Shopping for (another) laptop

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kevm14
Posts: 14577
Joined: Wed Oct 23, 2013 10:28 pm

Shopping for (another) laptop

Post by kevm14 »

This time for Jamie. She has been using this old iPad mini for her work (preschool TA) and while she can do things it's still kind of a crappy computer. So my goal for Christmas was to find a cheaper laptop that would be good for her. Yes I just bought this nice Surface Laptop but the idea was this could be her own thing that she could even bring to school or whatever. That's why it made sense to get something else. I wasn't going to go as premium or expensive as my Surface Laptop but good value is always on the menu.

At first the main choices were Windows laptop or Chromebook? I quickly got off the Chromebook because the low end ones are kind of crappy and small. Plus I had convinced myself I could get a reasonable Windows laptop for not much more than a cheap Chromebook.

As far as size, I thought something on the order my my Surface Laptop would be good as a general purpose machine, around 13.5". It turns out the 15.6 class is still quite cheap and probably why they are popular. But I can't stand those low end plastic 15.6" machines. They drive me nuts. Given that we'd end up with a 16:9 system, a 14" form factor seemed about perfect. Those are less common and 14" seemed to be associated with a little more premium machines. Challenge accepted.

I did more research and the low end laptop buy of 2020 seemed pretty clearly to be the Motile M141 and M142. These are so-called "white box" machines, and in this case they are made by Taiwanese manufacturer Tongfeng. Reviews seemed very positive and between some sales and black friday deals, they reached impossibly low prices. I think the M141 hit a low of like $199 and the M142 may have hit $250? By the time I caught wind of them in December, Walmart was basically sold out. Plus the prices were up anyway. The word had gotten out.

Ended up snagging this M142 on eBay as an open box:
https://www.ebay.com/itm/MOTILE-M142RG- ... 1#rpdCntId

It was $380 buy it now, $20 shipping plus tax. So call it what you want, maybe $400 is a fair number. I got pink which may be less desirable than the black or silver. This worked in my favor.

It is an AMD Ryzen 3500U (quad core) with Vega 8 GPU. This is a relatively powerful APU for ultrabooks and pretty impressive for the under $500 range. In fact it's probably like 70% faster than my Core i7-7660U in my (older) Surface Laptop (at least it is on the Passmark). Basically this is fairly recent hardware which is pretty shocking for the price. No touchscreen though but that's understandable.

Comes with 8GB RAM and a 256GB SSD. 1080p display. A ton of ports (which my Surface doesn't have). It has Windows Hello incredibly. Actually, even more incredibly, you can remove the bottom cover and upgrade the single stick of RAM to 16GB (or I am told 32GB). And it has TWO M.2 drive connectors. I guess one is the faster 4 lane and one is the slower 2 lane. I think the drive it ships with is actually SATA so not even Nvme but it seems plenty snappy to me so I'll wait on the drive upgrade until way down the road when it's really needed.

I did splurge and already ordered a 16GB stick of DDR4 because the Vega 8 GPU takes up 2GB of system memory so it really has 6 which I don't think is enough. Did I mention the case is metal? More to come.
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kevm14
Posts: 14577
Joined: Wed Oct 23, 2013 10:28 pm

Re: Shopping for (another) laptop

Post by kevm14 »

I wrote that last post on the Surface and I am writing this one on the Motile so I could evaluate the keyboard. I'll check back in with that as I go here.

First, a funny and somewhat scary story. It will be less exciting since the ending is already spoiled but here goes anyway (plus like 3 people will read it but whatever).

When I got the machine I pulled it out of the box. It was packed in the OEM box as advertised, which is obviously the best way to ship something like this. It was still fairly cold but I unpacked it, visually inspected it and plugged in the charger. I ended up placing it on my closed Surface because that was a convenient place. I pressed the power button. Nothing happened. I held the power button a little bit. Nothing happened. The charging light was on but it wouldn't turn on. Now the eBay ad did not show the laptop turned on so in the back of my mind I'm like....did some SOB advertise an Open Box door stop and try to get away with it?? I held the button down for like 20 seconds. The charging light would turn off and then back on. But nothing else happened.

So I place the laptop aside and open up my Surface to see if I could find anything online about this. There were some "black screen" complaints but I think that had more to do with video driver issues, not a situation like this. Finally I write a nastigram to the seller half asking if they can explain why it's doing this or what I'm doing wrong, and half threatening. Right before I clicked send, I got up to where I had placed the Motile, opened up the screen and pressed the power button. It turned on!!!

Now I'm thinking maybe it just didn't want to turn on when it was that cold. Maybe some temp sensor inside to protect.....stuff. It appeared to boot in a new Windows setup configuration and I was being guided through setup. As it was going I ended up canceling my nastigram and closed the Surface. Then I picked up the Motile and placed it back on my Surface as I had it originally. As soon as I put it down, the screen went black. I'm like....what now, a loose video cable??? Bad solder joint? Is this why it was being sold?! Yes the mind reels.

I moved it off the Surface because I was planning on investigating some more or something (or reinitiating my nastygram). But when I put it down on the table, I was able to wake it back up (seems like it had gone to sleep, not turned off). OK, so....we're back? So I close the Surface and put it back down. It goes to sleep again!! You may be able to figure out where this is going. Took me a bit longer but eventually I did, too.

Yes, it appears like there is some magnet in my Surface that was triggering a sensor on the Motile to think the screen was closed and to thus go to sleep. Now, does this explain why it wouldn't turn on? Well, yes, assuming the logic is to not allow the laptop to power on in a closed screen state. Hey, actually that makes a lot of sense, doesn't it?

Anyway, that was kind of unbelievable but I am glad it's over and so far I have had zero further issues so that definitely appears to be what the issue was. Phew.

So now I wanted to compare to my Surface a little more.

Screen
Specs wise the Surface screen is far superior. It's a higher res (2256 x 1504, vs 1920x1080 on the Motile). It has nearly 100% of sRGB gamut. The Motile is down in the 60s. However, it may be calibrated out of the box or at least the calibration is not displeasing. Your eyes naturally adjust so it's not immediately obvious that the screen is missing all kinds of colors. Side by side it is unmistakable. But all things considered, this is a perfectly usable screen, and still quite a bit better than one a low end laptop screen used to be only a few short years ago. Random screen related thing: it doesn't wake when you open the screen. You have to wake it manually. This is the same as my 2006 Vaio but I figured everything turned on when you open the screen these days. Guess not. Other than a BIOS upgrade I don't foresee a way to change this. Viewing angles are perfectly acceptable.

Keyboard
Shockingly this keyboard is really kind of good to type on. It feels very stiff. The Surface key travel is superior and more comfortable overall but really for a low end laptop this thing is surprisingly decent to type on. One big caveat is the backlit keyboard. First of all the fact that the Motile has one is pretty awesome for the price. But on the silver and rose SKUs, the keyboard is silver. And the key markings are dark. So when the light shines through the marking, it tends to match the relative brightness of the surrounding silver key and there is no contrast so you can't see the keys. The fix is you don't use the back lighting unless it is super dark. The black model does not have this issue. Also my Surface does not have this issue even though the keys are lighter. Definitely an ergonomic misstep here but not a deal breaker by any means. Also they do the opposite for the function key row. On the Surface, to get the F-keys, you need to press Fn. By default you can press and get direct access to all of those special functions like volume, brightness, play/pause and stuff like that. The Motile is the opposite. F-keys work and then if you want to use the special controls, you need to hold Fn. This is annoying. Maybe there is a way to reverse the behavior (like a Fn key lock which was a thing on my old Surface 2 tablet).

Speed
Like I said, I haven't done all the comparisons but the Passmark score of the 3500U is something like 70% faster than my i7-7660U. And even with the apparently SATA SSD, the performance feels very good and if I'm honest, it feels faster than my Surface Laptop. But it should so this isn't too much of a shocker. I'm sure the GPU performance is at least that much faster, as well. AMD made a solid 15W APU here.
https://www.cpubenchmark.net/compare/In ... 3016vs3421

Battery
This one is surprising too. The Surface has a 45Wh battery and this one is 46.74. Actually has a bigger battery. And according to the energy report this one has 100% of its capacity unlike my Surface which is down around 90%. I'll monitor over time though. I also wonder if this AMD APU is more efficient per compute cycle than my 7th gen i7. They are both 15W but I bet the AMD is superior. For some reason my Surface will never tell me the time remaining when I mouse over or click on the battery icon. I may look into this because it's annoying. The Motile tells you, as most (all?) laptops do. And this is saying I have 74% with 6 hrs and 21 minutes remaining. Yeah that is pretty solid. Again, for the weight, and for the price, this is very impressive. Also it's totally cool on my lap because the CPU doesn't have to do anything while I type this out. Apparently under load it actually gets quite warm.

Weight
Here's another shocker. The Surface Laptop is 2.800 lbs exactly on my shipping scale. This Motile is 2.500 lbs. It's actually noticeably lighter. The amount of performance this has for 2.5 lbs at this price point is kind of unreal to me.

Ports
This one is pretty crazy. My Surface Laptop has the following: 1 USB 3, 1 mini display port, 1/8" headphone jack, plus the proprietary magnetic power plug that does have an interface for a dock with more ports if I wanted. But that's it. Pretty damn sparse. Meanwhile, the Motile has the following: 2 x USB 3.1, 1 x USB 2.0, USB 3.1 Type C, HDMI, a micro SD card reader (!!), not just audio out but audio IN, and an RJ-45 with gigabit. That's.....an insane amount of stuff. Very impressive.

Fan
Actually I think the fan situation is quieter on the Surface. I don't know that I care though I wonder if the Motile will be one of those laptops that makes fan noise on video calls. I guess we'll see.

The trackpad is an MS precision unit so it works great, has gestures and all that stuff. They are similar but not identical. The Motile has a little more of a calibrated dead spot before the cursor moves. I also find the trackpad clicks are better on the Surface.

I also can't believe this has Windows Hello with the proper IR camera and everything. It works.

I have not tried the audio yet and while I am certain the Surface is far superior, from what I've read these are better than you'd expect. That's the nice thing about low expectations. EDIT: I tried the audio. Surface is waaay better but from what I read with the Surface, it had far above average audio, much closer to a Macbook than a typical Windows PC. This sounds like a cheap laptop. It works but isn't great. This is fine. As long as Jamie can do her video call session stuff for school then it's all fine. The Surface has the batter camera, too.

Oh as I said before, you can open this up and do stuff like replace the battery. I can't open my Surface without destroying it.

I still have to update the BIOS to the latest (a little nervous about it) and maybe go get the latest AMD driver package and make sure all that is up to date. But other than that this thing has been performing great.

Do I feel like I should have waited and just got like two of these instead of spending $600 on my Surface Laptop? No, I still prefer the Surface. It's just a more premium machine. I like the screen better (color gamut, 3:2 aspect ratio, resolution, touchscreen, all of that stuff comes at a premium). It has twice the RAM and twice the SSD size. And I just prefer using it. With shipping and tax the Motile came to $428. Add the $67.40 worth of RAM and that's $495.40. The Surface Laptop was $600 all in so really these are only $100 apart, and the Surface still has twice the storage, better screen, better speakers, etc. But really the Surface was like a $2200 machine (in 2017) and the Motile somewhere between $250 and maybe $400+ (in 2020).

But if for some reason I didn't end up with a Surface, and ended up with this instead, in the end, it would have worked out fine. Who knows, in the long term, this may end up out lasting the Surface laptop. It probably will, assuming nothing actually breaks or fails. It starts out faster and newer in the first place, but you can also upgrade some stuff inside (like replace dead batteries). Yay?
kevm14
Posts: 14577
Joined: Wed Oct 23, 2013 10:28 pm

Re: Shopping for (another) laptop

Post by kevm14 »

Wow some great info here.

https://slickdeals.net/f/13798283-motil ... gb-ram-299

Even addresses some stuff I already figured out such as:
Laptop can sleep if headphones or a magnet is on top of bottom right corner!

THAT'S ALL MOBILE DEVICES. THAT'S HOW SLEEP MODE WORKS
VIDEO PROOF! https://imgur.com/a/mDLTgPg #defcon

Video Proof: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ECPSC_1jHE8
Hopefully this post helps you prevent future crashes / sleep issues.

Attached is a picture of location of magnetic item that causes laptop to sleep.
LOL. Yeah guess it wasn't just me!
Currently the laptop has no support for waking up from sleep by lid opening. You have to press a key to wake it up. Closing the lid will put it to sleep though.
Ah. Well that is kind of what I expected so I can stop chasing that (I already had). This is just like my old VAIO but I'm surprised to see it on a modern laptop.
The HDMI port on the laptop has been verified by multiple people as HDMI 2.0 good for 4K 60hz.

USB Type C port on this Motile has been tested and only has data transfer function. NO power delivery (PD) for charging over usb C port.
NO DP function for video output via the usb C.

Display: IPS

Chassis: aluminum/magnesium
Good to know.
SINGLE dimm slot with 8GB 2400 DDR4 sodimm installed. 2GB of the ram is used by Vega iGPU (amount of ram dedicated to iGPU cannot be changed)
It turns out that there is a hacked BIOS that allows all kinds of crazy tweaking including video RAM. But I am nowhere near ready to try that and I may never try that. Apparently the flashing utility or something is sketchy and just updating to 1.06 from 1.03 is risky. I have no issues and I have been advised to just leave it entirely alone. So not sure yet.
Two M2 SSD slots: first slot comes occupied with Biwin 256GB M2 SATA SSD and can use both M2 SATA and NVME.
Second unoccupied M2 slot recognizes only NVME ssd.
Also good info.
Fn+ F5 changes between Basic mode and Silent mode fan speed.
This does have a small difference on multicore cpu benchmarks.
Maybe also battery life when on battery?
Also you can tell which mode you are in by looking at the led light on the power button: solid is basic mode, slow dimming /brightening is silent mode.
I was wondering about this. There was no on screen recognition of switching the mode. I would have never known to look at the power LED. It works. Cool.
FUNCTION KEY REMAPPING:
To reverse FN keys to skip having to hold down FN + FKey:
https://keytweak.en.softonic.com/
Oh really. Might look into this.

Subreddit because....Reddit is the new forums or something.
https://www.reddit.com/r/motile/
kevm14
Posts: 14577
Joined: Wed Oct 23, 2013 10:28 pm

Re: Shopping for (another) laptop

Post by kevm14 »

Got my RAM. Had to tear into it. Something like 6 screws and then some careful prying and the bottom cover comes right off. And it is real metal, folks. I'd be shocked if there was another laptop in existence at this price point with a metal bottom cover.

After that the RAM and everything is all right there. Just swapped it and done. I spent some time looking at stuff and took some pics.
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Motile M142 upgraded RAM.PNG
CPUz memory upgraded RAM motile M142.PNG
The OS gets 14GB because it uses 2GB for the Vega 8 GPU. This works.

I also discovered that it's doing a thing where the RAM stays clocked down to 400Mhz a lot of the time (it should be 1200 aka 2400). But when plugged in it clocks higher. I have seen this issue. But according to some research, I also saw this issue on a Lenovo and HP with the same Ryzen 5 APU. So......I'm not chasing my tail over this. It may just be part of the battery life strategy as I have found battery life to be pretty good so far. I was doing some light browsing looking up this stuff and the battery was at 85% with 8-1/2 hours remaining. This is a quad core laptop that weighs 2.5 lbs. And was pretty cheap. If it runs slower on battery, it doesn't bother me. But I'll continue to look into it. Maybe some newer AMD drivers might fix it (if it's even broken).
kevm14
Posts: 14577
Joined: Wed Oct 23, 2013 10:28 pm

Re: Shopping for (another) laptop

Post by kevm14 »

Actually the HP issue may have been an actual CPU clock issue but it was still a clock speed issue on a Ryzen 5 3500U so I think it's all related.

I found these quotes from a forum:
also try these - install AMDs Chipset Drivers and force AMD Ryzen Balanced Powerplan!
also set Performance to "Best Performance" instead of "save battery" etc
yeah, Ryzen Balanced Powerplan improves performance and lowers thermaloutput on Ryzen Mobile - so please install chipset drivers
Except AMD (perhaps just as a CYA) states on their site that for laptops and laptop-like devices (like all-in-ones) they recommend the manufacturer drivers as they may have some customizations.
Screenshot_20210119-193933.png

But this whitebook is no Vaio so hopefully it's pretty generic.

All that said I will NOT trade performance on battery for increased bugs, instability or any missing functions as a result of running generic AMD drivers.
kevm14
Posts: 14577
Joined: Wed Oct 23, 2013 10:28 pm

Re: Shopping for (another) laptop

Post by kevm14 »

Just got 20H2 via WU. I happened to check and it was there, with a message that the version it had was about to be unsupported (1909 I think). So I updated. And it's running just fine. WU also has some optional stuff that I may consider.
Motile M142 updates 3-22-21.PNG

No rush though. This thing is still awesome! Zero issues and it's been especially good after the RAM upgrade.

Also, this as I type this post:
Motile M142 battery remaining 3-22-21.png

Did I mention that it's faster and has better battery life than my Surface Laptop? Well it's true.

It also installed some Sound Blaster app, a Radeon control app and Realtek thing possibly. Interesting. Didn't see any performance settings in the AMD app, just some display slider that didn't fully make sense to me.
Radeon display settings.png
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