Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to LGC’s first guest article, proudly written by my good friend Matthew Anderson, one of the developers behind the ChimeraOS distribution!
Note: this review has received minor edits for spelling/grammar fixes.
If you were looking for a Linux laptop that has all AMD hardware, or simply looking for a laptop designed around Linux in general, the HP Dev One tries to meet those needs in many ways. I have been using the Dev One for a few weeks now and here are my thoughts and experiences.
The Dev One comes in at a cost of $1099 with express shipping (one-to-two days). System76 and HP worked together to build a laptop preloaded with Pop!_OS, a popular Linux distribution based on Ubuntu. It has a long-lasting battery life [that’s] advertised up to 12 hours. The keyboard is well-built and designed to be spill-resistant, all while having a fairly quiet typing experience. The display can get up to 1,000 nits of brightness, with a pleasant color contrast, without giving you a headache as you code for extended periods of time. The laptop is solid all the way around, being fast and reliable as well as feeling like a durable, long-lasting system, leaving little to be unhappy with.
The Dev One comes in a standard looking laptop box good enough to keep it safe while it’s being handled during shipping. Once opened, you are greeted with a sleek looking white “HP Dev One” box that gave me the same feelings I’ve had opening up a Macbook Pro. You’ll find a very minimal, yet quick to set up experience. Once you dive in you find the charger, a three-year warranty information card, and the laptop itself.
On first boot you are presented with the Pop!_OS installation screen, which shows you information related to telemetry data HP collects. The code is shown to the new proud owner of the laptop to be transparent with what exactly is being collected and why. Overall I prefer this method of packaging because I like the simplistic and easy to set up experiences where you don’t feel like more money went into the packaging than the product itself.
Specs and I/O⌗
[The HP Dev One has the following hardware specifications:]
- AMD Radeon Graphics (8 Vega GPU cores at 2,000 MHz frequency)
- AMD Ryzen 7 Pro 5850U processor (8 Cores, 16 Threads, boost speed of up to 4.4Ghz)
- 16GB (2x8GB) DDR4 RAM rated at 3200 MT/s (upgradable to 64GB)
- 1TB NVMe Gen 3 SSD (also upgradable)
- 1920x1080 display (privacy screen)
[As far as input/output is concerned,] on the left side of the system you’ll find two type-A USB ports and a AUX port for hooking headphones, as well as a Kensington lock. On the right hand side you’ll find a full-size HDMI port and two type-C USB ports, both [of which are] capable of charging the system, as well as a dedicated charging port for the HP power plug. There is a mic that sounds good enough for daily conversation, but isn’t anything special, as well as a standard camera capable of 720p/30 FPS, with a slider to block it off for an extra level of security.
I would like to have seen an Ethernet port on this laptop, but considering how thin the system is I can’t be too mad about it. I feel that having a SD card reader included would have been much more important. As a person who relies on SD card readers consistently, I prefer to have the port be on the laptop in the first place.
Immediately after turning on the laptop I noticed that the screen had limited viewing angles. I then found out that this was because of the screen being a “privacy screen,” which was a surprise because I didn’t see anything about this on the HP website. The screen is extremely glossy, looking more like a mirror than a display. I prefer a matte finish so that I’m not distracted by glares from a window or any lighting in my home. I find that you have to tilt the laptop screen back a decent amount to get the best viewing experience. The position I normally have my screen on other devices looks very dim by comparison.
The screen has a total brightness output of 1,000 nits, which is extremely bright, so I’m a bit surprised that I haven’t had any issues with this. After staring at code for extended period of time, I didn’t have any eye strain or fatigue. This is something that is a big deal breaker for me with some laptops. Nobody likes to get a headache when they work, so not having this issue with a laptop makes it an easy win from me. To top it off, when you are looking at the screen from the proper viewing angle, the colors are very vibrant and appealing to look at.
The chassis feels sturdy and secure. It’s made up of a strong plastic that is said to be fingerprint-resistant, and from my experience, this is true. Something that shocked me a bit was that the fan design allows you to use the laptop on your lap without it getting starved for air, causing the system to overheat. I was extremely happy to see this because I find it comfortable to do some work on a computer from the comfort of my couch. On top of that it is easy to open the Dev One to do upgrades to the NVMe or system memory, and perhaps clear out cat hair from the system if it ever were to get clogged.
To open the laptop all you need to do is unscrew the five captive screws on the bottom pannel (they won’t come out of the panel) using a Torx 5 bit. Once unscrewed, you pull up from the side of the laptop from the front of the system. That’s it, you now have access to the RAM, NVME, and more [after taking the shielding off]. They went as far as including part numbers, replacement screw information, and QR codes to easily look up replacement parts. A welcome design choice that I wish was more standard in the industry.
The trackpad is a hit and miss with me. I’ve had a hard time trying to get it to left-click when I wanted it to. The way my hands are positioned when typing on the keyboard, I instinctively attempt to click too close towards the center of the trackpad by accident, resulting in undesireable “pastes” in Visual Studio Code. For this reason alone I recommend using an external mouse.
It also makes it difficult to try and highlight text to be copied to my clipboard, which has not gotten any easier for me as time goes on. Dragging and dropping files is unpredictable at times. I feel like I have to put in extra effort to make sure that I don’t accidentally drop a file into the wrong folder.
The laptop has a keyboard nub (pointing stick) that admittedly sounded more useful in theory than it was in practice. I found it way too sensitive for my liking and I lack experience interacting with my computer in this manner. Because of this I haven’t used it much. I asked a friend what he thought of it since he uses a ThinkPad laptop, and he said that it felt strange, because you need to push it from the center versus having to push it from the edges. Which was difficult for him to explain. It’s possible that I may start to use it more in time; only time will tell.
There are what I would call “old-school” mouse buttons positioned a the top of the trackpad, which I presume is intended to be used with the keyboard nub, that I actually found extremely useful when wanting to copy/paste files or accurately get the desired input when the trackpad clicks would fail me.
If you are buying a Dev One, you are most likely going to be doing development work on it, which means that you are going to be using the keyboard a lot. I’m not an expert on how to describe keyboards by any means, but I’ll try my best. The key layout is pretty standard, which is great for me. I’m not a fan of keyboards that have odd-shaped Enter keys, or half-sized Shift keys. Some laptops I’ve used had a sticky-like response when typing, and it’s nice to see that the Dev One does not have this issue. I’ve also had laptops that would end up outputting double characters when you are typing quickly, and I did not experience this at all. I’ve had very few errors when typing at my regular speed without feeling like I need to slow down to type.
The keyboard is claimed to be water-resistant, which honestly I wasn’t willing to test out for myself on purpose, but I don’t see any reason to doubt this claim. I’d be more concerned about the fact there are holes next to the keyboard where the speakers are at. If I were to spill something onto the laptop I think the liquid would make its way down into the inside of the chassis.
The system has a backlit keyboard that can be turned on and off with a single press of the F9 key. I value this tremendously, because as a parent, I often try to do work during the night hours where this is necessary. It is also nice to see that it doesn’t have flashy RGB colors that I have on my “gaming” laptops. Especially since RGB controls on Linux is hit and miss whether you’ll be able to get the keyboard configured in a way that is desirable.
I wasn’t a fan of the default setting for the Function keys. I don’t like having to hold the “Fn” key when switching TTY screens, when all my other devices require the “Fn” key to use secondary input options to control brightness, volume, etc. Fortunately you are able to toggle this setting in the BIOS or toggle the setting by pressing “Fn + Shift”.
It was nice to see that you can charge the laptop using either a USB type-C charger or using the included HP adapter. This sort of flexibility makes it much easier to make sure the laptop is charged at all times. These sort of standards are great and I hope the industry continues moving in this direction. That said, I can go about the day without even needing to think about the battery. Out of curosity I wanted to see if the claimed charge rate of being able to obtain 50% battery life in 30 minutes was true. By using the HP adapter with the system completely off, starting from 5% the laptop got to 50% within exactly 30 minutes.
Overall I think with my use case I was getting around four hours of battery life; up to six hours during the lighter tasks. I wasn’t able to achieve the claimed 12 hours of battery life, so I think this is a bit unrealistic and would only apply if the system was under no load whatsoever, with the screen at the lowest setting. I don’t think anyone would actually be doing this, so I think the “up to 12 hours” claim should only be considered a technicality and not a reality. I’m sure that nobody was going to be expecting this, but I felt it was worth mentioning anyway.
The system remains extremely quiet on almost all circumstances. By comparison my Zephyrus G14 has a high-pitch whine that can be obnoxious at times. Even near 5,000 RPM (according to
lm-sensors) the fan is still really silent. I did have a situation where when I turned on the laptop I’d get an error saying that the fan wasn’t configured correctly. This was concerning so I reached out to HP about it, and they relayed the information for me. I since received a firmware update that fixed this issue.
Having experience with Pop!_OS for a few years, I was thinking that this was going to be the weakpoint for this laptop. That said, I think this laptop was able to exceed my expectations and show [the distro] in a light I haven’t seen with my other devices.
Pop!_OS has remained remarkably stable for me the entire time I’ve used it. I haven’t had any sudden lockups or disturbances in my workflow. Having the peace of mind that the hardware you are using is designed with Linux from the ground up is certainly comforting. As much as I love Linux I would be lying if I said that I don’t have anxiety of something going completely wrong at the worst possible moments, but I suppose that is to be expected when the hardware isn’t officially supported by the vendor of the device.
With the OS being installed on a speedy NVMe, the experience is very fast and snappy. This is probably one of the most standout [features] with this laptop. It’s a pleasant experience with everything being nothing less than responsive and not slow down over time, like I’m used to seeing with Windows laptops. It’s also a nice breath of fresh air not seeing a bunch of unnecessary programs included with the default install, running background services that are only annoying to the user. The laptop only has the default applications that come pre-installed with Pop!_OS’ images, with the inclusion of the OEM HP Tools.
When it comes to compiling code, you won’t have to wait for very long in most cases [with] the sequential transfer speed of the 3GB/s SSD and the eight-core, 16-threaded APU. I was able to compile the Linux kernel with the modules in roughly 30 minutes time. I actually used this system to bisect a regression which is never much fun, but this system was able to handle it as painlessly as possible for me.
The Pop!_OS developer team is very responsive and willing to take any feedback. I spoke with Adam Balla, the System76 media relations lead, about my opinions on how to improve the experience and he was very receptive about my comments. From the sounds of it, the work being done with the Cosmic Desktop might be something to look forward to. Some key points that I’d like to point out are:
- Pop!_OS uses outdated packages that caused problems for me when attempting to compile GameScope, which resulted in me having to work around this issue by either setting up Docker or a virtual machine. From my experiences in the past, I’ve learned that it’s a bad idea to attempt to update dependencies manually for compiling code, especially when it comes time to do a major OS upgrade
- I think Pop!_OS could do better to be more user-friendly when it comes to handling binaries such as AppImages. By default the system does not give any indication of what the user should do when they fail to give the program executive permissions. Adam told me that this has to do with the GNOME backend the OS is using. They took note of this and will think about it as they develop their own Cosmic Desktop
- The drive was not encrypted out of the box, which is shocking considering this is the default option for Pop!_OS installations
- I prefer the default GNOME experience when it comes to multi-tasking, especially when hooked up to mulitple displays. The default behaviour of the “Super” key to switch between running programs or search for programs doesn’t offer any sort of window management that I’d like to see. For example, with GNOME I can press the “Super” key and drag a program from one monitor and drop it on the next
The 5850U is capable of playing games at lower resolutions between low-to-medium settings in most cases. You can push older games to the native 1080p resolution as well as higher graphical quality. The temperature stays around 85 degrees C (185 degrees F) or less depending on how demanding the game is, with the fans staying fairly quiet the entire time. Considering the target audience for this laptop is for developers, the fact it’s capable of playing games in the first place has to be considered a pro. It would seem that the divide between professional computers and gaming computers are quickly becoming smaller as technology advances.
You can expect around an hour-and-a-half of gameplay playing games like It takes Two, which doesn’t seem that long when you are playing a game. You should expect to play games at 30 frames-per-second (FPS), and think of 60 FPS as a bonus when it’s possible to maintain a consistent experience. If you aim for a lower resolution and cap the framerate to 30 FPS, you might be able to get more battery life considering the fact that I was pushing the laptop to the limits with V-sync disabled and targetting 60 FPS or higher.
Costing $1099 USD, the HP Dev one is positioned to be a real compelling choice for anyone looking for an all-AMD laptop to do developer work on. For some reason it’s difficult to find systems that are not NVIDIA/Intel combos. That alone puts the Dev One in a position to be a tempting purchase, and with my experiences on it overall, I have to say I wish more people knew about this device, because as hard as I tried I couldn’t really find much to complain about with it. It just does what I expect it to that other devices failed to do in one way or another.
Out of all the laptops I’ve used over the years, this system has been the best experience I have ever had thus far. I’m hoping that the interest in Linux will continue to grow and I’ll continue to see more laptops come out with this in mind. So I’d give this system a 10/10 when it comes to value, it has exceeded my expectation. I’ve had far worse experiences spending the same, if not more than the asking price.
The Dev One has presented me with an experience that I haven’t seen with other devices. Using other hardware I’ve had issues with fan control, sleep/resume, and overall stability issues. This can be extremely frustrating and waste my time having to manage kernel patches, work with udev rules, or have to ignore the problem altogether and work around it. It isn’t fun having a laptop that goes to the lowest brightness setting when it’s plugged in or unplugged, nor is it fun to have Wi-Fi constantly not working, forcing a reboot. Sometimes it feels like it is a roll of a dice whether or not an update will break compatibility with unsupported hardware running Linux. Which, as a developer, can be costly when you are in a middle of a project.
So to answer the question to anyone who may asking themselves whether or not this laptop is worth your time and money, I have to say based on my experiences that this is most certainly a good buy that I don’t see many regretting after [purchase]. I feel like a lot of attention to detail and passion went into the creation of this laptop that I haven’t seen with other devices on the market. At the $1099 price point, it really is hard to beat with all the value added benefits to this system.
- competitive price
- transparent data collection, which is optional
- bright display
- sturdy chassis
- easy to upgrade RAM/SSD
- solid, easy-to-type-on keyboard
- quiet fan, even while gaming
- pretty decent when it comes to light-to-medium gaming
- fast, snappy, and stable software experience
- built with Linux in mind, and this shows
- no Ethernet or SD card ports
- privacy screen limits the viewing angle, and is way too glossy
- unpredictable trackpad behavior
- 4-6 hours of battery life; far from the 12-hour claim
- outdated sotfware packages on Pop!_OS make compiling programs like GameScope almost impossible; the workaround is to use Docker or a VM
- AppImages on Pop!_OS could be handled in a more user-friendly way
- the default Pop!_OS install on the Dev One is not encrypted
- poor behavior of the Super key when it comes to switching between open applications, unlike vanilla GNOME
HP Dev One review unit sent courtesy of HP. This review is NOT sponsored by either HP or System76.