Intel Centrino Suckage

I noticed this a few months ago, but never gave it much thought until recently. My Laptop has a Intel 2915 A/B/G Wireless Card, more commonly known as the wireless portion of the Centrino package. It’s pretty decent in regards to power consumption, and performance is typically not to bad. But I’m growing rather tired of it’s antics (took me a little bit to ID this one).

I can wirelessly download a file from my local file server on my LAN at approximately 19Mbps. Yet I can’t seem to break 10Mbps WAN even though Comcast supports “PowerBoost” (traffic shaping) in my area to burst downloads. My Mac Mini G4 with it’s built Airport Extreme, which is really some Broadcom chipset (not sure which exactly since no specs seem to be available) does get as much as 20Mbps bursting on WAN traffic. This leads me to believe the issue is somehow related to the Intel 2915 card.

The access point itself uses the TNETW1130GVF chipset, which is actually used to certify 802.11g devices.

I could always witch to Lenovo/IBM’s 11a/b/g Wireless LAN Mini-PCI Adapter II, which is based on the Atheros AR5BMB-44 (apparently in the AR5004 family). The only downside is the lack of EAP support. Not that I employ EAP, but you never know what you run across or end up needing in the future.

Downside is having to open up the laptop and remove the keyboard/palmrest to reach the wireless card, not to mention the $70 for the card itself. This isn’t really something that seems really worthwhile at the moment.

The question of the day is why does Intel still can’t get it right. The web is littered with reports of connection problems. Thankfully I don’t get disconnects. I just don’t seem to get the performance I should. For having “Excellent” signal quality rating in the Connection Status Window, I’d expect more performance.

New Keyboard

I said the other day, I asked IBM support for a new keyboard because I felt the one that shipped was of lower quality (to which many Thinkpad users agree). Yesterday, a 14″ keyboard arrived. I called them, they acknowledged the error, and sent me a 15″ keyboard (my laptop has a 15″ display, so the frame of the computer is a bit different). Today it arrived.

The difference may be subtle to some, but it outright obvious to me. This keyboard feels “smoother” than the old one, just like others have said. The right side has absolutely no flex anymore, and the keys are very quiet. I could type on this, and someone just a few feet away would not know I’m typing. The squeak sometimes apparent in the trackpoint scroll button is not there (another annoyance).

This keyboard lives up to the IBM Thinkpad reputation. No question about it. This is like comparing a McDonald’s to a 5 Star restaurant. Sure McDonald’s isn’t so bad you can’t eat it, most enjoy it every so often. But when you want quality food, you don’t even think McDonald’s.

Perhaps in the future IBM/Lenovo will stop using these lower quality keyboards.

I’m one happy customer at this point. My laptop feels just like my old A31 did (the A31 is apparently one of the last actually manufactured by IBM), but with a little better performance, and a thinner profile.

Thanks to IBM for taking care of this problem. This keyboard is exactly how a laptop keyboard should feel. Quiet, no squeaks, no flex. Just solid typing. I can finally type full speed without tripping over keys that almost feel loose.

Ubuntu Live Trial

On Monday, I decided to see if Ubuntu’s Live CD was good enough to work for the week. I put the CD in, rebooted, and said “no Windows until Friday”. Surprisingly, it recognized all the hardware in my Thinkpad T43 (at least all that I cared enough about to notice), and actually did a good job. With 1.5GB of RAM in this monster, it was rather smooth once it loaded. My only gripe is that it didn’t have an easy way to save the session to a USB flash device on shutdown, and allow it to re-init based on that session next restart. If the Live CD was smart enough to do that, it would have been truly perfect.

OpenOffice did the trick, as did Firefox. Really had no issues at all. Printing worked, so did networking.

Live CD’s are definitely useful. Find a computer that doesn’t work in a lab? Just put in the CD, and you can use it without problems.

Really says a lot for Linux. Ubuntu is definitely a great distro, the best I’ve seen so far. Now if I had a bigger hard drive, I’d have a partition for it. Eventually I will… I hope.

New Laptop

I’ve now had about about 48hrs with the new laptop. Just a few thoughts (in no paticular order):

On the plus side

  • Well built as typical of IBM. Nothing if squeaky, flimsy. It feels very solid, despite being so thin.
  • The 9 Cell battery sticks out the back a little (about an inch). And provides longer battery life over standard 6 cell. No big deal and more battery life.
  • ATI Radeon X300 Graphics Chipset (64MB) is much better than the 3200 ATI Radeon 7500 I had.
  • DVD±RW hasn’t been tested yet. I should get some DVD media (anyone have brand preference?)
  • Fingerprint reader is so 007. Very cool way to log in. Now nobody sees you typing your password.
  • Intel 802.11a/b/g card works fine. Not sure why so many people swap them out for IBM cards. As I see it right now, it’s working perfectly.

On the questionable (not really much here)

  • Fan Noise – this is the biggest complaint I’ve heard about the T43. The fan does seem to be a little louder than it should, but I don’t think it’s a deal breaker. Mine will likely cool a bit when more RAM arrives and my paging file doesn’t cause my hard drive to spin for hours on end.
  • Rescue and Recovery for backup purposes (imaging) isn’t that good. It’s really slow, and doesn’t seem to like incrimental backups. I’m going to order Acronis True Image to do the job instead.
  • PATA->SATA bridge causes many normal ATA drives to produce errors with the IBM BIOS. Ideally IBM would have just used SATA already, or stuck with ATA, but this bridge means great drives like the 7k100 won’t work, at least not yet (fingers crossed they release new ones with upgraded firmware).
  • No 2nd bay for extra hard drive. I’ d have to swap between the DVD/CD drive and another drive
  • No web navigation keys. I got used to having them.

So there’s really not much to improve on. The biggest would be the fan noise, and getting backups to be quick and smooth. Both aren’t that big of a deal. Fan noise I can deal with (my old laptop I think was louder), and the backups will be done with other software.

I’ve also decided to abandon Sygate as my software firewall, and move to Kerio (which is going to be unsupported soon). I really run these only because it’s a laptop, and not always on my clean firewalled network. Anyone have a recommendation for a good (free) firewall on Windows that doesn’t suck (read: no zonealarm). How could it have gone this long without an open source contender? Kerio doesn’t seem to bad, but I don’t like that it’s approaching End of Life.

Oh yea, Opera fans [read: anyone who doesn’t like IE, including Firefox fans] will be interested in this (if they haven’t found this yet). If you boot this system, and press Access IBM you go into an emergency partition on your hard drive (apparantly powered by a scaled down Windows NT or 2000 with a bunch of utilities. One option is to browse the web. On closer examination, they use Opera, not IE (info on the feature found here search for “Get help, by being connected”).

It’s alive

The laptop story is finally over.

Yesterday, a shiny new Thinkpad T43 arrived. I gave it a few hours yesterday and it performed well, no signs of any problems. I’ve got some extra RAM on order to help things out even further.

Executive Relations did come through, despite some supply issues limiting their abilities. They actually sent two (2) laptops in an attempt to get this resolved by today (Friday 10/21/05). One coming from Lenovo/IBM itself, one coming from a business parter. One arrived yesterday, and one arrived ahead of schedule (today) rather than next week sometime, and will now be mailed back.

Thanks to anyone over at Lenovo/IBM who slaved over my old A31 in attempts to resurrect it, or battled supply issues to get me a new T43 replacement.

And a reminder to everyone with a laptop: keep that warranty going for as long as you value your computer. It’s very good to have.

For anyone wondering, the fingerprint scanner, is somewhat of a toy (it’s not really any more secure than a good password, because it apparently on matches parts of your fingerprint, not the entire fingerprint, for speed purposes)… but makes logging in much less obtrusive. Kinda feels like 007.

And yes, I’ll be back working on the reporter tool a bit during the week now, not to mention mozPod, which I’ve neglected for months.