Laptop update

Reader caution: I’m not particularly looking for technical advice here, unless you own a recent model Dell laptop and have also had the display rendering only every second vertical line. We’re fairly sure it is broken, not that I’ve made some laughable technical error.

Story so far: late last year or earlier this year it started getting harder and harder to get power to my Fujitsu Lifebook. The connector had to be wedged at a funny angle… one that got increasingly funny. Eventually it could only be used at my desk, wedged in a very particular position, and of course the battery was useless after all the constant partial drains and partial recharges.

Sometime in May a friend took it to a local laptop repair place that he’d had good experiences with in the past. I paid just under $300 for a re-solder of the power connector so that it was more stable. A pleasant week of laptopping from the couch ensued. Two weeks later it was as unstable as it had ever been and negotiations started with the repair guy, who insisted that the repair could only have been broken by mishandling of the laptop and furthermore that the crack he’d put right through the casing was an inevitable part of the flimsiness of Lifebooks. Anyway, he eventually agreed to Araldite the crack and re-solder the power connector again. The soldering worked about another fortnight, just long enough for him to completely close down his business and disappear.

I switch to using our gateway as a desktop machine which is not so bad except that desktop machines need to be rebooted all the time (hahaha use LINUX lol… oh wait, I already am, never mind) and reboots are rather annoying for Andrew, who runs his IRC sessions on it and interrupt our net access and email too.

And that I’m completely unproductive on trains. I spend a lot of times on trains and I wish that time was more productive than it has been the last few months.

And then the gateway’s motherboard dies very suddenly and very completely and we go off and buy a new machine to replace it and spend hours of fun remembering why it was that we hated SATA so much installing the original machine. That mystery is still unsolved: basically SuSE’s enterprise editions and the machine’s BIOS can see a SATA channel that Ubuntu just can’t.

I whined a lot about electronics prices in Australia and eventually settled down and put a Dell Latitude D630 on order. In the meantime I go on a trip to Romania where a laptop would have been awfully useful (I could have spoken to Andrew at an affordable rate about my food poisoning, for one). The Dell order was delayed substantially until, well, early September. I started it up tonight. The display rendered so badly that all the EULA screens for Windows were completely unreadable. It started up Windows proper. That display is unreadable too. I knock the resolution down to 1024×768, on which it is readable but by no means pretty while endless dialog boxes pop up telling me that native resolution is 1440×900 and it will look much better with that. No it doesn’t, I tell the dialogue boxes. It’s so unreadable it garbles dodgy contracts.

Driver updates from the Dell website do not help.

I install Ubuntu. The Live CD doesn’t work, the alternative install CD does. Kind of. Except X doesn’t work. I’ve never seen a backtrace in my X error output before.

I install the Intel driver from the development branch of Ubuntu. X does work then, but the display is just as unreadable as it was on Windows: it looks like only every second or third vertical line of pixels of the display image is being rendered. Also, we notice that when the screen is dim there’s a huge cluster of pixels that do not dim properly, making looking at my display on the text consoles rather like looking at the moon when you’re terribly near-sighted.

So looks like the laptop is going to be taking a trip back to the factory, which I believe in in Malaysia, for some indeterminate period of time; that’s if we can convince them of this "part of the display glows like the moon on water and at the recommended resolution only every second vertical line of pixels appears" story. It doesn’t sound all that convincing to me, when I imagine a dialogue with first level technical support about it.

I’m even more tired of this than you’d think.