What Will My New Laptop Be?

Now that I live off-grid, having one laptop (plus a low-powered server) rather than four desktops running all the time is clearly the right thing for me. My current "fleet" of laptops includes some IBM ThinkPads (from T20 to T23) and my ASUS Z3300. Also, toss in my Nokia N800 which is not a laptop but is regularly used.

The Z3300 has been a great travel machine with reasonable battery life but the small keyboard and screen makes it less than perfect as a day-to-day machine. As much as I love the ThinkPads, I am less than thrilled by their battery life. So, I am thinking it is time to consider my future laptop.

I don't have a specific machine in mind yet but I do know some characteristics I want. They are:

  • A full-sized keyboard.
  • A reasonable screen size which probably means 14 inches, plus or minus an inch.
  • Decent battery life. Two hours would be fine as I am seldom far away from a 12V outlet.
  • No "Microsoft tax".
  • An LED back-light for the screen. Less power and it should last longer than I will.
  • If possible, something other than a touchpad pointing device. I, well, hate touchpads but, as long as I can turn off "tap to click" I hate them a little less.

This is a very different list from when I shopped for the Z3300. Having the N800 addresses the "travel machine" so, while I may drag this new machine with me for extended stays, I no longer need something small and light enough to accompany me on an overnight trip.

Is speed an issue? No, not at all. Ages ago I had a little Toshiba—I forget the model—that ran vi just fine. Today, more of my work is with a web browser than vi so it needs a bit more speed but I am not going to be doing much beyond vi, browsing and occasionally running a word processor.

Ok, your turn. What is your suggestion for the best fit for my requirements?


Phil Hughes


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What Will My New Laptop Be?

refurbished computers's picture

laptops are a great travel machine with reasonable battery life but the small keyboard and screen makes it less than perfect as a day-to-day machine. This time i'll be going for a refurbished one.

Same problem

Todd Johnson's picture

I'm having the same problem. I want a 13" with Nvidia graphics(must play back 1080P, even if screen isn't 1080p), LED screen, webcam, dual core processor, 16+GB SSD, and no-os/linux preload. Basicly 13" netbook with nvidia graphics. Also a 8hr battery would be awesome! Asking for too much? System 76 looks nice, but my 15" is too big 10" is too small for me. Possibly look at Nvidia Ion. This would be a great topic for a follow up article.

Manufacturers should be fighting to fill this niche. We are very loyal to companies that support Linux. Look at Nvidia and Intel.

What Will My New Laptop Be?

cheap computers's picture

If possible, something other than a touchpad pointing device. I, well, hate touchpads but, as long as I can turn off "tap to click" I hate them a little less.


Ferodynamics's picture

I will probably buy another Thinkpad, mostly because of the keyboard and Trackpoint. Someone else said it, Thinkpad keyboads are great and I don't think they have much competition. Last time I was at the store, the Sony and Apple keyboards were embarrassingly shoddy, Toshiba wasn't as bad though.

I want this to be my last machine with a fan or HD. My complaint with this SL400, my left wrist gets hot and bothered because I think the HD is spinning directly under that part of the machine. Plus I hate the hum of fans. I heard many people are now deaf at this frequency where machines hum.

I love having a Trackpoint. Yes, I have a nice wireless mouse too. Like right now I'm writing in bed because I broke my ankle and I wouldn't want a mouse. Trackpoint is great for editing text because you can shift-select without moving your fingers much, for example. Probably IBM sold the Trackpoint patent to Lenovo? So it's unlikely I would buy a machine without a Trackpoint, as crazy as that sounds.

As for speed, ram, storage, I don't really care! Also, I don't want a screen with a matte finish, why unnecessarily blur your vision? Give me slick, glossy, gorgeous pixels! So that's also a deal-breaker. I was a picture framer for years, so I know what anti-glare is all about, but this Lenovo VibrantView is just awesome, I'll never go back to a blurry, distorted "anti-glare" screen. I don't have any trouble with glare, even outside in the Texas sun, just turn up the brightness!

Low power lappy

moldor's picture

Hey Phil - I know this is a little out-of-spec, but have you considered an ASUS 1000HE Netbook ? Claimed 9.5 hour battery life, mine's running Eeebuntu (Ubuntu 9.04 suitably customised) and it runs like a dream.

Let's look at the specs:

  • 10.2" wide screen - OK, a little smaller than your requirements, but crystal clear and pin-sharp. Even with my 50 year old aging eyes (and glasses) I have zero problems seeing it
  • Keyboard is similar to the Macbook (new ones) or the Macbook AIR - not quite full size, but both the Mrs and I can touch-type on it
  • 160Gb SATA hard drive - plenty for most people, but mine's running a 500Gb with no problems
  • 2Gb RAM - through some stupid arrangement with Microslop, all netbooks can only go to 2Gb, but that seems to be fine, given a similar size swap file practically no swapping takes place
  • 802.11a/b/g(n ??) Wifi - rock solid - likewise the wired ethernet port (100Mb) - not wholly sure about the N part
  • Touch pad - yeah, I hate it too, but you CAN hack the "touch to click"
  • The usual 3 USB ports, headphone & mic, dual inbuilt mics (Skype works wonderfully)
  • SD card slot for your digital camera media - although, as you can boot from it, I keep a recovery Linux install on it, just in case
  • Yes, it comes with Windows XP - hardly worth arguing about what would probably amount to a $15 refund for not having it, and ASUS (in Australia at least) won't entertain a refund - but I'm still working on it.

    Granted, this is no powerhouse, but with its' dual-core 1.6GHz Atom N280 processor is seems to churn through most tasks quite nicely and is small / light enough for me to carry it almost everywhere rather than the 15" MacbookPro.

    Re: Battery life - They claim 9.5 hours, but an insider at ASUS tells me that the tests were done on minimum brightness, all radios turned off and the hard drive spun down. Typical... With Eeebuntu, operating normally, I get a shade over 7 hours, and a shade under that if I turn on bluetooth as well.

    As I said, slightly outside your specs, but definately worth considering.

    Running Windows, ANY version, is like paying to get kicked in the 'nads daily.

    Phil Hughes?

    Salvadesswaran Srinivasan's picture

    Well, the name Phil Hughes rings a bell, isn't the author the Aussie opener? And I'd suggest a Dell Studio which my friend got. No buttons on the edges, I like that, and he got it with no OS. The icing on the cake it was, without Vista. It is beefy too, three VMs ran at a time like a charm.

    Low cost from asus

    Fabian's picture


    i think about ordering this one: ASUS X5DIJ-SX018L

    - great battery time
    - stay always cool
    - no ms tax :-)

    and it has a really low price: 400€ at amazon.de

    New ThinkPad T500 is excellent for Linux

    Adrien Lamothe's picture

    The new ThinkPad T500 and T400 series is excellent for Linux. Battery life is around 2.5 hours, give or take depending on use. They also run Linux perfectly, the new Intel hardware is well supported. The keys are awesome, the best. I haven't found a better keyboard, even for my desktop systems. They also use DDR-3 RAM and SATA2 hard drives. The Intel GM4500 graphics controller is much better than the older Intel models. The little night light LED at the top of the screen is great at night when you don't want to turn the lights on but feel like working, it casts a soft illumination over the keyboard.

    Some Accessories + System 76

    Anonymous's picture

    1) Forget the built-in trackpad or stick. Get yourself an external mouse or trackball unit. My choice has been the One Finger Mouse (widely available trackball, e.g. cyberguys.com) with USB. An added benefit is that you can jack into a partner's system for joint work on a project. Also, don't forget to pack several zip-lock bags for cables and gadgets. Even the best of bags can turn into a pack rat's nest with all the essentials (some might say junk) one has to carry (power supply, mouse, headphones, USB hub, thumb drives, network cable, extension cord w/ filter). Yes, I sometimes feel like a pack mule.

    2) System 76 is a nice bunch with some decent rigs. That's where I got my laptop. Just DO NOT get the cheapest configuration. Bump it up a bit in terms of CPU speed and RAM. You'll be rewarded quickly enough when you try to do something gnarly (Oracle XE + their SQL Developer + FF + Mozilla + Opera + Open Office + Konqueror).

    Acer Timeline 3810

    rg's picture

    This laptop is great, cheap and has an excellent keyboard. 13.3" screen and a button to turn off the touchpad. Everything works well with linux except a few suspend/resume problems and the whole thing weighs only 1.5kilo and is superthin. 6 plus hour battery life also :)

    Got the perfect laptop for you

    Anonymous's picture

    I'd go for the System76 Gazelle Ultra for $859:

    Display: 13.3" WXGA Glossy
    Ultra-Bright LED backlit (1280 x 800)
    Graphics: Intel X4500HD
    Audio Output: Intel High Definition Audio
    Networking: Gigabit LAN (10/100/1000), WiFi
    Wireless: 802.11 agn
    Expansion: Express Card 34/54 slot
    Ports: VGA, 3 x USB 2.0, Headphone Jack, Microphone Jack, S/PDIF Output Jack, SD Reader
    Camera: Built-In 1.3 MP Webcam
    Security: Fingerprint Reader (beta),
    Kensington® Lock
    Power Management: Suspend & Hibernate
    Battery: includes one 4 Cell Lithium Ion
    AC Adapter: includes one AC adapter
    Dimensions: 12.125" x 9.125" x 1.3~1.44" (WxDxH)
    Weight: 4.4 lbs.



    marcofsky's picture

    Definitely the place to go!

    Their laptops are a bit expensive, but the hardware is phenomenal and perfectly working with Linux. The Pangolin series is amazing (I have one and my wife has one too) and with the nVidia card with dedicated memory, the performance is excellent! This is an acquisition you will not regret.


    Casey's picture

    System76 specializes in Linux-based computers and their laptops look to be pretty nice. Not sure about the battery life, but it can't hurt to check them out.


    Off Grid Equipment Selection

    John and Dagny Galt's picture

    Our recommendations for equipment are based on individual customer needs, what they currently use/own, what their future requirements might be, and how the current and future marketplace trends can benefit them fiscally. We routinely counsel against buying new at retail when the used market is incredibly vibrant and the cost savings are definitely welcome in these failing economic times.

    We might recommend that you use a USB keyboard and mouse with your Z3300 for full-size utility and comfort.

    We're watching the LED flat-screens with interest and will be making purchases once a used market becomes established.

    We'll also be converting for off-grid use similarily to this:


    John and Dagny Galt
    Atlas Shrugged, Owner's Manual To The Universe!(tm)


    I'm eager to read these comments also

    anonymous's picture

    I am still looking myself. My own fleet has a 12" Lenovo X60s, with a dual Core processor, which I like a lot for small and light, but the screen is simply too small. My 15" MacBook Pro is a wonderful machine. Altho' I have Ubuntu as a dual boot on several machines, I find that getting work done on the Mac is much easier. As for Screen Size, bigger is better (at least up to 24") ... Parallels and/or Boot Camp allow me to run Windoze programs when I have to. It is possible that I'm just not good enough with *nix, but the Mac is a love to use. I used to run a SGI box, and it was a delight; the Mac is easily as much fun.

    Next laptop

    Eats Wombats's picture

    I've gone from an Asus EEE 1000 running Ubuntu (great but too small if you type) to a Samsung R60+ (great value but big and bulky) -- temporarily -- before settling on a Thinkpad X200. It's terrific. I'm still running Vista but planning to make it dual boot with Ubuntu.

    Nothing I've seen since buying it has made me regret it. I did wonder about the MSI X320 and 340, knowing they were coming, but the keyboard quality and overall build quality is poor and the price is not a rational markup but a discount to the Macbook Air.

    The Thinkpad is quality through and through. I could only be happier if this came with Ubuntu pre-installed and with the same level of hardware support (currently linux battery life is a bit less than windows, from what I've read online).

    I have a base station for the machine for the rare occasions when I need to use a DVD or CD but this is less and less often.

    I got the machine at a good price, MUCH less than a Mac. I've bought a 500Gb drive for it and doubled the ram to 4Gb, and I can replace the battery whenever I want to.

    Buy with no OS

    Glock24's picture

    I bought a Compal HEL80 with no OS from http://www.xoticpc.com a few years ago, because I didn't want to pay the "MS Tax" and would run only GNU/Linux. They have various models which you can cuztomize, and also you can specify "no OS" for most of them.

    You can also try http://www.powernotebooks.com/ which is a similar business to xoticpc.

    Mac wars?

    Phil Hughes's picture

    Wow, I didn't expect to creata a "Mac war" with the post. As much as some people like the OS, I am getting pretty close to 30 years of working with UNIX and its relatives. It is not very likely I am going to switch to OS/X in this lifetime.

    Besides being a Linux user, I am a KDE user. Have been since KDE 1. While 4.2 is less than perfect, it is getting close. (Sorry Miguel. :-) ) Many times when I say I am a KDE user, people say I like it because it is more like Windoze than Gnome. Well, maybe it is but other than using a browser in an Internet cafe, I have not used a Windoze system for over 10 years so I sure wouldn't know.

    The ZaReason system (and two others they have) look pretty interesting including the OS choices. Now, how about alternatives to a Touchpad? And an LED backlight?

    Phil Hughes

    the SlidePad?

    johnD's picture

    The slidepad is a cool alternative. You probably know it already but since it's coming from my home country I'll post it up here anyway ;)
    We have to wait a little longer to see it in action but personally I think it'll be awesome! (not a big fan of touchpads myself)

    By the way, you haven't started a MacWar (haven't you seen a REAL MacWar yet? :>) but I'd be careful about mentioning KDE if your a pacifist ;)



    Amgad's picture

    I vote for the 13 inch MacBook Pro too. Nothing beats the hardware.

    I would consider a netbook,

    Anonymous's picture

    I would consider a netbook, they are extremely cheap and additionally have a lot of the features you specified. (Plus some come pre installed with linux) .

    Oki (www.oki.com , the

    Anonymouse's picture

    Oki (www.oki.com , the manufacturer of printers) sells laptops with Ubuntu preinstalled.

    OKI company

    VMSGMAN's picture

    I finally got rid of my OKI printer after 3 years of promises that a linux driver was on the way, the best thing I got was a guy from the community that provided a very decent .ppd file I liked it so much I sent him some $$$.

    hp notebbok

    Gergely Jozsef Otto's picture

    I recommend a HP Elitebook. They are very solid, rugged with business feautures like additional battery expansion slot. And they are cheaper than a Dell. My personal choice the 6930p type.

    mac like a merc/bmw: paying for the posh-ness

    freakalad's picture

    Either another netbook (still have a eee 701), it'll probably be some form of tablet; likely the iTablet some form of Ubuntu NBR/Moblin loaded on it


    Anonymous's picture

    The 13 inch MacBook Pro. Great battery life and it is rugged

    A Mac?

    Anonymous's picture

    The 13 inch MacBook Pro. Great battery life and it is rugged

    The only thing worse than the Windows-tax, is the Apple-tax.


    Anonymous's picture

    You think that even though he does not wish to pay the Microsoft tax, he will happily pay the much larger Apple tax???


    Anonymous's picture

    At least the Mac tax is worth it. Personally I love Linux, but when I need to get actual work done I avoid both Linux and Windows and use a Mac. Decent battery life, software that's easily compatible with common formats, and it really does just work (i.e. no crashes or swiss cheese security holes like Windows and no configuring 50 config files and software packages to handle a new format either).

    You must be nuts, this is Phil Hughes we're talkin' about here!

    Sum Yung Gai's picture

    'Scuze me, but the biggest reason we who use Free Software do so is because of the Freedom it gives us. Apple is about as proprietary as it gets, even worse than Microsoft (and that's sayin' something). I don't care how "pretty" the jail is, it's still a jail.

    Phil, I give a +1 for the ZaReason boxes. They're reasonably priced and come from a company who actively supports Freedom. Also, they've helped out Ken Starks's Komputers4Kids over the years, so they're good folks.


    Definitely a mac.

    johnD's picture

    The only thing better than Linux is Linux running on a MacBook (Pro)! :)
    Personally I think the box is worth the tax - haven't found a better lap yet. While the os is definitely not. As a freelance programmer I got an apple to impress my clients and it does the job real well. However I really started getting the actual job done after os x went into the trash. For me Ubuntu and a Macbook Pro is a match made in heaven.



    JosephM's picture

    Well I can see how that would work for you, and it's fine if you're in the IT industry, either in programming, web design, or something similar. But I for instance am a translator, and while I enjoy Linux as a hobby at this point it's just too much work sometimes to use as my desktop system. Plus I'll occasionally get clients that send me proprietary applications to translate on (Windows unfortunately), and if you've ever tried configuring a virtual machine on most Linux distros you can see why this is a problem. Mac OS X might not be quite as configurable, or update as frequently as some distros do, but it requires much less work for those of us whose profession does not revolve around the IT industry. Eventually I hope that will change, and Linux has gotten easier to use, but I think it will be a while yet before it becomes more mainstream on the desktop (not disputing the server side, since it already has a sizeable percentage of that market - with good reason).

    I am running RHEL5 at work

    SaschaM's picture

    I am running RHEL5 at work and use VirtualBox to run my Windows applications. This setup has been working very well for me for at least a year. The only issues I have experienced so far are that some applications take a while to start but once up, they run just as fast as on a dedicated Windows machine. So, don't shy away from using Linux as your primary desktop and Windows in a VM.

    Another RHEL 5 desktop user here...

    Sum Yung Gai's picture

    ...and Slackware, and Debian, and Ubuntu, and a couple of others.

    Actually my RHEL 5 box is really a CentOS 5 box, but pretty much the same thing. When I need it to absolutely, positively work in the field, I call for my old Dell Latitude laptop from 2003 which runs CentOS 5. It has yet to fail me, even once.

    Actually, the Dell Latitudes have proved to be good machines, and with the exception of that Broadcom wireless junk used in 2005-6, they've got a good Linux-friendliness record. Yeah, I know, Dell loves Microsoft same as all the other Tier 1 vendors, so ZaReason's still my first choice. But if you want a decent Tier 1-manufacturer box, they're pretty good.


    System 76

    octopusgrabbus's picture

    I'd vote for a System 76. I like mine.


    Earl's picture

    Check out the new 14" laptop from ZaReason.

    ZaReason in Europe

    Anonymous's picture

    Clicking on any of the European flags at the top of the page takes you to the German ZaReason site which is (naturally) in German. It is impossible to change it to English without either registering or using SSL which sends additional identity information. As the pages are obviously available in English, there is no reason why they cannot allow (non-registered) visitors to see them other than they want to harvest my information. Unless they change this, ZaReason won't get any business from me...