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Linux laptop

2008-05-16 13:02:18.518273+00 by Dan Lyke 12 comments

Charlene needs a new laptop. Some critical features of Ubuntu have been broken on both of our laptops for the last few revs, like sleep mode, and Charlene's laptop hangs on every third boot. We're thinking we should just buy her a Dell with Ubuntu Linux pre-installed, so we know it works.

Anyone got an alternative? We're not interested in paying the Microsoft tax, and we want something that's going to be hassle-free.

[ related topics: Microsoft Open Source ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2008-05-16 13:48:46.616396+00 by: m

I bought a Dell 1420N with Ubuntu for my wifes surfing. I am less than happy with it. I have yet to achieve a stable wireless connection even though I ordered it with an upgraded WiFi card. No real help from Dell except to go to NDiswrapper which this card shouldn't require, and that isn't stable either. Upgrading 7.04 to 7.10 didn't work and ended up requiring a new install. I am not looking forward to the hardy heron upgrade on this box.

Dell support is rather limited, even on things like a bad mouse wheel. I was used to Dell corporate support, my organization bought over 5000 boxes from them. But even so I find better support just about anywhere on the web from endusers.

Dell uses a lot of proprietary hardware and possibly some interesting firmware hacks. It has caused a lot of difficulties with various versions of RedHat, Fedora and Debian particularly with mice, USB and graphics cards. A recent USB upgrade knocked out printing on a Dell Precision Workstation360 under Ubuntu with both 7.10 and 8.04, though printing works on a Workstation 340 and the 1420n. Under 8.04 the numlock light switch led is backwards on the 360 too (light on when numlock is off). Neither issue is worth the time to investigate when I have too many other things to do.

Put the home and other data directories in a separate partition so they don't get munged when you have to reinstall. Or if uptime is paramount, have two hard drives and mirror the OS onto the second drive so that you can use LILO or GRUB to pick your boot disk. I haven't a problem with Ubuntu requiring reinstalls of the same version, but separate partitioning of the data is desirable.

My next PC will be home cobbled with the most generic hardware I can find. That doesn't help with your laptop decision though.

#Comment Re: made: 2008-05-16 19:47:32.414737+00 by: Dan Lyke

Thanks, m. I should also note that when I say "not interested in paying the Microsoft tax", that's not that we're trying to shave pennies off the price, just that we really are buying this as a Linux machine.

#Comment Re: made: 2008-05-16 20:14:29.878417+00 by: m

My purpose in putting together my own box out of the most generic components possible is not to save money. It will probably cost more to do it that way. But rather to be sure that the hardware is as compatible as possible with whatever *nix I decide to use next. Too many systems put together by the major, and even minor, players use proprietary hardware and firmware that doesn't always work and play well with others.

I also have hopes of avoiding some of the newer DRM type technologies that control what the owner can do with their machine. Like the hard drives that decide on their own just what types of data the enduser can store and retrieve. Or the graphics cards that limit resolution based on the MPAA thinks you should see your screen at, not just for their products but for anything you display.

M$ & Dell at least have an interest, if not often success, in trying to make sure that Dellware works under M$ products. That interest on the part of Dell does not yet really extend to *nix.

#Comment Re: made: 2008-05-17 00:47:49.870728+00 by: John Anderson

FWIW, I considered the Dell/Ubuntu route and ended up just buying a MacBook. 8^/=

#Comment Re: made: 2008-05-17 01:11:09.83871+00 by: Ben Williams

Yeah, I bought a 1420N with Ubuntu, as well, and sleep only mostly worked under Gutsy. I upgraded to Hardy and it's even worse: USB doesn't work after waking up from sleep. So Dell Ubuntu definitely isn't yet a "just works" proposition. I think Emperor Linux might be the more reliable but pricier way to go.

#Comment Re: made: 2008-05-17 16:34:03.685415+00 by: JT

In defense of linux (typing this on an Inspiron 5150 running Kubuntu) I actually got tired of my windows partition booting occasionally without wireless connectivity and having a strange problem with not allowing the battery to charge if it was unplugged and plugged back in to move it across the room.

I had problems with the last version of Ubuntu and switched over to Kubuntu for the cleaner interface, but the problems were either solved with the new version or QT, so I'm quite happy either way, but overall linux has less problems with this than windows does partly because it does "just work" and partly because I can script out bash/python solutions when it doesn't "just work"

#Comment Re: made: 2008-05-17 16:57:51.237299+00 by: m

I don't think that anyone here has a problem with *nix. I have been using it for 10+ years, and now have only one box that dual boots W2K. The last application I can't find a *nix replacement for is updating my GPS.

The problem is that too many hardware manufacturers use proprietary windows drivers in place of hardware/firmware intelligence. Examples include the old windows driver based dialup Winmodems that wouldn't work with any other OS. Or more importantly, Windows Postscript emulation in a printer, rather than a built in Postscript engine. Dell, Compaq, HP and others frequently use windows based drivers rather than completely meet PC standards in hardware/firmware.

The blame does not fall on *nix, but on those shaving costs, promulgating windows dependence, and deliberately developing nonstandard hardware for their own motives.

#Comment Re: made: 2008-05-17 17:42:48.733226+00 by: JT [edit history]

02:01.0 Ethernet controller: Broadcom Corporation BCM4401 100Base-T (rev 01)
02:02.0 Network controller: Broadcom Corporation BCM4309 802.11a/b/g (rev 03)

These two lines on have been the bane of my existence. I've run into huge problems with proprietary drivers, but with a few bash scripts and some help from the wonderful people who write bcm43xx-fwcutter, I've actually been able to get wireless working and more stable on linux than it ever has been under windows.

I haven't run into any problems with power management on this particular computer since I ran Slackware after I first got it, but I guess I just got lucky on this particular Dell. I do have a friend who bought an eRacks Tablet and he swears it's the best pre-installed he's ever seen.

#Comment Re: made: 2008-05-18 12:17:04.39547+00 by: DaveP [edit history]

The quickest way I've found to determine whether given hardware is open or not is to check whether OpenBSD supports it. The past couple releases have strongly emphasized that only hardware with open source drivers (or open specifications) will be supported.

Here's the list of supported hardware.

#Comment Re: made: 2008-05-22 04:02:13.093645+00 by: Mark A. Hershberger

my thinkpad x60 works fine under Hardy. It runs hot, but other than that, everything (finally, in Hardy) works.

Previous versions didn't have suspend working, but the internal wireless is better than most pc cards I've seen.

Oh, and Lenovo will sell you a laptop with Linux on it, if that's what you want.

#Comment Re: made: 2008-05-22 04:03:11.149137+00 by: Mark A. Hershberger

System76 is another laptop+ubuntu retailer. I have one of their laptops, too. Can't say it is as nice as the Lenovo, but it works.

#Comment Re: made: 2008-05-22 13:31:41.997267+00 by: Dan Lyke

Mark, thanks for the heads-up on Lenovo, I trust them as a brand a lot more than Dell. Given my recent frustrations with Ubuntu I may have to try Suse on this machine to see if I like it before I inflict it on Charlene.