Lindows MobilePC/ServeLinux eNote

The 2003 Linux Journal Editors' Choice Award winner for Best Mobile Device.

The Lindows MobilePC is a lightweight and inexpensive notebook PC that comes with Linux preinstalled. It received the 2003 Linux Journal Editors' Choice Award for Best Mobile Device. If you want a small notebook PC without Microsoft, you should consider this one.

I ordered my Lindows MobilePC from GearZoo (gearzoo.com). I had no problems with the ordering process, and the notebook arrived quickly. The notebook actually is a ServeLinux eNote, model ISNB-001. It is small and light: 10.43" × 8.66" × 0.91", 2.9 pounds. It uses a VIA C3 processor, an Ezra core running at 933MHz, a VIA chipset motherboard and a 20GB hard drive. The eNote comes standard with 256MB of RAM, but there is an empty socket for a standard SODIMM card. You can put up to a 512MB card in this socket, for a total of 768MB of RAM. The eNote has a single CardBus PCMCIA Type II socket, plus a CompactFlash Type I socket. Two USB 2.0 (high-speed) sockets and a non-powered 1394 socket are also present, but no legacy ports (serial, parallel or PS/2).

The 12.1" display is 1,024×768 pixels with 24-bit color. This display is sharp and clear, with bright colors. The built-in video adapter is a Savage 4 AGP chipset, which XFree86 supports well. A standard 15-pin analog video out socket also is included. For sound there is a VIA 82C686 chip with built-in speakers, a microphone jack and a headphone jack with volume control dial.

The keyboard has comfortable keys—it's still a notebook PC, so you don't type as quickly as you would on a full-size desktop keyboard, but it's quite usable. Most keys are right where I expect them—for example, I don't press the up Arrow key when I'm trying to press the right-Shift key. The keys are quiet too, making only soft clicks as you type; it's not too noisy for use in a library.

The built-in pointing device is a trackpad that has two buttons with a rocker in between; the /dev/psaux device connects to it. X sees the rocker as scroll wheel events, not as a third mouse button. When I want to press the third mouse button, I use the standard X workaround of pressing both buttons at the same time.

The included lithium-ion battery pack is supposed to power the notebook for two hours, but it actually lasted closer to an hour and a half. Extra battery packs are available for about $90 US. The owner's manual describes an extended life battery that covers the entire bottom of the notebook, but I have not been able to locate where to buy one of these.

Not only is the notebook itself small and light, but so is the AC power adapter, thanks to a slim and lightweight transformer brick. Also important is a power cord long enough to reach inconvenient hotel-room power sockets. The adapter accepts 100–240 Volt AC power at 50–60Hz, so you can use it anywhere in the world with a simple plug adapter. For safety, a security slot can be found on the left side for attaching an antitheft cable.

The left side of the eNote has a phone jack and an Ethernet jack that connect to a CompactPCI card inside the eNote with a modem and a network interface. The modem, alas, is a controller-less Winmodem, and I have not found a Linux driver that works with it. A standard PC Card modem, however, worked well for me. The network interface is a Realtek 8139 chipset, and the Linux 8139too driver works with it just fine.

One of the reasons the eNote is so small and light is that it does not include a floppy or optical drive. You can purchase an external device and plug it in to either the USB or 1394 ports. The BIOS settings include the option to boot from a USB drive, a USB CD-ROM or a network boot, in addition to the hard drive. However, the BIOS only supports booting from USB, not from the 1394 port.

Using eNote

The first time I booted my notebook, I was greeted with a Lindows login prompt. No password was included in my documentation; I had to contact technical support at GearZoo. They immediately e-mailed the password I needed (which was enote, all in lowercase letters).

The 933MHz processor has ample speed for running a Linux desktop. When the notebook is connected to a high-speed Internet connection, Web pages display quickly.

A cooling fan is built in to the notebook. Normally it is quiet, but when the notebook is working hard, the fan speeds up and the noise increases. When the hard disk is busy, the fan becomes even louder. To reduce fan noise, I recommend upgrading to the full 768MB of RAM and disabling swapping.

The trackpad works well, but it is more convenient to get a small travel mouse and plug it in to one of the USB ports. I bought a Microsoft Notebook Optical Mouse with two buttons and a button/scroll wheel; when I plugged it in, Linux recognized it as a standard HID-compliant mouse and it worked.

Initially, I used the included Lindows 3.0 distribution of Linux, which appears to have little or no customization by Lindows for use with a notebook computer. For example, the Click-N-Run program attempted to use the Ethernet connection even when Ethernet wasn't plugged in. Click-N-Run also consumed a lot of CPU power and hammered on the hard disk, endlessly trying to check for updates. This was especially bad when I was running off the battery. If this happens to you, I suggest you kill the Click-N-Run process. The documentation about using a modem for Internet access doesn't mention that the built-in modem does not work; it is generic documentation from KDE.

Lindows is based on Debian GNU/Linux. The Debian APT system is present, and it is possible to use the apt-get upgrade command to install a full Debian system. I upgraded my eNote to Debian's unstable branch and installed a GNOME desktop. You can read the full story of this upgrade on the Linux Journal Web site; see Resources for the URL.

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