The Last Starlite MK II Review

Sat, 14 Oct 2023

I needed a new computer*

So I’ve been doing much more ham radio lately.

Almost all of it is FT8 POTA activations at lunch using the X230 and about 20lbs of radio gear including an 857D, Hamstick Dipole, SLAs and waytoomuchcable.

I had a work trip approaching and wanted to slim down that kit significantly. More posts will be written* about this process in the future.

I started with a smaller antenna, then a much smaller radio & power supply. The kit dropped from 20ish pounds to ‘fits in my jeans pockets’. Still the (fabulous) Thinkpad seemed a bit…girthy? Is that a word?

The YogaBook* is really 90% perfect for the job. It’s plenty fast for FT8, has a high-res screen, is tiny, and charges nicely on USB-C. The keyboard is the only real downer. It’s such a cool, futuristic-looking device, but the keeb/trackpad are just no good for dealing with a pileup.

The shopping list

  1. Linux Friendly - I’ve been daily-driving KDE Neon on the x230 for a while now and it is amazing. No joke, it’s a no-excuses-needed distro you could sit your grandparents in front of and they’d be ok.
  2. 1920x1080 screen - This is a minimum, and a point of frustration with the x230, which is limited to 1366x768. 20m FT8 gets busy and there just isn’t enough room for calls in the window below HD resolution.
  3. USB-C charging - another place where the x230 shows its age. The new radio powers by USB-C and it’d be great to only carry one power supply system for everything. That’s the USB-C dongle-free dream, right?
  4. Tiny, packable - really nothing could beat the YogaBook at this
  5. Repairable - This laptop will be abused more than most, so the likelyhood of replacing bits is high. Also, I intended to find something used and there’s no telling what someone else already did to it.
  6. Fanless - because, that’s why.
  7. 8GB RAM - 4GB on the YogaBook is the worst thing they did to that computer. At least the option to upgrade would be nice.
  8. Cheap, bordering on disposable - Sub $200 ideally.

The Hunt

I seem to be opposed to buying new computers, so this was going to come from or eBay in a pinch. If you’re not aware already, ShopGoodwill is cool and funky like eBay used to be. It’s amazing what all shows up in there, and usually for a pretty decent sales price. The obvious candidate to fulfill many/all of the items above would be a recent high-end Chromebook or a premium-ish ultrabook from 5ish years ago. Chromebooks with 1080 screens seem as rare as epathetic vice principals, for some reason.
A few Lenovo Yoga 720s popped up that were really close. Even with those it can be difficult to figure out which screen resolution it shipped with.
Then, clicking through the copius laptop listings, I stumbled upon a true diamond in the rough. The Star Labs Star Lite MK II.

The StarLite

I like it better with no space.

I just couldn’t believe this thing popped up on ShopGoodWill. I’d read about Star Labs and found this model interesting for some time, but they’re UK-based and don’t seem to jump the pond often. The StarLite is an 11", HD Screened, 8GB, Pentium N, aluminum (alumininium, in its native King’s English) bodied ultra?book. Calling anything with a Pentium an ultrabook is a stretch.
My particular model is the MK II. The MK1 was a re-badged clevo from what I can find and a little dumpy-looking. The MKII - IV StarLites honestly look like BlackBook Airs.
Remember how cool the Black Macbook was back in the (Core 2 Duo) days? Awww yiss.

The Keeb

It’s got a backlit keyboard, which I didn’t expect to find. The lighting on mine is very uneven, but whoever had it before may have baptised it with coffee so who knows.
Also, the keyboard is really not bad! On a scale from Latitude 5480 to Thinkpad x60, I’d give it about a 6. The Aluminum chassis is really sturdy and there is zero flex even if you try pushing the G-key through the bottom of the case. It feels solid.
The chicklet keys do float a bit. It feels very pre-butterfly Mac-y in that way. Maybe less travel, and the membranes feel crisper than my last Macbook (a 2011 MBA 11“) did.
Any keeb crammed into an 11” case will be a compromise, and this one has some dang tiny arrow keys. Worse, it’s missing End and Home! Ohhh the agony!
We do get bonus Shift and Fn keys stuffed in among the arrow block. Maybe I’ll learn how to re-map those. I’m not an ambi-shifter, so no loss for me there.
My particular (used) model has zero key shine, but a slightly bent spacebar. This probably belonged to some programmer who took their fury over the lack of an end key out on the helpless space bar during a late-night C++ session. I imagine this person git-committing, facing dread at the unusable purchase and then cramming it in a desk drawer for a few years before donating it.

The Trackpad

One of the true highlights of the computer. This is the second best non-mac trackpad I’ve used. I typically buy Thinkpads for a number of reasons, primarily that the trackpoint nub is the pinnacle of computer/human interaction. I. Do. Not. understand why the rest of the world has to remove their cheeto-stained fingers from the home row, just to smear orange grease across little slabs of glass and make funny faces at the red nub.
Mac people, I kindof get it. Apple nailed the trackpad game a long time before anyone else did.
Enough digression - this is a really good trackpad for a non-mac. Better than every windows laptop I’ve tried except the latest generations of Thinkpad X’s. The only issue with the StarLite’s pad is the physical click…fulcrum? Mid Point? Dunno what to call it. It’s way too far south on the pad. If you want to physically click the thing, you’re pushing the very bottom edge. Nowhere else will do.
That said, whatever KDE Neon is using for trackpad drivers works a beaut on here. It’s fast and accurate with decent palm rejection. Scrolling is great. Any windows convert will be delighted with this.

The specs

This is a fanless, Pentium laptop with 8GB RAM and a proper full-sized M.2 SSD. No EMMC foolishness. The RAM is soldered, which is a bummer, but if you’re maxing 8GB on a Pentium N you need to rethink things.
Like most people, I once turned up my nose at Pentiums. I’ve done zero research on this, but I feel like the modern Pentium/Celeron N/J’s are just Atoms with a different sticker. And that’s OK!
If the M600 taught me anything it’s that 4 dumpy Pentium cores with enough RAM and fast storage is really usable under Linux. It’s never going to be a gaming machine, but that’s 100% not what it’s here for.
My model came with a 256GB SSD, which is delightfully overkill. I can’t fathom filling that up in my use case. But it’s pretty sweet to have.

The Screen

It’s a 1080p glass-covered IPS panel with excellent viewing angles and unmeasured but probably fine color reproduction. It’s not very bright, and the glass is very glare-y. I beleive the MK III and IV had a brighter matte screen. That’s a very tempting upgrade from the Star Labs website. I’m using this in daylight at parks, so the glare / brightness is pretty irritating.
Inside it’s fine unless you have something else sitting next to it and notice how dim it is. Perfectly useable, but you know how a 400 nit screen just pops.

The Battery

Mine came toasted. The pre-covid battery would last less than an hour. No good at all. Fortunately, replacements were available on the Star Labs website! Woohoo!
One thing to be aware of, shipping the $60 battery was $40ish. If I’d thought that through (and if I’d known how much I’d like the computer otherwise), I would have ordered the upgraded screen at the same time.
It is a pretty small battery, and I’m doing very little (TLP defaults) tweaking. Actual runtime for me is 4-6 hours in normal use. I recently took it to an all-day conference where I was taking notes. With the screen dimmed and nothing else running, I got 8+ hours of screen-on time and still had 15%ish in the tank.
Runtime is very brightness dependent. During a normal lunchtime POTA activation it’ll drop 25% in an hour running WSJT-X, a couple of browser tabs and the screen at 100% (which is absolutely necessary in the daylight).
However, during two late-shift activations with the screen at 5%, it went 4+ hours with over 50% remaining. It seems like battery life is much more dependant on screen brightness than workload. Maybe that’s always the case, I just haven’t had a laptop be that sensitive to the nits before.


One USB-C (used for charging), two USB-A, one headphone, one MicroSD and a mini? HDMI. It detected an Anker USB-C swiss-army dock just fine, so I’ve used that for external display duties.
OK, real talk. Apple, HP, Lenovo, Dell…anyone else sticking us with USB-C only machines claiming it’s for thinness. Your arguement is invalid. If the brits who designed this can get everything but ethernet into a laptop this tiny, you just have no excuse.


Star Labs sells everything on their website to build one of these from bits, if you wanted. The battery for mine was out of stock for a couple of weeks, but they did get one to me. And their $40 shipping was shockingly fast from across the Atlantic.
With a Thinkpad you can always find parts on eBay, and that’s absolutely not the case here. BUT I feel like the odds of getting replacements for the StarLite are probably better than for some random Chromebook. At the very least, it’s much easier to discern waht the correct part for this model is since Star Labs only has a few models.

OK This is way too long

This is about the perfect laptop for my particular use case. The only other minor complaints are the bottom case doesn’t fit exactly right and Star Labs products are just vanishingly rare in the US.
They’re really like a different take on the Framework model. As I understand, the mainboard / any other parts from the MK IV would work just fine in my MK II. That’s such a refreshing change from every other non-Framework.
Conceptually, Star Labs is right there with Framework. Maybe a bit less polished - the inside of this thing doesn’t look as clean as Framework machines - but they’re also at a bit lower price point.
One minor dissappointment related to the above: Star Labs released a new StarLite MK V as a tablet / convertible thing. The concept / idea is super cool and I want to try it. BUT, I’m sad that the 11" Linux-native market is once again starved of a decent machine. Hopefully they’ll address that, and hopefully their cool designs make it overseas more in the future. These really are killer machines! BIOS / Firmware updates are a thing too. Instructions are available on the Star Labs support page, but they are a bit sparse. I think I’m updated, but I’ve tried moving from AMI to Corebook and haven’t figured it out yet. That’s supposed to be easier on the newer models.
Also I realize this was way too long of a post, but I’ve struggled to find info on the MK II online, so it seemed like the world needed some more info. OK, I’m posting this tonight no matter what. Josh, this is for you.