The State of the Market: a Laptop Buying Guide
Darn it! At the time of this writing, ASUS just pushed back the release of its forthcoming Eee PC from September to October 2007, making a review in time for this issue impossible. The Eee PC is a new, ultraportable, Linux-based laptop priced at $259 and up. The lower-end 700 model has 2GB of Flash storage and 256MB of RAM, and the juiced-up 701 model has 4GB of Flash storage and 512MB of RAM. Both models feature the following: preloaded Xandros Linux, Intel Celeron-M 900MHz processor, 7" display, 10/100Mbps LAN, 802.11b/g wireless, three USB 2.0 ports, MMC/SD card reader, VGA out, Windows XP compatibility/drivers, built-in camera (optional on the 700) and a 4-cell battery with three hours of runtime. There are no optical drives, and both models weigh in at two pounds. The word on the “blog street” appears to be that many otherwise Windows users would choose a Linux device for their mobile needs. ASUS projects that dealers should have the Eee PC by late October 2007.
Suggested retail price: starting at $259.
Although Dell has embraced Linux by offering laptops and desktops with Ubuntu preloaded, we suspect that most of the company is ambivalent at best about selling and supporting Linux machines. Most of the Linux-specialist companies responded promptly to our requests for review machines and information; however, a month's worth of pleading for the same from Dell resulted in no review machine, creative excuses and receipt of information only after a threat of negative publicity. Although the people at Dell are extremely friendly and competent, our impression is that Linux falls far down on their priority list. Furthermore, Dell's sole (yes, one!) Linux-based laptop discussed here offers far fewer options than its Windows counterpart. We fear that Dell will not support Linux with the same kind of passion that our Linux specialists do, resulting in a self-fulfilling prophesy along the lines of “Look, we tried Linux, but nobody bought it! We told you there was no market!” Unless Dell can weave Linux into its “corporate DNA”, we predict it will fail in this desktop endeavor.
Despite those criticisms, it is undeniable that Dell offers its popular Inspiron 1420 N (the N designates the Linux version) laptop with Linux preloaded for the same price as its Windows counterpart. More machines may be on the way, but we received no firm commitment about this. In any case, although we were unable to get our hands on a review machine, other reviews have billed the Inspiron 1420 as a workhorse machine that offers a huge range of options and strikes the right balance between display size (14.1" widescreen) and portability (six pounds).
Our virtual test configuration included Ubuntu Feisty Fawn, an Intel Core 2 Duo T5250 1.5GHz processor, 2GB of RAM, a 14.1" widescreen display at 1280x800, 120GB 5,400rpm SATA hard drive, Intel Graphics Media Accelerator X3100, CD-RW/DVD player combo drive and, in honor of John Waters, a “Flamingo Pink” casing.
Yes, Dell, we Linuxers are grateful that you now sell a preloaded Linux laptop. Nevertheless, we think you can do better, because you're still not giving us the Full Monty. Unfortunately, the Linux edition of the Inspiron 1420 has far fewer options than its Windows Vista cousins. Here are some differences between the Windows and Linux versions of the 1420:
The default hard drive with Windows is 120GB, with a maximum size of 320GB; with Linux, the default is only 80GB and maximum is 160GB. (Insider tip to Dell: Linux users want big storage!)
On Windows, you can opt for the NVIDIA GeForce 8400M GS or Intel Graphics Media Accelerator X3100 video cards; on Linux, only the latter is available.
Each of the following features is available for Windows but not Linux: mobile broadband (EV-DO or HSDPA), Webcam, Bluetooth support and Blu-ray drive.
What's more, the only Linux-based OS offered is Ubuntu 7.04, with no dual-boot option available—a major drawback. Furthermore, our contact at Dell tells us that all the functionality works fine under Linux, including the Fn keys, except that the integrated multicard memory readers won't be supported until a later date. Regarding support, Dell offers its typical range of warranties on its hardware for up to four years. As for the software side, Canonical is the entity performing the support with options ranging from no support up to one year of full OS, application and networking support.
Support on configured machine: one-year in-home warranty with service, parts and labor. Also includes 24x7 phone support.
Sample configuration: $1,049.
James Gray is Products Editor for Linux Journal.
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