After getting my good old IBM Thinkpad 365XD stolen, I decided to wait a bit before the next generation of laptops came out, and went on a quest to buy a new one.
The linux laptop survey is a nice and useful page, don't take me wrong, but there are so many laptops out there, and so many come out all the time that there were few recent laptops to choose from. Besides, once you find your dream laptop, you realize that you can't seem to find any place to buy it from.
Since some of the information here is going to be quickly outdated, I should mention that the following occured between november and december 1998. I should also point out that I live in the Silicon Valley (San Francisco's Bay Area), so the prices and what is available may be different where you live.
I first wasted time trying to find a good deal on Ebay and Onsale, and then
looked up some vendors on the internet, but I didn't find anything really great.
Maybe, by not finding anything, I got lucky because my experience with buying a laptop now tells me that you wouldn't want to buy any laptop without getting a chance to try it out first. This means that the only option is pretty much buying one from a local store that has some return policy with no restocking fee (a 15% restocking fee on a $1500+ laptop is too much money to my taste).
My requirements were XGA (1024x768), built in CD-Rom and if possible less than $2000. I ended up trying out 6 laptops:
Something common to all laptops: I got X and PCMCIA to work on all of them.
Some of them don't have swapable bays and none of them support DVD Roms
(except for the Chembook).
The Chembook, which I ended up getting, is different from the other laptops: it's completely modular. It has two swapable bays, and I got to choose the CPU, amount of memory, Li-Ion instead of NiMH, DVD instead of CD-Rom and disk size (up to 8G). Without the DVD and the MPEG 2 decoding card (which only works under windoze), the price was around $1800 and it was raised to about $2200 with those, but I thought it was worth it.
Here are the main specs
|AMS Tech 256CXA||NiMH||AMD 300||64MB||4gig||PCMCIA V90||Touchpad||13.3 XGA TFT||$1800||Fry's|
|CTX 800 Series||NiMH||AMD 300||64MB||3gig||V90/Winmodem?||Touchpad||13.3 XGA TFT||$1600||Fry's|
|Fujitsu C350||Li-Ion||PII 266||32MB||4gig||Int. Winmodem||Pointstick 2||13.3 XGA HPA||$1600||Fry's|
|Umax 520T||NiMH||AMD 300||64MB||3gig||PCMCIA V90||Touchpad||13.3 XGA TFT||$1800||Fry's|
|Chembook 9780||Li-Ion||AMD 333||64MB||6.2gig||None 3||Touchpad||14.1 XGA TFT||$1800||Hitron|
|Thinkpad 1450||NiMH||P266||64MB||4gig||Int Winmodem||IBM trackpoint||13.3 XGA TFT||$2000||CompUSA|
|Thinkpad 365XD||NiMH||P133||8MB||1gig||None||IBM trackpoint||12.1 SVGA DSTN||<$700?||Used|
|Machine||PCMCIA Ctrl||Video Chip||Sound Chip||Kernel||Quake|
|AMS Tech 256CXA||O2M 0Z6836 1||Neomagic 128XD||SB comp||15:43mn||10 FPS|
|CTX 800 Series||TI 1131||Neomagic 128XD||SB comp||16:36mn||10 FPS|
|Fujitsu C350||TI 1220||Neomagic 128XD||SB comp||14:05mn||10 FPS|
|Umax 520T||TI 1220||S3 VIRGE/MX||SB comp||14:33mn||16 FPS 2|
|Chembook 9780||TI 1331||C&T 65555||OPL3SA2||11:53mn||13 FPS|
|Thinkpad 1450||O2M 0Z6832 1||Neomagic 128ZV+||OPL3SAx 3||17:07mn||12 FPS|
|Thinkpad 365XD||? but works||Trident 9320LCD||SB comp||slow :-)||slow :-)|
All the video chips are supported by Xfree 3.3.3. Neomagic chipsets
weren't supported for a long time because the company refused to
release the specs, but thanks to the work of Frank LaMonica from
and the sponsoring of Redhat, this problem is now history. RH 5.2 has a patched
XFree 3.3.2 server that works out of the box and Suse 5.3 has the XFCom server
which also works well. If you have any questions and/or problems with Xfree,
I recommend you look at Xfree page
The quake test was 512x384 under windows (with DirectX 5, so AMD chips didn't benefit for the K-2 3D enhancements).
The kernel test was a compilation of 2.1.130 with an APM modular patch (make dep; make clean; time bash -c "make; make modules")
If you already have one of those laptops, just click on the link to see how it worked for me with Linux.
If you are planning to buy one, the above links will give information on how
the laptop performs with linux, but also what I thought of the hardware, and
whether I liked it. As for my overall impression, here it is:
The short version is that if I hadn't encountered a few problems with Linux, the CTX would have been a nice notebook (and you even get TV in and out), but the ones I'd recommend (in increasing order of preference) are the Thinkpad 1450 (very nice, I love the well laid out keyboard, the 3 button touchpoint and the great speakers), the Umax 520 which is also pretty nice, and more affordable than the thinkpad, and the Chembook. You can also consider the Fujitsu if you can stand an HPA screen (enhanced passive matrix, but it still sucks compared to TFT).
However, I am so happy with my Chembook, that I cannot not recommend it. I was very happy with the company that sold it, Hitron (don't mind the broken web site, just call them up), as not only they knew linux but had previous customers who used their laptops with linux. Also, they were most friendly, willing to help, and last but not least, their tech people were not clueless, like they are in most other stores. The other big reason why the last laptop I ended up buying was theirs, was that I got to build my laptop, meaning that they built what I wanted. All the other laptops had either too small a hard drive, not enough memory, a non TFT screen, no swapable bays, no Li-Ion battery (or worse, the battery was not even smart).
BTW, Fry's really sucks. Avoid shopping there if you can (unless you are looking for a job). I posted a message to the Silicon Valley Linux User Group to explain why.
If your question not covered above, and you read this page as well as the page specific to your laptop, you can send me Email
Back to my linux page.
Last updated on June 21st 1999. V 1.5