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The Linux Laptop Challenge

October 25th 2004: Update 2! I have been contacted by a representative of a French company who now offer Mandrake preloaded and preconfigured laptops! It seems to be a small reseller, so I have decided to give them a bit of exposure on my site. (See at the top.)
October 13th 2004: Update! Long overdue, I have added lots of info on the first Linux laptops that have become available.
First posting to the web of this page: February 2004.

The Linux discussions on many internet news sites seems to be mostly about Linux on the desktop. Since that bridge was crossed quite some time ago at the non-virtual residence, the time has come for a new challenge. The Challenge for the Linux Laptop. Those who want to purchase such a beast can go here to indicate their wishes (sorry, no anonymous users, to avoid Mr. Anonymous and his friends from skewing the results).

The rules:

Entrants must satisfy the following conditions: their hardware must be available in North America as well as in Western €pe, and possibly in other parts of the world.
They must have a warranty comparable to the warranty on laptops of any large vendor. A worldwide warranty will do fine in any case.

Linux Laptop basic requirement:

  • Linux pre-installed, or at least no MS Windows pre-installed, and cheaper than same model WITH MS Windows

Note that many Linux users have become Linux users not only due to the attraction of the Linux platform and Free(dom) Software aspect, but also due to the repulsion of the Microsoft monopoly. I will not try to explain why this monopoly, illegally obtained or not, is bad for the whole worldwide IT sector and even has negative influence outside of that, there are plenty of articles and sites on the web that explain that very well.
I just want to state that those people (myself included) do not wish to add to the MS monopoly financially or even statistically. This means that the laptops should not only come without MS Windows, they should also not carry the license for MS Windows. It may seem strange to state this, but from information I received directly from one quite popular Linux Laptop vendor, I can assure you that many of these Windows-free laptops actually do come with a Windows XP license. So the buyer actually does pay for the license, and the laptop will also count as one more Windows machine sold. In other words, the Linux user who buys that kind of laptop contributes to the MS monopoly both statistically and financially.

Other points that will be considered

Naturally, only those things that work properly with linux are counted. Here's a list of all kinds of functions and features:

  1. weight
  2. size
  3. battery lifetime
  4. cost and availability of replacement battery
  5. suspend to RAM, suspend to disk
  6. amount of RAM memory
  7. availability of GPL drivers for the various parts
  8. analogue telephone modem
  9. 10/100MB/s or even Gigabit ethernet
  10. Compact disc drive: dvd/cd-rw combo, dvd+rw or dvd+/-rw
  11. tv-out
  12. second monitor out (usable for dualhead or not)
  13. MMC/SD/CF card reader
  14. bluetooth
  15. firewire
  16. wifi: 802.11a/b/g
  17. analogue audio outputs (stereo, 6 channel, etc)
  18. built in speakers: quality
  19. spdif audio output
  20. spdif audio input
  21. ps/2 for external mouse
  22. serial port
  23. parallel port
  24. irDA
  25. floppy drive, built in or external
  26. zip drive
  27. screen resolution
  28. 3d acceleration
  29. dvd drive region code free
  30. hard drive: size and speed
  31. CPU: speed, 64-bit or not, x86 or not
  32. number of usb ports and type: usb1 or usb2
  33. extra buttons next to the keyboard fully functional
  34. extra buttons on the (out)side when folded, for audio playback control etc
  35. ability to play audio cd's without turning on the system
  36. noisefree/low noise system
  37. easily accessible BIOS
  38. easy firmware updates (for dvd/cdburner for instance)
  39. live cd (Knoppix style) or Linux program for hardware diagnostics
  40. price/performance ratio

As one can tell from the above list, some things are simply there or not, others can be fulfilled to a certain degree. A dvd-rom/cd-burner combo drive is present or not, the battery life of the laptop can be more or less long, just as the CPU can be faster or slower.
Another thing that comes up is that 'the ideal laptop' is different per user. So, some things may be counted as positive by one user, and negative by another.
Roughly the following contradictory characteristics can be distinguished:

  1. legacy or legacy free: some users may want ps/2, serial and parallel ports and a floppy drive, another prefers to have none of those, but more usb2 ports.
  2. small and light versus more powerful but larger and heavier: some users really want a 16" WUXGA 1920x1450 screen and don't mind the burden or even short battery life whereas others don't mind having only a 12" XGA (1024x768) screen, but with a total size, weight and battery life that really fits the 'work anywhere' idea.
  3. low, mid or high end: on a low end laptop, a dvd-rom drive may be all you want to pay for, along with a 15" XGA screen, just 128MB RAM and next to nothing more; on a high end laptop, a dvd+-rw, lots of connectivity (firewire, usb2, 10/100MB/s ethernet) including even wireless (wlan, bluetooth) options, 512MB RAM and a high resolution screen (for the size: XGA for 12", SXGA+ for 15") are closer to being requirements than optional features.

Entering this contest

Since I keep track of the news, you normally do not have to contact me explicitly, although you can (see the contact page). I will quite likely pick up any news about a large laptop vendor selling Linux laptops. But in any case, any serious mail from any laptop vendor -- even if you don't completely comply with all rules (for instance if you don't deliver outside one region/country) -- will be read and processed. If you sell Linux laptops but aren't mentioned here for instance, drop me a line and I will add a link to your web site.

Determining the winner

Note that the company putting the laptops on the market is the winner, not the models themselves. The winner is determined by the price/quality and variety of laptops on his product palette. The first 10 laptops that are in full compliance with the rules / requirements will get mentioned here, with a description and a link to the order page of the vendor. The winner(s) will get a link on each page of this site to the order page(s) of their Linux Laptop(s).
Apart from that, of course there will be the eternal glory of being the first to bring a Linux laptop to the (Linux) masses.
And as a final point, I will buy a laptop (not necessarily the one that wins here though) from the company that wins this race! Note that here you can find other people who are interested in buying a Linux Laptop.

Ready, set, ... go!

Don't be shy! It doesn't matter if you are Dell, IBM, HP/Compaq, whoever, you too can enter this contest! Get your engineers on the job, and get ready to rock the world with a Linux laptop!

Vendors of laptops preloaded with Linux -- list of contestants to date:

Since I wrote the first version, HP has put the nx5000 on the market, a laptop preloaded with SUSE Linux. You can find it here (overview page - read the specs here).
Looking at the spec tells me it surely is a fine laptop, with very good options: xga or sxga+ resolution, RAM: minimum 256MB up to 2GB, firewire, IrDA, USB2 (only 2 ports..), and if I recall correctly, Intel graphics (slow 3d compared to Nvidia and ATI, but gpl 3d drivers!).

Good points:

  • reports indicate that it works really well.
Read the Newsforge review here.
Bad points:
  • the onboard wireless doesn't work, you get an extra wireless card (that works perfectly). When you opt for Linux on this laptop, you get told that the wireless and the dvdrw drive are not supported. I wonder if the dvdrw doesn't work at all..? That would actually surprise me.
  • The laptop is cheaper than the same version with Windows XP Pro, but the same price as with Windows XP Home.
  • The website clearly states that HP recommends MSWindows, giving you the idea you're silly choosing something else, and lastly it is quite hard to find that you can have a Linux Laptop from HP.
  • It seems you have to order 5 at a time...?

Someone emailed me to inform me that some Linspire laptops are available at an ECS G732 at 1111US$ and a Via Antaur 1GHz model at 828US$.

Mandrakesoft have been busy in the laptop department, they made a deal with XBook, a French laptop vendor, with an offer that aims at the student market. The French government have created a programme for students to motivate them to get a laptop. There are 2 models with Mandrakelinux 10.1 CE, of a total of 7 models. Comparing the prices and features, I'd say that the Linux models are really cheaper than the WinXP outfitted ones.
The whole range of laptops is here. Pricing starts at 929.00€ for a Pentium M 1.3GHz laptop preloaded with Mandrake (model XB6), 70€ cheaper than the equivalent Windows XP home model (XB1). The Linux preloaded top model: XB7 sports features such as:
Pentium M 725 (1,6 Ghz, 2 MB cache), 512 MB DDR 333 (1*512) upgradable to 1 GB, 60GB Ultra DMA 5400rpm hard drive, 15.0" SXGA+ TFT screen, ATI Radeon 9700 128 MB graphics, 3x USB 2.0, 1x firewire, 10/100 Lan, modem, cardreader, dual 4speed dvd burner and 802.11G WiFi, 2.8kg.
At 1299€ it's considerably cheaper than the closest lookalike Windows XP Home model, the XB3, that goes for 1499€. The only differences I have managed to find is that the Windows loaded XB3 comes with a 1.7GHz Pentium M (instead of a 1.6GHz cpu) and a 128MB usb2 stick. Hmm, Windows instead of Linux, 100MHz higher cpu clock (that's less than 7% faster) and a 128MB usb2 memory stick, for 200€ more. I'll guess I'd take the Linux laptop any day!
It seems that you can't buy these laptops from abroad. At least there is no indication that the recommended OS would be MSWinXP, on the contrary, the models with linux have that fact headlined!
I'm interested in finding out whether all main hardware features of these laptops are supported. In any case, so far I cannot find a single negative point about this offer, and it definitely beats the presentation of the HP SUSE laptop.

A new company: ERREX is offering a Mandrakelinux preloaded preconfigured laptop. With a starting price of 888 € it really looks cool. The website explains in detail what hardware and software is included, and what you can expect in terms of functionality. It's also made clear that there is no MS tax. The downside: it's only available in France. I'd be interested in reports of hands on experience with these laptops.

OS-less laptops

People have written to me with additional information and suggestions, notably to include OS-less laptops, to indicate which ones are Linux friendly. So, if you have one such laptop, ECS, ASUS, Steg, please mention it here, or email me about it.

Half time score

I'm hesitant to declare the HP laptop the winner - although they are clearly the first, I did find quite a few bad points, but I can tell you that I have purchased a Compaq (now owned by HP) Armada M700 (secondhand - excellent price) so I live up to my promises.
Linux runs quite well, I currently have no graphical acceleration (but it makes little difference, glxgears goes from 80 to 120, max - no real good for anything anyway), no tvout, no on-the-fly external monitor out (works if I boot with an external monitor connected), and no suspend to ram. I do have suspend to disk/hibernate though, and cpu throttling also works fine. With 1 extra batterypack, a dvdrom drive and a large harddisk this is a fine machine to use on the road.

As for the contest, HP clearly is showing the way, but where are the offerings from IBM (hey Big Blue! You had one a few years ago, the Linux market has grown, you may find a lot more interest) and Dell?

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Page first created: February 2004. Page last updated: Oct 25 19:41

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