I was given an incredible gift by my former employer as a parting gift, an HP EliteBook 840 G7. I didn’t unpack it right away as I wasn’t sure how I was going to integrate it into my mess of computer equipment. I have been very happy with my Dell Latitude E6440 and decided my next system was going to be a desktop system.
Bottom line up front, I am surprisingly pleased with this system. The HPs I have used in times past have been less than stellar and this machine is not at all anywhere close to the same experience. This machine is pretty great and far better than any HP I have ever used. openSUSE Tumbleweed runs fantastically well on this hardware. Setting it up was trivial and it has been a fantastic experience.
Specifications that Matter
This isn’t a loaded up unit and based on this site from HP, it is on the lower end of the spectrum. Comparing to what I am currently using as my main machine, it has half the RAM and 1/8th the storage space.
Intel Core i5-10310U Processor – This is not the fastest processor and there are faster options available for this machine. According to HP’s knowledge base on this machine, it can accept as much as a Intel Core i7-10810U. The actual difference between the two, according to CPUbenchmark.net, is about a 20% improvement. This is good news is, I can potentially make this laptop even more useful in the processing department… that is, assuming it isn’t soldered on.
8 GiB DDR4 with 7.5 GiB available for use. According to HP, this can take up to 64 GiB of RAM. I think that is incredibly spectacular. That definitely means I can grow into this machine over the long term. My reckless use of system resource causes me to chomp through the 7.5 GiB available pretty quickly. It’s a bit light for doing video editing and CAD work but still doable, so long as I don’t have a browser with 20+ tabs open.
Bottom line, this isn’t great now but could be very great for a rather small investment. Just by swapping out one of the SO-DIMMS with a 32 GiB module would make a huge difference.
This laptop comes equipped with an anti-glare, non-touch, 1920×1080 display. I am not sure exactly the characteristics of this specific display as there are a lot of options according to this listing. Whichever version this machine has, I am very pleased with it.
Ports and Interfaces
This computer isn’t what I would consider heavy on interfaces. I might go as far to say it is a bit light but it does have the ports that truly count. I am a bit disappointed it is missing an SD Card reader but lets focus on what it does have, not what it is missing.
The front and back of the computer are void of any interfaces. This works well for the back due to how the screen pivots. I have seen alternative designs for hinges that allow for access to the back but from a usability perspective, accessing ports on the back is an exercise in fiddling around blindly unless you decide to crane your head around the backside of the computer. Ultimately, I don’t care one way or the other on this one.
The left side of the computer has four interfaces interfaces:
(2) USB 3.1 Gen 1 port (1 charging). I have used both of the USB slots though one tends to have a Logitech wireless mouse dongle in it. I have no complaints in this department.
(1) Headphone/microphone combo jack, or sometimes called a “courage port” and although I tend to use Bluetooth for “quiet listening” I do think a headphone jack is necessary on a computer and to not have one is terrible.
SmartCard slot, it is a vital necessity to have a SmartCard reader for a computer. Without one, I would have to plug in a USB external and that is, frankly, a less than ideal situation.
The unnamed opening on the side is for that Kensington Security Slot. That is for the purpose of locking your computer to the desk… which makes it like a desktop.
The right side of the computer contains five interfaces:
(2) USB 3.1 Type-C port with Thunderbolt support. I have tested this, running openSUSE Tumbleweed with the Plasma desktop, the ports do recognize and enable dock stations as well as charge from them. I didn’t test the external display capability but that will come in the future.
(1) HDMI 1.4 port. This is standard fare for a laptop purchased in 2020. I am not sure if HDMI is preferred over DisplayPort but it is what I have.
(1) AC power input port. Since I am still quite uncertain as to the reliability of the USB-C port for the long term, I do appreciate having a barrel jack for power. I do think this will likely last longer than the USB-C port.
There is a blocked off SIM card slot on this computer, presumably due to the lack of WWAN. This is a factory install option, according to HP. That is unfortunate as that would have been a nice add on. I’m sure there is a way to hack it together, maybe.
Construction and Aesthetics
The laptop’s chassis is made of aluminum. According to the HP marketing information, it is made of machined-aluminum. I find that a bit hard to believe as I don’t see evidence of any machining marks and that seems incredibly cost prohibitive but I am not the expert here, nor have I seen the manufacturing plant. It very well could be true and this could be an incredibly well designed machine with spectacular manufacturing processes. It does look very nice. It has nice, sharp lines and just feels solid. The test a lot of tech enthusiasts give a machine is holding it by a corner with the screen lid open to see if it creaks or flexes. This computer does not do that.
The keyboard is claimed to be made of 50% recycled DVDs. The other 50% isn’t specified and why only DVDs and not CDs mentioned. They are both made from polycarbonate plastic. Perhaps people are done throwing out CDs? Also, who throws away DVDs? I have so many questions here. I absolutely prefer that all materials are recycled so I love seeing that HP is making it a point to utilize recycle materials in new machines.
The bezel of the computer is very thin, much thinner than I am used to seeing on a laptop. I am sure there are smaller but my biggest concern is, how do I take this apart without cracking it? The screen is visually of great quality and has a kind of indescribable clarity that I really appreciate.
I am incredibly impressed that HP made this computer so easy to access the innards. The bottom is held in place by five screws. There are clips towards the front of the case so it needs to be swung open towards the front of the machine.
Very surprisingly, they used captive screws so you don’t have to set them in a magnetic bowl or end up brushing them off your workbench and spend hours looking on your cluttered floor to find them.
Inside reveals easy access to the memory, SSD or in this case NVME. I didn’t take the CPU fan and heat piping out to see if the CPU was easily replaced like my Latitudes. Another time, perhaps. I think the big take away here is, this thing is easily serviceable and upgraded. With very little effort, I can swap out the storage and add RAM to this thing, truly making this a machine that I can use for many years.
I will be interested in seeing how long the battery on this thing lasts. It is only rated at 53Watt/hours but it does appear to be adequate at this time, based on how I have been using it.
Installation of openSUSE Tumbleweed
I gave Windows 10 a try on this machine. I got through the installation procedure, registered the computer with HP, read through the rather frightening EULA and was presented with a fairly standard Windows 10 desktop albeit with a few extra HP sprinklings. This computer had none of the “bloatware” that is common on PCs… at least… has once been common. After about 45 seconds, I decided i was done playing with Windows and it was time for openSUSE.
I have installed openSUSE on a few other new computers and there have been hangups or difficulties to work through, mostly with Nvidia. I was expecting for there to be a bit of a battle but because I have chosen Tumbleweed, I know that I will have the latest available hardware drivers and judging by the mailing list feed. I was glad to know that this Comet Lake Intel architecture is supported.
In order to boot from the USB, I had to change the boot order. For my own personal future reference, here are what the different F-keys do on POST:
F1 – System Information
F2 – System Diagnostics
F3 – 3rd Party Option ROM
F9 – Boot menu
F10 – BIOS Menu
F11 – System Restore
F12 – Network PXE Boot
In this case, you really only have to make the change in the boot menu to boot from USB. Since openSUSE is Secure Boot capable, there are no problems there. If you are like me, you want to dig into the BIOS menu and see what goodies are accessible within. I’ll tell you, it’s pretty standard stuff.
For the installation process itself, I didn’t do anything custom. I just let the installer do what it wanted and it very nicely read my mind to just wipe and install openSUSE with a single BTRFS partition. The only tweaks I made was to activate the SSH Service and open the port in the firewall. The rest was left as is. Thanks openSUSE! The installation process took all of 9 minutes and it was complete. For details on my installation process you can take a trip here.
Upon booting up the system for the first time, the only issue I had was a lack of sound. Going into YaST, I selected the sound module which informed me that the kernel module for
snd-sof-pci had not been loaded.
This wasn’t an extra step I wanted to do, but I am grateful that the YaST sound module was able to walk me through correcting the issue. The positive takeaway here is, I haven’t ever actually messed with this before since it hasn’t ever come up, but now that I see how this module works, further play is necessary. Not for this machine but something that I am building.
Just three packages needed to be installed and the sound automatically configured itself properly and hasn’t been an issue since. What I find interesting here is that Plasma now has devices like HDMI left in an inactive state so you have to how the inactive devices when you don’t have something plugged in. This really clears up a lot of the previous irritation with how Plasma / PulseAudio handled the sound devices. The changes here are fantastic.
After using this machine for a few days, I decided that I really loved it. I’m impressed by how solid yet light the chassis feels. That meant, I had to make this computer my own. I, of course, started by using my openSUSE Breeze Dark theme then I replaced the default system notifications with my preferred Star Trek: The Next Generation variety that I have cut up and mixed. It feels better that way.
My only issue that I have not yet worked out is that my brightness control for the screen just seems to trigger the mute toggle. My understanding is that there is a firmware fix from HP on this and this problem is not exclusive to Linux. More on this in the future.
The installation and first run of openSUSE Tumbleweed with Plasma has been simply fantastic. It has been over 10 years since I purchased brand new hardware to run Linux and have since stayed just a bit behind to reduce my frustrations. There are no serious frustrations with this machine, sure, a little issue with the brightness control and I had to take an extra step to get the sound working, but that is it. The battery life on this machine is extraordinary. I don’t have to think about having a power supply handy. I just take this laptop and go places. I can’t say I have ever experience such laptop computing freedom before. Truly, a tremendous openSUSE Tumbleweed laptop experience.
What I Like
The touchpad on this particular computer has a glass surface. I love how it feels and how easy it is to clean. Why is it that in 2020 I first experience this? Why hasn’t this been the standard in touchpads? It isn’t a full mouse replacement as it doesn’t have physical buttons at the bottom of the touchpad but if you press down on it, there is an audible click. By pressing in the standard respective locations, you do have all three mouse buttons.
The keyboard does have a TrackPoint where the G, H and B keys meet. This is something I have grown very accustomed to using my Dell Latitudes. I really don’t like being without but the downside is, with out that third button, I am not able to scroll like I do on my Dell Latitude E6440 so the usability of this component isn’t as useful as I would like. I am quite sure I can figure a workaround on this shortcoming.
Very importantly, the keyboard is of very good quality, I have written this entire post on this EliteBook and I am very happy with how the keyboard feels. This is nothing like the Zbook I have previously used where you had to hammer down on the keys to get the letters to type. These keys require just enough pressure to activate and since the chassis that it sits in is as rigid as it is, there is not a bit of flex in the keyboard.
On the incredibly rare occasion I tax this system, I am impressed by how quite the fan runs. There are two impressive aspects here. One, how little the fan actually runs and when it does run, how quite it is and how short it ends up running as it seemed to spin down when the CPU usage dropped down as well.
This computer has USB-C with Thunderbolt. I have nothing that takes advantage of this capability but now that I do, I just may look at getting something for that purpose. I do appreciate the fact that I can charge my computer from the USB-C port. This opens up a lot of power options for this computer. More on that at another time. It should also be noted that the Thunderbolt module in the Plasma Settings is very informative and I am sure that I will use this as my peripherals start to go towards this Thunderbolt interface.
Something that is incredibly important to me on a laptop is how easy it is to service the thing and what my options are when I open the thing up. The innards are incredibly easy to access so memory and storage upgrades are easy. There isn’t any memory soldered on to the board and since I have the option to stuff 64 GiB of RAM in this thing, that makes this laptop very forward leaning.
Amazingly, this computer has a built in SmartCard reader. This is huge for me as I need one regularly and using a USB device is not convenient. There weren’t any issues getting the device drivers and middleware set up in openSUSE. The wiki on that subject is well written and results are easily repeatable.
What I Don’t Like
The arrow keys on the keyboard are a little crammed. I am sure I’ll get used to it but I would say this is the weak point of the keyboard. I don’t have a suggestion as how to correct this whilst also maintaining the clean aesthetic. I think the layout of the keyboard is more about aesthetics than it is about functionality but it is in balance.
There is a little bit of squirrelly behavior of the Fn key for display brightness controls. After a little research this is not exclusively a Linux issue but is more common in Linux. There is a BIOS update to fix this problem, I just have to take the time to work through that solution with a non-Windows system.
As far as slots and ports go on this machine, there is a sore lacking of and SD Card slot. I do wonder why this feature was omitted from the design, especially over having a SIM Card slot that I can’t use without serious modification to the computer.
There is no Ethernet port on this computer. I guess they took a queue from Apple and omitted this too. This is one of those issues that can be easily fixed with a dongle or dock station. Thinking about it. I rarely use an Ethernet port on a laptop unless I am docked. I just happen to like having an Ethernet port and expect them on computers. I call this a nice to have, not a requirement.
Peculiar position for the Power button and airplane mode. I suspect this is to support the overall design aesthetic of the keyboard, having the nice clean lines and deck around the keyboard. The irritation with the airplane mode is that being on F11, I have triggered the airplane mode more often than I would like to admit. The media function keys utilize the F-row and by default are active. The only media keys I use often are the volume up and down keys so I have to determine if it is more important to have the F-keys, which I use very frequently, or the media keys as the default press.
Overall, very happy with this machine. It was a parting gift from my previous employer and about the time I completely forgot they were going to send it, the system arrived and I couldn’t be happier. I see myself using this machine for many years. Regardless of the lacking of SD Card reader, it does have the more important SmartCard reader. The arrow keys are a bit crunched but that seems to be a lot more common these days, which is incredibly unfortunate and the media keys are currently a bit squirrelly but there should be a fix for that in the near future. I really can’t complain at all as this is a fine machine and a very welcome gift.
Going forward, I plan to make this my on-the-go machine and will probably leave my Latitude at home more. This means, I will have to do some upgrades to this machine if I plan to make it my main, mobile machine. The 237 GiB drive is a bit small for all that I do with a computer and the 8 GiB of RAM seems to get filled up very quickly with my poor browser habits.
The HP EliteBook 840 G7 is a fantastic Linux machine. If this were offered with Linux pre-installed, I would consider this to be a prime, flagship, Linux experience. I haven’t tested any other distributions but I imagine they would be much the same. I really appreciate the work HP has done on this machine and the seeming forethought they had with ensuring Linux compatibility.