HP Stream 11 review – running Ubuntu 16

tldr; Not recommended for non-technical people. Not recommended as a primary machine. But if you want a small secondary laptop for travel and light work, and if you install Ubuntu on it, this laptop is a surprising treat (for the price)!


Update May 17, 2018:
With less than 32 GB hard-drive space, you’re going to fill this up quick. I did – and even after deleting unnecessary files, I still couldn’t free much more than 200 MB.

Then I stumbled across the command:

sudo apt autoremove

This cleared up over 7 GB! So if you’re running out of space on your tiny hard-drive, and you really can’t delete any more stuff, give that a try.


Update Feb 17, 2017:
After using this laptop longer, here are a few more notes:
– My main complaint is slow browser performance. If you’re doing a bunch of stuff in the browser (e.g., google-docs, google-slides), you should be prepared for some lag
– When doing a Google Hangout with a bunch of users on video, the machine and meeting lags like crazy. It’s not usable for a large group of users over Google Hangouts with the video on.


If installing a new operating system terrifies you (it’s actually not that hard), buy something else. If it does not, then this is a great little machine. I find myself using this little HP Stream more than my other powerful laptop. The utility of a physically light laptop is not to be underestimated.

Note that some reviews claimed that if you remove all the bloatware of it, this machine runs Windows fine. So you might get a decent Windows experience if you remove bloatware at the start.

Now what is this HP Stream 11 you might ask. Well it’s …

A light travel laptop

This machine is light in all the sense of the words. Physically, it’s a light machine; it’s tiny. Color-wise, it’s a light bright blue or purple. Spec-wise, it’s very light.

They should have called this HP Light 11.

But light can be good. Sometimes I want a light machine, one that I don’t care if it gets lost or stolen, or dropped and broken. With a light machine, I can fit it into a travel bag, and do some rough prototyping before pushing the code to more capable machines.

Where does the 11 come from in HP Stream 11? Well it’s because the screen size is 11 inches. I guess the Stream part of the name comes the idea that you will likely be streaming most of the work online.

More than a chromebook

While most of what I do is on the Web, not everything is. This makes Chromebooks not a great general option for me. I want to install just a few programs, the few that I use on a consistent basis (e.g., Python, LaTeX, etc…). The HP Light 11 allows me to install these essentials locally, and work without an internet connection.

Has decent specs for a little machine

Spec-wise, this is a nice little machine. Be aware that it is not a powerhouse. If you’re looking to play games, you must look elsewhere! If you’re looking for some light internet use, typing up a few word documents, and some light programming, this machine is perfect.

4 GBs of RAM should be okay for most task (make sure you get the newer one with 4 GB and not 2 GB! It’s hard to imagine this machine being usable with 2 GB, since 1.5 GB of RAM is used when only a few browser tabs are open).

The processors are not amazing, and it’s only a duo-core. But again, this is not a machine for anything computationally intensive.

The wireless card seems fine. It gets a decent signal. I’ve had no problems with it, and connected to quite a few different locations.

The battery is good. It reports about 7-9 hours of battery life. My day to day use seems to support this. If it’s charged, I’m not worried at all about the battery dying within the next few hours.

Windows: the worst part

By far, the biggest pain was booting up Windows and making a backup.

Boot into Windows, and this machine runs so slow, constantly performs some arcane updates, with undesired background processes sucking all my CPU. It’s hard to understand how this machine could be released so bogged down with unnecessary software, that right out of the box, using it feels like a painful chore. It reminds me of my first computer in the 90’s on an old dial-up connections, where I would constantly wait for the machine to catch up to my fingers.

This is most definitely not recommend for the average Windows user (which is odd, since the target market seems to be a student who needs a small laptop for class). The bloatware it comes with kills the experience (McAffee, all the HP specific stuff). It was terrible. It was unusable.

Do not bother with the recommended Windows Updates

When I booted into Windows, I did all the recommended Windows updates. Don’t bother! It took about half a day to download and install, and then it ran out of hard-drive space… it used almost the entire hard-disk for updates!

Make a Windows backup and USB and then blow it all away

I suggest you backup Windows onto a USB, and then remove Windows and install Ubuntu.

The first time I tried to backup, I put in an 8 GB USB drive. It said it only required 8 GB (yay!), but then crashed 2 GB into the install. I repeated this again with the exact same result.

So I used a different 16 GB USB, (now the message says it needs 16 GB?) and that worked. I’m not sure whether or not I had a bad USB before… but in any case, it worked and only took up 8 GB on the USB stick.

Install Ubuntu

After making the Windows backup, I downloaded Ubuntu, and installed it onto a USB boot stick.

When I rebooted, it didn’t work, I had to go into Advanced Options and select boot from USB.

Then I installed Ubuntu. This was actually a breeze to do.

I also installed TLP for improved power management. From terminal, run:

sudo apt-get install TLP
sudo tlp start

Ubuntu Issues

While there are a few oddities on Ubuntu on this HP Stream 11 machine, the most serious ones I could fix (not suspending when lid is closed), and the others I can live with. I’ve noted a few issues below, but overall it works pretty well.

Laggy Webpages

It’s laggy on some webpages. This is especially noticeable when scrolling down pages. The screen often goes dark and locks, and I have to wait a few seconds if I try and quickly scroll through some pages with lots of times.

It’s a bit laggy when writing on the web. For instance, I’m writing this in Google Keep, and there is a slight lag as I type, where the characters are struggling to keep up. Monitoring the CPU usage shows that usage is >50% for this simple task of writing in the browser and playing some music over YouTube.

Scrolling through many online images gives a similar slight noticeable lag, where pictures are not rendering, and the CPU usage is high.

Not a great experience if this is your primary machine. But for a secondary machine, it is tolerable.

Sometimes when streaming long videos, the video starts to glitch after an hour. Then it may stop, and require a complete refresh.

Odd right-click behavior

Sometimes right clicking on the track pad does not work. Not all the time, but sometimes.

Machine not suspending when lid is closed [fixed]

When I close the laptop lid, the machine did not suspend (nor did it lock the machine either). This meant that the first time I closed the lid, and left the HP Stream overnight, the battery was dead!

So I followed the instructions from here, and got the HP Stream to suspend and lock when the lid was closed by editing a file, and rebooting:

Edit this file,

sudo vi /etc/systemd/logind.conf

And removed the # sign from this line, and change from ‘ignore’ to ‘suspend’

HandleLidSwitchDocked=suspend

And then reboot.

sudo reboot

And that fixed it!

Brightness keys

The brightness keyboard keys are slow to respond, taking a few seconds to change, which is slightly off-putting. But the sound keys work fine.

Summary

Make sure you know what you’re getting into with this HP Stream 11. If you are expecting to play the latest games on this, you’ll be sad. If you imagine yourself using this for intensive video editing, you’ll be mad. But if you want a light cheap travel machine, you’ll be glad.

8 thoughts on “HP Stream 11 review – running Ubuntu 16”

  1. Thanks for the reassurance that I wasn’t completely mad.
    I’ve had the 2 GB Stream for nearly a year and have spent hours on the phone to ‘outsourced’ HP support for a variety of issues linked to the display (black screen, full battery). I had managed to upgrade to Windows 10 using a USB – bad move and spent my life with no disk space – the realisation that I couldn’t revert to Windows 8.1 was the final straw! Found an old Windows 8 machine on which Rufus would work (wouldn’t work on Windows 10) and am now enjoying Ubuntu 18.04 – new life to a machine that might otherwise have been binned

  2. I also had the same experience with Windows (10). The first time I attempted to update it ran out of drive space. I tried various USB’s to bridge the ‘gap’ but it never quite worked. That’s when I thought this is crazy and wiped it.

  3. I’m using Artix Linux (Arch/LXqt based) and it runs pretty good. Can’t seem to watch 1080p videos and some lag with web browsing, but for file and terminal stuff it’s great.

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