[linux-elitists] Laptop that doesn't suck?

Jason Spence jspence@lightconsulting.com
Sun Jan 18 14:50:18 PST 2004

On Sun, Jan 18, 2004 at 05:00:36PM -0500, Adam Kessel wrote: 
> Three years ago, I decided to buy an HP OmniBook 500, mostly on the basis
> of a fairly robust GNU/Linux user community for the model, which has been
> quite helpful.  Still, a great number of things have never worked well,
> or at all: the internal winmodem, 3D acceleration (spotty--can only get
> kernel modules to build with older kernels), xvideo acceleration (always
> need to use outside X drivers), power management, etc..  Not to mention
> that the thing is really falling into pieces.  
> I'm wondering if the scene is any better these days. Is there anyone
> manufacturing laptops where you get full support out of the box with a
> stock vanilla kernel/mainline XFree86 for all the video stuff, internal
> modem, Ethernet, wireless, DVD-RW, USB 2.0, three button mouse, and ACPI?  
> Better yet, is there a way to buy such a machine with no OS, memory, or
> hard drive?  

Retail?  No.  As a matter of fact, Toshiba is now slapping stickers on
the software bag in their laptop boxes which says that Toshiba's
policy is to refuse returns of individual components of the system;
you can either return the whole thing or not at all, but you can't
return the operating system like we tried to do at Windows Refund Day.

I think your best bet is the used market like eBay or maybe Weird
Stuff.  There's also supposed to be a computer warehouse place in the
south bay that I keep hearing rumors of, but I can't seem to find

> I've looked at a few sites like linuxcertified.com, but it appears that
> they're trying to sell a value-added service of pre-installed linux,
> which I don't care about at all.  I'm looking for a barebones laptop
> where I can transfer my RAM and HD from my OB500 and not have to deal
> anymore with non-mainline kernel modules an X drivers.  
> If there's a good resource already out there for this, please point me
> in that direction. linux-laptop.net has a pretty good comprehensive
> catalog of support on different laptop models, but there doesn't seem to
> be anyway to find out where you're going to find something where
> everything just *works*.

*boggle* Linux doesn't work like that; there's just too many
distributions.  Some vendors provided support for a specific
distribution and version of Linux in 2000-2001, but that seems to be
over with now.  Most vendors want you to purchase annual contract
support for a whole bunch of laptops before they'll commit to
supporting Linux on their machines for you.

I have a few other things to say about laptop support: every 2 to 2
1/2 years or so the state of Linux support for newish standards in the
stable kernel goes down the toilet because everyone's concentrating on
the development kernel and many users aren't able or willing to do
free troubleshooting with the development kernel in addition to trying
to use their apps on their laptop.  Sometimes you get lucky and the
development kernel doesn't suck, but other times it's just a pain in
the ass and you get these weird bugs that cause your machine to lock
up and you lose data...

The dip in standards support is especially bad now, because of all the
new standards that suddenly started getting used heavily in laptops,
such as ACPI, SATA, new SMBIOS standards, the video chips, non 4:3
screens, etc.  Until most of the vendors start porting their stuff to
2.6, you can't get good driver support from h/w vendors and kernel
support for core stuff like ACPI (which is less sucky in 2.6, but is
still nowhere near as complete as even FreeBSD's support).  Once that
happens, we'll be in a new 2 to 2 1/2 year cycle and support will be
good again for a while.  

This trend towards emulating the Windows kernel to get things like the
ntfs and ndis drivers working may fix the problem permanently, though.

Personally, I just run FreeBSD with NVidia's FreeBSD drivers on my
Toshiba Satellite 3005-S303, and I'm as happy as can be.  Unlike ATI,
NVidia's X11 driver group actually tracks the stuff their chip
customers do to their chips and writes the driver to work on the
custom implementations.  This causes the very amusing situation where
the FreeBSD and Linux support is actually better than the Windows
driver support because NVidia's Win32 driver group does NOT do this
and Toshiba won't release updated drivers for my laptop.  This is a
very important point because NVidia recently released their 50xx
series drivers, which increases performance for certain things quite a

I also run Windows XP often when I'm doing lots of stuff at a Windows
shop.  Windows XP isn't nearly as bad as everyone says.  I've
disassembled big chunks of code looking for 0-day vulnerabilities and
I'm really quite impressed with what they've done to clean up since
Win2k.  The GDI API and Event Logging API are still kind of ugly, but
the core services API for things like Virtualxxx() (their mmap()
equivalents) and the native kernel API are really quite nice.  Visual
Studio .Net is also kind of growing on me, even for writing Linux
code.  There's all this stuff in the development environment that lets
you concentrate on higher level design issues instead of constantly
worrying about what the return value from this function is, etc.
Admittedly you have to worry about that kind of stuff more often in
Windows because there's so many different perspectives that went into
the creation of some of the libraries, but it's still nice when I'm
(for example) 3 levels deep into debugging something that went wrong
in one of the STL templates.

But whenever I have to turn my laptop into a router or other
infrastructure device in an emergency, however, I'm not going to use
Windows.  It's way easier and faster to lock the UNIX system down
instead of dealing with the Win32 SCM.

 - Jason              Last known location:  4.7 miles southeast of Fremont, CA

Just when you thought you were winning the rat race, along comes a
faster rat!!!

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