Chinese Notebook: Haier W18

Another step in my preparation for several months of traveling: I recently bought a new notebook here in Shanghai. A Chinese make:

Haier W18

Already a year ago or so when I helped a friend to buy a notebook I saw Haier notebooks. To be exact: One Haier notebook. I played a bit with, pointed my friend to it, but she kept on playing with a Fujitsu one. The price difference was considerable…and so was maybe the quality. My friend bought the Fujitsu and is happy with it. But I never really forgot the Haier for about half the price for nominally about the same hardware.

Well…what do you know about Haier? Yes, they have a lot of fridges, microwave ovens, water coolers, dish washer…all this “white ware”. And when your check out their main web pages like www.haier.com or www.haiereurope.com then you will find exactly that. Oh, I forgot air conditioners, sorry…

The Need for a Travel Companion

But now I am seriously approaching several months of traveling through China and other parts of Asia. I want to continuously report and keep this web site updated to entertain you readers (and myself! It is fun to read through old articles). It is by no means uncommon that backpackers nowadays travel with a notebook. Many location on the ways, mostly cafes and bars, offer internet access. But one thing was for sure: I would not take my old, rattly, slow, big, heavy notebook with me, which anyway is firm property, which I better don’t brake or even loose. Don’t even want to know how many policies I would violate if I would take that firm notebook on an extended private travel.

No, I needed something small, light, more or less modern and fast, and specifically cheap, just in case it breaks on the tour, eats sand, or gets lost or stolen. And then I remembered that there was this Haier a year ago. I decided to get there again and have a second look. “There” is a mall with lots of electronic-stuff-selling booths in Hong Kong Plaza’s north tower on Huaihai Zhong Lu. The concept is a bit different from western electronics markets: It is basically a huge collection of small booths. On first sight you are overwhelmed by the enormous amount of offerings. On second sight you are desperate because you have no idea how you can possible find the best pick across these hundreds of booths spread over three or four levels. But when you get a bit used to it you will notice: Somehow many of these booths are actually interconnected: If you ask for some add-on, which is right now not available at the booth you are standing in then the friendly shop assistants (I have not met any single unfriendly one!) will rush to another booth nearby and get what you need.

Selecting

Well, I went there again, had first a stroll around, ignoring all offers and invitations, just to get a picture of what kind of notebooks are on offer at the moment. You can get everything, but my primary focus was: cheap. I quickly had to sort out all the big brands like Sony, IBM, Fujitsu, Toshiba, even Lenovo. In the category I wanted to play in there was just BenQ and Haier left. Well…BenQ has at the moment no good name for Germans (although I am very satisfied with my 17” BenQ flat screen I bought over a year ago in the same place). Nonetheless, I had a look at their cheapest offer, too. But right on first sight I did not like the display.

And so I ended up where I wanted to get to anyway: With Haier. They had one of the larger branded booths, which looked somewhat serious, although the way things work there is certainly still the Chinese way. I expressed interest for a notebook, quickly saw what’s on offer and had basically decided after 30 seconds. The brand-new Haier W18 was only 6,990 RMB = 690 EUR for

  • Intel Core Duo
  • 80 GB hard disk
  • DVD Reader / CD Writer(Sorry, for that price no chance for a DVD write ;))
  • 1280×800 pixel wide screen display
  • 3x USB
  • ExpressCard 34 slot
  • SD memory card reader
  • WLAN

That’s what I wanted. I was even satisfied with 512 MB memory while colleagues later told me I would need 1 GB or even 2 GB, especially if I want to use Windows Vista. Who needs Vista…? Is there anything you could not do with XP?

Ah…yeah…the operating system. Well, Haier certainly delivers with an OEM version of Windows XP. Haier is Chinese company. Guess what language the operating system comes with…right, Chinese. That I knew upfront. But no problem, the guys offered to install an English XP. If that would be an official version? Haha, I am joking, aren’t I? Yea…just trying 😉

Finalizing the Deal

Paying is another issue. Most shops do not accept international credit cards. Is sometimes a problem in restaurants, too. After some back and forth I got the price down to 6,500 including English XP installation. But I was unsure if I could get all that in cash. I had had quite some cash payments in the weeks before and was anxious that I could exceed some cash drawing limits. But surprise surprise: The Haier people would accept an international credit card. For 2% surcharge… There would go my bargaining success… But not in China…the final suggestion was: Pay 1,500 RMB by credit card; for that amount no surcharge necessary. And you can get 5,000 RMB daily in cash from any ATM. Works. And so we agreed.

An hour later I came back and my notebook was readily installed with some English XP (don’t ask questions). As usual in these shops: You can try your purchase before paying. And so I did: Looked all great, started, display great, disks OK, memory there, fantastic…except for…WLAN…it didn’t seem to work. All notebooks on display did show the public WLAN networks around (CTC), which I also sometimes use. But not my new one. Uups. Immediately 2 people took care of the matter, switch something here and here, installed some more drivers, called another guy (from another booth, you remember…all connected somehow), finally called a fourth one who came with a screw driver! Yeah, they really screwed through the warranty sticker and opened up my new notebook…uh, I did not like that. But to no avail. At some point in time one of the people opened up another cardboard box, took out another notebook and apparently started some installation work. Half an hour later the hardware guys gave up. They could not get WLAN running. “Maybe it is an issue with English XP. Never installed English XP before. If the new notebook also does not work we will give you an USB WLAN stick for free.” Well, not my dream, but better than nothing. But another surprise: The next notebook did work, inclusive WLAN! So indeed the first one has a hardware defect! It was closed again and with some notice put behind the counter. I trust these guys: That machine goes back to Haier; it will not be sold to anyone else.

Happy

I had no more serious issues with the notebook and am extremely happy with. Actually, I love it! Especially the display. Small, but really a great resolution, absolutely clear, good background light, easily readable. And I also got quickly used to the wide screen format: It so nicely allows to attach lots of windows and boxes and toolbars to the left and right borders. All hardware worked well, too. I just got the impression in the beginning, that the fan would run a bit too often, actually more like continuously. And the fan is the only loud thing of this notebook. You can’t hear the disk, but you do hear the fan quite a bit.

Birger's Haier W18 laptop
Birger's Haier W18 laptop

Well, to cut a long story short: I somehow screwed up my Windows XP installation when playing with Linux’ Wine. Let’s forget the details, but I was forced to do a complete Windows XP re-installation, for which I used highly official distributions of my company, which I am even allowed to use on a home computer. All great, official, and registered. I originally wanted to save the download time…but that actually goes automatically over night. So I have now an officially registered Windows XP installation, changed by that chance to NTFS file format (the Haier guys really formatted with FAT32…) and, voila, since then even the fan runs only occasionally. Don’t know what’s really the difference.

Some of the hardware is a bit special. In order to get WLAN and Sound card running you do need the drivers from the provided CDs. At least the CDs are included. Well, and I probably also add the Mouse pad drivers again to make use of the scroll bar at the right side of the pad.

As I was sitting over an hour at the Haier booth while my second notebook was prepared I had a lot of time to memorize the web address put up all around in the shop: www.ithaier.com. And, voila, under that address you do find information on IT products! There even is an “English” link, but then the product list reduces quite a bit to mainly MP3 players. On the Chinese pages, though, they do present quite a lot of PCs and notebooks. Wanna see my nice W18? Here we go:

http://www.ithaier.com/product/product_notebook_1_1.aspx?id=54

Linux (Debian)

Now that I had my first new computer for over a decade I wanted to try my luck with Linux again. After some searching back and forth I decided for Debian, downloaded the CD images, failed with the latest stable releases (“Sarge”) as it could not correctly detect my hard disk (here only I learned that I had SATA disks, which actually is a very good but also comparably new disk bus system), but immediately succeeded with Debian’s latest test release of “Etch”. And a modern Linux distribution is so fantastic! All kind of software through just one interface. All updates automatically. THAT is comfort. We’ll never see that in the Windows worls, sniff. GUI is as comfortable as Windows, all known niceties are available nowadyas, too. If I would not need Lotus Notes I would work a lot more with Linux. This text I wrote under Linux with OpenOffice, the picture is edited with GIMP, and Linux even immediately recognized when I put the camera’s memory card into the laptop…all out-of-the-box. The pictures above actually shows it running a Gnome desktop under Debian Linux with GIMP, Iceweasel browser, and OpenOffice Writer, with the iPod and mini boxes connected.

Good, I had quite a bit of trouble with WLAN (wired LAN worked out-of-the-box) and Sound card again, but finally found source code at the Realtek site, could compile the drivers myself, and immediately 2 weeks later everything worked smoothly ;)) yea, yea, who never compiled his own Linux kernels or at least drivers will probably not be able to recognize the fun it makes to do so… But let me add the details on the Linux installation in this separate article. During my many web searches I did see that there are other people having trouble with this WLAN adapter (Realtek RTL 8187) and this Sound card (Realtek ALC861), too.

Categories: Shanghai

Originally Created: 03/19/2007 05:41:25 PM
Last Edited: 03/20/2007

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