Star Labs Byte Mk II Review

Small form-factor (SFF) PCs are very much in demand in both office and home environments right now. They have a variety of use cases from a go-to device for basic internet, email and video on the desktop to use as mini-server and everything in between.

UK company Star Labs decided to replace their initial Byte mini-PC with a new version aptly called Byte Mk II. I was a fan of their StarBook MK V laptop (still in use and writing this review on it) and also the idea that they started their company in a pub. What could be more British that starting a company in a pub? After a delay with shipping finished units and delivery to customers it’s finally the day to review this new iteration of their Linux championing SFF PC.

Byte in Packaging

Specifications

The PC itself measures a rather compact 12.7 cm x 12.7cm x 4.3cm (W x H x D) and has a mass of only 265g. The PC is fanless and is cooled by a passive heatsink so as such produces no noise.

Byte Top

As for internal hardware and possible configurations from Star Labs’ website expect the following:

  • Intel N200 SoC – 4 core @ 1.00GHz, Turbo Boost to 3.70Ghz with 6MB Smart Cache
  • Intel UHD Graphics at 750Mhz frequency.
  • 1 x 8 GB / 1 x 16 GB / 1 x 32GB DDR4 3200Mhz Memory module
  • 512GB / 1TB / 2TB Gen3 PCIe SSD via M.2 connector.
  • Intel 9560 WiFi 5 (802.11ac) and Bluetooth 5.1

As noted the memory and SSD are customisable options. The base price of the system configured with 8GB memory and 512 GB SSD as of writing is £504 before discounts. For the system as reviewed I opted for 16GB memory and 2TB SSD. 32GB memory I don’t think was an option when I pre-ordered.

I also noted it’s possible to add 2.5″ SSD/HDD via what I presume is an internal connector on the motherboard. That might for example be useful if you were intending to use this PC as a NAS or for some additional storage beyond the M.2 SSD.

Byte Sleeved

As usual with Star Labs when placing an order you get a choice of Operating Systems that can be pre-loaded before being sent out to you. There are several Linux distros to choose from including: Ubuntu, MX Linux, Mint, Manjaro, elementaryOS and Zorin. Notable choice is that you may have Windows 11 installed despite the fact that the Byte Mk II ships with a coreboot firmware. This surprised me as the last I heard on this was that it was a bit experiential however if that’s your thing then you’re covered. I opted for no OS to be shipped with the device as I prefer to do that myself.

In the box you’ll also find your choice of power adapter (mine was for the UK) and a VESA mounting kit so that you can attach the Byte 2.0 to the back of a monitor to keep your desk tidy. The rubber feet to cover the screws do not come pre-attached so if you want to change components before powering on you won’t damage the feet.

Byte Accessories

Connectivity

Front

  • Power button
  • 3.5mm Headphone Jack
  • 1 x USB 3.0 Type-C
  • 2 x USB 3.0 Type-A
Byte Front

Back

  • 2 x USB 3.0 Type-A
  • 1 x DisplayPort
  • 1 x HDMI
  • 2 x Ethernet
  • 1 x DC Power
Byte Rear

According to the specifications the Byte 2.0 can support up to two displays with 4096×2160 resolution at 60Hz. Perfect for dual screen office work and general browser based tasks.

Power On, Coreboot and Performance

As mentioned above the Byte Mk II runs coreboot and not the usual UEFI based firmware. As of recent Star Labs have changed from using a tool within the Linux desktop to having a built in menu system accessible via repeatedly mashing F2 / Del on the keyboard. This will also let you choose the boot order for your connected devices. If you are used to configuring a UEFI or BIOS system then coreboot will be pretty similar. As mentioned above I think this system will even boot Windows if that’s really your thing but do check with Star Labs first.

Initial power-on was without any drama. As mentioned above the Byte Mk II is passively cooled so no noise could be heared at all. I attached a USB drive to the Byte Mk II’s front panel an proceeded to install Proxmox VE 8.2. the OS installer recognised the SSD and network adapters with no issues. If you use a recent version f your favourite Linux distribution you should have no problems.

I haven’t benchmarked the CPU, GPU or the SSD for the purpose of this review. Partly because that’s not directly doable on Proxmox and also because I don’t feel anyone’s going to be buying this PC for high performance requirements. Sorry!

the Intel N200 SoC was powerful enough to run Proxmox as a learning environment consisting of the base Hypervisor and 2x CLI only instances of Ubuntu 24.02. Performance was acceptable given the 4 cores and single-channel memory in use however further load I would expect to strain the system somewhat.

Final Words

The Star Labs Byte Mk II is easily a recommended low power, Linux focused SFF PC. The packaging gives the usual excellent first impression.

Worth also noting that Star Labs produces a disassembly guide to help you replace or upgrade components. I like to see importance given to serviceability so kudos for supporting the movement for self-repair.

For this PC I’ll be using it to experiment with Proxmox VE. Thanks to dual network ports you may find this device pretty useful for a low powered firewall, router or file server for example. the Intel N200 SoC may be limiting for some uses such as gaming and bulk video transcoding however as it’s a similar type used in retail NAS units you may well find this suited to a media PC too. Of course the Byte Mk II would also server great as a home office PC sat behind your monitor.

Now That We’ve Got a Cumulative Update…Updating SQL Server on Linux

A few weeks’ ago I blogged about installing SQL Server 2022 on Linux. It just so happens to be that Cumulative Update 8 for SQL Server 2022 came out this week. This gives us the perfect opportunity to talk about applying those all important CUs to the SQL Server we built a couple of weeks back.

As discussed applying SQL Server Cumulative Updates on Linux works differently to Windows. On Windows you generally either get CUs by manually downloading the update via Microsoft’s KB on that particular update or accidentally let one install via Windows update if there’s a security fix. On Linux you generally get updates via the repositories you have configured for your server.

Applying Cumulative Updates for SQL Server (of any supported version) ensures that you have the latest fixes for the SQL Server platform. Each update is certified to the same degree as a service pack used to be and Microsoft generally recommends you keep up to date with their installation. That being said you still should test carefully in UAT before applying to a live system.

The first thing you need to do of course is backup your SQL Server. Something could go wrong so you must make sure you have a rollback plan in case that does happen. This could be: taking a snapshot of the server’s VM in your hypervisor, performing a full backup of all the system and user databases, initiating a full server backup using your favourite backup agent or something completely different.

Once you have a test plan in place which has been approved plus your backups you are now ready to install the latest Cumulative Update.

Step 1: Check to see if you’ve got the correct apt source in your repos:

sudo apt edit-sources

You will then get a 1-4 choice for which editor you want to use. I chose nano which is option #1. At which point you’ll see nano appear. Scroll right down and find your sources.

If you don’t see Microsoft’s sources for SQL Server in there it’s not all bad news as Microsoft have made a guide on how to resolve that problem.

Once you are done reviewing the sources list press CTRL + X to close nano.

Step 2: Run apt update to fetch the current package list from the repositories:

sudo apt-get update

This takes a few minutes and for my server resulted in a 14 MB download. This command is vital to ensure that the next command runs properly otherwise you’ll be using an outdated package list.

Step 3: Perform an upgrade of msssql-server using apt:

--To update everything on the system at once
sudo apt-get upgrade 

--To do MS SQL Server only
sudo apt-get upgrade mssql-server

This will then list out all the packages that need upgrading based on what’s installed to your Server vs what’s available in the repository. If you decided to upgrade everything one of those packages should be…yes you guessed it…mssql-server. Cumulative Update 8 is approximately 268 MB to download:

You are of course going to answer ‘Y’ to this question. Or press enter (note that the “Y” is capitalised. This means that it’s the default answer if you smack return).

This will then run through all the updates to go through. Highlighted here is apt setting up the mssql-server package version 16.0.4075.1-1 which is indeed Cumulative Update 8.

Step 4: Verify the mssql-server service is alive:

systemctl status mssql-server --no-pager

As you can see we’re onto a winner:

At this point it’s also probably a good idea to open SQL Server Management Studio or Azure Data Studio to check you have a working connection. To double check you have Cumulative Update 8 you could also execute the following command in whatever SQL query tool you are using:

SELECT @@VERSION AS VersionString
Microsoft SQL Server 2022 (RTM-CU8) (KB5029666) - 16.0.4075.1 (X64)  	Aug 23 2023 14:04:50  	Copyright (C) 2022 Microsoft Corporation 	Developer Edition (64-bit) on Linux (Ubuntu 20.04.6 LTS) <X64>

At this point you should start performing your acceptance tests on your databases and applications. Aim to verify that the usual business and system processes are working before declaring a success!

But What If I Wanted A Specific Version of SQL Server?

Whilst it’s usually recommended that a new SQL Server instance should go through a UAT phase with whatever application(s) will be running against it using the latest CU available at the time. However there could be situations where a specific version of SQL Server is required. Whatever that reason in order to do this run the following commands:

sudo apt-get install mssql-server=<version_number>
sudo systemctl start mssql-server

Where <version_number> is the version string you need. For example Cumulative Update 7 is 16.0.4065.3-4. To find the version number you need consult the release notes for SQL Server 2022 on Linux.

Weekend Project: SQL Server 2022 on Ubuntu

There’s something I’ll have to admit to: I don’t (didn’t) have an SQL Server test instance to play with. Gasp! I broke apart my Windows desktop earlier this year, sold all the parts and then remembered how am I supposed to play with SQL Server without it? Well it did save some desk space…

This weekend it came to the top of my task list to build another so for this brief tutorial I’m going to show you how to install SQL Server 2022 onto an Ubuntu Server. Yes that’s right; no Windows involved.

Pre-requisites

  • A fully setup Ubuntu Server 20.04 running on either a spare PC/server, Virtual Machine, cloud service, basically somewhere. Hell they even run Doom on pregnancy tests these days so I’m sure you can find something to run it on.
  • SQL Server 2022 requires a minimum of 2 GB of system memory so spec/configure as appropriate.

Once you have your shiny new Ubuntu Server you should then use SSH to connect into the environment and let the fun begin.

Step 1: Import the GPG keys for the Microsoft repository. This means that you can trust the repo that you’ll download SQL Server 2022 from:

curl https://packages.microsoft.com/keys/microsoft.asc | sudo tee /etc/apt/trusted.gpg.d/microsoft.asc

Step 2: Register the Microsoft repository with apt. This means that you add the address of the Microsoft repository into apt’s list it uses to check for and download software & updates. This is where you’ll actually download SQL Server 2022 from:

sudo add-apt-repository "$(wget -qO- https://packages.microsoft.com/config/ubuntu/20.04/mssql-server-2022.list)"

Step 3: Update apt’s list of available updates then instruct apt to install SQL Server 2022. Note the -y switch after the install argument means that you are telling apt to do all this automatically i.e.: yes to all prompts. This will trigger a download around 1.3 GB in total so warm up that internet connection:

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install -y mssql-server

Step 4: Run mssql-conf setup to configure your newly installed SQL Server 2022 instance:

sudo /opt/mssql/bin/mssql-conf setup
  1. You’ll first get asked for the edition. I chose number 2 for Developer as I want to use this build as a test/training server. Whatever edition you choose do make sure you are using an edition you are appropriately licenced for. You’ve been warned.
  2. Following choosing an edition you’ll get asked to accept the licence terms. I know you’ll read them fully and very carefully but make sure you type “Yes” to accept.
  3. Next will be the language. I chose 1 for English but as you require for this.
  4. After that you’ll get prompted to specify an sa password. Make sure you choose something secure and record it securely especially if this is production.

Step 5: Confirm that the service is running. It would be most definitely disappointing if it weren’t:

systemctl status mssql-server --no-pager

You’ll get something resembling this which confirms that SQL Server 2022 is running:

If you’re new to SQL Server on Linux then something you need to be aware of is that you can’t run SQL Server Management Studio (SSMS) on Linux. As an alternative you can go try Azure Data Studio which has the Admin Pack for SQL Server extension pack available that includes tools for Profiler, SQL Server Agent, Import and for working with .dacpac files.

Once you are connected to the SQL Server instance then one thing to note if you run the T-SQL command @@VERSION you’ll get something like this:

Microsoft SQL Server 2022 (RTM-CU7) (KB5028743) - 16.0.4065.3 (X64)  	Jul 25 2023 18:03:43  	Copyright (C) 2022 Microsoft Corporation 	Developer Edition (64-bit) on Linux (Ubuntu 20.04.6 LTS) <X64>

Specifically the point here is that Cumulative Updates (CUs) in SQL Server on Linux are handled differently than Windows. On Ubuntu Linux to take an example CUs are delivered using apt. This is unlike Windows where you have to download and install the cumulative update that you want or accidentally let Windows Update install one if there’s a security fix that needs applying. This means that the release you get by default from the repository is the latest one.

So, congratulations. You’ve made it this far. If you don’t like reading this blog (why?) then you can always follow Microsoft’s direct instructions on the setup above but then you’ll have to admit I made you scroll all the way down here to find this link.

Bonus Round! Restoring AdventureWorks Sample Data

Now you have your newly installed Ubuntu Server with an SQL Server 2022 instance you’re going to need some test data in there (unless you’re straight into production in which case bon voyage!).

To do this you can use wget to bring in the SQL Server 2022 edition of the venerable AdventureWorks databases.

--OLTP
wget https://github.com/Microsoft/sql-server-samples/releases/download/adventureworks/AdventureWorks2022.bak

--Data Warehouse
wget https://github.com/Microsoft/sql-server-samples/releases/download/adventureworks/AdventureWorksDW2022.bak

--Lightweight
wget https://github.com/Microsoft/sql-server-samples/releases/download/adventureworks/AdventureWorksLT2022.bak

This should download the databases into your Home directory if you haven’t done a cd out of there.

You can then use Azure Data Studio to restore the databases if you have preview features turned on. If you don’t then you can restore using the following T-SQL:

--OLTP
USE [master]
RESTORE DATABASE [AdventureWorks2022] FROM DISK = N'/home/<user>/AdventureWorks2022.bak' WITH  FILE = 1, MOVE N'AdventureWorks2022' TO N'/var/opt/mssql/data/AdventureWorks2022.mdf', MOVE N'AdventureWorks2022_log' TO N'/var/opt/mssql/data/AdventureWorks2022_log.ldf', NOUNLOAD,  STATS = 10

--Data Warehouse
USE [master]
RESTORE DATABASE [AdventureWorksDW2022] FROM  DISK = N'/home/<user>/AdventureWorksDW2022.bak' WITH  FILE = 1, MOVE N'AdventureWorksDW2022' TO N'/var/opt/mssql/data/AdventureWorksDW2022.mdf',  MOVE N'AdventureWorksDW2022_log' TO N'/var/opt/mssql/data/AdventureWorksDW2022_log.ldf', NOUNLOAD, STATS = 10

--Lightweight
USE [master]
RESTORE DATABASE [AdventureWorksLT2022] FROM DISK = N'/home/<user>/AdventureWorksLT2022.bak' WITH  FILE = 1, MOVE N'AdventureWorksLT2022_Data' TO N'/var/opt/mssql/data/AdventureWorksLT2022.mdf', MOVE N'AdventureWorksLT2022_Log' TO N'/var/opt/mssql/data/AdventureWorksLT2022_log.ldf', NOUNLOAD, STATS = 10

Ubuntu 22.04.1 and Also How I Solved the F*****g /Boot Space Issue

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.

uname -r

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):

sudo apt-get purge linux-image-5.xx.x-xx-generic
sudo apt-get purge linux-image-unsigned-5.xx.x-xx-generic

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:

sudo apt-get purge linux-image-5.13.0-44-generic linux-image-unsigned-5.13.0-44-generic

Once you’ve got the list down to about 2 kernels you should be able to update.

I’m so far enjoying Jammy Jellyfish and it was good fun finally cracking the excess kernel problem at the same time.

Review: Star Labs StarBook Mk V

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!

Star Labs StarBook Mk V
Undressed on my coffee table. Candle for mood.

Specification as reviewed:

  • Screen: 14″ IPS, 1920 x 1080 (16:9 ratio) @ 157 ppi, 60Hz refresh rate
  • CPU: Intel “Tiger Lake” Core i7 1165G7 (4 core) with Intel Xe Graphics
  • Memory: 64GB (2 x 32GB) G.Skill Ripjaws DDR4-3200
  • Storage: StarDrive 1000GB PCIe Gen 4 SSD
  • Wireless & Bluetooth: Intel AX201
  • Webcam: 720p
  • Battery: 65Whr (quoted at up to 11 hours battery life)
  • Keyboard: UK
  • 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.

Packaging
All safe and secure.

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.

Inner Packaging
Want it.

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.

Charger, UK Plug, USB to barrel connector, recovery drive.
Hello! I’m a 12-port USB-C hub.

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.

At last! We meet in person.

Connectivity wise you’ll find the following ports on the StarBook Mk V (from nearest to furthest from you):

Left

  • 2 x status LEDs
  • Thunderbolt 4 / USB 3.0 – Type C with Power Delivery
  • HDMI
  • USB 3.0 – Type A
  • DC Charging Jack

Right

  • 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.

Desk hero. The StarPort USB-C hub is also plugged in here.

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.

Chuffin’ ‘eck I’m live on t’internet!

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:

1607 single-core, 5516 multi-core.

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:

Coreboot
No more Intel Management Engine to bother you sir/madam.

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:

KDiskMark Results
Faster than I can do spreadsheets at least.

Conclusion

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.

Price and availability: from £779 at https://starlabs.systems.

Pros

  • Excellent packaging and accessories.
  • Premium feel chassis with strong keyboard and trackpad.
  • Lots of customisation options available: CPUs, memory, OS and even the firmware.

Cons

  • Competent but arguably not so impressive screen specifications compared to other laptops.
  • One more USB-C port would be nice.

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Ubuntu 21.10 “Impish Indri” Released

This week’s big release has been Ubuntu 21.10 codenamed Impish Indri. This is an interim release with 9 months of support from Canonical.

Very impish, very indri.

There are lots of changes to talk about here. This release brings Linux Kernel 5.13, Firefox as a snap by default, GNOME 40 with horizontal workspaces as well as tweaks to the UI, touchpad gestures and zip password support in Nautilus as a few examples.

I’ve installed this to my Dell XPS 9360 this week. So far I’m really liking the horizontal workspace change. It’s admittedly a feature I’ve never got used to working with for Ubuntu and Windows alike but I’ve decided to give it another go.

The change to Firefox as a Snap app is a controversial choice given the reception of snaps. Personally I’m not noticing much of a difference and so long as security updates come in on time I don’t think I’ll be too bothered about it.

You can upgrade your existing Ubuntu distribution to 21.10 now but if you haven’t tried Ubuntu now’s a really good time to Download Ubuntu 21.10 and see it for yourself. As before if you get the torrents I’ll be pleased to serve you the bits.

Ubuntu 21.04 Released

Canonical have today released Ubuntu 21.04 dubbed Hirsute Hippo (apparently that means “hairy”). This is a short-term support release with 9 months of updates to be had.

Ubuntu 21.04 Hirsute Hippo
Hairy Indeed

There are a number of changes including support for joining Microsoft Active Directory, support for the Wayland server by default and a visual refresh among other things. Of course you’ll also be getting a more recent version of the Linux Kernel specifically number 5.11.

I have yet to get my trusty XPS 13 out to commence an update but if you get the torrents you’ll be served by yours truly from my NAS whilst I go visit the pub for the first time in about 5 months.