August 27, 2003

HP d220 - Please delete

- by Joe Barr -

I've been itching to get my hands on an HP Compaq d220 ever since seeing the announcements of its availability in early July. The d220 was especially interesting to me since it appeared to be the first preloaded Linux desktop made available in the US by a tier-one OEM. You may have read about it on Linux Today or at Slashdot. This is my hands-on report on that very beast, which HP made available to NewsForge for this review. It includes the disappointing news that HP is not preloading Linux on the d220, nor on any other desktops sold in the U.S. Instead, if ordered with the Linux option, the d220 is shipped with an empty hard drive and two CDs containing Mandrake 9.1 Light.

The d220 I reviewed is slightly different than what I would have received had I purchased it. For one thing, it is actually a Windows version of unit. It came with a combo CD-RW/DVD drive that is not available on the Linux model at present, although HP says it will be shortly. The other thing that was different was that HP had installed Mandrake on it before I received it.

This particular HP Compaq d220 desktop box came with an Intel 845GV chipset, 2GHZ Intel Celeron, 400MHz front side bus, 128KB of L2 cache, 256MB of PC2700 DDR RAM, integrated Intel Enhanced Extreme Graphics, 40GB IDE hard drive spinning at 7200 RPM, 48X Combo Drive (CD-RW & DVD-ROM), integrated audio and internal speaker, integrated 10/100 Broadcom 10/100 network card, 3.5" floppy drive, PS/2 Keyboard, and a 2-button PS/2 Scroll Mouse. All d220s come with a standard one-year onsite warranty for parts and labor.

HP told me that an identical unit to the one I reviewed - except for substituting either a 48X CD-ROM or CD-RW for the combo drive - would cost $467.00 with Linux, $519.00 with Windows XP Home, or $589.00 for Windows XP Pro. I selected various options for d220 configuration on the HP website and found it was possible to get the price for a Linux d220 as low as $377.00 and as high as just over $900.00. All prices are plus shipping and tax, if applicable.

The system unit, keyboard, and mouse were all done in my favorite shade of black. The box itself - HP calls it a microtower - is approximately 14" high by 7" wide by 16" deep. Setting it up was easy. The standard cable connections for monitor, keyboard, and mouse are clearly marked on the back of the unit. They are not only color-coded but have icons next to them to help keep you from trying to plug the mouse into the keyboard slot or vice-versa.

I did fumble just a bit trying to connect the keyboard, but that was because I was trying to do so with the flat side of the cable connection facing up. From the mainboard's point of view, up in this configuration means facing the right as you look at the case from behind. When I aligned the flat part of the cable that way, it easily slipped in.

The HP keyboard was of medium weight, with a not-quite-squishy touch. There was audible feedback from the keyboard unless I typed very lightly. The reassuring click which many of us who learned to type on typewriters like to hear only sounds when you press the key all the way to the bottom.

Once I had the monitor, keyboard, and mouse connected, I plugged the power cords from the monitor and system unit into a power strip, flipped the switch to turn it on, turned on the monitor, and then pressed the power button on the d220. It started right up and booted in Mandrake 9.1.

But I decided to install it again using the CDs supplied by HP. Mandrake 9.1, by the way, is certified by HP to run across its entire desktop line. HP tells me that SuSE and Red Hat will also be certified soon.

It was a typical Mandrake install: fast and easy. The entire process took less than 20 minutes, not counting the dead-time resolving what I believed to be an issue with the software update process at the end of the install. That issue proved to be nothing more than the FTP mirrors being swamped with folks downloading RC1 of Mandrake 9.2, which has recently been made available. When I learned that was the cause, I tried again and applied all applicable security fixes in less than 5 minutes.

I believe that Mandrake Light got its name from the fact that the source code and certain commercial binaries which are normally part of a retail Mandrake installation are not included, not because you're not getting a full range of software. I certainly didn't see any missing applications when the installation completed.

Just as you would expect for a business system, Mandrake Light includes an abundance of office tools and productivity software. OpenOffice.org was there in its entirety. KOffice too. The choice of spreadsheets included my personal favorite, gnumeric. There were also amusements like Frozen Bubble, a raft of browsers and email clients, and several IM clients. As I noted, I didn't see anything missing.

Neither HP nor Mandrake provides any free support for Linux. You can, however, purchase Mandrake email or telephone support as an option when you buy or from MandrakeSoft directly.

The DVD drive made a noticable whirring noise during installation, but as I explored the system software after the install I was impressed with its silent running. I decided to have a peek inside the case and see if I could figure out why it was so quiet.

I grabbed a Phillips-head screwdriver from my toolbox, shut down the system, and unplugged both the system and the monitor from the power strip. That's when I noticed that there were two thumbscrews (thanks, ashridah) in the back of the case. I didn't need the screwdriver at all. I simply loosened and removed the thumb screws with my fingers, then slid the side of the case out. There was literally nothing to it. I laid the case down on its side to get a better look.

A large black baffle covered the CPU and attached to the exhaust outlet on the back of the case. I could make out the lettering on it: it said coolermaster. I was impressed. I asked HP if the coolermaster was a standard part on the d220. They assured me that it was.

Now that the case was opened up, I was curious how quiet it was inside while it was running. I plugged the system back in and powered it up without replacing the side. If I held my head close to the open box, I could hear a little noise from the hard drive, but nothing from the CPU or power supply fans. If you like quiet boxes, the d220 will please you.
Since the video, LAN, and sound are all integrated into the mainboard, all three PCI slots were still available.

//picture of open box goes here//

As far as the preload situation goes, it appears we will have to wait a little longer for a preloaded Linux desktop from a major vendor. Following a conference call with HP about the d220, HP spokesperson Tim Constance commented on the HP strategy in a follow-up email. He told me that "Because of the many flavors and geographical preferences for Linux, HP offers the customer a choice of installing the included Mandrake Linux operating system, or a system of their choice at first boot-up. As always, we will continue to evaluate this method of installation to ensure we are meeting the needs of our customers, and will implement alternative installation programs as our customer needs dictate."

The bottom line is that the d220 is a good value, it's quiet and well built, especially for the price. I would seriously consider buying one for my own use except for one thing: I'm saving my love for an OEM who preloads Linux.

Joe Barr has been writing about technology for 10 years, and about Linux for five. His work has appeared in IBM Personal Systems Journal, LinuxGazette, LinuxWorld, Newsforge, phrack, SecurityFocus, and VARLinux.org. He is the founder of The Dweebspeak Primer, the official newsletter of the Linux Liberation Army.

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