Thu, 07 Jan 2010

In Search of the Linux Laptop.

I'm shopping for a laptop to run Linux on and I'm finding it a really frustrating process. I would like a high end, small form factor machine like the Dell Studio XPS 13. I've seen one of these machines in the real life and held it in my hands. It seems to be excellent quality and have the right features at a reasonable price. Unfortunately, on the Dell Australia web site, there is no option to purchase this machine with Linux pre-installed.

My current laptop is a Dell Latitude X1, and my wife has a Dell too. At work I have a Dell Precision workstation. All of these machine run Linux 100% of the time and for every single one of these machines I had to pay for a Microsoft Windows license that was never used. As most people know, Microsoft uses a small portion of its revenue to fund attacks on Linux and Free/Open Source Software like the SCO debacle and the ramming of OOXML through the ISO standards process.

Considering Microsoft's malignant presence in the computer industry and the fact that I don't use their products makes me reluctant to buy a machine with Windows pre-installed. I want to buy a laptop where I get my operating system of choice and just as importantly, I know Microsoft doesn't get any part of the money I pay.

Looking around for laptops with Linux pre-installed in Australia I found VG Computing who have a range of laptops which can be shipped with Linux. Unfortunately, their order page says that they get the machines with Windows which they remove to install Linux. I do realise that as a small vendor, there is not much that VG can do about this, but as far as I am concerned, thats a fail.

Another company thats been around for ages is Pioneer Computers but their machines always seemed a bit old, a bit under powered and a bit over priced. Looking at that site just recently I found their DreamBook Light M73 which was close to what I was looking for. Ordering machines from Pioneer with Windows XP costs $89 more than the same machine with Ubuntu. Purchased with Linux, this is genuinely a Microsoft free machine.

Taking a trip out to Pioneer in Alexandria I was able to see one up close and I must say I was disappointed. Compared to the Dell XPS 13, the DreamBook felt flimsy and poorly constructed. On top of that the DreamBook had a smaller keyboard (much like the Compaq M300 I had years ago) than than the Dell and SiS graphics whereas I was really hoping for Nvidia. Another machine crossed off the list.

In the US, there are a number vendors that sell laptops with Linux. In late November 2009 I contacted two of them, System 76 and ZaReason Inc. System 76 wasn't willing to ship to Australia for warranty reasons. ZaReason will ship to Australia, but to take advantage of any warranty work, I'd have to ship the machine to and from the US which would be rather inconvenient.

Despite the concerns over warranty, by early December 2009 I had come to the decision to purchase a ZaReason Alto 3550 with a bunch of extras like faster CPU, more RAM and a bigger disk. Unfortunately, while trying to purchase it online I ran afoul of their payment system and by the time we'd figured that out they had run out of stock.

I contacted them and asked about the ETA for new stock. They said, Dec 19th, which came and went with no new stock on the website. I contacted them again and was told another week. A week passed with no new stock so I contacted them again when I was informed that their distributor doesn't have any more of the Alto 3550 available. I would go for the Alto 2550 but that has an Intel graphics chip whereas I was hoping for an Nvidia like in the Alto 3550.

So now I have to decide, do I go with the ZaReason Alto 2550 with the Intel chip and then worry about warranty issues or do I buy the Dell locally, where I know that the support and service will be excellent and then try to get a refund for the Windows license I don't need or want.

Posted at: 22:14 | Category: Tech | Permalink