Review: Dell Linux laptop

This is a review of my new Dell Linux laptop, an Inspiron 1525. Let’s start with

Why I wanted a Dell

1. Linux comes pre-installed.
Now that’s the sort of thing I want to support! I am not a Windows user, and I’m tired of paying for Windows when I buy a new computer.
2. So everything should just work, right?
I’ve installed different Linux distributions many times over the years. I know that sometimes things should work but don’t, and then I have to find drivers or odd technical fixes on the web before my Linux system will work perfectly. But this time, I was sure it would be different. Since Dell is selling computers that come with Linux already installed, I figured that Dell would make sure that the entire system works just the way it should.
3. It’ll be the Linux solution for my friends.
Because everything should just work on my Dell, I looked forward to recommending these systems to friends, even the non-geeky ones. "Just buy a Dell with Ubuntu Linux," I wanted to say. "Everything will work just fine, right from the start, and you won’t have any more Windows annoyances in your life."

And here’s what happened

My Dell laptop took about two weeks to arrive, which was fine as I had a borrowed computer to use as I waited. When my Dell did arrive, I was pleased that it came with minimal packaging, and looked great.

Things I love about this machine: Linux was pre-installed. I’ve got a nice wide screen, and the laptop has the specs I wanted. The keyboard feels great, and the delete key is in a sensible place. (I do a fair amount of computing in the dark, so the delete key location matters a lot to me.)

Things I don’t love: some things just don’t work properly. For example, when I started up the computer for the first time, there was no sound. None! No system sounds, no sound in any program. Hmph. Even after I fixed the problem so that I did have sound, the sound I got was set at a stupidly low volume, so then I had to figure out how to change that.

Another thing that doesn’t work is the microphone. The built-in microphone doesn’t work at all, and an external microphone has the same problem. I haven’t gotten around to fixing that yet.

Perhaps most annoying problem for most users is the cursor problem. Type a couple of lines of text and — oops! the cursor suddenly jumps into a line of text further up in the document. This happens several times a minute, so that’s just crazy. Fortunately I do most of my typing in a terminal window using vi, so it’s not a big deal for me. It would be a mountain-sized annoyance for most users, though.

Did nobody at Dell bother to test their laptop configurations? The problems I’ve listed seem like really basic ones to me. And if I can fix the sound problem, why can’t Dell?

Back to those initial points

Now think back to the reasons I opted for a Dell in the first place. Here are those points again, plus my responses.

1. Linux comes pre-installed.
So it does. I’m glad that I didn’t have to pay for Windows when I know I’ll never use it.
2. So everything should just work, right?
I wish. But this brand-new laptop had major problems with sound, sound volume, the microphone, and cursor movement. I chose a Dell in the hopes that I wouldn’t have to mess around fixing nonsense like this, and I’ve been disappointed on that count.
3. It’ll be the solution for my friends.
Haha! There is no way I could recommend this system to a non-geeky friend.

I love my new laptop, and I’m quite happy with it now that I’ve fixed most of the annoyances. But you know, those are not annoyances that I should have had to fix in the first place. Somebody at Dell is asleep at the switch.

23 thoughts on “Review: Dell Linux laptop

  1. I use an HP laptop, but also run a Lenovo laptop…….I noted the cursor jump problem and I have had it also on both laptops…….and from my own experience it is always but always an accidental soft touch by wrist or clothing or fingers to a sensitive mouse pad. I don’t like mouse pads personally……loathe them and prefer the usb mouse that I always take with me….much easier to manipulate for me, for some reason. So, what do you do about the touchpad…….????? My personal solution is simple… get a piece of thin cardboard (1-2mm thick) a little larger than the touch pad and use sticky tape to keep it in place….just two short strips of sticky tape do it very effectively…….and from experience, no more cursor jumps and the cardboard lasts…well let’s just say the pieces have been in place now for over 6 months……they do tend to get a little “tarnished” with time, but hey, who cares—I can always cut and stick on a new piece.

    Hope that helps……regards…..Tony

  2. I had thought about purchasing one of these desktop computers with Ubuntu pre-installed myself. Thank you so much for clearing up the question of whether the system would work out of the box or not. I wonder how Dell’s new Mini 9 with Ubuntu pre-installed will hold up.

  3. Here I thought my problems were due to the fact that I didn’t buy a Dell 1525 with Linux preinstalled. I simply picked mine up off the shelf in Walmart. Great price and no Vista as it came with XP Home. After searching, I found that if you buy a 1525 with Ubuntu, you get a lappy with different specs. I thought that was my problem. Here your experience sounds just like mine. This post isn’t much help to you, I know. Just want you to know you are not alone.

  4. Hello, Ladybug! I’ll check out that Linux site you linked to later on.

    Kyle: I wonder about the Mini 9, too. Are you going to try one?

    Doug: thanks! I’ve had the sound fixed for some time now, though there are still other problems I have to sort out.

    Anonymous: I’m so glad your Dell worked out of the box. But please don’t assume that everybody else has an experience identical to yours. And yes, I am sure I am not just accidentally touching the touchpad.

  5. I bought this system (Dell 1525) about a month ago – EVERYTHING WORKS OUT OF THE BOX (including sound, mic, cursor(???) ). And as far as cursor problem goes are you sure you didn’t just accidentally touch the touchpad? Please don’t generalize – if you had a bad experience it doesn’t mean it was a rule not an exception. I was certainly very happy.

  6. I have a Dell*buntu – Inspiron 1420n, purchased a year ago (originally installed with Feisty).

    My sound worked, until I dist-upgraded to Gutsy – but that was about the time I discovered Kubuntu, which is what I’ve used ever since. Right now, I don’t know of any hardware not working, though I admit that I have never tried to use the mic.

    I concur with Anonymous that the cursor jumping is due to an overly sensitive touchpad. I have the same problem, and it is still very annoying.

  7. Did your Dell come with Ubuntu 7.10 and you upgraded to 8.04 ? I’m sorry to hear of the issues. I dual boot my Mac laptop to linux. Someday I hope to have a laptop developed for Linux as closely as the apple designs MAC laptops for their OS. Who will be that vendor ?

  8. I’d have to agree that its the touch pad. I see the cursor jumping problem, but if I am _very_careful when typing, or if I use an external keyboard, it doesn’t happen.

    There are several methods to turn off the touchpad when typing or when a mouse is in use. I haven’t bothered with one yet.

  9. Wow. Thanks for all your kind comments and suggestions.

    Those who wish to disable the touchpad temporarily while typing may wish to visit the Ubuntu Blog’s post on the issue.

    Or just use vi, as I do, and then it’s not a concern anymore. (Unless you want an out-of-the-box Linux solution to recommend to friends, say. Even if I get all of the annoyances on my laptop fixed, it seems I’m still out of luck on that count.)

  10. About the touchpad issue. I don’t think I would resort to cardboard but you might try Fn+F7. That’s what turns off the touch pad on my Acer.
    (I realize different manufacturers may use a different combo but check it out.) I’m relatively certain most laptops have that feature now.
    I know the function works because I use it all the time thanks to cursor aggravations.

    Hope this is at least moderately helpful.

  11. I have the same problem with the cursor jumping. In windows, they have it programmed to turn off/down the touch pad while you are typing. In Linux, we don’t. So we have a cursor jumping problem. Worse yet, if you have something in your clipboard, it often will be pasted to where your cursor jumps.

    This almost makes Linux useless for wordprocessing unless you turn off the touchpad.

    Will someone please fix this? Small issue — huge problem!

  12. Check out System76. All of their computers come with Ubuntu pre-installed(that’s the only way you can get them) and I have heard a lot of good things about them. I am going to get one from there for my next computer.

  13. I find it very strange that we the Linux using community make excuses for such a thing. If the spec. for the computer has an internal mic then it should work!The sound and the mic are a related issue. The laptop was configured incorrectly. But not to worry they don’t check M.S. machines either. A close friend just purchased a laptop about $1600. as configured that would not even boot up. IMHO Dell is not so good in the quality control area. Who knows maybe some day a vendor will give Linux clients a main stream product that is not entry level or considered an also ran.

  14. You aren’t alone. I’ve been having the same problems on this laptop I’m writing this on for about the last three years. I’ve installed Ubuntu on this system several times now, although mostly just as the system upgrade over the last year and a half. The cursor problem has happened for me since I got the system when it had Windows XP on it, although it became more pronounced when I put Ubuntu on it. It still happens on occasion, my solution has been to just put the cursor up into an area of the program window where you can’t enter any type or press a button. so far it’s worked for me. My microphone hasn’t worked on Ubuntu at all. Ever. As far as I know it’s some kind of a driver issue. It’s weird because the mic worked find on another ubuntu system I had, but that was a desktop.

    I think the issue is predominantly the hardware Dell chooses to put in its laptops. For the most part, the Drivers which come with a standard Ubuntu installation work just fine with most of it, but there’s always that one or two issues that creep up. And, Dell only uses the standard Vanilla Ubuntu install with DVD playback support these days. they haven’t really taken advantage of the fact that they can actually tweak Ubuntu whatever way they want to and make it run flawlessly on their hardware if they so desire. I think they’re too used to Microsoft calling the shots and locking them out of Windows. It’s a learning curve for them too.

  15. Just a thought… but in your experience with most laptops that you have ever purchased in the past for an extremely good bargain, did everything worked out of the box perfectly. I have several friends both Linux and Windows users who have had bad experiences on both sides when buying any laptops in that price range.
    I agree with what you said in the respect that if Dell said it would work out of the box it should have for you and all of Dell’s customers, but if you truly wanted to help make it easier for your “Non-Geeky” friends to buy a pre-installed linux based device, I would think that you would be better off holding the vendor that sold it to you accountable, and possibly even by making suggestions and feedback on your experience with Ideas they can implement to make things better for everyone in the long run.
    Better yet, you can suggest they support other Linux-based vendor devices such as System76, Emperor Linux, and the like; which have tried and true devices and are sure to satisfy your needs.
    This buy no means is a reflection on Linux as a whole, just goes to show how one company is trying to take advantage of a market without spending any extra money to hire proper people to develop their supported Ubuntu line.
    I have two or three friends that bought your same exact model and had no troubles, except the mouse jumping around issue which apparently you have discovered the fix for.

  16. Touchpad issues:

    Mine did the same. I use a bluetooth mouse usually, but I still have the touchpad’s “touch” feature DISABLED by having the following in my /etc/X11/xorg.conf file:
    Option “MaxTapTime” “0”
    This goes in the ‘Section “InputDevice” ‘ part of the file. If you are worried about changing this file, just put a # in front of the existing MaxTapTime entry and add this new one. Then, if you don’t like it, it’s simple to change back.
    I always use the click buttons anyhow – never did like the “tap to click” feature of those silly pads.
    I hope this helps.

  17. Has anyone tried an IBM Thinkpad (Not Lenova with Touchpad). I get the cursor jump all the time on my New Acer but there are no problems with IBM Trackpoint. I have 3 in different configurations and Love every one of them.

  18. I just went to [System]>[Preferences]>[Touchpad] and turned off the touch pad tapping. That made it so my accidental touches to the touch pad did not make the cursor move when tapped. The cursor still moves when the touchpad is used like a mouse and I have a left and right button to use just like a mouse. I also have an extra center pad that scrolls like a mouse wheel. You will have to have GSynaptics installed and have the file with the “SHMconfig” set to “true”. I am now using Ubuntu 8.10beta, but this computer has seen Ubuntu 8.04LTS,7.10,7.04,6.10, and 6.06LTS on it. GSnyaptics is part of 8.10,8.04LTS, and I believe 7.10.

  19. I am perfectly happy with the Exerex gBook I picked up for about $379 a few months ago. (I replaced the gOS that came on it with Ubuntu 8.04) I forced it it use the 1440×900 resolution of the built-in display and have been quite pleased with the results. (I also replaced the 512MB with 2GB of RAM for less than $50 – Easy upgrade)

  20. I have a Dell Lattitude D830 for work and installed OpenSUSE 10.3 on it. It took me a while to get everything configured properly (especially the wireless networking), but everything works like a charm now. I solved the touchpad problem by installing ksynaptic. I’m sure there’s a gnome tool that does the same thing.

  21. You can also use in your start up commands
    syndaemon -i 1 &

    The one is how long it will disable the touchpad for when you type. There is also another switch you can use so it only disables the clicking.

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