Docks and Bays, Accessorizing the Dell Latitude E6440

e6440-01-smI have been using the Dell Latitude E6440 since March of 2017. Since day one, it has been running openSUSE Tumbleweed. Initial production of this laptop was in 2014 and the model was discontinued sometime in 2016. I don’t buy things brand new because I have no need to stay on the “cutting edge” of technology and running Linux substantially extends the life of hardware. Even though it is an older machine, I have to say that the Dell Latitude E6440 is quite possibly the best laptop I have ever used. It really isn’t the best in any one metric of a machine I have used but the cross-section of capabilities and expandability of it makes me appreciate it the most. I will be hard pressed to find something comparable.

It took me 9 years before I replaced my Dell Latitude D630 as my primary machine. I still use the D630 regularly, but it just stays home now in its dock station. From the time I decided that it was time to replace the machine to the moment I committed the cash for a new machine, took me about 18 months. I am slow to make a decision on buying new hardware. I have to really process it out, make sure it is what I want because I am committing to this piece of hardware for a significant period of time.

Serviceability

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Whatever machine I buy, it has to be serviceable. That means, I need to see screws and the design intent of the manufacturer was that it is mean to be in service for an extended period of time. Since I have been using Dell for quite some time and they tend to be slow to change basic components, like the power supplies, I intended on sticking with the Dell brand and specifically with their Latitude line which is generally certified on some distribution of Linux.

The whole bottom panel of the E6440 removes with only a few screws and leaves everything accessible on the underside of it. Once the panel is off, you have access to the memory and one of the mini-ePCI, one more panel in easily freed up reveals the last two mini-ePCI slots. I am very pleased by how easy it is to work on this machine. I am not sure what I will do with the WWAN labeled slot, maybe nothing, but it’s there.

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Dock Station

I like a good computer with a hardy dock station. I realize that this is quickly becoming a thing of the past but a good dock station that I can drop my computer onto that has all the ports on the back that works reliably is a must for me. I like having the dock supply power, access to two other monitors and peripherals all available to me in one simple, quick action. This dock station has worked flawlessly for multiple dock and undock cycles in a single day. The monitors always appear just as they are supposed to and I don’t know if it is a Dell thing or an openSUSE / KDE Plasma thing but this process just works and has worked 100% of the time. I have seen some Thunderbolt docks on Windows 10 work very poorly but it was also not on a Dell.

Dock Station.jpg

My dock station has USB 3, this is not available on all E-Series docks.

Battery

Two options that I know of, a 9-Cell battery and using the dock system, I can add a second 9-cell battery called a “battery slice” which also gives the computer a nice comfortable tilt. The downside, it does make it a bit heavy, especially if you are packing more than one laptop in your bag. Regardless of the added weight, having this capability gives me a very welcome 9 to 10 hours of battery life under low loads. If I am encoding video, that changes things

e6440 Batteries.jpg

Legacy

I do a number of things with older hardware. Just because something has been considered “end of life” by the masses, doesn’t mean that it is obsolete. The most important legacy port, for me, is the serial port, and secondly, the parallel port. PS2 is not as big of a deal but nice to have for testing old hardware. I have a few uses and since I do keep around a lot of old tech, it is handy to have a trusted device for testing the hardware.

Legacy Extender.jpg

3 Drive bays

Can I call them drive bays? Maybe slots? There is an mSATA SSD slot, 2.5″ SSD and I can swap out the optical drive for another 2.5″ mass storage drive. This is very convenient and keeps me from having anything hanging off of the computer when I go mobile. I use the 3rd drive in the caddy for storing my virtual machines. I still use my optical drive because I still buy DVDs. I realize that that this a less common activity for people but I am more than happy to do entertainment this way.

e6440 3rd Drive.jpg

Final Thoughts

There are more powerful, more capable machines that are lighter and newer but this one hits all the reasons I want to drive this one into the ground of uselessness or at least a few more years yet. Heck, maybe longer as the rate of speed increase hasn’t been as dramatic as it has been in the past. Looking at CPUbenchmark.net in the top 10 CPUs available on this site, it is still in the middle of the pack.

This machine really only really lacks one thing and that is a Thunderbolt port. If I could have all these features, plus a thunderbolt port, this computer would be everything I need. Sure, the CPU is a few generations behind and the AMD GPU is not top of the line but for my purposes, it does a fine job. I realize that the traditional dock port is becoming less popular since USB-C / Thunderbolt became a thing. I think it is unfortunate but I largely understand why. For now, I will enjoy my newer yet aging tech and appreciate the capabilities of the E-Series dock system running openSUSE Tumbleweeed nice and reliably.

Related Links

Dell Latitude E6440

Dell Latitude E6440 all on SSDs

Dell Latitude E6440 mSATA Upgrade

openSUSE Tumbleweed on Dell Latitude E6440

Dell Latitude Dock Station

Dell Battery Slice

Dell Legacy Extender

CPUbenchmark.net Intel Core i7-4610M

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openSUSE Leap 15.0 Early Adoption Experience

Dell Latitude D830 openSUSE Leap 15.0-sm

I have a “sidekick” machine in my cubicle that has been happily running openSUSE Leap since I started using it. It is a recovered Dell Latitude D830 with an Intel Core 2 Duo T9300 CPU at 2.50 GHz, 4 GiB of RAM and the Nvidia Quatro NVS 140M. It just has a standard hard disk drive for storage. I put this unit back together 3 years ago only expecting to get a year or two of use out of it. Thankfully, the way Linux, and specifically openSUSE rolls the distribution, I have far extended the life of this machine.

Since this hardware is older everything is generally supported out of the box without any tweaking. I have decided, for now, to not use the proprietary drivers and see if Nouveau will work using KDE Plasma and not lock up on me.

Installation

I downloaded the DVD Image (now released as an official version) and used SUSE ImageWriter to write it to a USB. Like virtually every other openSUSE installation, it was pretty uneventful. I did choose to do a “Nuke and pave” for this installation as I wanted to set everything up from scratch. There have been a number of changes in openSUSE since the last static release, namely, the BTRFS subvolume structure, the location of the RPM Database move and SuSEfirewall2  migration to the new firewalld. I also experimented with a number of applications on this system and just wanted to have a fresh start.

Outside of the warning of the usage of Nouveau drivers with KDE Plasma, there as nothing to note on the installation process.

First Run

To start out, I needed to ensure that I covered my bases for my preferences. Since I like to add a little Oxygen Theme into the Breeze Theme I immediately ran this in terminal:

sudo zypper install oxygen5

I also like Konqueror and one of it’s specific features, the File Size View.

 sudo zypper install konqueror konqueror-plugins

Then I added the Multimedia Codecs along with VLC Player.

So far, everything seems to be working just as expected and the Nouveau drivers are holding up. I will continue to use them until I have any issues

Dell Latitude D830 Leap 15.0 20180523.png

One Week Later

I have since updated the machine to the current release version and I am still operating, trouble free. The System seems to be humming away well with the Nouveau drivers. I have tested many things I know would have caused the graphics drivers to bug out and crash X. At this point, there hasn’t been any weirdness whatsoever. The compositor is running just fine without any glitching. I have been using this machine in the same mannor as I had previously used it under openSUSE Leap 42.3 with the propriatary Nvidia drivers. Should I have an issue, I will see if the propriatary drivers fix it.

What I Like

After installing the necessary packages, all of my system settings were just as I wanted them to be. I didn’t have to fiddle around with any settings. KDE Plasma 5.12 is the Long Term Support version of the Environment and I know that from my expeirience with the transition to 5.12, it is more memory efficient than previous versions. In only one week, I haven’t run into any issues where Swap Space was needed. In monitoring the memory usage, I fluctuated between 2.8 GiB to 3.4 GiB in usage with Firefox being biggest memory hog. This has prompted me to start playing around with the Falkon web browser which I downloaded here. So far so good but I need more time to use and play with it before I can say more.

What I don’t Like

So far, I haven’t found any issues, but it has only been a week that I have been using it. Maybe, I could say, I don’t like that openSUSE doesn’t have wider adoption as it is technically very sound and very stable. I am hoping with the release of openSUSE Leap 15.0 that it will reach a wider audience.

Conclusion

openSUSE Leap 15.0 has been polished up very nicely. It it very much an incramental improvement over 42.3. The software selection meets my needs and if the software you want is not in the official repository, there is likely a repository available on the Open Build Service.

Since most of my systems are pretty low-end, I have them generally set up for specific purposes. Although I can happily run openSUSE the way I want with 2 GiB of RAM, I have come to the conclusion that in order to have a real positive experience, you need to have at least 4 GiB of RAM.

This Dell Latitude D830 is now 11 years old. It is far past it’s end of life but thanks to the all the fine engineers involved from kernel development, the applicaitons all the way to package maintainers and testers, this computer still remains very useful and not quite obsolete. I am impressed with the stability open source Nouveau graphics drivers which gives me a lot of confidence that as Nvidia abaondons the older hardware, I have options. I just may get several more years out of this machine.

Further Reading

openSUSE Leap Download

SUSE Imagewriter

Falkon Web Browser

Falkon Web Browser Download for openSUSE

Multimedia Codecs along with VLC Player

KDE Breeze Theme with Oxygen Enhancements

Dell Latitude E6440 all on SSDs

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I have wanted to upgrade the 500 GB SSHD hybrid drive in my Dell Latitude E6440 since I purchased it but i just wasn’t prepared to spend the asking dollars for a new SSD. The only adequate solution I determined reasonable was to go with a used SSD and just accept the risk that goes with used.

After much searching and bidding, I purchased a Micron M500 with 960GB SSD which ends up being 894GiB of storage. When it comes to SSDs this is NOT, by any stretch, considered top of the line. Here are the specs that many seem to be fixated.

  • Sequential 128KB READ: Up to 500 MB/s
  • Sequential 128KB WRITE: Up to 400 MB/s
  • Random 4KB READ: Up to 80,000 IOPS
  • Random 4KB WRITE: Up to 80,000 IOPS
  • READ/WRITE latency: 5ms/25ms (MAX)

Not the most performant drive but certainly much faster than the SSHD that I was using. If you are interested, here are the full specifications from Micron on this line of drives.

Since I already put the root and swap file system on a 128 GB mSATA SSD with very positive results, I was encouraged about how this upgrade was going to go. I could expect better performance with less power usage.

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In preparation for upgrading, I did what any reasonably prudent, Linux using, data conscious, user would do. I backed up the contents of my home directory, well, another snapshot using Back In Time.

Performing the Modification

The great thing about every Dell Latitude I have ever owned is the ease of serviceability of the machines. No crazy tools are needed or long list of instructions to perform a simple modification. Just a small Phillips screw driver.

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Two screws and the drive can be removed from it’s bay. The drive is held in place by these isolation rubber rails and a caddy cover. I appreciate this design, it is easily assembled, the rails have a nice, snug interference fit, and the caddy cover is held in place with a clip and screw.

SSD drive assembly

Troubles I Had

I am not sure what I did wrong but I couldn’t get the system to not look for the, to-be-replaced SSHD. I tried unmounting the drive before a reboot but still, it would continue to wait for the drive. The system would get stuck looking for the old drive and fsck didn’t correct the issue. I became impatient so I just decided to do a complete re-installation of the openSUSE Tumblweed, because I was too lazy to keep searching for a solution. There is probably a great simple solution that just escaped me.

Restoring the Data

There was a bit of a struggle in understanding how to restore the data from Back In Time into my home directory but once it was done, everything was back to normal. It took a bit longer than I expected but everything restored, all the files and settings. Like it never even happened…

A quick check of the SMART monitoring tools:

smartctl -a /dev/sda

=== START OF INFORMATION SECTION ===
Model Family: Crucial/Micron MX1/2/300, M5/600, 1100 Client SSDs
Device Model: Micron_M500_MTFDDAK960MAV
Firmware Version: MU05
User Capacity: 960,197,124,096 bytes [960 GB]
Sector Sizes: 512 bytes logical, 4096 bytes physical
Rotation Rate: Solid State Device
Form Factor: 2.5 inches
Device is: In smartctl database [for details use: -P show]
ATA Version is: ACS-2, ATA8-ACS T13/1699-D revision 6
SATA Version is: SATA 3.1, 6.0 Gb/s (current: 6.0 Gb/s)
Local Time is: Mon May 21 10:10:56 2018 EDT
SMART support is: Available – device has SMART capability.
SMART support is: Enabled

=== START OF READ SMART DATA SECTION ===
SMART overall-health self-assessment test result: PASSED

My favorite line is the last one that says the test result: “PASSED.”

Experience

I am running openSUSE Tumbleweed with KDE Plasma as my desktop environment. The aAverage energy consumption before the upgrade, using the SSHD plus the mSATA drive was 21 watts; under similar loads with the mSATA and the 2.5″ SSD, I am consuming about 17 watts. These numbers, are of course, just estimates at approximate similar loads. It is not a very well controlled power study. Between the two drives I now have a total of 945 GiB of storage available; the most I have had on a laptop.

Opening up Steam is much quicker than before. Starting a game does indeed load a lot quicker than it did on the SSHD. I didn’t take any before and after benchmarks but there is most certainly the feeling of increased speed in everything. The computer was no slouch before but now there is an increased sharpness in using it.

The computer is oddly quite with only the fan left as a moving part. However, the only time I notice there is a fan is when my hand goes past he vent and I can feel a little warmth coming from it. Logging in isn’t quite instantaneous, I do have to wait a few moments but I blame much of that on the fact I heavily use the Akonadi storage service for personal information management. I have more information than most people likely save but suffice to say, the machine starts very quickly.

I didn’t take any external thermal readings from the computer before the upgrade but it feels like the thing does operate a bit cooler. It is only an impression.

Final Thoughts

This Dell Latitude E6440 seems to have an extra boost of speed, as to be expected. What I didn’t expect was how much I notice the censorial changes of using this laptop now. I have used other solid state only machines before and didn’t think much of them. Perhaps their less than stellar keyboards out weighed the silence of their operation or possible that I use this machine more than most. Regardless, I appreciate the change.

Was the upgrade worth the price I paid for the drive? So far, yes, very much, indeed it was worth it, but as I did buy it used, and although it passed the health self-assessment, I don’t really know how long it is actually going to last. For now, it’s pretty great and I don’t think I would want to go back to “spinning rust” for storage.

External Links

Micron M500 Specs

Back In Time

128 GB mSATA SSD

My Dell Latitude E6440

KDE Plasma 5.12 on a Dell Latitude 2120

2120-transparent.pngYou will often hear or read about how great a new release of KDE Plasma or MATE is on a new piece of hardware but rarely will you read about how it is on older hardware. I have had this Dell Latitude 2120, a 7 year old Netbook that I continue to use for a specific purpose. I have chosen to run openSUSE Tumbleweed because I like the new shiny it offers, the upgrades just don’t break my machines, I won’t have to bother with reinstalling, it is not a “heavy weight” distribution and is extremely easy to manage from the terminal.

This is my experience using KDE Plasma 5.12 on a Dell Latitude 2120. It has an Intel Atom N455 Processor, 2 GB of RAM, screen is an impressive 1024×600 resolution and the built in Intel GPU (Renderer: Mesa DRI Intel Pineview M). I don’t expect much from it, but I don’t need much from it.

What do you do with a 7 year old Netbook running an Atom Processor?

This computer isn’t used for much, actually. I have a few specific purposes of which it does a fine job. All of which don’t require much of the machine as the majority of it are native Linux applications. Desktop, VLC with the needed Multimedia Codecs to watch local media, and Syncthing-gtk. I use this computer primarily for the assistance of educating my kids through locally stored multimedia files, audio, video or images. Due to the semi-rugged nature of this machine, I can toss this machine in my kids bag and not worry about it much.

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Should I need to do some browsing, I have just left this system with its openSUSE default of Firefox. I can watch YouTube with it fairly well. To test this, I went to the 8-Bit Guy’s YouTube channel and watched his latest video on The C64 Mini, a modern remake of the Commodore 64. There is no annoying jittering or lagging. The sound is loud and clear enough on this machine as well.

The other web pages I visit loaded fast enough but I didn’t test this against any pages that are advertising heavy. It was all very usable and trouble free. CubicleNate.com loaded fast enough as well as software.opensuse.org. I also didn’t open too many tabs as after 4 or 5 tabs it started to use some Swap space.

2120-TuxRacer.jpgI also tested a Classic Linux Game, Extreme Tux Racer. I find that my kids enjoy this game from time to time and it keeps them engaged for a bit. This Latitude 2120 played it smooth as butter. No complaints, whatsoever! I was actually quite impressed but as I thought about it. It ran great, 14-ish years ago on Pentium 4 hardware so I should have expected it to run well.

Some statistics

I often think that many statistics are kind of dumb. Sure, I do enjoy reading them but often, I could care less about a fraction of a second difference. The real question is going to be: Is it so slow that I am annoyed using it. And, for the specified tasks of which I am asking this “long in the tooth” machine to perform, it does well enough.

At the time of this writing, this machine is running Kernel 4.15.13, the latest from Tumbleweed. Also note, Syncthing-gtk launches at startup, which requires more libraries to be loaded.

Cold boot to usable desktop time

Starting from the GRUB menu to the settled desktop: 2:24.9

I realize this seems rather slow, especially compared to my Dell Latitude E6440. Perhaps replacing the traditional Hard Drive to an SSD might be worth it just to run these tests once again and see how much of a difference it makes.

Memory usage

Measured after the settled desktop with no applications running (except Syncthing-gtk): 1.2GB out of 1.9GB available

Taken from terminal by running: free -h

Dolphin

Started from the menu to settled: 4.48 sec

Konsole

Started from menu to settled: 2.94 sec

Playing the media on VLC

Settled to ready for VLC: 3.2 sec

Starting VLC from Dolphin by selecting 12 small media files I use for “memory work” with my kids’ education: 7.9 sec

Starting Firefox

From click to settled: 24.2 sec

GlxGears

To test the video card, and I realize this is NOT the best test but it is just a test for fun: 60.235 frames per second

Resume from Suspend

From the time I hit the power button to when I can input the password: 6.1 sec

Conclusion

Is this machine at end of life? Yes, but more accurately, past end of life which makes it perfectly suited for how I am using it. Overall, it performs satisfactory. I can’t complain much for something for which I only paid $40. Unless this machines completely dies or there is some unforeseen change in architecture support, I will continue to employ this machine. It does everything I need it to do. I am grateful for all the work of the developers, packagers and the related organizations like openSUSE and KDE for allowing this old technology to continue to be useful. It is great to see that just because something is old, doesn’t make it obsolete.

External Links

openSUSE Tumbleweed – The operating system running on this machine

KDE Plasma – The chosen desktop environment

Dell Latitude 2120 Review from CNET