Buying a Dell Ubuntu Netbook
A few weeks ago, I wrote about my search for an Ubuntu netbook. I finally made a decision and received the new machine this week. Read on for the details.
As commentators on the post pointed out, there are plenty of netbooks from other manufacturers that will run Ubuntu just fine, but few of those vendors offer Ubuntu preinstalled (a few do provide other versions of Linux as an OS option). I’m certainly capable of installing Ubuntu myself, but I prefer not to pay the Windows tax.
And the winner is…
System76, Zareason and Dell all provide solid options. In the end, however, I ended up choosing a Latitude 2100 netbook from Dell’s education and business line–which was not among my initial considerations but was brought to my attention by readers.
The decision was mostly an economic one. Dell simply proved to be the least expensive option for my configuration, particularly because I bought from its refurbished outlet, which offers discounts on lightly used pre-owned systems, but with the same warranty as on new machines.
For a refurbished Latitude 2100 with 2 gigabytes of memory, webcam, Intel a/g/n wireless, 6-cell battery and 16-gigabyte SSD device, I paid $308 before taxes and after applying a 15% discount coupon I had received from a friend for Dell refurbished systems. As an added bonus, Dell was offering free shipping the week of my purchase.
Based on my research, that price seemed like quite a deal for those specs. A new system with similar hardware from any of the three vendors I was considering would have cost at least a hundred dollars more.
I took a risk, of course, playing the refurbished game with Dell. But in my case, there’s no indication that anyone used the netbook before me–it looked brand new in its packaging–and all the hardware works great so far.
In defense of Zareason and System76
In fairness to Zareason and System76, the pricing on their netbooks is by no means outrageous, and there are good reasons to buy from those companies despite their slightly higher prices (which seem less high if you’re not willing to consider Dell’s refurbished systems). Besides supporting Linux-only vendors, their customers are likely to receive a less bureaucratic and more Ubuntu-oriented support experience, should they require it.
In addition, as far as I could tell, all of Zareason’s and System76’s netbooks use completely free drivers that will “just work” in any modern version of Ubuntu. In contrast, Dell inexplicably incorporates some devices–like the Intel UMA 500 graphics chipset and some Broadcom-based wireless cards–that lack truly open-source support and are thus not Ubuntu-friendly. Although Dell provides drivers for these devices, getting them working in generic Ubuntu (as opposed to Dell’s customized build) involves a lot of shenanigans.
For me, since I’ve been using Ubuntu for a while and don’t expect to require commercial technical support, and because I was able to avoid non-Linux friendly hardware, cost mattered most and Dell proved to make the most sense. Depending on their needs, however, other users may make different choices.
In any case, I am well pleased with my new netbook and hope to write a post soon detailing its performance under Ubuntu.