Laptops for Linux!

At the time of this writing, the two Linux-specific laptop providers are LinuxLaptops and ASL Workstations.
X

ASL includes the Accelerated X-Server, while LinuxLaptops runs the standard XFree86. According to Xi Graphics, there is usually a 40% to 60% performance improvement gained from running the commercial servers, as well as support for many more cards. I have not noticed any visible advantage; GNOME/Enlightenment is slow on both laptops. Nevertheless, if you do graphics-intensive work, there may be a benefit here. Both laptops use the ATI 3D Pro LT card, so the graphics performance is similar. Neither in X nor in console mode did I notice the lagging, slow updates associated with LCD screens of the past. Graphics on both are superb.

The Good
  • Well stocked, fully loaded

  • KDE or GNOME

  • Faster X server

  • Complete, functional laptop for Linux

  • Clear, flicker-free 14.1" LCD monitor

The Bad
  • Console mode is ghosty

  • Disk access a bit slow

  • Has some unnecessary software

  • Very expensive

The window manager situation is a bit different. The AS-LT300 offers a choice between KDE and GNOME, and the Attache uses GNOME/Enlightenment. While the Attache's devotion to GNOME/Enlightenment (which is well configured) keeps good faith with the open-software movement, the window manager and desktop environment are a tad too resource-intensive for a mid-range laptop, not to mention being unstable and slightly buggy.

Sound

As is typical of Linux, audio support is a mess. The Attache awaits the release of the free sound driver, so other than beeps (which you can mercifully turn off with a volume control), you don't have audio support. The AS-LT300 has OSS audio support, which means you can play CDs, but the audio devices are not set up properly so you'll miss out on mpegs and the like (I expect ASL has fixed by now). Still, the microphone appears to be working, because at full volume, the machine starts generating horrible feedback when I type. What to do about MIDI? Might as well get a hardware sequencer.

Network

Network support on both laptops is fine and simple. All you have to do is plug an Ethernet/Modem card into the PCMCIA slot, edit the network files (five minutes tops), reboot, and your system will be completely on-line. Networking is transparent and I even swapped the network card in and out of the computers while running and without any disastrous effects. The network card gets very hot, though; I worry it will melt. It would be preferable to have Ethernet/modem built into the laptop instead of using a PCMCIA card, since it looks less graceful to have this gizmo sticking out of the laptop's side.

Benchmarks

Benchmarks are good general indicators of system performance, but they're often misleading and not entirely relevant. It is true these laptops do not compare well performance-wise to desktop machines or servers, especially in terms of disk access, but then, these laptops are not servers and servers are not particularly portable. Laptops are generally one- or two-user machines and will not be called on to do anything resource-intensive. As for disk access, you don't need a super fast drive if you won't have several dozen users reading and writing all at once, and you don't need too many megahertz or that much RAM to run vi or Emacs. Multimedia would be the one area for which a single user would need supercomputing power, but then multimedia support on Linux is not outstanding. So, Table 2 shows the Bonnie and BYTEmark results. The AS-LT300 shipped with a faster processor (and higher price tag) so its processor results are slightly better, while LinuxLaptops has spent much effort tuning for hard-drive performance, hence the better results here. I set both laptops to “Suspend to RAM” and “Large Filesystem”, and ran the benchmarks several times for best results. Bonnie's results fell into a broad range, due partially to variance in access speed depending on the location of the data on the disk. Laptop drives tend to be single speed, so the farther in you go, the slower your access speed.

Table 2. Benchmarks

 
 

Attache

AS-LT300

Memory Index

1.361

1.566

Integer Index

1.145

1.324

Floating-Point

2.277

3.616

   
 

Sequential Output

Sequential Input

Random

Machine

MB

K/sec

%CPU

K/sec

%CPU

K/sec

%CPU

K/sec

%CPU

K/sec

%CPU

/sec

%CPU

Attache

100

5608

98.7

14571

22.6

3173

9.3

4577

75.1

72967

39.2

2950.0

47.9

ASLT300

100

5659

98.9

13442

21.7

2947

8.7

4306

72.0

8646

7.8

230.5

2.9

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