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Advice for Linux on a Laptop? 276

Posted by Cliff
Trillian_1138 is seeking your advice on the following: "So I'm looking at replacing my aging laptop. I have a desktop running Ubuntu, which I use as a primary, and it is more than adequate for my needs. However, I'd love a small, portable laptop to use in class and on trips. I've been looking at the MacBook Pros and, more recently, the MacBooks, and was almost ready to buy the low-end MacBook and be done with it. I liked its ability to dual-book to Windows for a couple of school-related programs, but the more I thought about it the more I like using Ubuntu at home and the less reason I saw to buy a Mac if I could use Ubuntu on a laptop. This brought me to the idea of buying a laptop to use as a dual-boot Linux/Window machine, either with Linux or Windows pre-installed, and setting up a dual-boot with the other OS. Might any of you have advice, anecdotes, success stories, horror stories, or general input?"
"Please note I am not looking for a discussion on whether Linux is 'Ready for the Desktop'. I switched over to Ubuntu earlier this year and haven't looked back. As far as I'm concerned, Linux is ready for *my* desktop, which is all I really care about. This laptop is for me, not my mom. I'm not a command-line guru by any means and likes having a nice GUI, but am comfortable Googling when my DVDs stop playing after an update or poking around in configuration files to get things working. What I'm now curious about is what to expect - positive and negative - with Linux on a laptop.

I know a quick Google search yields lots of information on laptops running Linux, and I am continuing to use Google to look at information on running Linux on laptops which came with Windows, buying OS-less laptops, and buying laptops with Linux pre-installed, but I'm curious what the Slashdot crowd thinks. Is it even worth the bother? Would I be better off buying a Dell and installing Linux or buying a laptop with Ubuntu pre-installed from somewhere like system76.com or Linuxcertified.com?"
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Advice for Linux on a Laptop?

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  • by TLouden (677335) on Thursday May 18, 2006 @09:59PM (#15362874)
    I ran linux on my laptop after I switched to linux and had too much trouble with drivers. Hint one: research drivers BEFORE buying. Some manufacturers customize the hardware so even an nvidia card doesn't necessarily work.

    After buying a researched and compatible machine the drivers worked and wireless/video were possible. Problem is that linux on a laptop for anybody that pokes and tries new stuff means that you're constantly fixing and researching. I'm not upset but you must be aware that you're not going to get it working perfect or ever keep things as desired. It is delicate (thought problems are localized, it is linux) and different distros are wildly different on laptops. Ubuntu has worked well for me on this one but Fedora was better on my last, expect to experiment some before settling on the best option.
  • by arnedh (894706) on Friday May 19, 2006 @01:44AM (#15363694)
    This is a pretty trivial point, but in order to check out a laptop, you could burn a live CD with Ubuntu/Kubuntu, or even get hold of a DVD edition of Knoppix or something, and take this CD to the store to test things out. It might give you some clues on things that you consider important: Wifi, graphics/screen, interaction devices/USB. Bring along your camera, mouse, USB plug, mp3 player etc.
  • Re:I've it easier (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Eideewt (603267) on Friday May 19, 2006 @05:57AM (#15364350)
    I fail to see how it would be better for him to boot from a live CD. He wouldn't be able to fiddle with the drivers and other settings, which he'll probably have to do, and he'd have to carry the CD around to use his laptop. Where's the benefit?
  • Re:vmware (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 19, 2006 @09:02AM (#15365155)
    You're trolling, aren't you?
    Running with Windows as the host will give you
    • Much worse battery life due to the virtual disk
    • Much worse performance for anything I/O related
    • Much worse stability (which I imagine is a motivation for using Linux)
    • Much worse security (which I imagine is a motivation for using Linux)


    (Using a Ubuntu Inspiron 8600 running Debian as my primary computer; and running windows under vmware inside it)

  • by WuphonsReach (684551) on Friday May 19, 2006 @09:50AM (#15365505)
    The only strenuous advice I have is to avoid "desktop replacement" pigs.

    That's not as true for any machines created in the last few years (anything after 2000 that shipped with Win2000 is my cut-off). Performance gains have slowed quite a bit in the past few years. Not including the dual-core improvement, CPU speeds have only been doubling every 3-5 years instead of every 12-18 months.

    As an anecdotal example, my current laptop is a Tecra 9100 (built in early 2002, ~1.6Ghz CPU, 1GB RAM, WinXP Pro, 100GB HD). I've been using this laptop for 4 years, 7 days a week, 8-15 hours per day. Over the years I bumped the memory from 512MB to 1GB, replaced the 30GB HD with a larger 100GB HD, and I just replaced the DVD drive and the keyboard.

    It's still a very useable machine for being 4 years old. The key to that usefulness is mostly the 1GB of RAM. (It also helps that I have a dual-CPU workstation sitting next to me for the really CPU-intensive stuff.) Right now, the only reason that I'm considering replacing the unit is that 1GB of RAM isn't quite enough for my work style (where I have half a dozen apps all open at the same time).

    So I'll probably upgrade this year to a 2GB T60p and hand this unit off to someone less demanding. They'll probably get 4-6 years of use out of my old Tecra. It will probably need a new backlight in another 2 years. So this laptop bought in early 2002 will still be functional in 2010-2012. That's a pretty impressive lifespan.

    I feel pretty confident in saying that a dual-core machine, bought today, can easily last 8-12 years as long as it's taken care of. Make sure you get as much RAM as feasible (2GB is reasonablely priced) and get a 5 year warranty.

    It won't be the fastest thing on the block 5 years from now, but it will still be a very serviceable machine.

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