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A Laptop with Linux Preinstalled

By Richard Sevenich

Those who use Linux and occasionally travel in their work are highly motivated to purchase a laptop. I did s in September of 1999 and thought it worthwhile to share my experience. Now it is becoming easier to install Linux on a laptop, but at that time I was leery of purchasing a machine and finding some of the hardware to be incompatible with Linux. After some searching I found a reasonably priced laptop with Linux preinstalled, the Nflux, from theLinuxStore (now part of EBIZ). Here are the advertised specs:

CPU AMD K6-2 3D 300
Display 13.3" XVGA (1024x768) TFT Color LCD
RAM 64 Mbyte
graphics card Neomagic NM2160 128-bit, 2MB RAM
Hard drive 4.3 Gbyte
Mouse touchpad ps/2-compatible
cdrom 24X
3.5" floppy 1.44
sound 16-bit, microphone, speakers
external ports monitor, parallel, Fasr irda, usb, etc.

I also ordered PCMCIA cards for modem and ethernet capabilities and an extra battery. By the time the dust cleared, I was still under $1800 - quite reasonable. The laptop was ordered on September 30, promised after 5 working days, and appeared in mid October, quite normal slippage for 'email order' hardware, in my experience. The delivered machine worked fine; I was very pleased with its capabilities and functionality. I separately purchased a cheap ps/2 mouse, preferring that to a touchpad. For home use, a printer was easily configured. I was up and running immediately, but there were two shortcomings.

The latter shortcoming I could and did deal with myself.

I called theLinuxStore for the missing 32 Mbyte of RAM and after a bit of a delay a RAM chip appeared, but it was the wrong one (adding 8 Mbyte, rather than 32 Mbyte). So I called, got an RMA number, and shipped it back. Eventually another chip appeared, 128 Mbyte this time - unfortunately it was incompatible with my machine. So I called, got an RMA number, and shipped it back (note how I could cut and paste that sentence from above). The third time was the charm - I received a compatible chip, installed it, and the laptop was finally up to spec. It was now mid March, 2000, approximately 6 months after the initial order. Part of the 6 month interval was due to my travel, but most to vendor latency.

However, during this entire time period I was able to happily use the machine, hand carrying it carefully on two business trips. It was incredibly useful and productive to have it along. These were training course trips where I presented a low level, beginning Linux device driver course. In the evenings after the day of training, I was able to check various things out that came up during the day - really handy.

I received cheerful and responsive service through this rather disconcerting 32 Mbyte RAM scenario (thanks to Tiffany Johnson at theLinuxStore). Further, with 32 Mbyte of RAM the machine was serviceable enough for my needs. It would have been worse if the machine was not usable - unfortumately that came next. The panel display went out! The laptop was now unusable! So I called, got an RMA number, and shipped it back (cut and paste, again). UPS tracking indicated that it was received by theLinuxStore on April 17. Several weeks later I called theLinuxStore and was able to determine that theLinuxStore shipped the machine back to its hardware vendor, but could get no other information.. Currently it is May 23 and my calls to theLinuxStore inquiring when the machine might be returned remain unanswered. I need it for an upcoming trip - I hope it shows up.

Laptop functionality is really wonderful to have, if you need it, and I do. This machine performed well, but was not delivered as specified and ultimately broke. In my case, the seller was not the ultimate hardware vendor - so there can be an extra step in the problem resolution process, adding time and uncertainty to returns. The verdict is really not in yet, but the summary is not encouraging:

I'll share the resolution in a subsequent submission to Linux Gazette.

[Readers, use the Talkback button below to discuss your experiences using Linux laptops from this vendor or other vendors. -Ed.]

Copyright © 2000, Richard Sevenich
Published in Issue 54 of Linux Gazette, June 2000

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