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  • Stumbling upon a deal (Acer Swift 1)

    Posted on Ascaris Comment on the AskWoody Lounge

    Home Forums Outside the box Rants Stumbling upon a deal (Acer Swift 1)

    This topic contains 10 replies, has 7 voices, and was last updated by  Ascaris 4 months, 1 week ago.

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    • #202523 Reply

      Ascaris
      AskWoody MVP

      I just bought a Dell Inspiron 11 in December. The reasons I chose this model were simple: It was inexpensive and claimed long battery life, which was not hard to believe with its up-to-6 watt CPU TDP. It has a 32 GB eMMC drive, 4GB RAM, 11.6 inch TN display, and not much else of note. For $180 on sale, though, it was a good deal, even if it did come with Windows 10 (which I quickly removed and replaced with Linux Mint). I like the little laptop a lot, and it does have impressively long battery life.

      Well… last month I was in a certain Arkansas-based big box store getting groceries, and I decided to go have a look at the laptops to see if if any of them showed precision touchpads in Windows 10 (having just found out that precision touchpads were a “thing,” I wanted to look up their models later and learn more). While there, I saw a sale on the Acer Swift 1 (SF113-31-P5CK) for $249. Quad-core Pentium N4200 CPU, 4GB RAM, 64GB eMMC,all-aluminum case, and most compellingly, a FHD (1920×1080) 13.3 inch IPS display.

      I really don’t care for TN displays much these days. The viewing angles on a TN are just awful… but this little PC came with IPS.

      I wish this deal had been around when I got the Dell… I would have bought it instead. For an extra $70, I get two more cores (and each one is ~30% faster than each of the cores in the Dell), twice the eMMC space, and full HD IPS!

      Even though I just bought a low-end, last all day laptop six months ago, I didn’t want to let this one pass. The rated TDP on the N4200 is the same as in my Dell’s N3060, but it’s much more powerful. And that IPS display!

      It was late at night (best time to shop… no crowds), so I had to look for an employee, and when I found one, she just wanted to know the sale price of the laptop. She went in back and returned empty-handed, saying there were none left. I was going to ask if rainchecks were still a thing (I haven’t done one in decades) when I noticed that the tag next to the display model said “Closeout.” Well, if there were rainchecks, there wouldn’t be on a closeout… bah.

      I returned to my grocery-getting, then began to think. While floor model laptops tend to get savaged by savage customers, this one looked okay… all keys intact, no visible damage. I asked the employee about the possibility of buying the floor model, which is something I last did around the same time I last had a raincheck. She said to come back when the electronics manager was in, which would be after 8 am.

      I did return. I asked the woman who was now on duty for the dept. manager, and she asked if there was something she could help with. I never did find out if she was the manager of the department or just playing gatekeeper. I told her I’d wanted the Acer laptop but that they were out of stock, so I wanted to maybe get the floor model, if it was in as good shape as it appeared.

      She shook her head, saying that it was not permitted by the store policy. She said some customer had bought a floor model and was not able to get the demo software off of it, and it caused problems, so now the rule is that all floor models get returned to the company, and that’s that.

      Hmph! I bet could get that demo software off of there! It didn’t matter, though; she was not budging.

      I asked forlornly if she could verify the things were out of stock, and she asked if the person I had asked before had scanned the UPC on the card to check. I said no, and told how she had only wanted to know the price, not even the model number. She called another employee over to assist me, and he used his little handheld pricing gun to scan the card. “We miiiiight have one left,” he said, then stood there motionless. The entire premise was that I wanted one, and now I hear that they may have one, but he didn’t think that was reason enough to do anything but stand around!

      “Could you go look?” I asked.

      He did, and returned a few minutes later with a box.

      There had been one left, probably there all along, and Ms. Look It Up By Price had missed it. It was unopened, so probably it wasn’t a return.

      So, now I am the owner of two lower-end machines that essentially try to fill the same role.

      The Acer has a precision touchpad (clickpad style, with no discrete buttons). It does have a nicer feel overall than the other touchpads I’ve used, including the clickpad in the Dell. There’s a setting in the UEFI setup to switch it to legacy mode, but I’ve not had reason to try that yet.

      Precision touchpads are a response to the observation some people have made that an Apple laptop tends to have a much better touchpad experience than in a Windows laptop. Apparently, Synaptics (maker of most laptop touchpads, though not the one in my Acer) and MS got together to design the precision touchpad standard, where the touchpad would send its raw touch data to the OS, which would then interpret it and translate it into useful commands and pointer movements. The way it’s always been done in Windows laptops was to have the driver handle all of the interpretation and translation of that data, sending the processed data to Windows as simulated mouse movements. I’m not sure how that translates to it having worse “feel,” though, as the driver can do this just as effectively as the OS. Still, it exists, so I wanted to learn more, which is how I ended up owning one example of a precision touchpad, with a whole laptop around it.

      Windows 8.1 setup hasn’t worked so far. Microsoft’s apparent deal with Intel to create an embargo on pre-10 drivers for later architectures has worked… while I was able to get the chipset “driver” (really an INF file) installed, I could not get the I2C serial IO drivers installed, and without those, the touchpad does not show up in the Device Manager at all. The I2C drivers for Apollo Lake don’t work in 8.1, even if I force install them (they do install, but “cannot start because there is a problem.” The I2C drivers for 8.1 don’t cover the Apollo Lake I2C PCI IDs, and when I force install them, same thing– cannot start. MS and Intel really did their homework on this one… it seems that when putting the screws to the user (customer!) is the goal, they will spare no effort.

      I could get the touchpad working in legacy mode if I set it that way in the UEFI setup, but I’d still have more than half a dozen dangling things in the Device Manager that don’t work. I’m working on moving away from Windows in the first place, and my Dell doesn’t even have Windows at all anymore, so…

      So, Windows is a no-go on this thing.

      I put Mint on it, and as usual, everything worked right out of the box. I2C drivers found and installed, precision touchpad working precisely, wifi finding various networks and asking if I want to join one right from the live session, all of it. Why can’t Windows be that easy?

      I got Mint set up on it, and it works really well. The one exception is the fingerprint reader (not something you typically see on a laptop in this price range), but its maker has not followed through on any of its promises to produce a Linux driver, and it hasn’t been picked up by the open-source fingerprint driver guys yet. It’s not a huge deal, as prints are really not all that secure, so I’d still have a strong password be the main security method.

      The 64MB eMMC is far better than the 32MB in the Dell. 32MB is not enough for Windows 10 to even update without issues, but 64 is. You won’t have a lot of room for programs, but at least it’s workable with Windows. Not that I would be using Windows, but I’m not every customer for this model.

      My Dell has a micro SD slot that completely envelops the card, so it can be left in there semi-permanently to increase its storage. The Acer has a full-size SD slot, but half of the card sticks out. I was reading about the possibility of cutting an SD card down (most of them are empty except for the 25% nearest the contacts, length-wise; the rest is empty). The Acer, like the Dell, only has a poky USB2 connection between the card reader and the PC, but slow storage is still storage.

      And then I found out that this little thing is supposed to have a M.2 SSD slot internally.

      At first, I was cautiously optimistic. The service manual for my Dell says it has an upgradeable eMMC module too, but I’ve opened it and seen the motherboard where the SATA port is supposed to be… it’s not there.

      Everything I read about the Swift indicated that this was different, that it would have the SSD port. I went to the hardware store to get a Torx T-6 screwdriver (really tiny, about 1.6mm in diameter from point of star to point of star) that I would need to open the thing, and I opened it.

      Wow. If you get one of these, be careful… the aluminum cover’s edges are razor sharp! After cleaning up the blood (it’s salty, corrosive, and conductive), I could see that the SSD slot was, in fact, present.

      I immediately ordered a SSD for it. Even though it’s a cheap laptop, I went with a 1TB, same size I have in my Core 2 Duo laptop (which was high end-ish when I bought it, but now it’s a cheap laptop too). SSDs are easily repurposed, and if I do repurpose one, big is better than small. Go big or go home!

      It’s a Samsung 860 Evo M.2 (SATA) 1TB, 2280 form factor. The 850 Evo in my Core 2 Duo has such long endurance (rating wise) that it will last a decade at the rate I have been going (or more), and the next-generation 860 doubles it, if I recall. No need to worry about using up this thing’s rated life!

      I installed it when it arrived and it installed with no issue at all. It was immediately recognized, and when I moved Mint from the internal eMMC to the SSD, it automatically started booting from the SSD. I soon found that the InsydeH20 UEFI in the Acer is… well, terrible, but it works, for the most part. Legacy boot doesn’t work, and the boot selection internally shows three copies of Windows Boot Manager and no Ubuntu (which is how Mint usually appears in UEFI). At least one of them actually is Mint, and when that one is selected (as it already was when I put the SSD in), it boots into Mint (or the GRUB menu to dual boot Windows, if you wish) just fine.

      I’m pretty impressed with the little laptop. Its memory (4GB) is smaller than I would prefer, but I’ve been able to do some stuff with it that might not be expected (more on that in another post I will write momentarily).

      Now I found out why the retailer was closing out this model. Its replacement is the same hardware with the exception of the N5000 Pentium Silver CPU, which is ~30% faster than the N4200 (both quad cores). Still only 4GB, though. If Acer made an 8GB version, I’d grab it now even though I already have a Swift 1… between the N5000 and the 8GB, it would be too good to not have. Acer, you listening??

      Group L (Linux): KDE Neon User Edition 5.14.3 (based on Ubuntu 18.04) + Windows 7 in Virtualbox VM

      4 users thanked author for this post.
    • #202532 Reply

      BobbyB
      AskWoody Lounger

      @ascaris I read with great interest your trials and tribulations with the Acer Swift 1 did a bit of research it would appear that installing Win 8.1 is a bit of a hassle as its not turning up links to drivers in the usual places as you said. Just a thought here, as I know your eminently wiser than I, but when you said force the Drivers did you mean using DISM /add-driver command? Its just a thought, and one I don’t normally recommend on unknown drivers or of dubious worth, is including the “switch” /forceunsigned its one I used on this Laptop here Acer Aspire E15-511 with 512 drivers i.e. close match, which can be a great workaround.
      dism /image:C:\mount /add-driver /driver:c:\Drivers /recurse /forceunsigned
      Could be a moot point if the certificate is not valid but it sure gets the drivers in the image, although, as you know, DISM will error out if theyre not compatible with the “mounted image” so your not likely to break anything.
      To get Win7x64 EFI to install on an Acer E15-511, used the 512 drivers, Win7 install.wim, Win8.1 install media (suitably modified with PID.txt file and a VL ei.cfg) and replaced the Win8.1 install.wim with the modified Win7 install.wim, made in to an iso, RUFUS to USB stick and off it went, no need to change to “Legacy” for the first part of the install. Just in case any ones reading this it only works with Win7 Ent and Pro as you can get the KMS install only! keys off M$ lest anyone’s looking for a quick unofficial activation lol 😉
      Not seeing anything for Win8.1 on that page no doubt its covered under Win8 methinks.
      As regards the old Insyde BIOS, I think we lamented about that last week in another topic. So we need “Torx” now to get in the cases eh? they sure don’t make it any easier do they? Hey its still got to be better than lashings of that Glue or the Sonic welding that they seem to go in for these days you would think. Any way just a thought or two here to get you on your way. OBTW I did look it up and it looks a sweet little number but, as the saying goes, “With every Rose there’s inevitably thorns” but there’s always work arounds too 😉

      • #202589 Reply

        Ascaris
        AskWoody MVP

        I just installed 8.1 in UEFI mode from the unmodified USB image from Microsoft, and that worked fine.  Win 8.1 starts and runs, but as usual in Windows, there are a number of devices in the Device Manager that don’t have drivers yet.

        I am using 8.1 on all of my Windows PCs (with Classic Shell and other similar things), as 7 has little time left and is under attack by MS on nearly a daily basis, so installing 8.1 rather than 7 was an easy choice (if I could get it running the way I wanted, then I would have to go locate/buy a product key and the license it represents.  I’m not going to spend any money on it before I know it works!).

        By force-install, I meant to use the Device Manager, update driver, have disk, then browse to the driver location on disk, then uncheck “Show compatible drivers.”  I pick the one I want to try, then let it complain and install it anyway (driver signature enforcement was already off).  If the drivers are actually compatible with the hardware but are artificially limited by the .inf files, this usually works, but in this case, it couldn’t start any of the drivers once installed.

        Each of the I2C drivers is noted in the device manager as something like “Intel I2C Serial IO Device 5ABF,” with the last four being the device ID from the PCI ID string (VEN_8086& DEV_5ABF).  None of the vendor IDs on the laptop were listed in the Windows 8.1 I2C driver package, so I just tried force installing all three varieties; none worked.  They all had matching drivers in the Windows 10 I2C driver package, of course, but when I force installed those in 8.1, they also failed to start.

        I could also try editing the .inf files to add what they need to install normally (though driver enforcement still has to be off), but I don’t think the result would be any different than what I have seen already.

        The case of the Swift was a little bit challenging to get into the first time, but I have its secret now.  The 9 Torx screws are not typical laptop screws… they have wide (and thick) wafer heads with an integrated rubber washer where it contacts the aluminum case, to prevent gouging and bending the soft metal, I guess.  They’re easy enough to remove with the right tool, but then the case is still held together by the little lugs on the inside of the case.  I used a thin guitar pick to gently pry the aluminum case open, and once I got it started, it’s easy.  Start from the front (which is counter-intuitive) and flex the case bottom up in the center to allow the side lugs to come in a little bit and disengage, then pull the whole thing forward to disengage the ones nearest the hinge.

        Once it was open, I could see all the lovely innards.  The battery pack should be easily replaceable once it needs it, and of course the SSD slot is easily accessible.  The wifi card is a typical M.2 model and is easily replaced too.  That’s about it as far as upgrades… the CPU and RAM are soldered, as they usually are on lower cost machines.

        The whole laptop is very thin, which goes to show that it doesn’t have to be glued and welded together to make it thin and light.  It’s nice to have it as thin as possible, but it is easy for hardware OEMs to go too far with it.  Apple’s butterfly keyboards that are attached to the case top (which is in turn attached to the battery, making it a costly bundle to replace) and that can be wrecked with a crumb are the poster child for the fetish of thin taken beyond any reasonable limits.

        The Swift’s key travel is very short, and I’d gladly have the thing 1 mm thicker if it meant 1 mm of extra key travel.  Still, it’s nice that it is thin and light and still able to be opened.

        The difficulties with the Insyde UEFI aside, it’s a very nice little machine.  I found the correct ICC calibration file for the AU Optronics IPS display panel, which is always a plus (usually I am left trying to find one that is close, but never really right).

        The internal eMMC is faster than the eMMC on my Dell.  It’s good for about 250 MB/s in sequential read speed, which is better than any rust spinner I’ve tested.  It also has no mechanical seek time, so the eMMC should provide better virtual memory performance than a hard drive even with no SSD installed in the internal slot.

         

        Group L (Linux): KDE Neon User Edition 5.14.3 (based on Ubuntu 18.04) + Windows 7 in Virtualbox VM

        2 users thanked author for this post.
    • #202550 Reply

      MrJimPhelps
      AskWoody MVP

      That Acer is a very adequate machine with a 1TB SSD installed. And 4GB of RAM will get the job done. With 8GB, however, it would be a screamer. Too bad you can’t upgrade it to 8GB of RAM.

      With Mint as the OS, this would be a fantastic machine to take on vacation or to your favorite local coffee shop.

      Group "L" (Linux Mint)
      with Windows 8.1 running in a VM
    • #202596 Reply

      Elly
      AskWoody MVP

      Really enjoyed your story, and learning from the details of your experiences. Nothing like making your hardware and software do what you want it to do, rather than be constricted. Makes my fingers itch… I really want a second computer, that I can pick up without a thought if something goes wrong on the first… and you gave me a whole new perspective on what could be done. I never would have thought to open up a new machine and see what could be done with it… in addition to changing the OS… and then comparing the experiences with two different machines. Wow! More than I thought possible. Thank you, @ascaris… this was a fun read, too!

      Win 7 Home, 64 bit, Group B

      1 user thanked author for this post.
      • #202597 Reply

        Elly
        AskWoody MVP

        Off topic, but an observation about my post… on both the visual and text reply tabs @ascaris shows with a capital “A”, but it is translating to “a” when posted? Never had what I’d written auto-edited like that, that I’d noticed. Wasn’t able to fix it with an edit.

        Win 7 Home, 64 bit, Group B

        • #202604 Reply

          PKCano
          AskWoody MVP

          User IDs in posts can’t use capitals or spaces. Capitals get changed to lower case. spaces won’t link, you have to put a “-” in place of them.

          1 user thanked author for this post.
      • #202742 Reply

        Ascaris
        AskWoody MVP

        I am glad you enjoyed it!

        Just a few months ago when I bought the Dell, I immediately wanted to replace the wifi card with a better one.  The Dell came with the single-stream Intel 3165, which only runs half as fast as the dual stream Intel 7265 when used with my wireless-N router.  The 7265s are incredibly cheap on eBay, costing around 5 dollars, so it was an easy choice, but only if the unit would still have a warranty when I was done.

        I looked up Dell’s policy on the matter, and I found a reference where they specifically said that opening the case would not void the warranty, but that any damage caused by the user would not be covered under warranty (and I would not expect it to be any different).  In contrast, I remember reading about a MSI gaming PC reviewed on Notebookcheck, if I recall, where MSI had put one of those “warranty void if removed or broken” stickers over one of the screw holes in the unit.  They advertise the unit as having upgradeable memory, so why would they void the warranty if people make use of the feature?

        I was considering a MSI laptop at the time, and it bothered me that they would do this, because some of the MSIs have a version of the same slow wifi card as in the Dell, and I would want to upgrade it as I did in the Dell too, but not at the expense of the warranty.

        I called MSI and told them of my concern and my wish to upgrade the wifi card if I were to buy one of their units, and they said that for their USA and Canada customers, the warranty is not voided when the case is opened for upgrades.  Aha… the site where I’d read about the sticker was in Europe (Germany, if I recall), and it hadn’t occurred to me that it might be region specific.  In retrospect, I think that the Magnuson-Moss warranty act (or some precedent thereof) prohibits the warranty from being voided just from opening the case or performing upgrades (in the USA, of course).  You’re still responsible if you break it, at least statutorily; some manufacturers will cover it anyway if you let them know what happened, but they’re under no obligation to do so.

        As I understand, the manufacturer also cannot lawfully refuse warranty service if there is damage found if that damage is not related to the warranty service requested.  If you break one of the little lugs holding the case bottom on, they can’t refuse to replace a faulty motherboard for a product that is under warranty, but they can refuse to replace the case bottom.

        If the user spills a drink on the unit, they’re justified in refusing to cover any related damage, which is why Apple puts liquid sensors on their Macbooks… which strikes me as incredibly cynical, given Apple’s premium prices.  They increase the cost of the unit by putting sensors on there solely so they can deny some warranty claims– and according to some anecdotes, the sensors can generate false positives.

        One poster on The Reg mentioned that his wife’s Macbook came down with the malfunctioning butterfly keyboard, as many of them do, and Apple refused to fix it under warranty, claiming the liquid sensor had been tripped, which the user denies is valid (and with other anecdotes indicating that the sensor can be tripped by high humidity as well as contact with liquid).

        Apple allegedly did this even though the keyboard malfunction was a known problem that is not caused by spills, but by dust or other debris getting caught in the very tiny spaces within the butterfly key mechanism.  They even provided instructions on their website regarding how to try to clean the dust out to fix the keyboard by turning the laptop upside down and shaking it or using canned air to try to blow it out, but user reports indicate that it often does not work.  The spaces inside the key mechanism are so small that any bit of debris can be very effectively trapped, with no way to get it out with the key still in place.  Removing the key often results in breakage (and in the case of the space bar, it always results in breakage, even if attempted by Apple employees).

        Of course, the claim about the incident is unsubstantiated, so there’s no way for us to know if it is real or made up, but it’s not just rumor that Apple uses liquid sensors to deny warranty claims, or that they previously tried to weasel out of fixing their keyboards that are known to have a design that is excessively sensitive to debris.  Apple has changed their policy regarding these keyboards… they’re fixing them without the resistance now, and in the process upgrading them to a newer design that is said to be slightly more resistant to debris entrapment, and they’re refunding people’s repair bills if they spent the $400 to $700 it is supposed to cost to get the keyboard replaced.

        Anyway, the point of all of this is that US customers are allowed to open our PCs for upgrades, even if they are new, and expect to keep the warranty.

        Group L (Linux): KDE Neon User Edition 5.14.3 (based on Ubuntu 18.04) + Windows 7 in Virtualbox VM

    • #202607 Reply

      Cybertooth
      AskWoody Lounger

      It was immediately recognized, and when I moved Mint from the internal eMMC to the SSD, it automatically started booting from the SSD.

      @ascaris, how did you move Mint from the eMMC to the SSD? For future reference, it would be useful to have a step-by-step description of the process. Was it as simple as creating an image of the Mint drive and putting it on the SSD?

      Thanks!

       

      • #202736 Reply

        Ascaris
        AskWoody MVP

        Was it as simple as creating an image of the Mint drive and putting it on the SSD?

        Yes, that was how I did it, with Macrium Reflect (free edition) booted from the rescue media on a USB drive.  Some programs have the ability to directly clone a disk to another one that is the same size or larger (and possibly to extend the partitions to make use of the extra room at the same time), but that’s a “pro” feature on Macrium Reflect, if I remember correctly, so I just restored from the backup I already had.  Be aware that if you do it that way, the partitions will still retain their same sizes after the restore.  You can use GParted from a live session of Mint or your choice of other Linux distro to extend, add, or subtract partitions however you wish.

         

         

         

        Group L (Linux): KDE Neon User Edition 5.14.3 (based on Ubuntu 18.04) + Windows 7 in Virtualbox VM

        1 user thanked author for this post.
    • #202730 Reply

      RetiredGeek
      AskWoody MVP

      Very interesting post. Thanks for sharing! 😎

      May the Forces of good computing be with you!

      RG

      PowerShell & VBA Rule!
      Computer Specs

      1 user thanked author for this post.

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