The family and I are visiting the in-laws in Great Falls over the holiday weekend. My family picked me up from work so I wasn't involved in the packing... and it just so happens that my wife didn't pack my laptop. :( As luck would have it, my father-in-law has two recently purchased laptops... and he also had a Dell Mini 9 he was working on for a friend... and he was kind enough to let me play with them.
MontanaLinux from LiveUSB thumbdrive
I usually have one or more USB thumbdrives in my pants pocket and almost always one of them is a bootable LiveUSB of a recent built of MontanaLinux i386 (my own remix of Fedora 11)... so at least I had something I could test with and get my Linux fix. The build I used was dated August 26th, 2009 so it had all of the Fedora updates released on or prior to that date.
Now onto the three laptops I tried out.
I have had about ten laptops over the years. My first one, if you could call it a laptop, was an Atari Portfolio (1992) which I still have and it still works. I've only bought three laptops new and the rest have been given to me as retired machines by work, friends, and/or family. Here are a few things you need to know before you read this review:
- I'm a long time Linux user
- I am NOT a hardcore 3D gamer
- I don't use any high end vertical apps like CAD or video editing
- I'm a technical user who doesn't mind a certain amount of hacking
What is a Netbook?
According to the wikipedia page:
A netbook is a small portable laptop computer designed for wireless communication and access to the Internet... primarily designed for web browsing and e-mailing, netbooks rely heavily on the Internet for remote access to web-based applications and are targeted increasingly at cloud computing users who require a less powerful client computer. Netbooks typically run either Windows XP or Linux operating systems rather than more resource-intensive operating systems like Windows Vista. The devices range in size from below 5 inches to over 13, typically weigh 2 to 3 pounds (~1 kg) and are often significantly cheaper than general purpose laptops
Netbooks have been out for a couple of years now and the Asus Eee PC 700 series with a 900MHz Intel Celeron M processor underclocked to 630MHz is generally perceived to be what started the trend with inspiration from the OLPC Project. The current crop of netbooks (circa June 2009), regardless of the manufacturer, are all very similar:
- 1.6 GHz Intel Atom processor
- 1GB of RAM
- 10.1 inch screen with 1024x600 resolution
- 160 GB hard disk
- Windows XP
Linux used to ship on most netbooks especially those with smaller SSD (Solid State Drive) storage but it seems that the volume sellers all have hard disks and Windows XP pre-installed. This is mostly due to significant price breaks Microsoft has given netbook makers on Windows XP and the market seeming to move toward traditional hard drives for their increased storage capacity over SSD storage.
Just in case you haven't heard, Dell recently announced a new range of laptops that should be shipping before the end of the year. One exciting new feature is "Latitude On". What is that? Have you heard of Splashtop? If not, check out this video. Latitude is similar BUT unlike Splashtop which is software only, Latitude On includes a hardware subsystem so it uses its own CPU and other resources separate from the main CPU and OS on the system. The advantage is that Latitude On will use way less power... and will supposedly have a battery life of days. Dell didn't make the distro they are embedding but they won't yet say who did. Here's a video from the press conference Dell gave.
I somehow got "voluntwisted" into fixing a coworkers Sony laptop. Well okay maybe it was my own doing. I love to recover data from presumed dead hard drives. His had been dead and powered up for so long, I presumed it was toast like so many laptop drives usually are. Much to my surprise it was mountable using an old Live Knoppix disk. So I simply plugged in my USB drive and with MC I did mass copies to it. Since it was a bad disk it did take about 8 hours to move about 2GB of data (music and pictures).
So next the coworker produced a replacement drive. One dilemma though... he didn't have his recovery CD's since he just moved here and having a tough time finding anything really. So I thought I'd try using my home Dell PC. OEM CD's tend to require you to use their own hardware to do the installs so my XP Home disk would have to be installed using my PC. Ordered a laptop to IDE converter from RadioShack online; as they don't carry them in the stores. All is well. Got that installed and next I plopped it back in the Sony. No go. CRAP! It's an AMD. I used an Intel PC not to mention possible disk parameter differences. Back to the drawing board.