Foehn & Hirsch laptop and Linux

Last week, my house was broken into and one of our laptops was stolen.  Not too much of a big deal, since there wasn’t much data on there (thank goodness for Cloud computing!), and once the insurance assessor visited, I went out and bought a new machine.  Since this was for my wife, I left her using my Toshiba Portege M800 which runs Linux Mint 8 x64, just to see what she thought of it and whether she could move from Vista to Linux.

After a few days of it, she was mightily impressed – there are some nice features of Mint that she liked over Vista, so asked if the replacement could be one that ran Linux.  No problems – might be a bit cheaper, after all! – so I hunted down a Foehn & Hirsch laptop on eBuyer.com which was cheap, and came with no OS.  Here’s the detailed spec:

Processor

  • Intel T3000 Celeron Dual Core Processor 1.8Ghz,
  • 1MB Cache
  • SIS M672 + 968 Graphics Chipset

Memory

  • 4GB DDR2 667MHz
  • 2 x SO DIMM
  • Expandable to 4GB

Hard Drive

  • 320GB SATA 2.5″

Optical Drive

  • DVD+/-RW Supermulti

Software

  • Operating System: No Operating System

Display

  • 15.6” HD TFT
  • Resolution: 1366 x 768

Graphics

  • SiS M672 Integrated
  • Shared Memory Architecture 256MB
  • High Preference 3D/2D graphic Accelerator
  • Microsoft DirectX 9.0 Compatible
  • Super Vertex Shader 2.0 and Pixel Shader 2.0

Audio

  • High Definition Audio
  • Compliant With Microsoft UAA
  • Direct Sound 3D
  • 2 x Built in Speaker
  • Built in Mic

Input Devices

  • Multi Language Keyboard
  • Touchpad with Scroll zone

Networking

  • 56K Fax Modem
  • Built in 10/100MB Base-TX Ethernet LAN
  • WLAN: 802.11 b/g

Power Supply

  • Full Range AC Adapter 65W
  • AC in 100~240V, 50~60Hz
  • DC Out 19V, 3.42A / 18.5V, 3.5A
  • 6 Cell Lithium Ion Battery
  • up to 2.5 hour battery life

Dimensions

  • Width 374mm
  • Depth 256mm
  • Height 25~37mm
  • Weight 2.7kg

Interfaces

  • 3 x USB 2.0 ports
  • 1 x VGA port
  • 1 x Headphone port
  • 1 x Microphone port
  • 1 x S/PDIF output port
  • 1 x RJ-11 port
  • 1 x RJ45 LAN port
  • 1 x DC-in jack

Expansion

  • 7 in 1 Card Reader (MMC / RSMMC / SD / Mini SD / MS / MS Pro / MS Duo)
  • 1 x Express Card Slot

Warranty / Miscellaneous

  • 1 Year Manufacturer Warranty
  • 1.3mp Webcam

That should be fine, I thought – keep her in laptops for a while, good spec and should be fine for Linux.  There was nothing anywhere that I could find that said otherwise, apart from a line that said “Please note that this Laptops does not have an Operating System installed, Ebuyer recommends Genuine Microsoft Software”

Then, it arrived, and things started to go badly wrong.
I burned a new copy of Mint onto a CD, using the same ISO that I built this laptop with.  Started the laptop up and it looked OK – I changed the BIOS so that it said that the OS was Linux, inserted the CD and rebooted.  Mint started OK, but had a poor screen resolution – nowhere near the started 1366×768, it was 800×600!!  So, I started to install Mint to see if it would change once the newest and best updates were completed.  First time I tried the installation, I left it to it – came back in the room after a bit to find that the machine had switched itself off.

After that, every time I switched it on, it just kept error beeping for a minute (flashing lights as well) and then switched off.  This included just trying to change the BIOS Settings – crashed while trying to change them, so it was nothing to do with the OS being installed, or the hard drive or anything like that.  Eventually, I gave up, switched it off and left it for 15 minutes or so.

After a break, it switched on fine, so I installed Mint again from scratch.  Interestingly, when I did the install, it told me that Ubuntu was already installed on the partition, but I scrapped it and started again.  CD-ROM was incredibly slow getting to that stage – no idea why, but the performance was abysmal.  Anyway – it got there in the end, I rebooted, logged in and started to configure the network.

Every time the machine reboots, the wireless needs to be manually enabled again, which is a minor thing (compared with the rest of the faults of the machine!), but I managed to get it setup with our wireless network and set it downloading the 218 updates that were required.  Rebooted again once they were all installed, to see if there was any better resolution – nope, it’s 800×600 or 600×480 (doesn’t even recognize that it’s widescreen!).  There is nothing better than that, which renders the machine practically useless.

When I spoke to eBuyer technical support this morning, they told me that this was a Linux problem, nothing to do with the laptop.  I explained that the same CD had built my Toshiba and was told “yeah, that’s a Toshiba, this isn’t”.  Well, thanks, I am aware of that – but I was then told that if I was using Windows it would be fine.  Well, if it was using Windows, it would already be setup, wouldn’t it – it would be a decent laptop, I wouldn’t be wasting my time with it, and it would run.  But, it would run Windows, which is crap.

Anyway, I left it switched off for a bit longer, restarted it, and all I got was an error message saying “Error loading Operating System”.  The suggestion from eBuyer was that the laptop clearly isn’t faulty, clearly is fit for purpose, it’s just that it needs to be reformatted and have Windows installed on it.

The laptop is back in its box, waiting to be collected by a courier, and we will see whether eBuyer accept that it is faulty or not when it arrives there.  I obviously think that there is something wrong with it (the hard drive fault and the beeping on startup yesterday), they seem to think that Windows is the answer.  Either way, it’s not staying here – I’m off to a computer shop this afternoon to buy a new laptop – hopefully that one will run Linux!

Edit – a few more tries at using the laptop returned it to the status of beeping and erroring on start up.  Here’s two videos which show me attempting to edit the BIOS before the machine switches itself off.

7 thoughts on “Foehn & Hirsch laptop and Linux

  1. I am very grateful to this poster who told things the way they were. This has saved me making a big mistake.
    I too saw a Foehn and Hirsch laptop at Ebuyer and that it was minus an OS. So I looked up to see if they sold copies of MS Windows XP Home. They do and it’s about 75 quid. But I didn’t know if a normal XP can be installed on a laptop or whether it’s just for Desktops and Laptops need something tailored to the Laptop system.
    So I asked ebuyer using a support ticket and they refused to answer my question as it was about compatibility and they don’t support help on that. Well thank you ebuyer you can stuff your rotten Foehn and Hirsch laptop – I’m not going to buy it.
    Your experience here with Linux proves that the laptop is not as good as they make out. I’m not going to buy one at all now as I’m sure I’d have problems installing XP.

    My original experience installing XP on a home PC was a nightmare that involved a paid-for support ticket to MS costing me over 60 pounds because it was OEM and not a full priced copy. Oh they’re so generous aren’t they? Richest people in the world can’t even give anyone a bit help under warranty free. It took them about 45 minutes on the phone to complete the installation. I had no idea how they did it. It involved going into the DOS system using F12 on boot up and deleting a pile of files from the registry or something. It wasn’t worth 60+ quid I know that.

    Thanks again for you help and honesty here. You’ve saved me a big headache.

  2. Some users on the eBuyer forums have said that they have had no problems with using Windows with the laptop. The eBuyer support person I spoke to told me that the display problems were because it was Linux, and therefore I would need “Linux” to provide drivers (which shows exactly how much they know about supporting operating systems, since they didn’t even ask what variant of Linux I was installing!).

    I didn’t try the laptop with Windows, because I didn’t WANT a Windows laptop, and didn’t want to pay for a new licence. That’s not to say that Windows does or does not work with the laptop – I can’t write about what I don’t know.

  3. FWIW I bought one of these recently for one of the kids, and I’m happy. I put Windows XP on mine though. All the drivers were included and went on fine. Screen resolution, wireless, webcam, microphone, hotkeys etc. All work OK.

    The power/boot issues you had – definately sound like a H/W fault.

    The bit about manually having to enable the wireless after each reboot. I get that problem. But there’s a BIOS setting I need to change to fix that.

    The screen resolution issues – not impossible that it’s a H/W problem also, but I reckon most likely a driver issue, and you’d have to find the right driver for that particular H/W & operating system combination. The more common the combination, the more likely you’ll find the right drivers.
    Anything obscure though and you’ll struggle. That’s one of the reasons I don’t use Linux at home – even though I hate Microsoft.

    Given the H/W fault though, don’t see why you shouldn’t get all of you money refunded. Ebuyer are usually quite good with customer service – in my experience. Much better than Dabs for example.

    Good luck & sorry to hear about the bad experience. Been there before. Stress !!

  4. I’m sure it works well with Windows, although reading the reviews the chipset means that regardless of whether you install a 32-bit or 64-bit operating system on it, it won’t recognise the full 4GB RAM.

    However, the need to put Windows on the laptop negates the cheapness – unless you happen to have a spare licence kicking around for Windows. If that’s not the case, then you are probably better off buying a more recognised brand – particularly if you will need some degree of technical support. eBuyer don’t even have the laptops on their F&H website, so trying to find the components, then trying to find out what is wrong with them is going to be difficult when things go wrong.

    I run Linux on my Toshiba Portege, my Acer Travelbook, my eeePC and my desktop machine (from Cube247) and have not had any problems with the installation of any of them (apart from the Cube247 where Ubuntu won’t serve the desktop across three monitors attached to two graphics cards, but would serve two separate desktops to them split 1:2). The fact that eBuyer’s response was just “oh, you need to speak to Linux about drivers” is what really annoys, since it shows a complete lack of any basic OS knowledge.

    Looking at the reviews of the laptop now, it seems that there are a few comments indicating that 800×600 is the best you will get without hacking the configuration file, which I have no inclination to do.

    As regards the quality of eBuyer customer service – I’ve had to contact them on four occasions. This was the smoothest, since it only took two attempts to get the full money back; the first time ended up with me emailing their managing director several times a day until I got a response!

  5. im having the same problem as described in the vid, did you find a fix to this,? i have alot off unreleased tracks i cant get access to! and really need to fix this, if a clean install is neeeeded i will do it, please help

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