Old hardware and Linux

HP Elitebook 2570p Notebook

The HP Elitebook 2570p [13] by Hewlett-Packard came onto the market in 2013 for demanding road warriors. It is now available for $150 to $250. The 12.5-inch notebook is consistently designed for mobile use and is designed and manufactured to military standards – which makes it correspondingly robust. A device with an Ivy Bridge generation Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, and a 960GB SSD by Mushkin was used in the test.

Q4OS initially showed no weaknesses in hardware detection. Unlike Debian, it includes proprietary firmware components, so even the Qualcomm WiFi WWAN card built into the Elitebook was easily detected, and it was usable after inserting a SIM card (Figure 8).

Figure 8: Q4OS boasts excellent driver features – even for otherwise stubborn WWAN cards.

However, the Q4OS test system did have problems with input devices: The use of integrated mouse buttons was tricky at times, and clicked windows disappeared immediately after opening and only remained open permanently after the third or fourth click.

Apart from that, the Elitebook was fairly inconspicuous: Booting took 13 seconds – again the WiFi network connection turned out to be the biggest slowdown factor (Figure 9). Because it supports the SATA III standard, the Elitebook 2570p has significantly improved performance, especially for read and write operations on hard disks. Although the SSD is quite old, it achieves very attractive data transfer rates thanks to the very fast SandForce controller, which achieves good data compression and buffering. It almost fully utilized the SATA III bus.

Figure 9: Thanks to the SATA III SSD, the small Elitebook 2570p is very fast.

The built-in Core i5 CPU with a normal maximum clock frequency of 2.5GHz and a turbo frequency of 3.1GHz achieved a video transcoding rate of 120 to 150 frames per second on the two physical and logical cores, which brings the midrange CPU up to the values of the four-years-older Xeon CPU of the HP workstation. However, the older processor has a lower clock speed. The mobile processor in the notebook performs very well in this performance segment because of some multimedia instruction set extensions that the older processor does not support.

The Elitebook was on track when it came to memory requirements, too: The Mate desktop grabbed around 530 to 550MB, and Trinity claimed slightly more resources, at 560 to 580 MB.

Raspberry Pi 3 Model B

The third generation of the British SBC costs about $35 and comes with some improvements compared with its predecessor: The Broadcom BCM2837 quad-core processor is the first 64-bit CPU in a Raspberry Pi [14]. It clocks at 1.2GHz but lacks hyperthreading and turboboost. However, the CPU can be overclocked with a few tricks.

The built-in WiFi hardware makes it possible to establish a wireless network connection without an additional WiFi USB dongle. Thanks to microSD card support, sufficient memory is also available. Another advantage of the SBC is the HDMI connection for the monitor, which allows the device to cooperate with most modern TV sets. Audio signals also travel over this bus.

The ready-made Q4OS image [1] for the Raspberry Pi was still version 1.8 (Orion) at the time of testing, although Scorpion (v2.4) has since been released. After downloading and unpacking the ZIP archive, I transferred the 350MB image to a 4GB microSD card, which then served as the boot medium.

The operating system does not work in Live mode but is installed, so you log on with the pi username and raspberry password. Afterward, you need to complete some basic configurations, possibly adjust the locale, change the password, and perform similar tasks. In the end, Q4OS comes up with its familiar desktop.

Ready to Go

As with Q4OS PC versions, you install additional software or alternative desktops with the Desktop Profiler. The version for the Raspberry Pi only offers KDE SC 4.14.2 or the two lean desktop environments Xfce and LXDE, in addition to the Trinity desktop. Gnome and Mate are missing.

System performance with the default Trinity desktop is much like that of Intel-based hardware with two cores, but it is not necessarily suitable for use with the KDE SC desktop. The LXDE desktop was used for comparison.

The system boots as quickly as a full-grown computer system: During the test, Q4OS took about 14 seconds to start from a fast 8GB microSD card until the LXDE desktop was ready for use. However, it took about 40 seconds for the heavyweight KDE SC 4.14 environment to launch.

That said, the operating system memory requirements are likely to be far more important on the Raspberry Pi than on a desktop computer. The SBC only has 1GB of RAM and cannot be upgraded any further. Even without active applications, the KDE SC desktop occupied a total of around 800MB of RAM, a large part of which was used as temporary storage. The lean LXDE environment only needed about 140MB, and the Trinity interface about 400MB (Figure 10).

Figure 10: The Raspberry Pi quickly reached its RAM limit in the test.

After installing some standard applications, the system ran far more slowly, even under LXDE, than the Intel systems: LibreOffice and Gimp had relatively long latency times at startup; Firefox 52 ESR took about 10 seconds to build the screen completely. High memory utilization by these typical office applications was noticeable, as well. Under the Trinity desktop, after calling LibreOffice, only about 150MB of RAM was free; in Firefox without any other open applications, this went down to just 80MB.

With the LXDE desktop, the system was more agile. After calling LibreOffice, around 500MB of RAM remained free, and Firefox noticeably reduced RAM resources in this scenario with more than 620MB.

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