SWM seeks a simple ultraportable
February 13, 2008 10:02 AM   Subscribe

Suggest a small, linux-compatible laptop.

I'm aware of the eee, but I want to look at the competition. I need great wireless, solid construction, and full linux support. I want a 10-12 inch screen, a high capacity for RAM, and good battery life. I don't need a touchscreen, camera, fingerprint thing, huge hard drive, intense graphics, card readers, firewire, microphone, or modem.

The eee worries me; the small screen and ~3 hr battery life might show up on every "not as bad as you'd think!" list, but they're also in every "what I'd change" article.

I will be using this computer for coding, writing, going on the internet, and email. I don't mind buying used, but I'd prefer to avoid ebay and my local craigslist is pretty slow. I am willing to spend around $1000.
posted by tylermoody to Computers & Internet (26 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Pretty much any Dell or IBM will work well with Linux.

However, you'll be hard pressed to find anything that cheap with a screen that small.
posted by SpecialK at 10:08 AM on February 13, 2008

Best answer: A refurbished IBM Thinkpad x60s may well be your dream machine. 12" screen, ~3lbs, long battery life with the extended battery, and decent performance. They look bigger in the pictures than they are.
posted by I EAT TAPAS at 10:21 AM on February 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

i have a lenovo x61t, which i love. it's not as small as your examples at 12.1", but it's fast, has gobs of ram, and runs linux perfectly well. If you want smaller, fujitsu has some tiny stuff. No idea how well they run linux, but i'd assume it'd be pretty workable.
posted by duckstab at 10:25 AM on February 13, 2008

Here to second the x series thinkpad reccomendation. They are amazing computers and especially if you like linux (but not exclusively) will amaze you with the speed compared to other computers of the same spec.

I have two of them.
posted by shownomercy at 10:26 AM on February 13, 2008

Ubuntu 7.10 certified laptop hardware page should give you a few options.
posted by Static Vagabond at 10:26 AM on February 13, 2008

Best answer: My ThinkPad X61 is a great little machine. Here are instructions on how to fix the few things that won't work out of the box on the current Ubuntu release.
posted by grouse at 10:32 AM on February 13, 2008

Disclaimer: I do not run Linux on my X61.
posted by grouse at 10:32 AM on February 13, 2008

Seconding (on preview: fifthing) the ThinkPad X series. I have an old, cheap X30 (something like $300 on eBay a year ago, IIRC) and it rocks, everyone who's seen it loves the small size, and the trackpoint is not only better than a touchpad, it's better than a mouse. The X60 looks like the same form factor with a better specs and is probably what I'd buy if I were in the market today. I run FreeBSD on mine, but several acquaintances run Linux on Thinkpads happily.

I have not found the lack of an optical drive to be an issue, either. It wasn't too hard installing FreeBSD off a USB key (actually, it wasn't hard at all; getting a suitable bootable image to write to the key was the only tricky part) and I'd imagine doing the same with Linux would be easier and better-supported.
posted by enn at 10:35 AM on February 13, 2008

What you're looking for doesn't exist. Laptops like this sony are about as close as you'll get - 11" screen, $2k price range.

Given the enormous success of the eee, though, you'll find what you're looking for in about a year.
posted by MillMan at 10:43 AM on February 13, 2008

I run Ubuntu on my D420, I only have the normal battery not the extended option, so only get around 3 hours but the extended is said to double that and then a bit.

Got mine refurbished just over a year ago for just under £500, so you should be able to get them for less now.
posted by Z303 at 11:10 AM on February 13, 2008

Second hand Sony TX1? They'll have depreciated a fair bit by now, and some peeps are doubtless upgrading to dual core, SSD, etc. Easy 5+ hour battery life, more with an extended battery, and works happily with Linux and FreeBSD.
posted by Freaky at 11:18 AM on February 13, 2008

Seconding the Dell Latitude D4XX option (D430 is the current model, D420 is only one year old)

I just picked up a Core 2 Duo 1.2 GHZ with 2 GB of RAM, 100 GB HD, DVD/RW +/- DL, and the 9-cell (5-6 hour runtime) battery for $1080 + S/H

I can't recommend the Dell Outlet enough (Link to D4XX page).
posted by mysterious1der at 11:21 AM on February 13, 2008

I can't speak to the newer Dells, but FWIW I had all sorts of problems w/ two older Dell laptops.

I picked up an IBM Thinkpad T22 for under $200 on ebay a couple years ago and it's been great. I love the trackstick as opposed to the touchpad, and it runs Xubuntu great. My only complaint is it tends to run a bit hot...but I think you'll have that issue w/ most older laptops.

So not necessarily recommending the T22, but definitely n'thing Thinkpads.
posted by pilibeen at 11:29 AM on February 13, 2008

Adding my name to the Thinkpad chorus. My T60 runs Ubuntu better than Windows. I also have a Dell D610 that does quite well running Ubuntu, but is not really a small laptop.
posted by deadmessenger at 11:46 AM on February 13, 2008

seconding Fujitsu.

I have an ancient Lifebook P1120 (8.9" screen, 7 hours battery) that I use with Linux for web browsing and coding, and I love it... Never before or since have I had a 6-year-old computer that still gets frequent usage; it's that good. (really slow, but Fujitsu's latest shouldn't have that problem) Bonus points: 3 real mouse buttons

But also an nth for the Thinkpads... they've always been great machines.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 12:02 PM on February 13, 2008

I've got an old Toshiba 3490ct that I love. It's 3ish pounds, and works great with Xubuntu for browsing, Skype, playing music/video. And it just screams with something like Puppy/Damn Small Linux. You could probably pick one up for $2-300. If you're technically minded, there are a whole class of wonderful ultraportables out there that aren't fast enough to run Vista, etc, but are just great.
posted by fcain at 12:07 PM on February 13, 2008

I'm just going to toss an oddball recommendation in there. Have you considered an Apple iBook? Maybe one that's a few years old, or even a G4 series. (12" G4s go for around $300)

Since there are a ton of them around it's easy to find information on the Ubuntu forums, and I see that the only major issue with them seems to be the wireless card, and I think in recent versions ("Gutsy" and later) things work automagically. I think the benefit of having a computer that was turned out in aspirin-tablet quantities shouldn't be overlooked; at the very least you'll never have to explain to anyone what you have or what's in it.

I think an iBook might satisfy your requirements for a small screen size and long battery life, and they don't force you to sacrifice the optical drive. The G4 ones will take at least a GB of RAM, not sure about the newer Intels, but I suspect it's quite a bit.

Anyway, just putting it out there as an option.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:16 PM on February 13, 2008

Apple's real strength is the fact that one organization controls hardware and software (so they work together well) and that OSX is well thought out. Buying Apple hardware to put linux on doesn't make any sense, more powerful hardware can be purchased for much less money.

I've had good luck with older dell's, specifically the 600M model which is medium-to-small sized and cheap as hell used. Plus rugged and sturdy.

Usually linux's problem with laptop's is the wireless chipset. 'Broadcom' will give you trouble, 'Intel' seems to work great. IMExpereince, other brands are hit or miss.

Avoid Sony VAIO, many problems with linux, again IME.
posted by oblio_one at 1:16 PM on February 13, 2008

I think the Lenovo X series is probably a better deal but if you're considering the Dell D4xx series I'd just add that I've got one (a D410) running Ubuntu that required only very minor fiddling with stubborn hardware. The screen would turn off when the lid closed but wouldn't come back on until I found a script that does some cli voodoo on the 'lid' ACPI event. In a perhaps related quirk ACPI believes the battery slot is empty and it's impossible to see how much juice I have left. But wireless worked out of the box, sound, proper resolution, all that.

I use it for exactly the same stuff you mention and my only complaints are about the keyboard-- it's cramped and they put page up and page down where my fingers seem to want home and end to be, and vice versa. With the extended battery it gets more than 6 hours between charges if I can keep the backlight brightness down.
posted by moift at 1:42 PM on February 13, 2008

Thinkpad, definitely, there is heaps of support info for getting things working on a thinkpad- plus they get small. When thinking of small the power supply should also be taken into account. I have a friend that bought a nice small viao, but the power supply is the size of a small brick- somewhat makes the smallness not so...
posted by mattoxic at 2:18 PM on February 13, 2008

Wait for the next gen eee. I love my first gen one and I'll probably trade up to the larger screen when it comes out.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 2:37 PM on February 13, 2008

I'm just going to toss an oddball recommendation in there. Have you considered an Apple iBook? Maybe one that's a few years old, or even a G4 series. (12" G4s go for around $300)

In my opinion buying a PPC machine (particularly an Apple PPC laptop) for the express purpose of running Linux is a big mistake. You become a minority of a minority of computer users on what, when it comes to the desktop (laptop), is something of an obsolete platform. It's all the fun of getting stuff in Linux to work on x86, but with a higher likelihood that you'll find out it just isn't possible (for example, flash for online videos only sort of works at the moment through an open-source attempt at making a flash replacement, since Adobe sees little point in putting together a Linux PPC version)

If you're willing to go up to 13.3inch widescreen, this is what I'm eyeing. Still, I know that could be too big, because I have a similar preference for small laptops, and never really understand what people with 17-inch behemoths have laptops for (okay, I know for some people "portable" means they could easily move it if they have to). I also am very tempted by the eeepc.
posted by Gnatcho at 2:48 PM on February 13, 2008

And I'll be very interested in the answers to this thread.
posted by Gnatcho at 2:48 PM on February 13, 2008

I've looked at the zonbu (but it's 15 in). The everex cloudbook is about to be released, looks like.
posted by ejaned8 at 2:58 PM on February 13, 2008

Asus announced a while back that they're going to release an extended battery for the eee.

posted by Skwirl at 10:56 AM on February 14, 2008

For a price just a bit (30%) over that of an eee, with far better specs, battery life, etc., I got a Thinkpad X41 off of eBay. I wasn't looking for state of the art (though 1.5ghz of processor and 1.5gb of RAM is fine by me); I was looking to spend around $500, and this fit the bill (and everything I've tried so far functions perfectly under linux).
posted by astrochimp at 9:21 AM on February 15, 2008

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