TuxTops Obsidian N30W
Linux support is where TuxTops really shines. The folks at TuxTops are real-life Linux users, not just suits who saw some advantage to offering “Linux for the weirdos”. The folks at TuxTops know and use Linux, and they know and use their own products, so when you ask a support question they can answer it from personal experience. The test laptop came with an unofficial Red Hat 6.2 release pre-installed and configured to take advantage of the Laptop's hardware. All of the hardware drivers are pre-installed, as is the XFree86 configuration file for the LCD display. The first time you boot your TuxTops Obsidian, you are asked to supply some basic information to configure features such as networking. After that, the system will always boot into an X11-based login screen.
Also included was a bootable CD-ROM with Red Hat and several laptop-specific RPM packages ready for installation. Reinstalling Linux is as easy as booting from the CD and acknowledging the repeated warnings that you will lose all Linux files on the hard drive. Unfortunately, there is no way to specify how the hard drive will be partitioned, or which partitions will be formatted, so you will always have a large /home partition with new files on it. This reduces the value of having a /home partition at all.
The biggest problem with the Red Hat installation was actually the lack of choices when installing it. TuxTops installs the software you need, and the result is a laptop where everything that can work, works, but a lot of the choices have been taken away. The default desktop is GNOME, and while KDE is installed there is no option to make it the default-user environment. Likewise, there are very few choices about how the rest of the system is installed and what software is used.
The folks at TuxTops report that by the time this article is in print they will be offering a wide range of Linux distributions pre-installed on the Obsidian and all of their laptops. I didn't have a chance to try out any of the other distributions, but if they are as well configured as the Red Hat installation, TuxTops will make a lot of people who want or need other distributions happy.
The review laptop came in a dual boot configuration with Red Hat and Microsoft Windows98. The Windows installation was about as bare bones as you will find in a computer. The operating system was installed, but there was no user software—no office suite, no DVD player software, nothing but Windows. This makes sense from a company that really isn't trying to sell Windows at all, but you should be aware that if you buy a dual boot system, you will need to add your own software to make the Windows installation useful.
The TuxTops Obsidian provides top-of-the-line performance, great expandability and great support at a price that is a lot lower than nearly identical hardware from other vendors. If you are looking for a desktop replacement system or a highpowered laptop, it is hard to go wrong with the TuxTops Obsidian.
Born at the beginning of the microcomputer age, Jon Valesh (firstname.lastname@example.org) has pushed and been pushed by computers his entire life. Having run the gamut from games programmer to ISP system/network administrator, he now occupies himself by providing technical assistance to ISPs and small businesses whenever his day job doesn't get in the way.
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