[nSLUG] Lapotops

George N. White III gnwiii at gmail.com
Sat Oct 6 15:33:01 ADT 2007

On 10/2/07, D G Teed <donald.teed at gmail.com> wrote:

> I have evaluated laptops for my work and a fussy bunch of users
> who expect every piece of hardware to work.  It is not a simple
> thing.  First off, stay back from the latest models carrying
> the very latest chipsets, as there is typically a lag between
> kernel support appearing and the newest video, SATA,
> ethernet and other hardware support.

Systems with new hardware bits often need driver updates for
Windows as well.  It seems to take 6 months or more to work out
the glitches for new hardware, by which time the model is a success
and has sold out or a dud and you can find them real cheap.
Big vendors have models that are aimed at gov't and corporate
customers and which tend to avoid the cutting edge hardware.

Even within the same model there can be differences in BIOS
versions, chipset revisions as well as disk hardware that may
cause problems for linux (and also WIndows).

> Typically modems and wireless, and sometimes video,
> require a proprietary driver to support them.  NDISwrapper
> sometimes works but it is very iffy.  One model I worked
> on would freeze constantly with NDISwrapper
> if the BIOS was powered on with battery power.
> Based on that, I would seek native drivers or drivers
> from the hardware vendor such as Intel's proprietary driver.
> Keep in mind that your kernel upgrades are going to have
> tight dependancies on the additional drivers you can get, and
> it may mean staying back to whatever Intel or nVidia or
> whoever can support.

I use NDISwrapper for a USB wireless dongle.  There are two
basic problems:

1.  you get the bugs/features of the Windows driver you use

2.  on i686 linux you may need a kernel with 16k stacks

> Certification means very little.  All models I evaluated were said
> to be Suse certified, but when I lookup the details on the report,
> they have several caveats, such as CD-RW failures, etc.
> I think the model gets a pass if you can complete the
> install, and get video and sound working.

I think you think correctly.

> Power management is another area needing research, if it is
> important to you.  Typically getting suspend to ram to run
> well and not hang the machine on resume is something
> taking some efforts to perfect, if it is possible.

And seems to be a frequent issue with kernel updates -- it is
very fragile.

> Before and after buying, visiting the resource of
> Linux on Laptops:  http://www.linux-laptop.net/
> is useful to research what others got working and how.

But watch for subtle differences in the hardware.   You can't
assume you have exactly the same wireless chipset, etc. as
the same make and model bought by someone else.

You will probably get stuck with Windows, so you also have the
option of running linux in a VM hosted under Windows until the
drivers become available and stable.

Since you don't seem to have a need for Windows, don't rule out
Apple hardware -- it is generally well designed and they sell enough
units that the chipsets Apple uses can be considered "mainstream"
enough not to become orphans.   Apple's list prices are high, but
actually compare well if you can get an institutional discount and
factor in a 3-year maintenance contract.

George N. White III <aa056 at chebucto.ns.ca>
Head of St. Margarets Bay, Nova Scotia

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