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Buying A New Netbook - What to Look For


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#1 OFFLINE   raymac46

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Posted 22 November 2018 - 09:50 AM

My daughter's friend wants to buy a new Windows 10 notebook for her family and with Black Friday coming up I was asked what recommendations I would make. Not knowing their budget I hesitated - but I did make some comments on what I'd look for:
  • Processor - Intel i5 or new Ryzen mobile.
  • Memory - 8 GB is about the minimum these days.
  • SSD - 256 GB or more.
  • Screen - I like 15-inch 1920X1080 resolution.
I am rather brand agnostic although I have had good luck with HP and Lenovo.

Anything else you'd want in a new laptop? I'm not really playing in this market as I generally get an old one and install Linux.
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#2 OFFLINE   Digerati

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Posted 22 November 2018 - 10:52 AM

I think you should nail down their budget. And find out what this notebook will be used for. If for traveling, a smaller, lighter 15in notebook with long battery life may make sense. But if just for lugging from room to room around the house, they (like me) may prefer a larger 17" screen.

I recommend at least 512GB disk space. 256GB can be eaten up surprisingly fast especially if they install larger apps (like MS Office), games, or family photos on it.

I would stick with HP or Dell, ASUS or even Acer. Not Lenovo.

Lenovo makes some good machines - NOT disputing that. But their repeated history of installing malware and spyware on their computers makes me (and several world governments!) avoid them like the plague.

It is not about quality - it is about principle and security.

Again, they make some good products, but the Chinese company (and their Chinese government overseers) cannot be trusted! Lenovo has a long history (since buying out IBM's PC business in 2005) of shipping computers with malware and spying on customers. The "Superfish" scandal in February 2015 is a huge example. And they admitted it! But note they said they stopped, not because it presented a security risk to its customers, but due to some browser pop-up behavior!

Lenovo products have been banned from sensitive UK, Australia, NZ, Canada and US government agencies

May 2015, BBC News, Lenovo: researchers find 'massive security risk'

And, despite their claims to stop, they keep at it! August 2015, The Guardian, Lenovo does it again.

December 2015, Fortune.com, Another Huge Security Hole Has Been Discovered on Lenovo Computers.

May 2016, MakeUseOf.com, 4 Security Reasons That Explain Why you Should Avoid Lenovo PCs.

Since the Chinese government has no qualms conducting cyber-warfare on democratic, free societies, or their private citizens, I recommend sending Lenovo a message that we consumers will not tolerate (or reward through purchases) their malicious behavior and urge consumers to avoid Lenovo products.

Even IF Lenovo management and executives are not active participants in all these repeat malicious activities, the fact it keeps happening over and over again (and with new code too) is a clear indication they are not doing much, if anything, to prevent it from happening again and again! Whether it is because they are lining their greedy pockets, or it is through intimidation and coercion by the corrupt and hostile Chinese government, or both, Lenovo computers cannot be "trusted".

Again, I am not disputing the quality of their products. The problem is, the company behind them have demonstrated over and over again, they take an active role in malicious activity against their customers.

If you value your friends security, and they are trusting you to help keep them safe and secure, the choice seems obvious to me - any brand but Lenovo.
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#3 OFFLINE   raymac46

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Posted 22 November 2018 - 12:03 PM

I haven't recommended anything as yet. I told them to have a look online at what Dell was offering in their price range and let me know. My other recommendation is likely to be HP.
In the case of Lenovo, I have a Flex2-15D laptop which now runs Windows 10. On this machine I got rid of Superfish years ago and I have deleted the Lenovo Solution Center which is a real PITA. I also disabled Lenovo Customer Feedback in the Task Scheduler.
My other Lenovo machine is an old Thinkpad that runs Debian.
I would not recommend the Lenovo Flex2 (if they still make it, not sure.) I have had a recurring problem with the wifi in it and I think that would be a big issue for a new user. The Thinkpad is really solid.

Edited by raymac46, 22 November 2018 - 12:03 PM.

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#4 OFFLINE   goretsky

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Posted 23 November 2018 - 03:46 AM

Hello,

What is the intended use case for the device?  I have had good results Dell, HP, Lenovo and Toshiba laptops.  They all seemed to have done a decent job of responding to the Spectre and Meltdown vulnerabilities which appeared at the beginning of the year.

I think Lenovo has learned from their mistakes with Superfish and the Lenovo Service Engine.  Hopefully, that is a lesson hat ASUS will take to heart, since they did the same thing last month.

As for concerns about China, even American companies like Dell and HP manufacture over there, and even if they do not, they are importing components from there.  I think it would be impossible to build a computer (by which I mean a PC capable of running Windows) without having Chinese companies somewhere in the supply chain.

One thing i would suggest, regardless of manufacturer, is to try and get a computer from their business lines, as opposed to their consumer lines. These tend to be built to last longer and are more easily serviced.

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Aryeh Goretsky
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#5 OFFLINE   raymac46

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Posted 23 November 2018 - 09:02 AM

The computer would be used for light office, email, Web surfing. I suppose some kids games on the Web would be played but no hardcore gaming.
I hear what you say about looking for business grade; my concern is that many people opt for a lower cost model and these tend to be slow and as you say difficult to service.
I appreciate what Bill said about Lenovo and I hope they learned from it. However all laptops are basically designed and built in China, so brand becomes less of an issue and you can safely ignore Lenovo and still get a decent unit.
The other problem I have is that what works for me might not for another user. For instance, I have no need for a touchscreen.
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#6 OFFLINE   Digerati

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Posted 23 November 2018 - 10:46 AM

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I think Lenovo has learned from their mistakes
You would think so, wouldn't you? But look at the time stamp for your article. It is from February 2015.

The last 4 links in my post above show they didn't learn anything - except maybe to stop infecting systems with "Silverfish" and use another malicious tactic instead. :(

You are absolutely correct about the concerns of using parts made in China in American branded systems - in fact, we know they are doing it. See, The Big Hack: How China Used a Tiny Chip to Infiltrate U.S. Companies. That is very scary! But the difference here with Lenovo is Lenovo was knowingly and purposely conducting these activities (by their own admission!).

Dell and HP are not intentionally and repeatedly planting malware and spyware in their products (as far as we know). And the ASUS incident is NOT the same thing! Those files ASUS pushed out were NOT malicious! They were not malware or spyware. In fact, the article even notes the ASUS files were "useful" whereas the Lenovo programs were, at best, "crapware".

Let's not forget, the Silverfish and Service Engine incidents were not Lenovo's only incidents. How many times do you let a company purposely install malware/spyware on their products before you lose faith. Isn't 3 enough? It is for me.

Again, they make good stuff. They just can't be trusted. At least I sure don't.

Jan 2018, Lenovo's proves once again they can't bet trusted to keep your PC secure.

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However all laptops are basically designed and built in China
Built? Yes. Designed? Ummm, not really. At least not "all". The brands often do the designing then contract with a Chinese company to do the manufacturing and building. But it's what happens after that that matters. Dell and HP are then responsible for inserting the BIOS code and imaging the disks, not the Chinese OEM motherboard makers, for example.

I sure am not saying we can totally trust Dell or HP either. But at least those companies have headquarters that are not located in Beijing under the watchful eye of a government we know is constantly conducting cyberwarfare against us.
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#7 OFFLINE   raymac46

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Posted 23 November 2018 - 11:25 AM

I wonder how much hardware design is done by Dell and HP these days and how much is outsourced to ODMs like Compal, Wistron, Quanta Computer. I agree that the setup and imaging are probably done by the vendor.
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#8 OFFLINE   raymac46

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Posted 23 November 2018 - 11:31 AM

This one might be worth a look. Our local (Canada) Staples has it on sale right now - the i7 version.
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#9 OFFLINE   Digerati

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Posted 23 November 2018 - 11:45 AM

View Postraymac46, on 23 November 2018 - 11:25 AM, said:

I wonder how much hardware design is done by Dell and HP these days and how much is outsourced to ODMs like Compal, Wistron, Quanta Computer. I agree that the setup and imaging are probably done by the vendor.
No doubt there is a lot of outsourcing. But try taking a Wistron motherboard designed for HP and slapping it into a Dell notebook. It will not work. Why? Because those designated for HP are still proprietary.

ODMs have a lot of autonomy, but generally Dell, for example, would go to Wistron and tell them they want a motherboard that does this, this and that and it must fit here and here. Then the ODM takes the ball and runs with it. Notice there is no government "agent" in the middle there. And just because there may be no Dell management people on the factory floor, that does not suggest Dell is not responsible for the product once their brand logo is applied.
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#10 OFFLINE   raymac46

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Posted 23 November 2018 - 12:02 PM

I guess the bottom line is to try to choose a brand you think you can trust, knowing that there won't be huge differences in quality since everything is made in China anyway.
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#11 OFFLINE   Digerati

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Posted 23 November 2018 - 12:25 PM

Right. That's why I build my own computers but that's not really possible with notebooks. And course, most of the components come from China anyway.
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#12 OFFLINE   raymac46

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Posted 23 November 2018 - 12:42 PM

Ironically my last two "pre-built" desktops were a Dell Optiplex that was one of the last units built in Texas, and an Acer Veriton that I think was assembled at the US Gateway plant. The Acer's still going. I built my last Linux desktop myself and that's the way I'll go if I need a new Windows machine in future. A laptop is OK for sitting at the kitchen table, but I still like a desktop for serious use.
I think we are in the minority though. My daughter and son-in-law never replaced their old Dell Dimension when it died. They have HP laptops instead.
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#13 OFFLINE   Digerati

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Posted 23 November 2018 - 12:58 PM

They will have to pry my full sized keyboard, mouse, surround sound speakers and "two" 24 inch monitors from my dead hands before I switch to a portable device for my primary computer! ;)
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#14 OFFLINE   sunrat

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Posted 23 November 2018 - 07:30 PM

If you can stretch the budget to $99 maybe a Pinebook would do the job. It runs KDE Neon acceptably according to the review and they have images for a number of other Linuxii. I imagine it would be great with a lightweight OS like Antix.

https://www.forbes.c...99-linux-laptop
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#15 OFFLINE   raymac46

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Posted 24 November 2018 - 09:17 AM

Sounds a bit like my Toshiba netbook from 2010. I use Arch on there, either LXQt or Xfce.
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#16 OFFLINE   raymac46

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Posted 24 November 2018 - 12:13 PM

Daughter's friend and her family now think a desktop system might be a better idea. I do too.
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#17 OFFLINE   Digerati

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Posted 24 November 2018 - 12:29 PM

One of the biggest advantage of a desktop (PC) over a notebook is upgrades and repairs. Want a bigger monitor? No problem. Want a different keyboard? No problem. Different graphics solution? No problem.
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#18 OFFLINE   raymac46

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Posted 24 November 2018 - 12:31 PM

Exactly. I'm glad they are making this decision.
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#19 OFFLINE   goretsky

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Posted 25 November 2018 - 02:52 AM

Hello,

2015 is when SuperFish and LSE occurred, so that's the correct year?  The Australian 2013 report of Lenovo being banned by their Department of Defence has been refuted by the Australian DoD:

https://www.theregis..._no_lenovo_ban/

The other articles you linked to refer to privilege escalations in Lenovo supplied software.  You can find similar bugs in the software supplied by Dell and HP on their computers.  No one's software is magically bug-free, and sometimes the software contains vulnerabilities that can lead to issues like these.  That's why companies like Dell and HP and Lenovo all have programs in replace for reporting those issues.  Tier 1 manufacturers like these have been providing software to do things like update drivers and run diagnostics for decades, as have their smaller competitors.   And it's not just hardware companies that have these update tools: Microsoft has had "Patch Tuesday," the coordinated release of security fixes (also performance and reliability fixes) for fifteen years now.  With the current versions of Windows, it's difficult to avoid being automatically patched.

Amazon, Apple and Supermicro have all categorically denied Bloomberg's report of hardware server hacking.  As have the US and UK governments:

https://www.theregis...k_intelligence/

I don't have any particular knowledge about the matter, but it would be nice to see some physical evidence.  So far the only thing I can think of approaching that is the NSA's FIREWALK, and that shows up as a replacement for a discrete on the motherboard. Now, there's certainly malicious firmware (Mebromi, Lojax, etc.) that can be loaded into a an EEPROM on a motherboard, but that's making use of existing hardware resources and not implanting new devices on board.  And there have also been backdoors discovered in networking gear from American companies like Cisco and Juniper.

HP has shipped hundreds of models with keyloggers accidentally.  That doesn't mean that HP intentionally meant to log its customers' keystrokes.

Regards,

Aryeh Goretsky


View PostDigerati, on 23 November 2018 - 10:46 AM, said:

Quote

I think Lenovo has learned from their mistakes
You would think so, wouldn't you? But look at the time stamp for your article. It is from February 2015.

The last 4 links in my post above show they didn't learn anything - except maybe to stop infecting systems with "Silverfish" and use another malicious tactic instead. :(

You are absolutely correct about the concerns of using parts made in China in American branded systems - in fact, we know they are doing it. See, The Big Hack: How China Used a Tiny Chip to Infiltrate U.S. Companies. That is very scary! But the difference here with Lenovo is Lenovo was knowingly and purposely conducting these activities (by their own admission!).

Dell and HP are not intentionally and repeatedly planting malware and spyware in their products (as far as we know). And the ASUS incident is NOT the same thing! Those files ASUS pushed out were NOT malicious! They were not malware or spyware. In fact, the article even notes the ASUS files were "useful" whereas the Lenovo programs were, at best, "crapware".

Let's not forget, the Silverfish and Service Engine incidents were not Lenovo's only incidents. How many times do you let a company purposely install malware/spyware on their products before you lose faith. Isn't 3 enough? It is for me.

Again, they make good stuff. They just can't be trusted. At least I sure don't.

Jan 2018, Lenovo's proves once again they can't bet trusted to keep your PC secure.

Quote

However all laptops are basically designed and built in China
Built? Yes. Designed? Ummm, not really. At least not "all". The brands often do the designing then contract with a Chinese company to do the manufacturing and building. But it's what happens after that that matters. Dell and HP are then responsible for inserting the BIOS code and imaging the disks, not the Chinese OEM motherboard makers, for example.

I sure am not saying we can totally trust Dell or HP either. But at least those companies have headquarters that are not located in Beijing under the watchful eye of a government we know is constantly conducting cyberwarfare against us.

Dexter is a good dog.

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#20 OFFLINE   Digerati

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Posted 25 November 2018 - 12:20 PM

There are lot of denials but a little digging shows, if not actual bans, then "concerns" that are still being expressed. They must come from somewhere and not all from same 2013 report.

October, 2016: https://www.executiv...ndheld-devices/

Did you read the final update in your The Register Australian link?

What about other countries banning and issuing warnings against using their computers? Is all that fake news too?

What type of evidence does it take to convince you? Do you expect Lenovo and the Chinese spy agencies to officially release public statements outlining their malicious intents?

Plus, you are putting a lot of effort in disputing this incident but as noted, this company in particular has a long history of planting spyware and malware on computers. It is not just one incident that might be attributed to a mistake or error in judgement. Reports go back as far as 2006, right after Lenovo bought IBM's PC division.

Do we just accept they didn't do it simply because they say, "We didn't do it"?

I see Lenovo in the same light as Kaspersky. At least Trump's friendship with Putin was set aside for this one.

If you choose to trust them, go for it. As I said before, they do make good computers. But I will not reward the company for their repeated offenses.
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#21 OFFLINE   raymac46

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Posted 25 November 2018 - 09:48 PM

Well I have NOT recommended a Lenovo desktop for my daughter's friends, As far as my own situation goes I have two functioning Lenovo laptops. The consumer grade Flex2 has been fumigated. I wouldn't recommend that one anyway because I have had flaky wifi problems with it.
The ThinkPad is a really nice refurbished machine that I got to run Debian on so I think I am reasonably secure with it.
It's a pity Lenovo has so many question marks because they do make nice hardware. Even my Flex2 has a nice case, screen and keyboard and has lasted well.
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#22 OFFLINE   goretsky

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Posted 26 November 2018 - 04:24 AM

Hello,

When it comes to a desktop, I personally prefer to build my own; that way I can get exactly what I want without having to compromise on anything.  That said, I've used/managed various desktops from Acer, Dell, HP and Lenovo, and cannot say I found any one to be particularly better than the other. The one thing I would suggest being careful about is to try and avoid purchasing any desktop computer which uses a proprietary power supply unit.  In the past, desktops from tier 1 manufacturers have sometimes had non-standard PSUs in them, which require sourcing either an identical model for replacement, or obtaining a custom wiring harness to convert a a regular PSU over to their custom wiring schema.  Dell was notorious for this about a decade ago; I'm not sure how common the practice is amongst manufacturers today.

Regards,

Aryeh Goretsky
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#23 OFFLINE   raymac46

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Posted 26 November 2018 - 10:46 AM

I have an Acer Veriton desktop and that had a very standard (if underpowered) PSU that I was able to upgrade with a common ATX unit. My other desktop I did build myself, and of course it has a standard mobo and PSU.
My SIL had a Dell Dimension desktop from 2005 and he had to source a proprietary PSU when it failed.
The only thing I would be concerned about today is that some small form factor desktops don't have a power supply at all but use a laptop "brick" to supply the juice. Those I would not recommend as you can never upgrade.
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#24 OFFLINE   Digerati

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Posted 26 November 2018 - 10:48 AM

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Dell was notorious for this about a decade ago
They sure were. So was HP. And it was not just proprietary PSUs either. Because the PSU often used a proprietary main motherboard power connector (same connector - different wiring pin-out), that made the motherboards proprietary too. :(

The "claim" was, because they could go to ASUS or Foxconn and promise to buy 1 million motherboards over the next 12 month, they could negotiate cheaper prices using their own designs and configurations instead of complying with the ATX Form Factor standard. And that is true. But that volume purchasing power applies the same way when buying ATX compliant boards, supplies and cases too. So it was just marketing hogwash to force users to use only their more expensive parts.

As more and more users started building and upgrading their own PCs, it finally became apparent to those factory makers that they were losing money to the self-build industry so they finally became ATX compliant too - at least with PCs. Notebooks are a different story.

The only place I have seen this recently is with "slim" case models - though typically (but not always :(), they use a standard low profile (SFX or TFX) PSU. The bigger problem I see with PSUs in factory built PCs is they typically provide just enough power for the components they come with. If you wish to upgrade to bigger graphics card, it is almost a certainty you will have to upgrade the PSU too. In fact, if you just want to add more RAM and another drive, you may have to upgrade the PSU.

When you build your own, you can factor in potential upgrades over the next couple years when you size up your power requirements when selecting your PSU during the initial build. More power in the beginning may cost you a little more upfront, but save you a lot more 2 or 3 years down the road. And if you get a quality 80 PLUS Gold (or at least a Bronze), efficiency issues with the oversized PSU will be negligible.

I think it is too bad so many people are intimidated with the idea of putting together their own PCs. If you can use a #2 Phillips screw driver, and have good lighting, you can do it. I note you can buy (if your case does not come with one) a neat little standoff screwdriver adapter so you don't even need a hex nut driver anymore.

Building your own is great learning experience too.

The only downside is you might then be automatically tagged as the family and neighborhood "go to" computer expert! ;)
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#25 OFFLINE   raymac46

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Posted 26 November 2018 - 11:03 AM

I think you have hit the nail on the head here. The main disadvantage to buying a prebuilt is that unless you get a "gaming" model you end up with a weak PSU and maybe insufficient cooling to add in a  discrete video card later. I did a fair amount of upgrading on my Veriton just to be able to put in an Nvidia 950GTX card to play my train sims.
That said if I am asked to recommend something and the person claims that they don't want to use it for PC games, I think a decent prebuilt model is OK.
While I am up to building a desktop unit for my own use, I wouldn't build one for a casual acquaintance. Then I take on the warranty and tech support responsibility.
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