Someone’s been doing a lot of digging around my area. It was a bit of a nuisance. Dust went everywhere and traffic was a nightmare for a few weeks. Anyway the digging has ceased and so has my complaining. At least until the next crew decide they want a go at the fibre market. Yes this was the team from CityFibre laying down some sweet fibre optics.
A couple of weeks back I got a leaflet through from an ISP offering speeds of which I had previously only been able to dream of. The time had arrived and the fibre was lit. I instead phoned my incumbent ISP Zen Internet and placed an order.
I thought carefully about what my needs were: I live by myself, I don’t stream or play video games lots any more and running Speedtest.net all the time isn’t a legitimate application of the line. This isn’t going to impress the ladies is it? I picked up the phone with a sensible 100 Mbps in mind. When I was asked I came out with 900 Mbps which will set me back £43/month (inc VAT). Well why not.
The installation appointment was booked for a week and a day ahead with the router getting dispatched later that day. When the day arrived installation was attended by two engineers and took around an hour. I would’ve been instantly online at that point but unfortunately I got the VLAN setting wrong.
One of the crew got to work on the outside. This involved taking a cable originating from a CityFibre pavement cover on the street underneath my garden wall, digging up a bit of my garden and drilling under the pavement slabs to track a brown fibre cable through to finally join to the first box outside my property by the front door.
The second crewmember got to work internally. The outside box neatly lined up with a point indoors where the fibre cable appears. I opted for the cable to be tracked around a door frame and along a skirting board so that the Calix GigaPoint 801Gv2 Optical Network Terminator (ONT) could be mounted to the wall behind a sideboard I put all my tech on.
Installation was OK. During the civils construction phase the workforce turned up unannounced and I had an incident where a worker started cutting the pavement right in front of my new car which did not leave me impressed. As for the install to my home there’s some grubby marks and hammer damage on the walls. That is to say overall that the street and home installations together haven’t been the greatest experience.
Zen supplied an AVM FRITZ!Box 7530 AX which conveniently replaced an…AVM FRITZ!Box 7530 (there was an additional “AX” moniker in the former if you didn’t catch on). As these two routers have practically the same configuration it was possible to export the config file from the 7530 and import it directly to the 7530 AX.
Going from 19 Mbps to around 900 Mbps is a bit of a shift in thinking on how you actually use the internet. Everything gets heavier as we go along because the speed of your internet connection is arguably an enabler to what can be done next as opposed to augmenting what can be done right now. Nobody thought working from home would be a norm just over 3 years ago or that you would need a net connection that the family would need to share for everyone working, playing, surfing and communicating in HD and beyond all at the same time but also in real time.
I am very much glad I’ve left the copper era behind. To say that in 2023 I was on a VDSL2 line which was only marginally faster on downloads than ADSL2+ I had at my parent’s house in 2006 and this at a new build house completed 2016 was a dire indictment of the state of broadband in the UK. Thankfully competition in the UK market is starting to move and alongside fibre lines we also have the option of 5G cellular networks increasingly available.
Now just to find a use or rather the uses for all them megabits.
So anyway the Speedtest. This one’s brought to you via an Ubuntu terminal with the Speedtest.net CLI via a gigabit ethernet adapter.
Canonical have today released Ubuntu 22.04.1 and by extension opened direct upgrades for installs running 20.04.
I was very excited to upgrade today with my StarBook Mk V but I came across an issue that’s plagued me for some time not just with distribution upgrades but occasionally with routine updates.
Situation: when you run updates/upgrades you get something along the lines of this:
The upgrade needs a total of X M free space on disk '/boot'. Please free at least an additional Y M of disk space on '/boot'. You can remove old kernels using 'sudo apt autoremove', and you could also set COMPRESS=xz in /etc/initramfs-tools/initramfs.conf to reduce the size of your initramfs.
Running sudo apt autoremove doesn’t resolve the problem and as a Linux novice I cannot speak about compressing initramfs & the implications there.
Apparently this is caused by a load of kernels the system “hangs onto” following an upgrade filling up the /boot partition. I *think* this is fixed /better handled in versions after 20.04 but I’m not so sure. Indeed it’s a very bizzare problem because surely Ubuntu ought to handle this itself right?
Today I found out how to deal with it and I decided to share it with the internet. Disclaimer: I’m currently learning Linux and Ubuntu. This may kill your system. If it does I apologise but only slightly.
First thing’s first: list the current kernel that’s currently in use. We’re going to try really hard not to delete it.
Once you’ve made a note of that then list out the kernels that have been installed:
dpkg -l | grep linux-image
In my case there were about 7-8 listed (!!!) in addition to the currently running kernel. What we need to do is trim this list down so that we’ve got some space in the /boot partition.
At this point you should’ve got a backup and possibly consulted someone who’s a Linux expert as opposed to a Microsoft one.
Remove excess kernels by running the following command depending on what you find (replacing the version numbers of course):
You should probably keep the immediate past version to the one identified with uname -r.
This should free up enough disk space in /boot so that you can upgrade your OS however you may run into the problem I had and this is the one that’s bugged me for ages: if you remove the signed image for whatever reason apt installs the corresponding unsigned image. Not knocking a free offer but I’m not sure why that is. So anyway the trick is to purge both signed and unsigned at the same time like so:
It’s finally here! I’ve long run a combination of a custom built ATX gaming PC and also a Dell XPS 9360 laptop. Both have served me well but both are overdue a replacement after a long lockdown. I had previously seen Star Labs’ StarBook MkV mentioned on OMG! Ubuntu! and I was very keen to give it a try.
I placed an order for the StarBook Mk V back in August 2021 and after a patient wait it was finally delivered early December. I’ve now had an opportunity to use the laptop for a decent amount of time so here’s the review!
Battery: 65Whr (quoted at up to 11 hours battery life)
Warranty: 1 year limited
For the full details check out the Star Book specification page.
I also added in a StartPort adapter (£69) and USB Recovery Drive (£9) to bring the total cost including an early order discount to £1,511. Given Star Labs are a smaller scale manufacturer than the likes of Dell the price versus specification didn’t seem too bad to me. I considered another Dell XPS 13 on the shortlist and didn’t feel that the StarBook Mk V was poor value by any stretch.
There are quite the many choices of Linux distributions available. For selected distributions Star Labs will also contribute some of the sale price to the maintainers. If you really want it for some reason you can also have Windows but that would arguably break the spirit of the product. For my laptop I chose Ubuntu 20.04 LTS combined with coreboot firmware.
Packaging & First Looks
The StarBook Mk V arrives in some seriously sublime packaging that’s been custom designed for the job. The outer carton is even branded Star Labs. Inside the box I found the laptop securely packaged with foam bumpers with the accessories packaged in two separate boxes. Unfortunately I did not have a Cat available to thoroughly test the packaging but I am sure they’d be impressed too.
The actual box for the laptop features schematics of the device at each respective elevation. It’s another great finish to the product and oozes that due care and attention to detail I’m craving.
Plastics report: I hate unboxing but here it’s worth mentioning that the laptop comes in a blue Star Labs sleeve and a screen protector cloth in place of any plastic on the trackpad or screen. Whilst the sleeve isn’t suitable as a day-to-day carry case it is very useful to have. I keep the sleeve on the laptop then put it into a carry case to protect from scratches from other accessories.
There were plastic bags for the shipping document, USB recovery drive, charger, charging cable and the UK plug adapter. These along with the foam bumpers are the only plastic you’ll receive in the box. Considerably better than quite the many PCs I have unboxed.
Around The Chassis: Screen, Webcam, Keyboard & Trackpad
The Star Book Mk V features a matte black anodised aluminium chassis housing a 14″ IPS screen and your choice of keyboard (UK, US, German, Spanish, French and Nordic are available). The lid has the Star Labs logo embossed on there and it looks seriously classy. It’s a very fine looking laptop with a premium feel to it.
Connectivity wise you’ll find the following ports on the StarBook Mk V (from nearest to furthest from you):
2 x status LEDs
Thunderbolt 4 / USB 3.0 – Type C with Power Delivery
USB 3.0 – Type A
DC Charging Jack
Micro SD Memory Card Reader
USB 2.0 – Type A
USB 3.0 – Type A
3.5mm Combination Jack
Should I have been let loose designing this laptop I would have definitely sacrificed a USB Type-A port or perhaps even the charging port for a Type-C port so I can keep a Yubikey connected with the docking station at the same time but each to their own on that regard.
One of the things I had a hard time deciding upon was the screen versus the Dell XPS 9360. Dell packed out the 2016 XPS 13 with a very good QHD+ IPS screen and that was something difficult to let go of. The Star Book Mk V screen next to the XPS 13 is not quite as impressive 1080p IPS screen but still it’s very good. It’s actually surprisingly bright and colours don’t seem washed out at all. Supposedly this screen works out at 400nits average brightness according to Star Labs. I have to acknowledge here that if you are looking at other laptops at a similar price point you’ll probably more screen choices such as higher resolutions, different ratios but unless you need a screen for high end graphic design the Star Book Mk V should surely fit your requirements. One thing I do not miss from the XPS 13 is a touchscreen; that’s got no place on a laptop as far as I’m concerned.
A non-descript 720p webcam is included. The positive change from the XPS 13 is the position! On the XPS 13 Dell placed the camera bottom left of the screen. People would often comment about the weird angle and being able to see my fingers as I typed on video calls. Returning to a top and centre webcam is definitely a welcome change although it’s not a very wide angle lens and doesn’t have a privacy shield if that’s your thing (you can disable it in coreboot configurator but more on that later). Like most laptop webcams it’s good-not-great but will more than suffice for day to day video calls.
Next to the keyboard on both the left and right flanks you’ll find 4 x 4 Ohm speakers which are more than adequate as far as laptop speakers go. Certainly not studio quality but for any serious listening or gaming you’ll definitely want headphones. I found them very much acceptable for watching some tutorial videos and I’m sure they’ll be fine for TV and Films on the go as well.
Keyboard wise this laptop also delivers. The backlit keys are generously large, well spaced out and smoothly finished to the touch. Typing on the keyboard you’ll find firm but forgiving resistance. There is slight flex in some places on the chassis but you’ll have to look closely for it so nothing to worry about. Star Labs have added an Fn key with the usual stable of F key controls as well. One mild bit of entertainment for me is that there is no Windows key! On this keyboard it’s the “super” key and that’s not something I’ve ever seen before except with Macs.
At the bottom of the chassis the StarBook Mk V features a smooth glass trackpad with separate left and right clicks. There is a bit of a gap between left and right which does take a little bit of getting used to. Again I found the trackpad very responsive and easy to use. It also supports mouse gestures such as double finger scrolling which is a welcome feature. The glass does tend to pick up some oil as you use it so I’ll probably refrain from scoffing snacks whilst working with this laptop.
Performance, Battery Life & Storage
Inside the Star Book Mk V you’ll find an 11th generation Core i3-1110G4 dual-core with UHD graphics or i7-1165G7 quad-core processor with Xe graphics. The Core i3 variant wasn’t available at the time of ordering but that’s OK because I wanted speed not steadiness. With the configurable TDP (Thermal Design Power) profile set to Performance (28W) I returned the following Geekbench 5 result which compared quite well to other results I found such as the Microsoft Surface Pro 8:
One interesting thing about this laptop is that you may opt for a standard American Megatrends firmware or use coreboot instead. Initially I thought coreboot was perhaps not the right choice for me but eventually decided to give it a go. Opt for coreboot and you can use the nifty coreboot configurator app from the StarLabs PPA to tweak the laptop. Everything can be tweaked here from disabling devices, configuring the processor TDP and adjusting the keyboard backlight timeout:
Thanks to the supply crisis we find ourselves in a fortunate situation regarding the battery. The specification was upgraded for free to a 65WHr battery. That did incur a few weeks delay for certification but generously received non the less. Under Ubuntu 20.04 with the balanced power profile set in coreboot I have found battery life at 50% display brightness doing a variety of tasks I’m getting probably around 6-8 hours out of the laptop without TLP or Powertop in use. That’s a bit short on the up to 11 hours claim (who’s isn’t) but it’s comfortable figure for day to day work.
For whatever reason at the time I decided to opt for 64GB of DDR4 memory despite having no real use case for it. Configurations ranging from 8GB all the way up to 64GB are available and – unusually for many notebooks these days – you can replace the memory if you need an upgrade.
A small note on the memory configuration. A manufacturer using this and similar CPUs can configure it with DDR4 SO-DIMMS like the StarBook which maxes out at 3200Mhz or it can be configured with LPXDDR4 at 4277Mhz. Whilst the advantage of using SO-DIMMS is that they are replaceable it should be noted that the LPXDDR4 brings overall higher memory bandwidth. If you are buying a laptop with Intel Iris Xe then you should know that memory bandwidth is everything and that SO-DIMMS work out slower so watch out for that in any benchmarks you see out there.
The laptop comes with an Intel AX201 WiFi & Bluetooth module. Connected to my AVM FRITZ!Box 7530 (WiFi 5) I have found it to maintain a solid signal with no drop-outs. Sadly with a 26 Mb/s internet connection I will be unable to fully stretch it however for any HD streaming from your NAS this will do the job. I have had some concerns raised to me privately about WiFi. I contacted the team at Star Labs who suggested some tests and we were unable to find any fault.
The Star Drive SSD is worth a mention independently. I did some digging on the specifications page and found that the SSD uses a Phison PS5018 controller with 96 layer Micron B27B memory. KDiskMark returned the following results with the default 5 passes of a 1GiB file:
It’s taken a while to get this notebook but it’s definitely been worth the wait. It’s been a very pleasurable experience using the StarBook Mk V with very little to disagree about. Overall the Star Labs StarBook Mk V is a solid contender for your shortlist and I’d recommend it for Linux users.
This summer I had the opportunity to build my next gaming PC. I had previously had a Shuttle SX58J3, Intel Core i7-930, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 460 1GB build for an impressive 6 years (!!!) before deciding the time was right to go for a new build.
I had moved out of the parent’s place about a year back and left behind the small box room where anything bigger than an ITX build would have cramped the desk. Now I have my own ‘office’ I have much more room to use.
The end build comprises of…
Corsair Obsidian 450D case.
Intel Core i7-6800k cooled by a Corsair H100i v2.
ASUS STRIX X99
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 Founders’ Edition.
Crucial Ballistix 32GB DDR4-2400 RAM
Crucial MX300 750GB SSD.
ASUS PG279Q 27″ Monitor
Corsair K70 LUX RGB Cherry Red Keyboard
The only real challenge the build posed was the radiator. I had initially chosen the Corsair H110i to fit to the top of the case. Whilst building it became apparent that it was just too wide to fit in the Corsair 450D. I solved this by exchanging for the narrower but just as capable corsair H100i v2.(Thank you to CCL Computers, Bradford for allowing the return).
The build is an absolute dream. Transitioning to an SSD is the biggest key benefit as I was previously on a SSHD build which was nowhere near as responsive.
At the moment I am playing Total War: Warhammer as well as Doom. Of course, I am also working hard with SQL Developer edition to hone my SQL skills.