Laptops I've tried with linux

I've had plenty of Thinkpads since 2000-ish, they're all worked pretty well with information in thinkwiki where needed, but my latest, the Thinkpad T540p has some weird changes, including one that can brick the laptop if you boot it in a way it does not like. I've written the details in this report on how to get a Thinkpad T540/T540p working with linux, and its quirks.

Ancient Laptops I've tried with linux

Note, everything below is super super old (late 1990's), and just left here for posterity.

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Since some of the information here is going to be quickly outdated, I should mention that the following occured between november and december 1998.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:

  1. AMS Tech TravelPro 256CXA
  2. CTX Easybook 800 Series
  3. Fujitsu Lifebook C350
  4. Umax Actionbook 520T
  5. Chembook 9780
  6. Thinkpad I Series 1450
  7. Thinkpad 365XD
(The last one is my old laptop, and I mention it here because the linux laptop survey still has a link to an old page that says that X will kill your screen, which is completely untrue).

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
MachineBattCPUMemDiskModemMouseScreenPrice 1Where
AMS Tech 256CXANiMHAMD 30064MB4gigPCMCIA V90Touchpad13.3 XGA TFT$1800Fry's
CTX 800 SeriesNiMHAMD 30064MB3gigV90/Winmodem?Touchpad13.3 XGA TFT$1600Fry's
Fujitsu C350Li-IonPII 26632MB4gigInt. WinmodemPointstick 213.3 XGA HPA$1600Fry's
Umax 520TNiMHAMD 30064MB3gigPCMCIA V90Touchpad13.3 XGA TFT$1800Fry's
Chembook 9780Li-IonAMD 33364MB6.2gigNone 3Touchpad14.1 XGA TFT$1800Hitron
Thinkpad 1450NiMHP26664MB4gigInt WinmodemIBM trackpoint13.3 XGA TFT$2000CompUSA
Thinkpad 365XDNiMHP1338MB1gigNoneIBM trackpoint12.1 SVGA DSTN<$700?Used
1 Price was around december 1998, at Fry's Electronics and CompUSA in the Silicon Valley
2 The pointstick looks like a big trackpoint, it's located at the same place than a touchpad
3 An internal modem can be purchased but it's a bit pricey (around $150). I'm told it's not a winmodem
(winmodem means that the modem won't work with anything else than windows)

MachinePCMCIA CtrlVideo ChipSound ChipKernelQuake
AMS Tech 256CXAO2M 0Z6836 1Neomagic 128XDSB comp15:43mn10 FPS
CTX 800 SeriesTI 1131Neomagic 128XDSB comp16:36mn10 FPS
Fujitsu C350TI 1220Neomagic 128XDSB comp14:05mn10 FPS
Umax 520TTI 1220S3 VIRGE/MXSB comp14:33mn16 FPS 2
Chembook 9780TI 1331C&T 65555OPL3SA211:53mn13 FPS
Thinkpad 1450O2M 0Z6832 1Neomagic 128ZV+OPL3SAx 317:07mn12 FPS
Thinkpad 365XD? but worksTrident 9320LCDSB compslow :-)slow :-)
1 The O2Micro chipset kind of work, but there are a few known problems with linux. They won't work if you rebooted after windows (you need to power off), and they may require a pretty recent version of the pcmcia-cs package (it works for me with 3.0.6, but I've heard that with the right settings it can work with older versions). A typical problem is for a card to show up as anonymous memory. If you have questions, don't ask me, I don't know :-), but you should read the PCMCIA HOWTO, and visit the PCMCIA page
2 The S3 Virge/MX has real 3D acceleration (it's not voodoo performance, but it's still nice)
3 I couldn't get the sound chip to work but I'm sure it's only because of lack of time. This chip should work either with one of the following modules: ad1848, sb, opl3sa, or opl3sa2 (2.0.36+ or 2.1+ kernels). I should add that I got the same chip to work on my chembook, but that it took me a while, so I'm pretty sure that if I got the laptop again, I would get it to work now.

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 Precision Insight, 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.


You can Email me with questions if you wish, but keep in mind that I have only kept the Chembook and returned all the other laptops so it will be hard for me to give you any information that isn't in these pages.
If your question is: "I have laptop XXX (with XXX close to one of the ones I tried, but not equal), don't ask me if your hardware is going to work, I have no way to know. Laptop vendors have been known to make drastic changes between laptop revisions (for instance, the Chembook 9780A has a PCMCIA chipset that doesn't work, while the Chembook 9780 (no A) works fine; so obviously if you ask me about the Chembook 9790, god knows what chipsets it has.
Also, you don't need to ask me for XF86Config files, because 1) I didn't keep any :-) 2) it's really straighforward now (except for the TP365XD). At least RedHat and Suse will generate XF86Config files that work just fine and xf86config should also work. One exception is the Chembook where I had to do a little work in order to get 1024x768 in 16bpp but I posted an XF86Config file on the Chembook page.

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

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Last updated on June 21st 1999. V 1.5