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Linux on my Laptop: Stuff that works and stuff that doesn't

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David

Forums Super Moderator
Joined
Feb 20, 2001
Introduction

A couple of months ago I decided to replace Windows 10 on my laptop with Ubuntu 20 LTS. I interact with Linux systems a lot for my job anyway, and I'd always been keen to switch my main computer over. The major worry was always compatibility with a range of software that I need access to on a daily basis.

This thread will basically be a collection of notes on what worked and what didn't, largely in case gathering it all together helps anyone else out.

Some of this will be relatively simple stuff, and other parts might be relatively specialist.


Specifications

Lenovo P43s
Intel Core i7-8665U (4C/8T)
32GB RAM
1 TB SSD
Quadro P5290
AC Wireless

Office Workstation
Lenovo Thinkpad USB-C Hub Gen2
Microsoft Sidewinder X4 Keyboard
Razer Basilisk Essential Mouse
Brother DCP-1510 Printer
Internet via work WiFi*

Home Workstation
Lenovo P27u (also acting as power and USB hub via USB-C connection to laptop)
Lenovo Keyboard
Razer something mouse [I need to check]
Internet via home WiFi

* Off-topic rant: The offices were built in the early 2000s when they decided that one ethernet socket was enough for anyone. We are explicitly prohibited from connecting any hubs/switches to office ethernet ports on pain of something painful. One of my comp. chem. machines is plugged into said socket in my office.


What Do I Do?

My laptop gets pretty heavily used, typically for 9-10 hours per day, for work and non-work purposes.

Work
My day job is Senior Lecturer [ ~ Associate Professor] and I do research, teaching, etc. in organic and organometallic chemistry. I need to:
  • Prepare course notes, papers, etc. using word processing and chemical structure drawings.
  • Process and visualise crystallographic data.
  • Conduct computational chemistry work and interact with two clusters.
  • Access work email/calendar (Outlook365)

Not Work
  • Some gaming, but not as much as I'd like!
  • Music, Netflix, etc.
  • Web browsing
 
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OP
David

David

Forums Super Moderator
Joined
Feb 20, 2001
Installation
As tempted as I was to explore Arch or default to Debian, I'd installed Ubuntu 20LTS on a couple of workstations and was rather impressed, so went with this for ease of use. Unfortunately I didn't have lots of time to fight with the installation. I've installed Ubuntu 20 using the graphical installer, and included proprietary drivers/firmware. I've partitioned as below; as I use this for work I need to have the HDD encrypted.
/bootext4705 MB
/encrypted LVM915 GB


Does It Work?
Overall, I was very impressed. All of the hardware works straight away, including the webcam and wifi. I've not actually tested the ethernet yet, but it looks like it's been picked up.

The only gaps seem to be with the video card.
  • I suspect that it's always on the nvidia card, but I haven't actually had the laptop on the road very much (due to COVID-19 I'll be doing very little travelling) so I'm not sure of actual battery life under real use. I tend to use external displays, which always must be driven by the Quadro chip. One for the todo list...
  • The laptop also struggles with full-screen video, with some visible tearing at points. Large Zoom meeting windows also tend to make the GUI poorly responsive.
 
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OP
David

David

Forums Super Moderator
Joined
Feb 20, 2001
Virtualisation

I need access to software that simply doesn't work (or work sufficiently well) on Linux. I hope to replace some of these in the future, but for now I need a Window 10 environment. I've tried/am trying the three major options:

  • Virtualbox: This works reasonably well, but has some issues with 'smoothness' for want of a better word.
  • VMWare Player: Generally feels a lot smoother, but for some reason occasionally suffers from *really* bad mouse lag.
  • Boxes: Currently setting this up, but so far the mouse lag/accuracy is terrible. Hoping I can fix this ...
 
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petteyg359

Likes Popcorn
Joined
Jul 31, 2004
Virtualisation

I need access to software that simply doesn't work (or work sufficiently well) on Linux. I hope to replace some of these in the future, but for now I need a Window 10 environment. I've tried/am trying the three major options:

  • Virtualbox: This works reasonably well, but has some issues with 'smoothness' for want of a better word.
  • VMWare Player: Generally feels a lot smoother, but for some reason occasionally suffers from *really* bad mouse lag.
  • Boxes: Currently setting this up, but so far the mouse lag/accuracy is terrible. Hoping I can fix this ...

Try qemu, with "USB tablet" as the virtual mouse device.
Code:
sudo apt install qemu-kvm
qemu-img create win10dev.img 32G
qemu-system-x86_64 -accel kvm -smp 2 -m 4096 -hda win10dev.img -vga qxl -display sdl -device usb-tablet -cdrom win10installer.iso -boot d

Use a different name for the disk image if you want. I only use it for making sure some stuff compiles properly in Visual Studio, hence the "dev" name. Change CPU cores and memory (-m is 4 GiB above) if needed.
Then save a script to start it up when needed:

Code:
#!/bin/sh
qemu-system-x86_64 -accel kvm -smp 2 -m 4096 -hda win10dev.img -vga qxl -display sdl -device usb-tablet
 
Last edited:
OP
David

David

Forums Super Moderator
Joined
Feb 20, 2001
Try qemu, with "USB tablet" as the virtual mouse device.
Code:
sudo apt install qemu-kvm
qemu-img create win10dev.img 32G
qemu-system-x86_64 -accel kvm -smp 2 -m 4096 -hda win10dev.img -vga qxl -display sdl -device usb-tablet -cdrom win10installer.iso -boot d

Use a different name for the disk image if you want. I only use it for making sure some stuff compiles properly in Visual Studio, hence the "dev" name. Change CPU cores and memory (-m is 4 GiB above) if needed.
Then save a script to start it up when needed:

Code:
#!/bin/sh
qemu-system-x86_64 -accel kvm -smp 2 -m 4096 -hda win10dev.img -vga qxl -display sdl -device usb-tablet

Thanks for this - will give it a shot. An initial shot at this gave me some [intelligible] errors, but I'll dig in the qemu documentation later this week and see if I can sort them out.
 

Ben333

Folding for Team 32!
Joined
Feb 18, 2007
I used Ubuntu the last 4 - 5 years. Back on Windows (only on my desktop) since my new build a couple months ago. I miss linux... but wanted to do some gaming. When not gaming... I miss linux. A lot. Gotta dual-boot soon. Probably going to wait till I can afford another NVME drive.

I'd strongly recommend trying the MATE desktop environment. There is an UbuntuMATE spin that is ready to go. Everything you'd do in mainstream ubuntu works just the same, but it is more Gnome 2 like. Second choice is XFCE, can be installed to any system or available as Xubuntu. There is also LXDE which is good too, (Lubuntu). I just can not stand Gnome 3.
 
OP
David

David

Forums Super Moderator
Joined
Feb 20, 2001
Thanks both for the tips - will check MATE out at the weekend. FWIW I don't think Gnome 3 is terrible - seems usable enough, but then I haven't used Gnome2 for ages.

(This thread kind of fell by the wayside - hope to update it soon. Teaching is kicking my rear end at the moment... swamped...)
 
OP
David

David

Forums Super Moderator
Joined
Feb 20, 2001
Realised that this fell by the wayside a bit.

A brief update ...
  • Also got a desktop machine in the office set up and running on Linux (Debian Sid). VMWare player works less well on that for some reason, and I need to spend some time troubleshooting it. It works fine for MS Office but for some reason ChemDraw renders really badly on it (you can see the screen refreshing). Something funky going on there.
  • On the laptop front, it's working fine. Have just installed MATE to try that (I forgot). I was using Insync to sync my work OneDrive but something is being a pain and my desktop and laptop are not always on the same page. We have Citrix as well so I might switch to that. Dropbox works perfectly but that is discouraged for research data and prohibited for anything sensitive.
  • I paid for a ChemDoodle subscription which seems to work reasonably well, although I still prefer ChemDraw. Maybe I'll change my mind once I've used it for longer.
  • LibreOffice doesn't work very well for lots of documents that I need to open and send on in DOCX format. Usually this is to do with embedded chemical structures or similar. It works great for documents that I can do entirely in LibreOffice - spreadsheets of data, recommendation letters, etc..
  • I'm not sure my laptop is quite powerful enough to be driving 4K screens. I had to replace the fan in it (horrid grinding noises from it) which seems to have helped a bit but I still can't believe how woefully poor the cooling solution on this laptop is. I was flirting with the idea of a Zen3 P14s or similar, but I might move away from Lenovo entirely.
  • Only minor issue I'm having is that at home my mouse stops working if it hasn't moved for a while. It moves again if I click the mouse button, but this is annoying. It's something to do with power management as I can make it behave if I load up powertop and switch the corresponding tuneable to 'bad'.
 

Tokae

Member
Joined
Jun 12, 2010
We unfortunately use a lot of windows only software here at my place of work, but I always try to have a copy of linux set up on my work laptop because I too prefer it now. I used to always use Linux Mint Cinnamon Edition (based off of Ubuntu) because it provided basically everything out of the box. It was also pretty smooth feeling. My latest endevour into dual boot was to try Manjaro with KDE. Its based off of Arch. Out of the box though everything works great (including the touchscreen) and it has a great look to it.
 
OP
David

David

Forums Super Moderator
Joined
Feb 20, 2001
The weird power issue with my mouse doesn't seem to happen in MATE, and I much prefer the layout (and the fact that it's actually customisable), so sticking with this for now.
 

knoober

Member
Joined
Mar 18, 2015
kind of an old thread but I will try to weigh in a bit. Hopefully with something helpful for the OP. As the OP seems capable in Linux I will just outline the high points that seems relevant:

Debain and derivatives (ubuntu and mint + others): built to "Just Work" but can be variable depending on desktop environment. XFCE (Xubuntu)is light and snappy but KDE (Kubuntu) gives all the options/bells/whistles . If you are needing to play with power management, then KDE might be the secret sauce that you are looking for regardless of distro. KDE has an emphasis on giving options and current offerings arent really much more resource hungry than onther DE's.

Arch and Manjaro: everything you could ask for and all the things you didnt. Manjaro does a bit of the work for you but doesnt keep the options locked away behind hard coded nonsense. These distro will (IMO) do anything if you are willing to look hard enough for the solution. My go-to metaphor is that arch will point you at a forest when you ask for wood. As long as you know how to process the forest you can build anything you like. :D

Honorable Mention: PopOs. If you havent looked at it yet, give it a shot. Ubuntu derivative with an emphasis on "Just Working". As of a year or so ago, had an active team (because I haven't kept up with the project since then) that engages with users.

For the Brave: Gentoo. Look it up :D Gento is for those who know thier way but is absolutely worth the effort if you can understand how to make it work. Requires semi-advanced knowledge
 

ihrsetrdr

Señor Senior Member
Joined
May 17, 2005
Location
Close to the San Andreas Fault
I like Manjaro, very solid- I've replaced Ubuntu on my business laptop with Manjaro. I need to put some effort into understanding Manjaro's package management system better, am used to the Debian APT package system, of course I've been using Debian and derivatives for 17+ years.
 
OP
David

David

Forums Super Moderator
Joined
Feb 20, 2001
Another update:

Not using the laptop as much now that I have the desktops at work at home up and running smoothly.

I reinstalled the OS and went for Debian stable. Even with the noveau drivers it seems reasonably smooth and happy with minimal messing around to get things to a usable state. I've also managed to get it to speak to the work photocopier (hurrah!).

I've been using qemu (via virt-manager) for Windows and this seems to do the trick rather nicely.

Battery usage can be heavy with bluetooth on and/or with the VM running, but at the moment it mostly gets used on the train to/from work so if it lasts a couple of hours it's fine. It's also a 2 year old laptop so the battery is hardly brand new and the laptop has been used heavily.

It doesn't look like I'll be doing much travelling until 2022 at the earliest, so at that stage I might end up replacing the laptop with a P14s gen2 (or gen3 if they are out by then).