Monday, October 4, 2010

Windows v Linux on a new laptop

So I've moved on to a different organization. Once at the new office, I received a new laptop: a Dell Latitude E6410. This is a pretty nice machine. A bit heavy and bulky for my tastes, but more than enough power for the things I need to do (write documents, edit spreadsheets, read e-mail, browse the web, etc.)

It came from the factory with Windows Vista Basic pre-installed, but of course I wanted to put Linux on it. Our standard here is Windows 7, so it needed to be re-installed anyway.

What a perfect opportunity to compare the ease of installing Windows on a new laptop, versus installing Linux!

Knowing that Windows would try to clobber any pre-existing Linux installation, I let my tech support team install Windows first. I'd install Linux afterwards. All I asked was that they leave about half the hard drive space unallocated, so I could install Linux later.


We haven't ordered very many laptops before this (most of our users have desktop PCs) so our tech support team didn't have a Windows 7 image to lay down. Instead, our tech person had to install from scratch - and experienced a nightmare in getting Windows to run on this laptop.

First, the Windows 7 installer refused to recognize the nVidia GT218 [NVS 3100M] graphics card, and would only drive the system in standard VGA mode. Not exactly easy to use. The solution should be simple, though - right? Just download a new driver from nVidia's web site, and you're up and running. Except that the Windows installer also failed to recognize the Intel 82577LM Gigabit network adapter.

So he had to use another machine to download the network driver from Intel's support site, copy to my new laptop via a USB flash drive, and install it. A few reboots later, he was finally on the network.

Only then was he finally able to download the nVidia driver, to get video working on my new laptop.

From start to finish, installing Windows 7 (from scratch) on this laptop took over 6 hours. And that was just for Windows 7. I still don't have Microsoft Office installed, but since I rarely boot into Windows (and use Google Docs for most everything anyway) I doubt I'll bother.


Installing Linux was pretty straightforward for me. First, I used my bootable USB flash drive to boot the laptop into Fedora 13, to verify that everything worked. I immediately got on the network, and had access to full resolution via the Nouveau driver (an experimental open source software driver for nVidia cards.)

Satisfied that everything was compatible, I rebooted the laptop using a bootable USB live installer (thanks to LiveUSB Creator) and immediately proceeded to install Fedora 13.

Installation took about 20 minutes from start to finish. And that includes all the bundled applications, such as OpenOffice suite, too.


Easily, I'd say Linux "won" this one. But it would be dishonest of me to ignore that I've had some issues.

To be honest, I'm not all that impressed with the graphics on this system. I have the nVidia graphics card. The free Nouveau driver gives me video, and it drives my second just monitor fine. But very occasionally it has problems initiazing itself during boot. My temporary solution has been to reboot, and that seems to work. I sort of blame nVidia for that; the error message indicates the card wasn't ready for use by the time Nouveau loaded itself.

Eventually, I installed nVidia's proprietary driver. Actually, that was painless, but I did need to install the C compiler. Reboot your system into text mode, then run nVidia's install script. It does everything for you, and sets up the configuration for graphics to display properly.

The only thing you'll need to do is disable the Nouveau driver. The easiest way to do that is by passing these options at boot time:

rdblacklist=nouveau nomodeset

Unfortunately, this has the side-effect of disabling the graphical boot. Rather than seeing the nifty Fedora "F" logo at boot time, you'll see a text-mode multi-coloured progress bar at the bottom of the screen. It's a decent compromise for working video.

You may need to re-install the nVidia driver whenever you update your kernel package, but that's pretty rare. Aside from that, it's worked out pretty well.

I'll add that all this would be completely unnecessary if nVidia would wake up and support open source software. Release the specs, and let the Linux developer community write their own free driver. The Nouveau driver is a great effort, but they'll never be able to support all the features of the hardware without knowing how to program for them.


  1. This is a question I now have: what's the point of making a driver proprietary? People have to pay for the component (be it internal or external) anyway, and the drivers are available for free anyway (as in beer), so how does making a driver proprietary help anything? All it does is sets the developers' priorities over the community's (while the community constitutes the driver's actual userbase).
    a Linux Mint user since 2009 May 1

  2. I have a 3100M on my system, and sometimes the damn thing causes problems during boot up and shutdown. Eventually I figured out it was because the NVIDIA messes with ACPI. Turn off ACPI, and it never causes a problem.


    Maybe the NVIDIA has a buggy firmware. I don't know.

  3. The reason most manufacturers give to keep their drivers proprietary is that providing the necessary documentation to developers would reveal too much information about how the hardware is designed. This is far more significant for products that do sophisticated signal processing, like sound- and video-cards.

  4. "The only thing you'll need to do is disable the Nouveau driver. The easiest way to do that is by passing these options at boot time:

    rdblacklist=nouveau nomodeset"

    You lost my grandmother. She is happilly going back to her Mac.

    The rest of the family too by the way.

  5. Your whole issues section shows that the Linux install sucked! So be honest and declare a stalemate: it's 2010 and installing any OS is still a PITA!

    Actually I'm willing to bet that any of the more "desktop ready" distros (read: PCLinuxOS, Mint, or Sabayon) would have gone smooth as a hot knife through butter!

  6. @jdmuys, really? Seriously? THAT is what you took away from this?

    What about this:
    "the Windows installer also failed to recognize the Intel 82577LM Gigabit network adapter."

    Right there, THAT would lose my grandmother. Can't get online? No thanks. Fail.

    Or this:
    "Windows 7 installer refused to recognize the nVidia GT218 [NVS 3100M] graphics card"

    And THAT one would have lost all the rest of my family. Especially since the computer can't get online. Can't play games? Lame. They quit.

    Or even this:
    "From start to finish, installing Windows 7 (from scratch) on this laptop took over 6 hours. And that was just for Windows 7. I still don't have Microsoft Office installed"

    THAT is why all my friends ask me for help with their computers. And I don't even like Windoews. You're going to lose an entire day to installing the latest versi0on of Windows? Lame.

    But that's ok to jdmuys, because taking 20 minutes to install Linux, plus another minute to add a boot option, is wholly unacceptable. Sheesh.

  7. I think this isa really good comparison. Great post!

    I'd also be intersted in your experience with Fedora 14, which is due in like a month.
    Maybe you could try the beta on your flash drive? Nouveau might be better for your laptop.

  8. That's a great idea, pyxie. I will try to set that up soon.

  9. BS... Win7 takes about the same a *Buntu to install and is way more stable... Gotta be honest, Win7 is much better... Sad to say as I was a long time Linux user...

  10. @PV: "what's the point of making a driver proprietary"

    Richard has part of it, knowing detailed information about how to interface with a piece of hardware makes it much easier to reverse engineer. But there's another reason too: drivers themselves often have a lot of logic. Consider video card drivers. They've got all sort of stuff that you wouldn't think of right off the bat... I mean there are some compilers in there for shader languages. AMD could very possibly get some optimation pass or similar from nVidia's driver that would make their shaders run faster. Or what about things like the OpenGL state machine? If the driver is doing some compilation of the OpenGL or Direct3D instructions into its own ISA, that could give a tremendous amount of useful information. (I don't know if it is or not, but conceivably it could be.)

    But mostly it's probably just poorly-justified corporate stubbornness.

  11. OMG, avoid any and all proprietary posturing, whatever the reason, by ONLY BUYING from LINUX vendors. The best two are ZaReason and System 76.

    My favorite is ZaReason and they have Linux laptops.

    You can always buy Windows 7 and install it separately if you must...I got off that crazy insane roller coaster after Windows 2000 ignored my wishes and auto updated anyway...huge mistake.

    Both installs (Windows 7 and Linux Fedora) failed on proprietary hardware....hardly a new story there. There is a reason Intel has sued Microsoft. Foxconn admitted to changing the BIOS to not work with Linux. Nvidia has a history of being non-Linux Friendly as well. (ZaReason knows which Nvidia hardware works with Linux...most do...and which Nvidia hardware does not for 6 months to a year, eventually all Nvidia hardware just works with Linux...eventually)

    Yes all the proprietary companies, even those catering to Microsoft, eventually release their device drivers into open source, FOSS in hopes of making more profit...this is why Linux has more device drivers available for it than any other operating system in the history of mankind and this will never change.

    The only difference that matters is this....

    Buy hardware from a Linux vendor, ZaReason, if you want to run Windows 7, you can. However the opposite is not always true is it? If you purchase a PC/laptop from a big box store, it will run the operating system that comes on it (most of the time) but there may be proprietary hardware preventing you from running Linux.

    Best of all, by following this advice, when Microsoft stops supporting the OS - and eventually they will drop support - that runs on that hardware, you know with 100% certainty that the hardware will run Linux every time! (Why feel up land fills, at least donate it to schools in poor areas of the country)

    Avoid hassles, buy ONLY from Linux Vendors!

    Why be penny wise and dollar foolish? Buy from Linux vendors like ZaReason

    Note: I do not work for ZaReason, just love their hardware as it just works without hassles!

  12. @lamapper - Long ago, I bought a desktop system from VA Research. Great hardware! And it was great to support a company that was selling PCs with Linux pre-installed.

  13. @PV: One of the excuses that NVidia (and numerous others) use is that they fear patent lawsuits if they make their code public. One genuine reason which many use is that they have licensed something from a third party and cannot release some of the source code without violating their license agreement. I agree with evaned though; for the most part it's simply a matter of making excuses - in many cases the bosses believe that they may be revealing something of value when in fact they're not. Just imagine Intel not revealing anything about how to use its CPUs. Sure they won't divulge secrets on their design and fabrication but that's a different matter. With graphics engines it's a similar story and yet manufacturers want to keep the "how to use" information secret. I really don't see why. In the case of NVidia for example, if people knew how to operate their graphics chips then someone may come up with better algorithms to program into the chips - but they're still NVidia chips. (Yes, many modern graphics chips are programmable devices.)

  14. Why are there *always* anonymous posters out there who poo-poo non-MS software and never provide any relevant details? It always reminds me of the strung-out dope user telling everyone about the numerous government conspiracies against him.

  15. You reminded me I have not hugged my Mac today...

  16. Ubuntu 10.4 vs Windows 7 was my trial, and my experience was about the opposite. Windows installed seamlessly and run beautifully on two computers, while Ubuntu had trouble with the wireless G card and a few other issues. Previous installations of Linux distros have also left me unimpressed and wondering how others have the opposite experience.

  17. Come on, back it up...
    The article is totally wrong.
    Just install Win7 and you will see...
    Instead of blaming anything but the facts.
    I would love to tell you that Debian Testing/Stable, Ubuntu LTS or a RHEL clone is the best thing since slice bread, as I have been using them exclusively for 5 years. Believe it, I know what I am talking about.
    Win7 is simply so vastly superior, it makes me laugh when I read some fanboy´s article like this one spreading ignorants non-facts...
    Do your homework, and don´t spread lies...
    I don´t particularly like MS... But Win7 is the best OS I have ever seen...
    Being anonymous is irrelevant to the matter... Face it !

  18. Some Guy, now you mention it, I think this quote stands out:

    "Nouveau driver gives me video, and it drives my second just monitor fine. But very occasionally it has problems initiazing itself during boot."

    For me, the NVIDIA driver has buggy firmware, which is what probably caused this for JH. I wonder if I'd instead put up with the occassional problem (fixed by a reboot).

  19. @MadScientist: This is one of the reason the free software community is against software patents: the patent thicket. There are so many patents in one area covering very similar features that companies with new products feel that they have to patent their product or else they'll get their pants sued off. Of course, this doesn't particularly add to the original argument - it's just an interesting side-note.
    a Linux Mint user since 2009 May 1

  20. And then he joined it to the domain so you could get to local resources... Guess what happens when he tries to do this under Linux, it doesn't get very far.

  21. Linux flash drive can provide a communication channel that is safe from a possibly compromised computer. linux flash drive


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