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Old 07-08-2005, 10:05 AM
black rabbit is offline
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Help me find a subnotebook/tablet... on the cheap.


The Tank, my fusty, creaky, heavy desktop replacement-style notebook, is rapidly approaching obsolesence for much of what I need to do with it these days. The battery's dead, and I don't feel like spending a hundred bucks on a new one when battery life pretty much sucked, anyway. I'm on my third AC adapter, and it's starting to bite the dust. I find myself upgrading the hard drive every six months, and notebook HDDs aint cheap. I even bought at used slimline CDRW on Ebay and dremeled down the bezel to get it to fit into my case.

Basically, I've upgraded it as much as a geek can reasonably be expected to upgrade something that was never intended to be upgraded in the first place. On the occasions where I need to haul it around with me, it's a giant pain in the ass, and the marketing guys make fun of me at work.

I've got about $1200 to spend, and I'm going to put half of that towards a relatively sweet desktop system.

I'd like to put the remainder toward a used sub-3lb notebook that I can actually carry around with me. Problem is, I don't really know where to start looking.

After doing some initial poking around, it looks like the Sharp Actius MM10 comes pretty close to my absolute minimum requirements. Unfortunately, you can't upgrade the memory or the disk, but for what I want it for, I think I can make it work, and they seem to go for 500-600 on Ebay.

Here are my must haves:
  • Battery life: 3+ hours actual.
  • CPU: 800mhz or better. Doesn't matter whether it's a Transmeta or whatever; I'm not going to be encoding divx on this machine.
  • Memory: 256MB or more. Preferrably upgradable.
  • HDD: 15GB or more. I'm a Linux geek, and a Debian install will get the lion's share of the space. Four or five GB will be the XP partition.
  • A PCMCIA slot. For my hardware modem card. I'm not counting on being able to use the internal modem (if it even has one.)
  • USB 2.0: Two or more ports. I've got external hard and CD drives out the wazoo.
  • Screen: I don't want one of those 1/3 size things like on the old Picturebooks. 1024 by, uh 600 or something would be fine.
  • Bootable from USB. Obviously, I'll need something to install Debian with.

Would be nice:
  • Internal Prism or Orinoco-based wifi. I've had no end of trouble with Realtek cards, and I'm still a little leery about the state of the Intel drivers for Linux.
  • Firewire: I don't really need it at the moment, but who knows?
  • Optical drive: At least a CD-RW. If it's just a CD/DVD-ROM, I'd almost rather do without the extra weight.
  • A serial port, so I don't have to keep track of any adapters.

Anybody got any ideas? If I can at least get a list of models, I can do more research on Linux support. I know next to nothing about tablet PCs, but I figure it's a place to look for my specs, even if I expect to be using it in clamshell mode 99% of the time.

One more thing: While I agree that iBooks are nice, cheap little machines, I absolutely must be able to run an actual Windows installation on this machine. VirtualPC isn't going to cut it, in my case. Especially since I don't feel like spending the money on it.

Muchas gracias.
  #2  
Old 07-08-2005, 03:56 PM
Shalmanese is offline
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Quote:
[*]A PCMCIA slot. For my hardware modem card. I'm not counting on being able to use the internal modem (if it even has one.)
Most laptops come with an internal modem that should be fine for your purposes, I don't see what a hardware modem can do for you.

[QUOTE}[*]USB 2.0: Two or more ports. I've got external hard and CD drives out the wazoo.
[/QUOTE]

Would you happy using a USB hub or do you want them inbuilt?

Quote:
[*]Screen: I don't want one of those 1/3 size things like on the old Picturebooks. 1024 by, uh 600 or something would be fine.
Nearly all notebooks with a screen larger than 10" will be at least 1024x768.

Quote:
[*]Bootable from USB. Obviously, I'll need something to install Debian with.
If you mean bootable from a USB thumb drive, then this is tricky, it's a BIOS feature which means it's hard to figure out whether a certain laptop supports it or not. If you mean bootable from a USB floppy/CD, then almost all of them support this.

Quote:
[*]Optical drive: At least a CD-RW. If it's just a CD/DVD-ROM, I'd almost rather do without the extra weight.
Would you be happy with either a) a USB removable CD Drive or b) a "docking station" type base with a CD-Drive inbuilt?

Quote:
[*]A serial port, so I don't have to keep track of any adapters.
Almost impossible, however, a USB-to-serial convertor is cheap and should be compatible with most equipment.
  #3  
Old 07-09-2005, 09:34 AM
black rabbit is offline
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Thanks for the pointers.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Shalmanese
Most laptops come with an internal modem that should be fine for your purposes, I don't see what a hardware modem can do for you.
One word: Winmodems.

Nearly all current "internal" modems have no onboard controllers; they're basically a ADC/DAC and an RJ11 jack. The actual modem functions are handled by software drivers at the OS level.

This is a problem for Linux. Most manufacturers aren't exactly keen on releasing their proprietary specs to the open source community, so anybody who wants to use a "Winmodem" with Linux has to either make sure they've got one of the handful that have reverse-engineered open source drivers, or write the drivers themselves.

Most Linux users get around this problem by buying a real modem. I've got a Xircom 56k / LAN PCMCIA card that I know will work. As a bonus, I can team it up with the notebook's integrated network card on the off chance that I need to use it as an emergency router or something.


Quote:
Would you happy using a USB hub or do you want them inbuilt?
I'd prefer at least two integrated, but I suppose I can make do. From what I've been able to determine, a lot of models don't come with PCI connectors, so I'd like to be able to use a real mouse and a USB drive at the same time.

Quote:
If you mean bootable from a USB thumb drive, then this is tricky, it's a BIOS feature which means it's hard to figure out whether a certain laptop supports it or not. If you mean bootable from a USB floppy/CD, then almost all of them support this.
Yeah, I figured this isn't something that the average user isn't gonna know off the top of their head. I'm most concerned with being able to boot from an external CD drive (or floppy > CD), but I guess I can even live with a LAN card that supports netbooting. Though I'm pretty sure that if a user doesn't know anything about BIOS USB support, they're not going to know anything about that, either.

Once I get some actual model numbers, I'm pretty sure I can find a fellow lunatic who's attempted to install Linux on each one of them, and can point me in the right direction.

Quote:
Would you be happy with either a) a USB removable CD Drive or b) a "docking station" type base with a CD-Drive inbuilt?
Mos def. I've already got a couple of external CD burners, and enough spare parts lying around to convert a IDE-HDD > USB adapter to a CD or DVD adapter if I feel so inclined, so I'm not even too worried about getting the "original" equipment. I don't even need the docking station, as long as I've got my onboard USB and maybe the VGA port, but I suppose it would be nice to have.

Quote:
Almost impossible, however, a USB-to-serial convertor is cheap and should be compatible with most equipment.
Yeah, I figured on that, too, but all other things being equal, I'll go for the machine that requires one less peice of plastic to haul around in my Man Purse.
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