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Old June 11 2013, 12:28 AM   #1
Gary7
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Thinking of a new laptop? -- DON'T BUY HP (see why inside)

I don't normally start threads like this. Not all product manufacturers are created equal and some are notably better than others. But what bothers me is when a company makes a very decent product and then in a covert manner, cripples it as a means to gouge/fleece the consumer. I contacted HP about this issue and was politely told "thank you, we'll take it under advisement" and that was it. Based on what I've read thus far, I'm confident I will not see any actions taken on the issue I raised.


So, with that out of the way I'll get right to the point:

Hewlett-Packard has been putting a "white list" in their computers (in the BIOS). They started this sometime in 2010. What is it? It's a list of "acceptable hardware" that may be installed in the computer. The most common internally installed piece of hardware is the network card. While many laptop motherboards have the graphics card (GPU) soldered directly in place, the network (WiFi) card is an optionally installed device that goes in an internal PCIe slot.

The devious thing that HP did was that if you go out and buy a newer/better WiFi card and install it, upon cold booting the computer will check to see if that WiFi card is in the "white list". If it isn't, the computer WILL NOT BOOT.

Now, HP claims they did this in the "best interests of the consumer", because they supposedly test the best WiFi cards of the day and put those in the white list. However, networking technology has been moving at a rather rapid pace, making network cards from 2-3 years ago about half as fast as the latest offerings. Thus a 150Mbps card is now rather slow compared to a 300Mbps or even 450Mbps card. NOT ONLY THAT, but it turns out that HP has made numerous mistakes with the white list, and the list is often shorter than what is described in the service manual. Meaning, you can very easily end up buying a WiFi card that is supposed to be supported but is not.

If you search the Internet about "wifi card white list" you will find thousands of hits. HP is not the only computer manufacturer to do this, HOWEVER, they are the most aggressive at preventing the consumer from overriding it. In more recent laptops (2011 and later), HP loads an RSA signed BIOS into the computer, whereby any attempt to load a modified BIOS will result in a semi-bricked computer. Even changing just one bit in one of the files will cause the RSA signature to fail. They did this to prevent the hacker communities from coming up with a workaround.


I am posting this a as a warning to prospective HP laptop buyers. Now, something like a WiFi card may not be an issue for you if you frequently use your laptop in fairly close range to your wireless router. You may also be the kind of person who changes out their laptops every 3 years or so. But if being able to upgrade your wireless card as newer/better ones emerge on the market is important to you, I strongly advise against getting a Hewlett-Packard laptop.

I really wish I didn't have to post this, because HP does make very decent laptops for the money. I have had 3 of them. But upon getting the 3rd, I discovered this glaring issue that has completely shaken my loyalty to the brand. You can bet I will not return to Hewlett-Packard unless I hear confirmation of them rescinding the white list program.
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Old June 11 2013, 12:49 AM   #2
Spot's Meow
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Re: Thinking of a new laptop? -- DON'T BUY HP (see why inside)

Does this apply only to Wifi cards, or to other internally installed hardware as well?
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Old June 11 2013, 07:53 PM   #3
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Re: Thinking of a new laptop? -- DON'T BUY HP (see why inside)

The white list always includes WiFi cards, but it may include other devices depending upon the other options available (like a TV tuner card) and how aggressive the manufacturer wishes to be. They make a significant profit selling $10 WiFi cards for 10x the price, so that has been their biggest incentive to do this; force the customer to buy optional hardware from the manufacturer. But even with that idea, they bungled it as a newer card purchased directly from HP would require a BIOS update that they do not have. There have been postings about that very thing--a customer buys a new card from them, paying the significant markup, only to find the card doesn't work and a "puzzled" customer service rep.


So, if HP doesn't take its customers seriously and wise up to this unfair predatory practice they've got going, then people need to be aware of it. If HP would issue a formal announcement of rescinding this white list and at least provide people on request an updated BIOS that removes this white list, then a posting like this one wouldn't be necessary.
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Old June 11 2013, 08:04 PM   #4
137th Gebirg
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Re: Thinking of a new laptop? -- DON'T BUY HP (see why inside)

Hmmm...looks like when they bought Compaq back in 2002, they inherited some of the more restrictive/proprietary aspects of the Compaq architecture.

Feh...never liked HP's to begin with. Now I really hate them.
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Old June 12 2013, 01:38 AM   #5
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Re: Thinking of a new laptop? -- DON'T BUY HP (see why inside)

In light of this information, I shall keep buying Acer laptops well into the future.
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Old June 12 2013, 02:13 AM   #6
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Re: Thinking of a new laptop? -- DON'T BUY HP (see why inside)

I just bought an HP laptop. So far I'm quite happy with it, though it's only been a month or so.
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Old June 12 2013, 02:33 AM   #7
J. Allen
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Re: Thinking of a new laptop? -- DON'T BUY HP (see why inside)

Other than the white list, HP is a solid manufacturer. I would, however, recommend Acer over HP. Acer is just a terrific balance of budget and performance plus high quality.
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Old June 12 2013, 02:39 AM   #8
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Re: Thinking of a new laptop? -- DON'T BUY HP (see why inside)

I have loved my Acer laptops! My current Acer is an Intel Core i5 with Windows 7, 4GB RAM, 500GB HDD. My brother got it for only $298.00 US... much less than upgrading my desktop to equivalent standards. He liked it so much, when we set it up, that he went out and bought another one for himself!
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Old June 12 2013, 06:56 AM   #9
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Re: Thinking of a new laptop? -- DON'T BUY HP (see why inside)

Sector 7 wrote: View Post
I have loved my Acer laptops! My current Acer is an Intel Core i5 with Windows 7, 4GB RAM, 500GB HDD. My brother got it for only $298.00 US... much less than upgrading my desktop to equivalent standards. He liked it so much, when we set it up, that he went out and bought another one for himself!
Good move! That's a heck of a deal. I have a Dell laptop here at home, though it's one I gave to my mom (she still can't walk, so can't access her old computer, which needed desperate upgrades anyway. It was a Pentium 4). My aunt bought herself a new one a couple of months back (which I setup Windows 8 on it... ugh), and I got to keep the "old" one as payment for setting up the new one.

So, I figured out what the problem was: a bad LED inverter, and backlight. I replaced them both for less than $40, easy as pie. So for $40, and 10 minutes of annoyance (I hate laptop screws), I was able to give my mom a perfectly functioning 3 year old Dell laptop, that looks brand new.

I don't have a laptop of my own. When it comes to mobile computing, I use a $35 Velocity Micro Cruz tablet. You can't play videos on it without it crashing, but it plays music, browses the web, runs the Kindle reader app, and I have a few games that work on it (nothing recent or modern, though). It's cheap, unstable, and sometimes slow, but it works for me.

Eventually, when I can justify it, I'll buy myself a tablet or a laptop. It will likely be an Acer, unless I come by a similar deal as the Dell.
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Old June 12 2013, 12:36 PM   #10
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Re: Thinking of a new laptop? -- DON'T BUY HP (see why inside)

137th Gebirg wrote: View Post
Hmmm...looks like when they bought Compaq back in 2002, they inherited some of the more restrictive/proprietary aspects of the Compaq architecture.

Feh...never liked HP's to begin with. Now I really hate them.
My first computer was a Compaq. I never bought another Compaq after that. HP owns Compaq which explains why i never liked HP as well.
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Old June 12 2013, 02:06 PM   #11
137th Gebirg
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Re: Thinking of a new laptop? -- DON'T BUY HP (see why inside)

^^^ Yep - one of the first companies I worked for had Compaq's all over the place. I opened one up once to replace a failed power supply and I couldn't because the OEM Compaq power supply housing (at least back then) was oddly shaped - almost at a slant - with different screw hole configurations and could not be replaced by an industry-standard supply that everyone else was using at the time. There were also issues with replacing memory and other components that seemed to be proprietary to the Compaq architecture.

At the time, I understood it was intentionally designed that way to be competitively priced with the big boys (Gateway, Dell, IBM, DEC, etc.) and deliver comparable, if not higher performance. Problem was, if anything broke (and it did frequently back then), you were SOL and had to get OEM-only parts, which were considerably more expensive when they were not already included inside the computer. I shit on Compaq, and on HP by proxy.
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Old June 12 2013, 03:31 PM   #12
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Re: Thinking of a new laptop? -- DON'T BUY HP (see why inside)

Any chance there's a BIOS update that has had this white-list removed? Or just a non-HP BIOS update that never had it?
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Old June 13 2013, 05:52 AM   #13
Gary7
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Re: Thinking of a new laptop? -- DON'T BUY HP (see why inside)

DonIago wrote: View Post
I just bought an HP laptop. So far I'm quite happy with it, though it's only been a month or so.
In all fairness, HP does make very good quality laptops. I've owned 3 of them now. Frankly, for the price it's hard to go wrong. They are also very well designed for serviceability. I've been able to perform upgrades and replace various parts on one of my older laptops using an HP provided service manual and never needed technical support.

You may be perfectly fine with yours, if you got a decent WiFi card with it. If you happened to get a lesser/lower-end WiFi card that basically "does the job" for now, you may find yourself handicapped down the road. But again, it all depends upon your needs. If your card is 300Mbps, you'll probably be just fine.

J. Allen wrote: View Post
Other than the white list, HP is a solid manufacturer. I would, however, recommend Acer over HP. Acer is just a terrific balance of budget and performance plus high quality.
HP is indeed a solid manufacturer. I have looked at Acer laptops but... somehow the designs have not appealed to me. I'm a sticker for solid casing and machining, and high quality keyboards.

Ar-Pharazon wrote: View Post
Any chance there's a BIOS update that has had this white-list removed? Or just a non-HP BIOS update that never had it?
The white list is machine specific, so a BIOS update provided is only for only a few machines with the same CPU/motherboard. Unfortunately, HP uses an RSA signed BIOS for most of their laptops, which would make a non-HP BIOS impossible.

Again, the only real problem with this white list is if you ever need to upgrade an internal accessory. If you have a great quality WiFi card, then by the time you're needing something faster you may already be primed for a new computer.

In my case, my laptop came with a sub par WiFi card to begin with. It's fine for close range, but in my living situation I'm just on the periphery of a strong wireless signal. My Intel cards have been fine with it, but the present one in my HP laptop (Ralink) has been problematic.

I was able to get a report on my whitelist using a 3rd party tool and from that I was able to learn about another WiFi card added in the latest BIOS update that handles 300Mbps (despite not being listed in the service manual). I'm hoping it'll be strong enough to handle a good signal at long range. If so, then I should be fine for the remainder of my ownership. Until then, I've submitted a petition (along with others) to HP for a repeal of this white list. They've "thanked" us for the concern but we need to be a "bee in their bonnet" in hopes of getting them to acquiesce.
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Old June 13 2013, 06:57 PM   #14
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Re: Thinking of a new laptop? -- DON'T BUY HP (see why inside)

Glad this thread was posted. Now I, too, shall be sticking to ACER when I buy my next laptop. I have an ACER now, but WAS considering changing brands. For the life of me, I don't know why ACER didn't make and sell a whole line of Star Trek themed computers since they were on of the sponsors.
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Old June 20 2013, 10:42 PM   #15
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Re: Thinking of a new laptop? -- DON'T BUY HP (see why inside)

^ I agree. While they are auctioning a limited edition Star Trek themed laptop, I wish they had made one for the general consumer. My Acer is a kick-butt machine, but a ST one would be really cool!
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