck because my Asus Eee PC isn’t too brilliant either. Without decent power management, two hours seems to be as good as I get from its battery. However, three to four hours become possible with better power management software on board. That makes the netbook even more usable though there are others out there offering longer battery life. Still, I am not tempted by these because the gadget works well enough for me that I don’t need to wonder about how money I am spending on building a mobile computing collection.

While I am not keen on spending too much cash or having a collection of computers, the battery life situation with my Toshiba is more than giving me pause for thought. The figures quoted for MacBooks had me looking at them though they aren’t at all cheap. Curiosity about the world of the Mac may make them attractive to me but the prices forestalled that and the concept was left on the shelf.

Recently, PC Pro ran a remarkably well-timed review of laptops offering long battery life (in issue 205). The minimum lifetime in this collection was over five hours so the list of reviewed devices is an interesting one for me. In fact, it even may become a shortlist should I decide to spend money on buying a more portable laptop than the Toshiba that I already have. The seventeen hour battery life for a Sony VAIO SB series sounds intriguing even if you need to buy an accessory to gain this. That it does over seven hours without the extra battery slice makes it more than attractive anyway. The review was food for thought and should come in handy if I decide that money needs spending.

Extending ASUS Eee PC Battery Life Without Changing From Ubuntu 11.04

It might just be my experience of the things but I do tend to take claims about laptop or netbook battery life with a pinch of salt. After all, I have a Toshiba laptop that only lasts an hour or two away from the mains and that runs Windows 7. For a long time, my ASUS Eee PC netbook was looking like that too but a spot of investigation reveals that there is something that I could do to extend the length of time before the battery ran out of charge. For now, the solution would seem to be installing eee-control and here’s what I needed to do that for Ubuntu 11.04, which has gained a reputation for being a bit of a power hog on netbooks if various tests are to be believed.

Because eee-control is not in the standard Ubuntu repositories, you need to add an extra one for install in the usual way. To make this happen, launch Synaptic and find the Repositories entry on the Settings menu and click on it. If there’s no sign of it , then Software Sources (this was missing on my ASUS) needs to be installed using the following command:

sudo apt-get install software-properties-gtk

Once Software Sources opens up after you entering your password, go to the Other Software tab. The next step is to click on the Add button and enter the following into the APT Line box before clicking on the Add Source button:

ppa:eee-control/eee-control

With that done, all that’s need is to issue the following command before rebooting the machine on completion of the installation:

sudo apt-get install eee-control

When you are logged back in to get your desktop, you’ll notice a new icon in your top with the Eee logo and clicking on this reveals a menu with a number of useful options. Among these is the ability to turn off a number of devices such as the camera, WiFi or card reader. After that there’s the Preferences entry in the Advanced submenu for turning on such things as setting performance to Powersave for battery-powered operation or smart fan control. The notifications issued to you can be controlled too as can be a number of customisable keyboard shortcuts useful for quickly starting a few applications.

So far, I have seen a largely untended machine last around four hours and that’s around double what I have been getting until now. Of course, what really is needed is a test with constant use to see how it gets on. Even if I see lifetimes of around 3 hours, this still will be an improvement. Nevertheless, being of a sceptical nature, I will not scotch the idea of getting a spare battery just yet.