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Re: [vox] New laptop...
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Re: [vox] New laptop...

R. Douglas Barbieri wrote:

Hi all,

I'm in the market for a new PC laptop, and I'd like to know what current
models are favorites for Linux folks. Is this the right forum on which
to ask my questions and get recommendations, or should I move this to




One URL that you'll want to become familiar with is the following: http://linux-laptop.net/
This is just an index of user experiences, e.g. "How I set up RedHat 9.0 on my Compaq Presario 1244". Some are out of date, some are broken links, but most are very good.

Here is a pretty good recent Linux Journal Article by Doc Searls that talks about the current state of running Linux on laptops: http://www.linuxjournal.com/article.php?sid=7464
Want to just through some money at the problem? These guys are the linux on laptops experts: http://www.emperorlinux.com/
Hint: If you don't choose to buy from them, you can still get some info buy looking at what models they offer.

Becoming familiar with the chipsets is paramount. You'll want ot know exactly what you're getting as far as video, sound, networking, and modem before you buy (most of the other components: usb, pcmcia, IDE stuff, cpu, ram, etc. will work "out of the box").

One of the general rules for linux hardware purchasing (laptop or otherwise) it to never buy the latest and greatest. If you stay one generation behind the times, you're almost always going to have better luck getting things working. You also save money. Consider NVidia Geforce2 prices versus brand new NVidia cards. The only downside to buying this way is that you don't get the performance. It's probably much more seductive to get a laptop with a 2Ghz CPU, DDR memory, and a 64MB video card, but I think that's more of a gamble.


Here are some specific model recommendations (I've personally worked with the first three):

IBM ThinkPad T series (T22 specifically)
This is one HELL of a portable Linux box for $600: http://www.tigerdirect.com/applications/searchtools/item-Details.asp?EdpNo=696143&sku=M975-3008
Pros: 14in screen, PIII 900, up to 512MB RAM, sound, nic, and modem work under linux, etc. Middle mouse button for X windows!
Cons: fairly crummy 8MB video card (neomagic IIRC), but does play DVDs well enough

IBM ThinkPad X series (specifically X21)
Most of the same stuff as the above but super light (3lbs) with a 12" screen. No internal drives, but does come with a better video card the the T model (early Radeon).

Dell X200
Basically the same machine as the Thinkpad X2* except comes with a built in wireless card that works under linux!
Consider grabbing a refurbished one from the Dell Outlet: http://www1.us.dell.com/content/default.aspx

Dell C600
I can't personally vouch for this laptop, but two other people mentioned it in response to your question and I noticed the cheap price when I was browsing around the TigerDirect refurbished stuff: http://www.tigerdirect.com/applications/searchtools/item-Details.asp?EdpNo=706725&sku=N52-1156


It's probably NOT safe to just go buy anything of the shelf at Best Buy, but if you are going to buy something new, watch out for the following:

Centrino-based laptops: The built-in wireless (Intel 2100 chip in most cases) does NOT work under linux. Intel has a Centrino wireless driver in progress and do plan to directly support this driver, but that "in progress"has been posted on their driver site for a long time (since about the same time you first heard about Centrino).

Built-in wireless in general: Some built in wireless cards are based up the Prism II chip (such as that in the Dell X200 I mentioned), and will actually show up as PCMCIA card in slot #2 (the "third" slot). Pretty neat since PCMCIA support and wireless tools are all you'll need to get that card running. Most other built-in wireless chips (especially Broadcom, and anything A or G) are NOT going to work at all.

Built in modems: Unless it's a "Lucent Winmodem" or certain Conexant chips, your built in modem is probably NOT going to work. PCMCIA modems almost always work, and are cheap these days. I paid $360 for a 33.6 PCMCIA modem a few years back, oy. You can get one for +/- $30 these days.

ACPI: Most brand new laptops get their power management from ACPI (as opposed to APM). In my experience, ACPI support is flakey in linux. Suspends work sporadically or not at all. The older APM isn't perfect, but it works under linux. Shutting your lid, having the machine suspend, and then bringing it back up with everything working is a very nice thing. I'm very mobile and so I'm anal about power management. I've heard ACPI support is better under 2.6, but I haven't moved anything to 2.6 yet, so I can't say. If anybody out there has tried some of the various ACPI patches and or userland tools and is reading this thinking "You're and idiot, ACPI works fine" please let me know.

Anyway, purchase carefully, but then have lots of fun with your new portable Linux box!
Dave M.

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