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Re: [NOVA-Python] seeking a good Linux laptop

From: Stuart G.
Sent on: Friday, October 12, 2012 11:14 AM
Long ago, Nostradamus foresaw that on 10/12/[masked]:27 AM, Ed Jahn would write:
This is a bit off-topic, but ... 
After years of working with Windows, I want to get started with Linux, and want to do so with a laptop.

I see various offerings on the Internet, but before buying one, I'm hoping for a recommendation from someone with more experience than I have.
I do mainly database work, so favor disk capacity, memory, and IO throughput. Do expect to be working mainly with Python.
Don't want to spend more than $1000. Would consider used or refurbished.

We have more than 6 laptops running Linux, since starting out with a discarded Armada 700 from the late 90s.  One was bought new with Linux (Ubuntu) installed from Dell.  They all run Fedora now.  You can't order Linux preinstalled on laptops directly from the Dell website (they got burned with a frivolous but expensive lawsuit from a student who was mad that Ubuntu didn't run MS Office natively).  You have to request it via the chat feature.

We bought used laptops at PC Retro Warehouse in Falls Church.  It was a wonderful store.  I say was, because they are going out of business now.  Not enough business.  I don't know where another good source of cleaned up used gear is.

Things to avoid in laptops:

1) Nvidia.  Their stuff is probably the fastest consumer 3D graphics support - but every laptop with Nvidia I've had to deal with overheats.  Nvida is fine for a desktop with stronger cooling.  If you can run a graphics and CPU torture test before buying without it overheating, then it could be OK for a laptop.  The Nouveau open source driver for Nvidia works well for todays fancy desktops with 3D acceleration and simple games.  Using all the Nvidia features requires the proprietary driver.

2) Broadcom WiFi.  A nagging problem with every laptop using broadcom Wifi is that it disconnects under heavy network load (like an update or big download).  This is on brands from Compaq to Dell to Acer.  Try to get Intel WiFi.  Try to get a laptop where the WiFi is on a mini-PCI extension card - so you can replace it if it gives you fits.  NOTE - you can always add a USB WiFi adapter for $15 and disable any annoying internal WiFi.

3) Intel 8xx video.  You will only find this in really old laptops.  But Fedora 14 is the last Fedora distro that supports 3D on this chipset - the developers just don't want to deal with it anymore.  The 9xx, 3xxx and newer chipsets are still well supported.  One exception is that the gstreamer framework does not properly support Xvideo on Intel, so you have to use Xine to play videos (instead of Totem or other gstreamer based players).

Things you need in laptops:

1) Memory.        1 G is the bare minimum for a mainstream desktop distro.   Try to get at least 2G.  (Linux will of course run fine in 16M - with a stripped down kernel and programs.)   You can actually get work done with 256M and Fedora, including GUI (I still use that old Compaq Armada 700).  But that requires special install procedures to bypass memory checks and lots of tuning to remove unnecessary services.  Supporting 4G or even 8G on a 32-bit processor is actually *not* a problem with Linux (as it is for Windows).  Just use the PAE kernel.  Hibernation (suspend to disk) is currently broken for >2G ram, however.

2) Disk.              40 G is the bare minimum to install and run a mainstream distro comfortably with space for media and stuff.  But only settle for this if it is a 64G SSD.  You will want to run LVM, keep /home as a separate volume, install new/alternate OS versions in their own volume, etc.  So 200G or more lets you do all that stuff comfortably.   Just the OS with minimal user files will run comfortably in 10G.  So if you have a 16G SSD, you can do useful stuff on it.  Just don't try to keep your entire music collection on it.  I run Fedora 14 on an 8G SSD (with 256M ram) on my XO-1.  But that is for selected applications, like Ebook reader, terminal, VOIP, etc.

3) 3D graphics    Whether you agree or not, modern desktops have largely moved to requiring 3D acceleration.  So 3D support is no longer a frill.  There are still perfectly functional 2D desktops available as options, however, if your laptop is other wise a "steal".

I, or another enthusiast, would probably enjoy going shopping with you and chatting/advising while you install - if you are so inclined.

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