Review: Ubuntu on the Latitude 2100 Netbook
Before getting into the Ubuntu-specific aspects of the netbook, let's start with the basics.
As regular readers of WorksWithU are aware, I recently purchased a Latitude 2100 netbook from Dell and am pretty happy about it. Now that I’ve used it for a couple weeks, it’s time for a review of its performance under Ubuntu.
Before getting into the Ubuntu-specific aspects of the netbook, let’s start with the basics.
My netbook came with a 6-cell battery, an Intel 945 graphics chipset, Intel 5100 wireless and a 1.3 megapixel webcam. It weighs in at just under 3 pounds, placing it a bit on the heavy side for netbooks (Dell’s Mini 10, by comparison, is closer to 2.5 pounds).
Overall, the hardware seems very sturdy, and the 16-gigabyte SSD drive makes me extra confident when hauling the machine around. The 2100 is a bit unorthodox in that there’s no latch for closing the lid, but it seems to stay shut on its own without a problem.
The keyboard, at 10×4 inches, is about 8% smaller than a standard laptop’s, but is easy enough to use. My only complaints are that the arrow keys are a bit small, and the trackpad would be a little larger in an ideal world, but the input devices are comfortable enough as they are.
The 10.1 inch screen is obviously small–this is a netbook–but the image is clear and the backlight can be adjusted in ten increments, which is useful for saving power. In addition, Dell offers a touchscreen option on this netbook–which I now regret not opting for–which I’m promised works well in Ubuntu and offers an exciting new range of possibilities.
The only majorly annoying hardware feature on this netbook is a large white light on the back of the screen that flashes to indicate wifi activity. Dell reportedly designed it this way to alert teachers when their students were online (the 2100 is targeted at the education market).
The light can be disabled, but doing so involves tearing open the case and voiding the warranty. I’d be really happy to see Dell issue a BIOS update that would allow users to turn off the light without getting physical.
Ubuntu on the 2100
After some initial debate regarding whether I’d be better off with the lpia version, I installed the i386 build of Ubuntu 9.10 on the netbook and have stuck with it. Installation went seamlessly and took less than a half-hour.
Over the approximately two weeks that I’ve been using it, Ubuntu 9.10 has performed very well on this hardware. The wireless is flawless and gets great range, and desktop effects are extremely smooth and snappy.
Sounds works well. The speaker quality is not awesome, but I assume that’s the fault of the hardware, not Ubuntu, and I wasn’t expecting professional quality in an inexpensive netbook.
The one software issue I’ve come up against is the webcam. It was detected by Ubuntu out-of-the-box, but when I installed Cheese for taking pictures and video, I found I could only record the latter if I reduced the camera resolution to around 320×240 pixels, instead of the maximum 1280×1024.
This is the first webcam I’ve ever owned, so I don’t know whether having to record video at a low resolution is normal, or whether it’s the fault of Ubuntu or Cheese. But 320×240 resolution is not the end of the world, and I’m happy with it until I get some time to look into this further.
In terms of overall performance, I am intensely happy with Ubuntu on this machine. I was worried about the Atom CPUs being sluggish, but I’ve had no problems whatsoever. Having 2 gigabytes of memory probably helps, but this netbook can even run Windows XP in VirtualBox without flinching. That’s a lot more than I can say for the circa-2004 Pentium IV Inspiron laptop that my Latitude is replacing.
If it weren’t for the small disk capacity (Dell offers much larger ones if you don’t opt for the SSD variety) on the netbook, I’d consider ditching my two-year-old Core 2 Duo/2 gigabyte RAM desktop and turn this machine into my main computer. Based on my experience so far, I don’t think the performance would be that much different at all, and it would save a lot of space on my desk.
To sum up, the Latitude 2100 is a great piece of hardware with near-flawless Ubuntu support. If only I could disable the wifi light so I don’t look extra foolish during my next research trip to the French military archives, I’d be well pleased indeed.