Saturday, May 31, 2014

Lenovo IdeaPad Z585 Impressions Part 1: Upgrading to a laptop

I hate laptops. I've always been a hardcore PC gamer and a laptop just doesn't cut it for that type of user. I've been needing to upgrade my desktop; the poor thing wore an Athlon II x2 250 and an HD6570, well below mid-range by current standards. It still performed adequately with the proper tweaking in games' graphics options, but its time had come. I had come up with a fine, affordable upgrade for it.

However, as I'm getting married next year, mobility became a major issue and I had to reconsider. Even if I weren't moving a lot these days, my wife-to-be doesn't quite grasp the magnificence of games and as we're hard-pressed for time, there are major spending cut-backs in our budget, which very likely means that the next 5 years will be comprised of nothing but me finally playing through my Good Old Games and Steam backlog.

To her credit, she was hell-bent on me merely upgrading, because the cost was technically lower. I had to pull my "I know better" card at that point in time, which I really hated doing because I wanted the upgrade too; but between the lack of space in our place (where we will stay after the wedding and with the first of our children) and her overall distaste for my hobbies, moving to a safer, quiet spot in the house according to circumstance (when her friends are visiting, during summer-time when it's hot inside and I smoke) mobility took precedence. Besides, I also write (short stories, this blog) and I need the computer for work, which made mobility a necessity when away from home.

It helped that my upgraded system's price jumped from a little over 300 Euros to well over 450. At that price, a laptop was more approachable.

Originally I was going for an i7 and GT740 combo; a gaming laptop costs way too much and it's honestly not a good investment. But that combo sounded perfectly serviceable for a few years. The problem was that my budget quickly and suddenly shrank; any such decent combo laptop costs at least 600 Euros; not a lot, but money I didn't have. What I did have was 500.

I managed to find a Lenovo IdeaPad Z585 at 460 Euros (480 with a base cooler). The specs weren't great; it wears an AMD A8-4500 with a dual graphics set-up between a 7640G APU and a dedicated 7670M. I had done a lot of research for laptops over the course of three months and while AMD is considered the preferred option for budget gaming, because their APUs are stronger than Intel's HD series, in general they were to be avoided.

Three things led me to finally ordering: 1) it was well-within my budget. 2) the A8 is, in fact, upgradeable and can be swapped with an A10 (including its superior APU) whenever I think it necessary and 3) the 8xxx  series of mobile GPUs is actually kind of crap; the 7670m is old, but strong.

The system arrived soon, but things didn't start off well. I wasn't that sold on it and it seemed like a desperate purchase I was going to loathe and once I opened the box, I had little reason to believe I was wrong. The laptop was Polish!

Lenovo is the former IBM, bought out by the PRC's government. This piece, however, had been imported from Poland. I had bought it from a local, Greek shop; a pretty big one as well, one I've been a customer of for over a decade. This is the first time they screwed me over so bad; everything is in Polish. The stickers on the frame are in Polish, the manuals, even Windows 8, leaving me wondering what the hell I'm supposed to when I log in. Add insult to injury, there are no drivers, no disks, not even a sticker with the Windows 8 serial number, which I'm pretty sure was included in the price.

Once my first wave of rage subsided a bit and I finished moving my desktop elsewhere and cleaning up my desk, I had a look at the device itself. The Z585 looks alright; it's mostly plastic, a major no-no for laptops that handle gaming, especially if they run on AMD hardware, as they tend to raise considerable temperatures that can literally melt part of the frame and cause damage. There is, however, plenty of aluminum covering on top of it.

The speakers are surprisingly good for a mobile system, loud without making the whole frame shiver and causing interference (the system boasts Dolby Home Theatre v4 capabilities). They are placed on the surface right above the keyboard. The keyboard itself is well-manufactured, keys are soft but maintain the necessary traction to avoid accidental key-strokes (important in gaming when your hand rests on the keyboard a lot of the time). The touchpad is fine as well, perfectly responsive, though of lesser importance all around as I'm using a mouse most of the time.

There are nice touch-buttons for system sleep and sound volume right above the speakers and the only problem is that resting my hand on the WASD keys during gaming can't be good for the temperature, as the left side of the frame is the one getting the hottest (or hot at all, for that matter) during heavy load.

The Z585 comes with only four USB slots, while I've noticed the two on the left side of the frame output a lot less power, which makes usage of storage devices or using them for charging other devices (such as a cell-phone) considerably problematic. There is also the standard HDMI output, as well as a VGA one. On the lower right side there are speaker and microphone outputs, while the IdeaPad also comes with built-in microphone and webcam (as it's customary these days).

There is a card reader on the front of the frame as well as the diagnostics lights, though I've only seen three, the one missing is the very needed "load" light (the one that usually flashes red when the system is under load), which I've come to rely on on desktop computers.

I tried to get rid of Win8 altogether, on account of the fact that that thing is made by Satan. I did manage to install Windows 7, by disabling secure boot and UEFI boot in the BIOS and reverting back to the Legacy boot.

The problem is that, while Windows 7 works perfectly fine with Legacy boot, Linux doesn't. The very existence of the UEFI boot screws it up and live versions of Ubuntu, Debian and Linux Mint (Ubuntu variant) couldn't even see the Windows partition.

This was successfully fixed using the great Fixparts tools that get rid of GTP leftovers on the hard drives and make the partitions usable again. I did manage to install Linux then, only one problem: IT WOULDN'T BOOT.

Grub didn't read Windows at all, fucked up the Master Boot Record and even Ubuntu wouldn't proceed past a certain point during loading the OS.

Friends, I tried time and again to fix that and with all my experience and research, I have yet to find a solution. At this moment, my computer only runs Windows 7. This may not be a huge problem for most users, but it is for me; I don't trust Windows, I find it unstable, restricting and in need of constant clean-ups or reinstalls every few months. I only ever use it for games, everything else (from work, word processing, reading and films/music) I do on Linux. Not being able to boot any distro from the hard drive is a major thorn on my side.

No comments:

Post a Comment