[conspire] laptop for linux

Rick Moen rick at linuxmafia.com
Thu Apr 12 23:34:19 PDT 2007

[Cc'ed to CABAL's mailing list.]

Quoting Jamie (e2jamie at gmail.com):

> Hi Rick,
> Great web site.  I've been using the notes and references from you web
> page.  Thanks.

You're most welcome.

> I've read some reviews in my search to find a laptop that doesn't have too
> many problems and there are plenty of choices.  HP laptop didn't come
> recommended from a friend.  IBM thinkpad cam recommended from another
> friend.  I am leaning toward Dell because of hw support.   I supported unix
> for 10+ years and much less years in lunix.
> I would appreciate it if you can share your preference on the laptops
> available on the market today to run linux.

Oh, geez, that's difficult.  

My preference actually is always towards buying a _used_ laptop model
that was introduced around 1+ year ago.  E.g., at this point (2007),
that would make an IBM ThinkPad T41 or T42 (or the "p" variants of
those, if you want fancier video, which I'd skip) just about perfect for

What do I _personally_ use?  Well, for context, I'm a little odd in that
I (mostly) use a laptop just as a fancy terminal with a Web browser.
That is, literally all I typically run on it is a bunch of xterms and a
browser:  Some of the xterms run outgoing ssh sessions to my _server_,
which is where I do all of my real computing, including handling all
incoming and outgoing e-mail.  I leave several applications running on
the server under GNU Screen, and connect/disconnect to them throughout
the day from wherever I am, over ssh.

So, with that context, you might understand why I'm perfectly happy with
an Apple G3 iBook, with 256 MB RAM, with a nice large, clear screen,
and with its CPU clocked to a mere 700 MHz.  It runs Xubuntu.

By modern standards, that's ancient.   But it suits me fine (and runs
cool, and is quiet).  And it cost me about $350.  Support contract?  I
paid peanuts for the machine, but I _did_ get an 18 month contract from
the vendor.  Without, figure maybe $200 or so.  (I may be off, but check
the auction sites.)

Your problem with new equipment is that they're most often riddled with
problematic chipsets, especially the wireless, but also sometimes the
ethernet and/or the video.  Companies like Nvidia and Broadcom put out
new chipsets and then refuse to cooperate with the open source
community, and it takes something on the order of a year for decent
drivers to get written (via reverse-engineering) and work their way into
Linux distributions.

If you're determined to buy a new laptop, heed _very_ closely what people
report on each model at the Linux on Laptops site,
http://www.linux-laptop.net/ .  Even so, be prepared to be adaptable as
to choice of Linux distribution.  SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop and
OpenSUSE are good, so is SimplyMEPIS, so is Sidux.  I'd personally go
for Sidux, but that's because I'm generally a Debian-head.

What all three have in common is reasonably cutting-edge kernels and
excellent hardware auto-detection.  Sidux probably has few or no
built-in facilities for proprietary drivers (e.g., various wireless
things, plus ATI and Nvidia proprietary video); the other two have more.

You should actually seek any further help on public mailing lists, so
that other people will benefit.  I'm active on SVLUG's main mailing
list, and on CABAL's (http://linuxmafia.com/cabal/ ).  Also, the Usenet
newsgroup comp.os.linux.hardware mailing list is always useful.

I just used Sidux to burn the just-released CentOS 5 DVDs, since it had
waaay better software for that purpose than the cruddy version of
dvdrecord I had on RHEL3.  Wow!  Sidux is really good.

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