Laptops for Linux!

At the time of this writing, the two Linux-specific laptop providers are LinuxLaptops and ASL Workstations.
  • Products: LinuxLaptops Attache ASL Workstations AS-LT300

  • Manufacturer: LinuxLaptops ASL Workstations

  • E-mail: ncm@linuxlaptops.com sales@aslab.com

  • URL: http://linuxlaptops.com/ http://aslab.com/

  • Price: $2500 US $2800 US

  • Reviewer: Jason Kroll

laptop n: a computer in graceful, self-contained form. Laptops are small, wireless, resource-minimal and portable. You can take them wherever you go and hide them when not in use—no ugly computer to occupy space. The LCD flat screen displays are clearer and cleaner than cathode ray tube monitors (with less brain-wave-zeroing effect), and the keyboards are small and quiet. Even without portability, laptops have many advantages over desktop machines.

Laptops also have their shortcomings, the most obvious of which is price. Laptops are very expensive and difficult to repair or upgrade, although it can be done. They also offer inferior performance compared to desktop machines, specifically in disk access, processor speed and hardware support. Hard disks on laptops spin slowly and are loathe to accelerate or decelerate; hence, disk operations can be very slow, especially random accesses. Take a look at the Bonnie benchmarks (see Table 2) to see just how slow. Processors are also slower and more expensive. One reason is laptops have relatively poor ventilation (making them quiet), so if you have too many megahertz/gates/volts on the chip/CPU, it will get too hot. (Notice the popularity of StrongARM processors in machines without powerful fans, for example the NetWinder and Empeg.) Also, laptop processors are physically different from standard processors because they must be small and low-profile, although smaller chips require less voltage so they don't generate as much heat.

LinuxLaptops Attache

The Good
  • Debian GNU/Linux

  • Entirely free software

  • Flexible, loose

  • Superb console mode

  • Highly tuned, fast

  • Well customized

  • 14.1" LCD screen is clear, flicker-free

The Bad
  • GNOME/Enlightment is a tad slow, sometimes problematic

  • Too much swap

  • Missing some software

  • Very expensive

At the time of this writing, the two Linux-specific laptop providers are LinuxLaptops and ASL Workstations. LinuxLaptops is a specialty shop run by Nathan Myers, which deals exclusively in laptops for Linux and has three models at the moment. It is highly focused on optimization and tuning, working within the interesting limitations of laptop hardware, to maximize Linux performance. ASL Workstations, on the other hand, is a successful Linux workstation builder which provides many excellent workstations and makes its AS-LT300 laptop as a logical component in a complete product line of high-powered, server-oriented machines. Penguin Computing is also developing a laptop, but it is still in beta and was not available for review. VA Linux Systems, the best-known Linux machine maker, has discontinued laptops for the time being.

The Laptops

Since only enormous firms have their own laptop factories, laptop providers for Linux buy standard laptops and configure them for Linux. Incidentally, the AS-LT300 and Attache are both ChemBook 7400s. Internally, they have slightly different configurations, but the most significant difference is between their respective Linux setups. Table 1 shows the more relevant features of the laptops sent to LJ, but keep in mind that you have much flexibility in configuration if you order a laptop for yourself.

Table 1. Laptop Features

 

LinuxLaptops

ASL

Processor

Pentium II 333 MHz

Pentium II 366MHz

L1/L2 Cache

32K / 256K

32K / 256K

RAM

128M SDRAM

96M SDRAM

BUS

66MHz AGP/PCI

66MHz AGP/PCI

Hard Drive

6.4GB Ultra DMA/33

6.4GB Ultra DMA/33

Linux

Debian GNU/Linux 2.1

Red Hat 6.0

X Server

XFree86 3.3.2.3

Accelerated X-Server 5.0

Desktop

GNOME/Enlightenment

KDE or GNOME

Console

128x48

80x25

Video

ATI 3D Rage Pro LT 4MB

ATI 3D Rage Pro LT 8MB

Audio

awaiting driver

Open Sound System

Kernel/Size

2.2.11 / 715K

2.2.12 / 636K

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