CentOS Laptop Support

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Today I found myself in need of a laptop to run CentOS on. And that simple statement led to an all-day odyssey.

My original plan was to purchase a laptop and install CentOS 6 on it. I went to Staples and tried booting it on every model of laptop that they had in the store. They all come with Windows 8 installed, and for the edification of anyone who doesn’t know this (I didn’t until today) you have to conduct a real song and dance to get to the bios settings on one of those things:

boot windows move mouse pointer to the top right corner of the screen move down to setting menu (gear) that shows up click on power off icon Hold shift key and left-click on “restart”
it goes to the troubleshooting screen click on advanced troubleshooting click on “change uefi settings”
now we get to the bios set secure boot off set legacy boot priority

And then you can boot from a USB flash drive. *whew* (It’s easy to put it back afterward, just go into the bios and tell it set to defaults, save and exit.)

Anyway, I tried booting a CentOS 6 Live CD image on a usb flash drive on every single model of laptop they had in stock and no joy on any of them — they either hung altogether, started booting and hung at some point along the way, started a continuous cycle of start booting, reset, start booting again, or kernel panicked. Every last one.

I then tried a CentOS 7 Live CD image on another usb flash drive and then the third machine that I tried it on (Lenovo Ideapad S400 Touch) worked. So I bought that one and have now wiped Windows off of its hard drive and installed CentOS 7 so it now looks and acts like a real computer.

I never would have thought that it would take all bloody day to purchase one laptop. (And I’m going to be having nightmares about that Windows Boot Manager thing.)

Since it has now become amazingly difficult to get a laptop if you’re not planning to use Windows, at least around here, I’m wondering what the rest of you fine folks do when it comes to purchasing a laptop? Next time this comes up, I’d rather not have to spend all day on something that used to take fifteen minutes.

45 thoughts on - CentOS Laptop Support

  • For the last few years I’ve been getting top of line Thinkpad T and X series. Too bad they’ve been making them cheaper recently.

  • op 02-10-14 09:01, wwp schreef:

    Hello All,

    when buying laptops I try to avoid Ati/Radeon cards, because of pas issues. But maybe it would be all right now.

    Definitely no Broadcom wireless. No Lenovo because of id/pairing protected cards. In short, I look for laptops with as many Intel parts as possible.

    Although it is true that Amd is a lot of power for a buck.

    Greetings, J.

  • Hello,

    What’s wrong w/ Broadcom wireless? Works fine here (Broadcom Corporation BCM4313 802.11bgn Wireless Network Adapter (rev 01)), even if I had to install their driver (it’s well documented on the CentOS
    wiki).

    Regards,

  • Been using CentOS.available on a series of Dell Precision laptops
    (M4300, M4600) since 2007 or so without much difficulty.

  • Thinkpad T series, and fully agree with Devin. Rock-solid, and pretty much all the pieces work – even Optimus.

    Still, CentOS would never be my first choice for a personal laptop …

  • Many years ago I purchased a Dell Inspiron direct from Dell and had very similar issues, so it is not just WinBloze 8, it is that the systems are intentionally set up to make it difficult. Took me about 3 hours just to get to the BIOS
    because the window of time was less than 1 second to hit the right key combo.

    The last time I purchased a laptop was from Emperor Linux in Atlanta, GA.

    http://www.emperorlinux.com/

    I purchased a Lenovo W500 from them a few years ago with my favorite flavor of Linux already installed. They have very good support and the owners are very helpful. They also have a very large selection of models and you can choose your own hardware configuration.

    I have long since installed more recent versions of Linux, including Fedora 20. The best thing about purchasing from them is that they have tested and configured each computer before they ship them.

    It is a few hundred $$ more expensive than purchasing from a local big box store. I imagine I would have spent many hours researching and testing before I
    purchased, and then some additional time getting Linux installed and running on anything I purchased. As a business owner of a Linux consulting and training company, I consider my time worth at least $100 per hour which is my basic hourly charge when consulting. So figure that purchasing from Emperor saved me way more than the additional cost I paid to them. Plus I did not have to pay the M$ tax.

    I have also helped customers with recent Acers that seem to work well with Linux.

    I hope this helps.

  • 1. use Fedora Live instead of CentOS for boot test, then install
    CentOS and replace the kernel with ELRepo kernel-ml. This is
    usually newer even than Fedora’s, thus presumably with much
    better support for new HW than stock CentOS.

    Of course, the risk here is that CentOS would not install/boot
    to the point to have a working yum and (wired) network. This can
    be usually tweaked, but hackish.

    2. search the net how well is supported (any) Linux distro by the
    models of interest, to not waste time trying them all at the
    shop. With ELRepo kernels one can usually replicate the same or
    better support for CentOS — if it can be tricked into installing
    and booting a minimal installation with yum and network.

    Using Fedora for many years, I have noted that a new HW gets fully supported gradually over 6-12 months. For instance, the last laptop I bought was an Asus UX31E for which even the motherboard was not well supported at the begin. After a year or so all fit into place. :-)

    I also keep a copy of the full disk with the original OS untouched to not loose the warranty. Before installing I boot into any Linux Live I have at hand and issue something like: dd if=/dev/sda |
    xz -9c directing the output to a network storage.

    Hope this helps.

    Mihai

  • op 02-10-14 11:33, wwp schreef:

    Hello,

    as it says on the CentOS wiki :
    *ATTENTION:* This driver module is NOT persistent across kernel upgrades
    (i.e. when you update the kernel, and boot the newly installed one, you’ll have to do this over again).

    That’s a bit inconvenient.

    Greetings, Johan

  • Hello Johan,

    Well well, here I upgraded kernels thru the updates many times, never had to reinstall the driver module, it simply works – and now I wonder why! :-)

    Regards,

  • With Dell laptops I pay special attention to get Intel wireless (as much as I hate intel for video chip I love Intel for their wireless chip), I’m definitely allergic to broadcom wireless from the very beginning. I do avoid Compaq (and HP since compaq was bought by them): they hard code in BIOS IDs of “approved” cards – it least compaq did it to me once, I had to dump BIOS, use hex editor to add Intel wireless card ID to replace with is broadcom crap – way back (yes, I had to unsolder PPROM chip from system board for that). It was the same Compaq that did, as some remember “clean room” –> IBM PC compatible. I too decided recently to stay away from Lenovo in a future, reading this thread confirms it. I’m staying away from Sony; they release very short series of models, do small tweaks, … you never know what you will get inside, no way to rely on experience published by others. Also I saw Sony fail more often (few people around buy them for themselves).

    My $0.02

    Valeri

    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    Valeri Galtsev Sr System Administrator Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics University of Chicago Phone: 773-702-4247
    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

  • My use of Linux on laptops predates my exposure to CentOS. I only ever switched distributions once, and IIRC it was when we were still using RHEL in the office.

    I need a distro that allows keeping up date in a reasonable way (but not necessarily bleeding edge, like Fedora). A largely static environment as presented by CentOS over its lifetime doesn’t suit. A
    new and recent requirement is to keep the machine free of poetteringware as much as possible.

  • Too optimistic. As Johnny states: what is in RHEL is, inevitably, in CentOS.

    I’m staying on CentOS 6 …… for as long as possible.

    Regards,

    Paul. England, EU.

    Learning until I die or experience dementia.

  • And then, finally going away – likely to FreeBDS, NetBSD, OpenBSD (much less likely), PC-BSD (more likely) – you continue the list yourself…
    ;-)

    My next laptop (I’m eagerly awaiting its arrival) will be FreeBSD
    (knocking on wood I didn’t screw up with hardware and will not screw up with system installation…)

    Valeri

    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    Valeri Galtsev Sr System Administrator Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics University of Chicago Phone: 773-702-4247
    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

  • op 02-10-14 15:01, Valeri Galtsev schreef:
    I was wondering about HP, I saw only one post saying they also have the id:pair coding. So confirmed here.

    I guess you can have the Broadcom cards work across kernel updates with DKMS, but never tried that. I try to keep third-party packages away from vital parts like kernels.

    That is what I appreciate about distro’s like Fedora and CentOS: they have no easy-enabled non-free repo
    ( that I know of ) that would let me use the Broadcom cards out-of-the-box. So you get to discover the limitations of open source software and you learn that some hardware manufactures are with it and some aren’t. And that narrows down the decision on where to spent my money and my company’s money.

    Greetings, Johan

  • I don’t make laptop purchases often… but it’s 100% Intel hardware when I do.

    Currently using a HP Envy TS m6-k025dx Sleek Book

    Refurbished from HP @ $529 [1]. You can still find them on-line… they were $750 new.

    Core i5 @ 2.6 GHz
    8GB / 750GB
    15.6″ LED-backlit touch screen @ 1920×1080
    Intel HD 4400 graphics
    5.6 lbs

    Everything works out of the box with C7 including touchscreen, wireless, blue-tooth, camera, audio. I had to reassign two pins on the sound chip to enable the sub woofer. I’d want a better keyboard if I were using the machine to code…

    [1] Windows users were returning them in droves due to buggy Intel wireless drivers. Thanks for the $220 discount HP !

  • I know this is probably a bit sacrilegious, but recently I have been tending to get a Mac laptop, and run any linux distributions I need inside a VM. OS X is (just barely) tolerable enough to be usable for most of my desktop purposes. (It’s not really cost-effective compared to non-Apple laptops, unfortunately.)

    –keith

  • Any Windows 8 laptop requires “secure boot” does it not? If I’m not mistaken that’s where your issues stem from. Just Micro$oft trying to get even more control from what I’ve heard.


    Sent from Mailbox

  • Somebody said: having mac is like driving Ferrari. Subaru or Ford will get you there as well, so you just pay extra for chic.

    Having said that, I do have mac (paid by the Department) so I can support Mac users (and give exact instructions). My particular model of MacBook Pro has known NVIDIA problem (you can search for that): with latest MacOS
    it kernel panics inside nvidia driver (let’s call it: nvidia driver is incompatible with that chip). So: 4 years old decently capable hardware can not be used with latest system. And Apple would not fix that as these machines are beyond 3 year of Apple “protection plan”. I reject suggestions to stay with system one version older: the only reason for this laptop was for me to give mac users (whom my job is to recommend to get latest system + updates) exact directions, so _I_ have to have latest system for that. Therefore strong decision not to invest into any Apple hardware whenever possible.

    Valeri

    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    Valeri Galtsev Sr System Administrator Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics University of Chicago Phone: 773-702-4247
    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

  • That approach works with windows too. You take a small hit in performance as a tradeoff for not having to scramble for drivers all the time. But, most of my real work actually runs on headless servers with NX/freenx giving a fairly efficient remote X desktop from linux/windows/mac systems with the advantage that you can suspend the session and pick it up from a different location with everything still running. X2go has equivalent features and seems to replace freenx for CentOS 7. I just haven’t switched because I run ‘synergy’ to share the keyboard/mouse on my main desktop and there is some sort of conflict.

  • The second-last step in my little how-to list is “set secure boot off”. None of those laptops worked with CentOS 6 after that. (I tried Acer, Asus, Lenovo and HP — everything in the store from the cheapest one up to about $800 or so.)

  • Keith Keller wrote:

    For the last five years, I think it is, I’ve had the Ubuntu netbook remix on my HP netbook. I keep thinking about moving to CentOS – I rather dislike Ubuntu’s idea of where to put things, how to update, the almost-bleeding-edge frequency of updates….

    If I were buying a laptop, I’d probably go for a Dell Lattitude
    (*enterprise* grade laptop, not consumer grade, which are crap, intended to run WinDoze, and they expect you to buy a new laptop the next time M$
    releases a new version of WinDoze, since it needs that much more in the way of performance….

    mark
    mark

  • You sure there was no *separate* thing to check to ->enable< - "legacy boot"? I think the problem here was that the kernel in CentOS 6 is too old to boot on a modern laptop, there is not enough back-ported hardware enablement to drive systems that didn’t exist when 2.6.32 was released 5 years ago in 2009. CentOS 7 booted just fine on those devices and should work with SecureBoot enabled as well.

  • If there was, it was exceptionally well hidden. There aren’t a whole lot of options in those bios’s, though, and I saw at least four completely different versions, so I don’t think I would have overlooked that.

    Most of the machines (I think all of them, actually) started to boot CentOS 6 to at least some extent. They just failed (lock up, kernel panic, etc) somewhere along the line after that. And CentOS 7 did work on the third one that I tried.

  • CentOS 7 booted just fine on the third one that I tried and then I stopped trying and purchased that one. There was no joy with the two before that, though. So CentOS 7 doesn’t work with all of them. One out of three in that semi-random test.

  • I am typing this reply on a Dell Precision M4300 in Thunderbird on CentOS 6.

    Even though the M4300 isn’t the newest thing out there, it is my primary machine, and has been for a year or so (previously my primary was a Dell Precision M65 for about four years). The M4300 is essentially the exact same thing as a Latitude D830, with a different main and video BIOS.
    The video chip in the D830, if you pull the heatsink, actually has the FX 360M silscreened on the die, even though it identifies as either an NVS135M or NVS140M (depending upon amount of video RAM). (The M65 is essentially the D820, and the D820 just has a slightly crippled BIOS
    that reports the video as and NVS-series instead of an FX-series).

    With a Penryn CPU and sufficient RAM the box is snappy (I have a T9300
    in mine, although the T9500 or X9000 would be a bit faster. The X9000 is over three times the price of a T9300, used, and the difference between a Penryn at 2.5GHz and at 2.8GHz is minimal; now, the 2.5GHz T9300 will wipe the floor with a 2.6GHz Merom-core T7800 (I’ve tried this comparison, and the Penryn is significantly faster). And since many sellers just list the speed and not the core, you’re guaranteed a Penryn if you get a 2.5GHz, but the T7800 Merom and the T9500 Penryn are both
    2.6GHz….. and while the T9300 and T9500 are both listed as 35W chips
    (the X9000 is a 44W chip, and while it will work, these machines are already straining in the thermal management department…..) the T9300
    does run a bit cooler, and that’s good for the GPU, which shares the heatpipe radiator with the CPU and northbridge.

    Do note that the FX 360M is one of the heat-plagued nVidia chips, so I
    have a small supply of known working motherboards (mine are in machines….) on-hand, since the GPU will fail sooner or later.

    As to the wifi, I’m using a Dell-branded Broadcom BCM4321 802.11a/b/g/n card, using the ELrepo kmod-wl built from the ‘nosrc’ RPM available from ELrepo (the kmod interface means kernel updates shouldn’t break it…..). The reason for the Broadcom has to do with another OS that I’m dual-booting on this machine…..

    I know, that’s probably more than you wanted to know…. but, not too incidentally, a gently-used M4300 can be had on eBay for less than
    $100. I got another spare just this past week for about $60, 1920×1200
    screen and all. I have thought about trying for an M4400 with a quad-core, though.

  • If you look at the Latitude and Precision offerings from Dell you will notice that RHEL is offered as an OS. These are specifically designed to run Linux and therefore, they should all work fine with CentOS as well.

    Mike

  • I agree to a point. To extend the analogy further (perhaps too far), I
    pay a lot for my Ferrari, but I don’t have to spend days researching whether I should get Subaru, or Ford, or Toyota, and then I don’t have to spend days or weeks fighting to get my Toyota working (and, likely, regretting that I didn’t get a Ford) because I really really refuse to use the default Toyota engine.

    If getting OS X to do what I want were any more difficult, I would abandon it. So really I’m paying extra for laziness.

    (FWIW, and not really on-topic, in my home environment my family has apps that only run on OS X, so that locks me in there. And at work, much of my group is on OS X, so I get benefit from being on the same platform as my colleagues.)

    –keith

  • On the HP laptop I mentioned earlier, I absolutely could not get C6.5
    live to boot (kernel panic). But I was able to install C6.5 on it using the net install iso! Not sure what is different with the two, but the machine ran C6.5 perfectly (except touchscreen, which I never attempted to research).

  • I would also mention my “predicted hardware longevity” test I do to laptops. I grab the base part on the sides with both hands and attempt to bend it to a shape of propeller. If it is sturdy and doesn’t bend, it passed the sets. If it is flexible (flexibility is only good quality for a person, not for equipment ;-) then the system board will be flexed and will develop micro cracks quite likely – much sooner than sturdy laptop will. Then the laptop will be not reliable or die soon. (This cuts out many inexpensive laptops on consumer market, variety of Dells included)

    Just my $0.02

    Valeri

    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    Valeri Galtsev Sr System Administrator Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics University of Chicago Phone: 773-702-4247
    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

  • Valeri Galtsev wrote:

    Like it. I was *always* leery of the Razor phone, and the Vaio – too bloody thin, too likely to bend and have something break.

    mark

  • Choosing a laptop these days does have some extra pitfalls, especially if you’re a GNU Linux user. I have just started college (return to education) and while waiting for my student finance having been looking round at the laptop options.

    My intention is to run CentOS 6.x and VM Windows and any other OS etc. After discarding many options I seem to have settled with an eye on a HP
    ProBook 455 G2.

    http://store.hp.com/UKStore/Merch/Product.aspx?id=G6W43EA&opt=ABU&sel=PBNB

    This system has legacy BIOS options if you read the manuals and does mention linux quite a bit. There is info about Ubuntu and below is a link to the laptop on Ubuntu certification site.

    http://www.ubuntu.com/certification/hardware/201404-14968/components/

    If anyone is running CentOS on this series of laptop, I would very much like to hear your experiences!

    Regards

    Phil

  • There are several ProBook 455 G2 variants. Your one is G6W43EA.

    AMD Dual-Core A6 Pro-7050B APU with Radeon R4 Graphics

    Very unimpressive CPU. I stopped buying anything that low in performance
    4 years ago. But it is your choice. For simple writing it may be sufficient. If you can afford it, and regardless of which machine you eventually purchase, increase the memory to 8 GB.

    http://www.cpubenchmark.net/cpu_list.php

    Seeing off-the-shelf computer systems available only with Windoze greatly depresses me. Inevitably one wonders if CentOS will cleanly install on them or whether the hardware/firmware have been ‘windozed’ to prevent the installation of superior competing operating systems.

    The windoze monopoly should be stopped by law. The only hope is the EU’s anti-competition policy since the USA will not act.

  • I don’t run C6 on this series but having tried both C6 and C7 on a HP
    Touchsmart with AMD/ATI GPU, my suggestion echos others in the thread, stay away from AMD graphics for laptops. C7 works fine, once I got proprietary AMD drivers installed and remembered to recompile them after a kernel version jump.

  • Yes, the plan was to upgrade the RAM to 12GB if I were to get it. The performance of mobile APU is a worry and I will be taking one for a test drive closer to purchase time. Also the time I would test a C6 usb stick on it too.

    I do have another laptop in my ‘possible purchases’ bookmarks, an 8GB, i7 (intel 4000 graphics) Asus vivobook X550CA. My only check-ups to do with this one is the BIOS/ability to use older OS like C6 and the chassis itself – must see and touch it as I have seen way too many laptops these days that are a bit flimsy in construction.

    Regards

    Phil

  • I have dual feelings. I do agree, but on the other side, we vote for laptops that ship with Windoze only by paying for them. To the best of my knowledge, we (who prefer main OS to be not Windoze, majority on this list would say Linux. I’m getting myself laptop nu which I hope to have under FreeBSD; in the past I had solaris once…). Still, we are not the ones whose dollars, Pound Sterlings, Marks, euros define manufacturer’s profits. Majority doesn’t care what system there will be… And they don’t care about hardware thus I see many video cards on laptops with “shared memory” – read without memory, but clogging memory bus with video traffic that doesn’t belong there. Kind of reminds me computer I soldered together
    (yes, from ICs: Z80 processor, video controller IC, RAM ICs, EPROM,…)
    that had video frame leaving in some range of RAM addresses. Which leads me to the question which I realaly like to ask you, Experts:

    Many curse AMD video chips (for laptop) in this thread. Are these only
    “shared memory” chips that people have reason not to like? Or real
    “discrete” AMD (former ATI) chips are bad on laptops as well? If there are any. (Are there any with their own dedicated video RAM?). What about NVIDIA as a comparison? (I’m not asking about intel which sits inside CPU
    case and definitely is “shared memory” type, – or I’m wrong?)

    In the past (and my experience was still the same recently) NVIDIA had too little disclosed about internals of their chips, so there was no way to write open source driver covering more than just generics (not too trivial thing is, e.g.: two screens of different resolution on the same chip). ATI
    (then, before they were bought out by AMD) video chips (again, the real ones with “discrete” video memory) had better publicly accessible documentation, so open source video drivers for them were waaay better
    (ATI cards were my life savers! And still are). What is the state of the art in that respect now? (I guess, having “Sr” in my job title I should do my homework myself, still nor being “sr” citizen yet, but just lazy I feel it would be great to hear what experts say).

    Valeri

    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    Valeri Galtsev Sr System Administrator Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics University of Chicago Phone: 773-702-4247
    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

  • I agree with this … the Lenovo T and X series are known to work well with both CentOS-6 and CentOS-7.

    I have also had good luck with the Dell Inspiron and Dell Moblie Workstation type laptops (m4*00 and m6*00 series) laptops.

    Since CentOS is built from source code provided by Red Hat, one can go here and search for laptop to get an idea of what should work with each major version of CentOS:

    https://hardware.redhat.com/

    Note: This is just a list of things that is likely to work as CentOS
    contains no official certification of hardware and CentOS is not RHEL. But if it runs RHEL, it likely also runs CentOS.

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