Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Ubuntu on Metabox (Clevo) L140MU

The Clevo L140MU uses the Intel 11th Gen i5 or i7 processor, which is an integrated SoC with wifi and Iris Xe graphics. The model I tested on has an extra 8GB of RAM, making 16GB in total, and a 512GB SSD. I chose the i5 model as the i7 is only 20% faster for a lot more money, and probably runs hotter. Both processors have 4 cores with hyperthreading. It comes with no operating system, so you don't have to pay the "Microsoft tax" -- a positive point for a Linux enthusiast. However, you can't buy direct from Clevo. You have to go to a reseller like Metabox, Sager or System76. (Their Lemur Pro seems to be this model.)

Physical characteristics

The laptop is extraordinarily light. The body is reportedly a magnesium alloy anodysed black. It's thicker than I was led to believe. It measures 15mm x 220mm x 323mm, excluding the rubber feet, which protrude a further 2mm. The base is not tapered and hence is fairly chunky for such a light laptop. This is to accomodate the 73 Wh battery. The build quality is good. The lid is mounted via a spindle-type hinge as on a Macbook, and looks really solid. It is very smooth, doesn't creak and goes back evenly with the same force all the way to 180 degrees as advertised. The lid is rigid, the screen is matte. The power cable goes in on the left hand side. The power brick is a fairly hefty 65 watt one. Ports on the left are thunderbolt, USB, HDMI and on the right, lock, USB, stereo audio jack, SD mini and power button. Ventilation is between the screen and the body. The fan is off or inaudible most of the time in normal use. When it does come on it is quiet and discreet.

The base has 12 screws deeply inset, and four rubber feet which seem firmly attached (so far) and are rather sharp. This is always a weak point with laptops and I remain sceptical that this new design will fare any better than usual. But let's hope I'm wrong.

The laptop comes with numerous ugly stickers, which have to be removed carefully without scratching the anodysed magnesium. I used a plastic spudger to lever up a corner and then pulled them off easily. You really don't want to use any kind of metal tool. And do it soon, before the glue sets hard.

Screen

The screen has a good range of brightness and although I can't measure it, it looks decently bright at full blast. It is of good quality and can be viewed at a sharp angle without dimming. Though they don't say it is IPS it looks like it is. It measures oddly 310mm x 175mm. This is a lot wider than your average 14 inch. However, a quick calculation reveals that this ratio: 1.77:1 is precisely that of FHD (1920x1080), so the proportions of all images displayed on it are true to life.

Keyboard and trackpad

The keyboard is a chiclet style with more than average travel. It is comfortable to use, though I wonder if too much of a gap has been left between keys and the surrounds for crumbs, fingernails and general rubbish to creep in. It has several intensities of backlighting reached by repeatedly hitting the keyboard backlight (fn-F4) key.

PgUp and PgDn are stupidly squeezed in above the left-arrow and right-arrow keys. This means that navigating via left or right arrow in a document frequently results in hitting PgUp or PgDn by mistake. The only way to make the left and right arrow keys usable is to disable PgUp and PgDn via xmodmap:

xmodmap -e 'keycode 117='
xmodmap -e 'keycode 112='

Making this permanent though may take a little more thought.

The trackpad is Elantec and as in my previous Clevo works well under Ubuntu. Two-fingered scroll works only in the "natural" way regardless of the setting in the Mouse and Touchpad control panel. To turn it off you need to type in the terminal:

gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.peripherals.touchpad natural-scroll false

The tapping areas need configuring as the default setting recognises the middle of the trackpad as the middle button of a mouse. This is easily fixed though:

sudo apt-get install xinput
xinput --list
xinput get-button-map 12
xinput set-button-map 12 1 1 3 4 5 6 7

The list command tells you the ID of the trackpad, which in my case is 12. The last command modifies the buttton-map for id 12 so that buttons 1 and 2 both do the job of button 1. I haven't yet managed to get this to persist between reboots, however.

Speakers

Another drawback with this model is the poor sound quality of its speakers. Maybe I am spoiled from having higher quality speakers found in mainstream laptops, but there is a definite reverberation between the speakers and the keyboard. You really need to use headphones to get decent sound.

Battery

After 12 hours of normal use including rest periods it went from 100% to 40%. It lost about 12% overnight while in suspend (I think).

Installing Ubuntu

For this model you need Ubuntu 20.10 with the 5.8 kernel. With 20.04 (kernel 5.4) the brightness controls didn't work. Installation was easy once you find out that the F7 key lets you choose the startup disk. The wifi works fine. The backlit keyboard button (fn-F4) works, as do volume controls (fn-F5 and F6), brightness (fn-F8 and F9). fn-F1 does nothing. fn-F2 and F3 work as expected. fn-F10 does nothing. fn-F11 enters airplane mode. fn-F12 puts the screen to sleep.

After a while I realised that having to hold down the fn-key when accessing things like screen brightness is really annoying. So I reprogrammed the F3, F5, F6, F8 and F9 keys to control sound and brightness directly. For this you need to install xdotool and program the keys via Settings->Keyboard shortcuts. For example I defined a custom shortcut called "mute" with the definition xdotool key XF86AudioMute.

One issue that only emerged after using it for a while was that auto-suspend, which kicked in every 5 minutes of idleness, tended to crash the machine. I upgraded the software using Software Update and also disabled auto-suspend and now all seems fine.

Conclusion

This is a good laptop for Linux, especially as it does not come preinstalled with Windows. The build quality and the battery are both positive points. In spite of a number of glitches, which can all be got around. I would recommend this laptop for Linux. Remember there are no perfect Linux machines out there.