Fry's Surprise

april 10, 2007

Ask Eileen about this, but recently, I have been looking at Fry's ads and saying: "There's no more 'wow' to Fry's ads." It has been a long time since I cracked open a Fry's ad and said, "Wow, now that is a great deal!" Saturday, there was a "wow" type ad. Fry's was selling a GQ NX-L513 notebook for $399. This notebook regularly sells for $679.99, so it was a great deal. The specs of the notebook: Not a bad deal for $399. I am going to sell off my old P3 notebook and some oddities (like phones) to make up for the cost of this notebook. GQ (aka "Great Quality") is the in-house brand for Fry's. Usually, it is just Fry's rebranding white-box hardware. In the case of the NX-L513, it is a rebranded ECS LS51II notebook. The notebook was sold as having a 40GB harddrive inside, but I found that the HDD is really a Hitachi 60GB SATA drive that has been partitioned with 40GB usable (and the other 20GB unformatted). That made the deal even sweeter. I installed Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 on the box and found that the WLAN NIC was a GIGABYTE GN-WI01GT AirCruiser G 108Mbps Mini-PCI-E Adapter. Which, kind of sucks. That WLAN NIC is in a Mini-PCI-E slot, but acts like a USB device. The chipset used for it is a Ralink chipset. Ralink is a decent company and has released drivers for Linux under GPL. Except that the drivers are written in some strange funky fashion and don't work all that well. They don't integrate well into wpa_supplicant and because of that they don't work with NetworkManager. Getting the card to come up on boot did not work for me, it took more wrangling of monkeys in the /etc/sysconfig/network-scripts directory than I liked. And when I did get things kind of setup, the dhclient requests would not get done on boot. I finally gave up and ordered an Intel 3945abg card from Amazon. That has good support in RHEL5. The nice thing about the NX-L513 is that it is pretty easy to upgrade the components. The included instruction manual outlines how to upgrade RAM, HDD and WLAN cards -- and they are very easy to do. This is the first machine I have gotten in which the manual has something about popping open the machine. Very nice. And unlike Apple notebooks, upgrades do not require four very sweaty hands, prayers and a lot of gymnastics to get to key components (like the harddrive). The box also included a restore DVD which is nice -- considering most large manufactures nowadays opt for the hidden partition on the HDD and a "burn your own damned restore disk" approach. The only problem is that I tried to restore Vista (for shits and giggles), and it didn't work. It complains that the hardware has changed -- well, duh, of course the hardware configuration changed, I repartitioned the HDD to use the full 60GB available. Oh well, not a big loss as I was not going to use Vista anyways -- especially the "shareware" Vista Basic version. The screen on the notebook is bright and has a lot of contrast. It is also really sharp. The only problem is that I would have loved to have a matte screen instead of a glossy one. The reflection in the screen is really distracting. But, hey, I can't really complain on such a good deal. I still don't understand why people like the glossy screens though. I have the Intel Pro Wireless 3945abg card installed and am ready to install RHEL5 back onto the notebook. But, redhat.com is down for maintenance right now. Doh. I will have to wait a little be before they come back - I need to log into redhat.com in order to get my installation number and get the notebook "entitled" for updates. I'm really happy with the purchase and will write a longer review later. With the addition of the Intel 3945abg card, the notebook is as close to "Centrino" as possible (it has the correct Intel 945GM chipset and WLAN card) -- it can't be called a Centrino notebook for the fact that it is running a Celeron M processor (which is really a Core Solo without SpeedStep).