2011-10-18

Finding the Linux Laptop...





Introduction


So I decided that with some of my student loan money that it was time for me to quit borrowing my wife's HP Mini 110 Studio Torde Boontje Netbook and to get a netbook or laptop of my own.  The requisites are simple:


  1. It must be less than $500 including shipping
  2. It must provide the option to install Linux or at the very least come with no OS
  3. It must have at least a 10" screen
  4. It must allow me to connect to an external display
Outside of those requirements, here are some things that would be nice to have:

  1. Wireless g/n technology
  2. HDMI slot
  3. Headphone/Mic jacks
  4. Built-in Camera of at least 1.3MP
  5. ATI or Nvidia graphics (Intel graphics are meh)
  6. Dual-Core, preferably AMD
  7. USB Key option with my choice of OS pre-configured live (Backups)

So there you have it.


Some background if you will...

You may be reading this and asking yourself, "Why on earth does it matter which OS is pre-installed on a netbook?"  Good question!

I'm a Linux guy, always have been and always will be so long as Linus Torvalds maintains the Open Source requirement of his kernel.  I like the control that I can have over my OS, I like the ability to customize everything, and I like the sheer simplicity of it.  I could go on about ideals and other such fluff, but there's plenty of that on the internet already and I'm trying to keep this simple.

In short, I don't use Windows, don't like Windows (it doesn't fit the three main things that I look for in an OS, see above), and I don't believe that I should pay for something that I don't like.  It's not worth it to me to pay the extra $50 - $200 for a product that I will end up removing from my hardware and shredding the license key.  You laugh, I've done this many times in the past.  So if I don't care to use it, why would I want it pre-installed?  Why would I want to pay for it?  Do you go to the store and buy 2% milk when you want whole or Vitamin D milk? Hell no! You go to the milk aisle and you tell the clerk that you want some whole or Vitamin D milk from the back if it isn't on the rack.  Same principle here (and why I build all of my desktop computers).  So why shouldn't I be able to have the benefits of a netbook as well as my choice of OS?


Okay, so what did you find?

Another good question!  I actually found a lot more information than I thought I that I would.  For starters, there are actually quite a few companies that offer Netbooks/Laptops with Linux pre-installed.  Let's take a look at them:

Inatux: Homepage

Inatux is a small company with a small offering of systems.  I only saw one laptop, the Toshiba Satellite Pro (Laptop C650-EZ1511) which goes for $624.99.  That's just a tad bit outside of my current budget and really, with ssh being planned to go to my desktop at home, more processing power than I actually require.  I didn't bother looking at Inatux's other products as they weren't relevant to me, but they seem like a pretty legit company and are trying to do some good in the world.  If I had more cash on hand, I'd probably hand it off to them for that Toshiba.

Ohava: Homepage

Ohava is also a small company but they have a pretty cool website and a couple of laptops for your purchasing pleasure.  They also showcase some desktop and server products.  I was actually surprised to see a company list their IRC channel, a huge plus in my book, as well as a wiki (work in progress) and a user forum.  The notebook that I am looking at is the Openbook Go.  It's right in my price range at $349.99 and offers the option to install Ubuntu, Fedora, and SUSE (assuming openSuSE).  The specs are right about what I'm looking for, something to hack away at some code and then shoot it over to my desktop for compilation or archiving for later work.  Their site layout, their products, and their simple designs really drew me in.  All of that coupled with the awesome price tag and an IRC channel on Freenode are massive selling points in my book, especially given my dedication to using IRC over the years.

System76: Homepage

System76 is a bit different of an animal than the previous two companies.  They appear to have been around for a while and they have a pretty flashy website.  They also offer more models of laptop than the previous two companies that I've mentioned.  That said, they didn't have anything within my price range.  I do commend them for standing with Ubuntu though.  Despite my personal preferences, Ubuntu is undeniably the most famous Linux, especially among people who have no idea what Linux is.  For the rest of us though, we prefer a few more options, even if it's an RPM based distro that takes its cues from Microsoft (I'm talking to you Novell/SuSE...).  Still, very nice machines, nice site, and a lot of really good info on what the company does when it's not selling high quality computer hardware with Ubuntu pre-installed.

ZaReason, Inc.: Homepage

This has to be my favorite company in the line-up.  Awesome site, lots of products, lots of accessories, plenty of customization options, and they have a swag shop to boot!  The netbook that I looked at was more expensive than the Ohava Openbook Go once I added my small configuration touches, but this thing looks great!  The Teo Pro Netbook  starts at $399.00 and with my addition of 2GB RAM vs 1GB default and a 4GB thumbdrive with Ubuntu pre-installed on it, the price came out to $437.00.  Still within my budget and allows for tax and shipping.  ZaReason also offers a few more Linux options including Kubuntu, Edubuntu, Linux Mint, Fedora, SuSE, Debian, and "No Operating System".  That makes me happy that I have the choice to elect that I receive a blank slate from the delivery guy/gal.  The only thing that I can fault ZaReason on is not offering to install any free Linux of my choosing.  This isn't a big deal, I'm a pretty savvy user, but it would be a nice option to have if I ever wanted to gift one of these to a family member or friend and have it come with a distro that I'm more comfortable supporting.


So, which one did you choose?

You're just full of good questions tonight! :P

Unless I see another company that can beat the price, style, and options of ZaReason, I will most likely go with the slightly more expensive Teo Pro Netbook.  That brushed metal look gets me every time and if it fits into my budget, then why not?  I'll still probably have it come with Ubuntu (even though the blank slate fits me more) because, even if it's not true, I'd like to think that some of the money is going to an Open Source Software Developer at some point, even if only a small portion.  

Still, there's at least a week or two of me researching more companies and awaiting my check before I go placing an order, but half the fun is the excitement of having my new netbook nearly in reach.  


Conclusion

Please let me know if this article was at all helpful for you.  I'm not normally taken to writing reviews of companies, but I had fun with this one.  I'm always open to suggestions on what to research for others for posting on this blog, so if there is something that you'd like me to write up, let me know!

Also, if you want more news on Linux, Software Development, and other sorts of geekiness, drop me into a circle on Google Plus.  This sentence is a link to my profile for your convenience.

Thanks, 

DarthLukan@gmail.com
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