The VAR Guy

February 26, 2008

3 Min Read
How I Shopped for An Ubuntu Laptop

So, I’ve been shopping for a new laptop for a few months. I’ve got an old Thinkpad T23 that is showing it’s age — both in terms of performance and functionality. It has developed a number of minor quirks over the years, as most well-loved laptops do. Numlock is flaky, the PCMCIA port is flaky, everything is just broken enough to be annoying — but not broken enough to fix.

Well, that changed recently when the optical drive failed. It was time to go shopping for an Ubuntu laptop. Here’s a recap of my decision process.

Initially, I visited and because I want a laptop with Ubuntu pre-loaded. Unfortunately, neither of those vendors has a machine with the features I wanted. The closest thing to ideal for me was System76’s Serval Performance, but they recently dropped the 1680×1050 screen option, which removed it from contention.

The “dream machine” for me became Lenovo’s Thinkpad T61p, which I’d seen available with SuSE Linux. It has nearly desktop replacement power in a smaller and lighter-than-usual chassis, and the SuSE pre-load would be close enough to Ubuntu for me.

A close second choice would have been the XPS 1330 from Dell. They recently made it available with Ubuntu, and Dell also supports Penryn processors. It would be slightly less capable than a T61, but the weight savings would be worth it. But the stars didn’t align: You can’t get Ubuntu pre-loaded on a Penryn-based XPS 1330. I even called my Dell rep (at work) directly and he knew nothing about the Ubuntu options, but he confirmed that the config options on the website are all you get.

Exasperated, I called Lenovo per the instructions on their website — as apparently you can’t order a laptop with SuSE pre-loaded online. The Lenovo rep didn’t believe me when I told her the website said I should call. After giving her the URL I had visited, she claimed the website information was wrong. In fact, Lenovo had stopped pre-loading Suse on the T61. I was not happy.

Back to System76

So, this brings me back to System76’s Serval. Based on some digging I had previously done, I determined that the Serval was based on Sager’s NP2090. I swung over to Sager’s website. Lo and behold, they have released the NP2092, which is the “Santa Rosa Refresh” model with Penryn processors available. (You can find more info about the Santa Rosa Refresh and Penryn in this Intel Centrino-related news coverage.)

Hoping beyond hope I called them up and asked, “Can I buy a laptop from you without an OS on it?” The guy on the other end of the line replied with, “Yeah sure, which one do you want?” Sweet.

Free (from Windows) At Last

So I now have in my happy hands my own custom, personally configured laptop. It’s not as good as buying a machine with Ubuntu pre-loaded, but it was a close second. I got it fully loaded with aT9300 processor, 2GB of RAM, bluetooth, Intel Wireless, and Nvidia 8600m GT graphics. And I got it for nearly $1000 less than I was planning on paying for a T61. It’s a little bigger than I’d hoped, and has a glossy paintjob which I hate, but it is fast and runs Ubuntu like a champ.

In the days ahead, I’ll be detailing my experiences installing Ubuntu, upgrading to Gutsy, and posting some informal benchmarks.

Contributing Blogger Quentin Hartman is a system administrator for a successful consumer research company in Oregon. He has been in IT for 13 years, using Linux for 10, and Ubuntu since the Warthog days. When not working on computers, he spends as much time as he can outside with his lovely wife.

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