On Portable Laptops.

Today marked the end of a summer-long quest to find the perfect laptop. My stalwart Thinkpad X40 was returned to my former employer, leaving me laptop-less, so I took a nice long time to do some research on laptops. This is the summary of my adventures to find a replacement for the X40.

First, some criteria. Clearly I wanted Santa Rosa-based hotness with all-Intel video and wireless. I wanted a 12-13 inch form factor, and needed to be a business-class laptop. There is a distinct difference between the typical laptop people buy at stores and the ones that they sell to corporate customers. Hellion Prime does an awesome job explaining criteria that you should look for in a sturdy laptop. These are the criteria that I tried to follow.

  • My friend Trevor was kind enough to lend me his Dell X1. This is a great laptop, basically a rebadge of a Samsung to be sold in the states. Unfortunately, the lack of Trackpoint drove me nuts. (Note, a trackpoint is a “nipple mouse”, otherwise known as the immaculate pointing device). I mulled buying the “upstream” Samsung model, but since they’re not available in the US I didn’t feel like importing a laptop for support reasons.

  • Thinkpad X61 - Surely the natural progression from an X40 should be an X61 right? The X40 has 2 problems I didn’t like. The first is a 4200rpm 1.8 inch hard drive, which is slow. This was replaced with a more conventional 2.5 inch drive in the X61 (yay!). The second is an XGA screen. This is 1024x768. Imagine my dismay when the X61 was unveiled. Surely they would update the display? Nope. What is Lenovo thinking?

  • System76 Darter - great specs, exactly what I was looking for. Unfortunately it’s consumer-grade. I’ve met the System76 guys at a UDS and Ubuntu Live, they’ve been shipping Ubuntu since before it was cool, and do a great job supporting the community through the forums, stickers, and even lending laptops to LoCos to showcase Ubuntu. I wish they had a more high end business line, something hardcore with a magnesium frame, etc. The Darter is a great value though, cheap and great support; I will continue to recommend system76 to friends who aren’t so abusive to their laptops as I am.

  • Dell M1330 - Released to much fanfare. On the expensive side, and technically 13.1 inches, but you can really crank up the specs, and has an LED backlight display. Totally sexy, with an SSD option too! Finally, I had found what I wanted. But they botched the launch. I don’t have time to wait 2 months for a laptop, and I don’t need a laptop that was rushed out to production, leading to really terrible build issues. I know the m1330 was supposed to be Dell’s “answer” to the macbook, but they didn’t have replicate the quality problems as well.

  • Dell Latitude D430 - great specs, but not nearly as sexy as the m1330, though SSD option is available. Dell’s Latitude line has really improved, they used to be so terrible. One of these passed through my coworker’s shop in my last job, and I was really impressed. My only problem was the keyboard, which is too mushy. (I consider the Thinkpads to have the best keyboards, so that’s what I use to measure other keyboards). This was my 2nd choice, mostly because of the keyboard, but also unfortunately too expensive.

hp compaq 2510p - I never even considered an hp until I visited the hp booth at OhioLinux Fest. The first thing that snagged me was the keyboard. Feels just like a thinkpad, and has a nipple too. Great specs, 1280x800 screen, tough frame. I can’t help but say “What the X61 should have been”.


The one gotcha, like with most 12 inch laptops, is a 1.8 inch 4200rpm hard drive. So … being clever, I bought a SAMSUNG 32gb Solid State Drive to offset the slowness, before I received the hp latop, which sucked, because little did I know that though the drive is listed as a “PATA” drive that I would find some kind of funky plug when trying to put the SSD drive in the laptop.


Does anyone know if there’s some kind of adapter for this? Luckily for me, there is a decent demand for an unpackaged 1.8 SSD drive, so I’m confident I won’t lose /too/ much money if I can’t find an adapter. I should have checked the technical manual for the laptop before I purchased the SSD, doom on me. Also, it’s not an attractive laptop in the least, something it shares with thinkpads.

The latest Ubuntu 7.10 iso installed on the hp just fine (a big thanks to all the kernel and userspace folks involved), my only problem so far has been that the display dims after about 30 seconds, totally ignoring the settings I selected in gnome-power-manager. I just unboxed it today, so I’ll be updating this page as I learn more: LaptopTestingTeam/HP2510p. I’d love to see hp ship Ubuntu ootb like other vendors, but for now I’m happy I could get it with FreeDOS and not pay an OS tax.

… and lastly, I will say that no company makes a laptop I want to totally love. If you’re in the market for a 12 inch laptop you have to make compromises. The most damning is the 1.8 inch drives with performance so horrible that they are totally unacceptable, but not nearly as horrible as Lenovo trying to ship a high-end laptop with a 1024x768 screen. I chose the hp because it matched the criteria the best, even though it’s as boxy as a 1980 Volvo and has some bullshit plug for the hard drive I’ve never seen before . I would love to say that the 2510p is the best 12 inch laptop you can buy, but unfortunately the best I can say is that “It sucks less than the others”. On the other hand, it get’s the job done, which is probably what hp designed it to do in the first place.