HP & System76: budget edition

I started having some keyboard issues with my refurbished HP EliteBook 840 – certain keys were working intermittently so I purchased a replacement part off eBay for $20. I installed it, but was unsuccessful in resolving the issue. Given that the current battery life on this laptop was not great and the display was starting to show signs of its age, I decided it was time to get a new laptop and not invest any more time or money into the broken machine. I was kinda bummed – my EliteBook was manufactured in 2016 but it was built solidly and still performed well for my use in 2022. Given that it was a refurbished unit, I really didn’t want to spend any more money and time continuing to troubleshoot the keyboard and replace the battery & display, so I decided to search for a brand new laptop. This time around, I wanted a machine with a manufacturer’s warranty (plus the one year warranty extension provided by American Express) to have some peace of mind.

System76 recently partnered with HP to offer the HP Dev One: an HP-made and Pop!_OS-powered laptop. It’s marketed towards developers, but it’s a pretty decent machine for $1099 and would be good for non-developers too. For that price, you get HP hardware with good build quality, support, and warranty and good specs: 8 core AMD Ryzen 7 5850U, 16 GB DDR4 RAM (user-upgradable), 1 TB NVMe SSD, 14″ 1080 display. As cool as this is, I didn’t want to spend quite that much. I had already purchased a refurbished laptop and only got 3 months of use. I didn’t want want to spend a whole lot on a new computer when all it’s really for is couch internet surfing. I also didn’t want to gamble on another refurbished unit to save a few bucks, and find myself shopping for yet another laptop another 3 months down the road.

My budget was $400 (USD), and at this price point you’re going to have to sacrifice a lot in the build quality and features/specs. Things like 4K displays, backlit keyboards, quality speakers, Thunderbolt port, etc. that you find on mid to high level laptops are usually not found in $400 laptops. The specs/features I was looking for were an Intel i3 or i5 CPU, at least 8 GB RAM, a 256 GB or larger SSD, an HDMI port, USB ports, and a headphone jack. I did a lot of searching around various sites, read reviews, and narrowed my choice down to the HP 14-dq2053cl on Amazon for just under $400.

The laptop, as-purchased from Amazon in August, 2022

This is from the bare-bones “HP Laptop 14” line, but it checked all the boxes for my desired features and specs. This machine is configured with an Intel i3-1125G4 quad core CPU, 8 GB DDR4 RAM, a 256 GB PCIe NVMe M.2 SSD (which is really nice – at this price many laptops will only offer a SATA SSD which is not not nearly as fast as NVMe), USB A & C ports, and an HDMI port. And of course a headphone jack – I still like regular ass wired headphones. The build quality is overall cheap, but surprisingly sturdy. The laptop is mostly plastic, but the components are assembled with precision. The keyboard is the number one complaint from HP Laptop 14 reviews I have read, with many noting the loose-feeling keys that have a very short travel yields an uncomfortable typing experience. The keyboard is cheap (and not backlit), but I’m not spending hours writing code on this, only punching in a few words or sentences once in a while while searching stuff or replying to an email. It’s not great, but not so bad that I would return the machine and keep shopping.

Pop!_OS 22.04 running on HP Laptop 14

The touchpad is also pretty meh, but again, that was to be expected at this price. Mouse movement and gestures actually work surprisingly well with Pop!_OS and I don’t have any issues with normal daily use. The touchpad does offer a physical click, but the tactile feel is not great. It is hinged at the top, and you can only really press down and physically click the lower third of the touchpad. This again isn’t a big issue for me as the single finger click gesture is what I prefer.

Despite the drawbacks with the keyboard and touchpad, the laptop overall is a pretty good value for the price tag. The display, while not super vibrant, is plenty bright and has a wide viewing angle. There are plenty of port options as well: HDMI, USB A & C, headphones, and an SD card slot. The camera only offers a 720 resolution, but that is just fine for the occasional Zoom or Skype call. Battery life is good; I’m getting about 6 hours of use on a single charge. The speaker is pretty lackluster, but if I’m watching videos for a lengthy period of time (like a movie on an airplane), I would be using my headphones anyway.

To complete everything, I requested some free stickers from System76. Not quite the HP Dev One, but this is still a great couch/travel laptop. This machine will do everything I need it to do, and I expect to get 3-4 years of use. And if I drop it or lose it somewhere, I’m not out a fortune 😎

See my post on Reddit too for a few questions & answers.

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