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(?) Laptop review: Averatec 5400 series

From Rick

Answered By: Ben Okopnik

Hi Ben,

Good article. My experience with laptops have had varied results. By that I mean, in many cases it has more to do with the distribution of Linux as it does with the hardware. I have a Compaq Presario 915ca (the specs on this can be easily looked up). The only upgrade is to 512MB of RAM. In any event, I am currently running WinXP and 3 different versions of Linux (I am a bit of an OS junkie!) using a 3rd party boot loader.

Xandros recognizes everything out of the box, even the WinModem! I had to mess with the /etc/fstab file a bit to get my 80GB USB hard drive working properly, but overall Xandros works well on this machine.

(!) [Ben] "Out of the box" functioning is nice to have, but I don't expect it - and once you don't, all distros become essentially equal. There is no difference between, e.g. the kernel used in Mandrake and the one in Debian beyond possibly compilation choices and maybe a patch or two - which I can also get and use at need. There's certainly no difference in the standard toolkit, and there's no real difference in configuration - the tools may vary, but the end result is the same. I'm expert enough with Linux to do the configuration myself, so that issue does not obtain.
Admittedly, this is more difficult than tossing in a different distro and seeing if it works - but it carries the near certainty that if something can be made to work, and I take the time to do so, it will work, regardless of the distro. In my experience with multiple distros, Debian is one of the more easily configurable ones (the only "tool" required being a text editor), and so I use, and will be using, Debian and possibly its derivatives (e.g., Knoppix or Morphix) for this testing.
You may be assured that if I can make Debian work on a given laptop, then any other distro can also be convinced to do so. It may take more or less work, but it's doable. On the other hand, if I'm unable to make it work, that fact will not be conclusive. :)

(?) I guess the point of my email here is, sometimes it's just as important to find the right distro as it is the right hardware. I recently tried to install Linux on a friends new laptop. I went through about 10 different distros (including Fedora Core 2, Ubuntu, and even tested with Knoppix, which is Debian based and with great hardware detection!). Everything failed! ... ie: no mouse, it crashed the X server, etc. Finally I tried SuSE 9.1 and it just worked. Yes, I had to install the Nvidia drivers, and I never did manage to get his built-in wireless to work!

(!) [Ben] That can be a valid strategy if you don't have a lot of expertise to rely on, and it's nice that it's available. It is, however, not the only strategy, nor is it one that I prefer.

(?) (sometime it seems the hardware manufactures engineer "anti-Linux" into their products!)

(!) [Ben] As much as a frustrating experience with hardware can make you lean in the direction of that belief, I have to believe that it's false at its core. PC OEMs are in the business of selling hardware; I can't think of an argument convincing enough to make them purposely chase customers away.

(?) Yes, I agree with you. However, the vast majority of users do not know how to recompile a kernel, nor do they want to know. I would say that people like you account for a very small percentage of computer users. Most of my friends think I am some kind of computer wizard, but in reality, I am nowhere near that. Everything is relative, isn't it? I am probably in the top 10% of computer users from a knowledge point of view, and you are likely in the top 1%.

(!) [Ben] I'm afraid you missed the point I was trying to make, Rick - I guess I didn't state it clearly enough. In essence, if I can get a laptop working well under Linux, whatever the distro, then it's at least possible and in fact not too difficult - you may have noticed in the article that I'll simply stop trying once it's consumed a certain amount of time (a few hours at most.) If I can't do it at all (as was the case with the HP 5000 I'd picked up from Staples), then it gets blackballed. In both cases, a report of the experience becomes useful and doable, whereas testing every laptop against a dozen distros is out of the realm of possibility.

(?) As for the comment about hardware manufacturers purposely engineering anti-Linux products, I was just being facetious.

(!) [Ben] I understood that, but wanted to use your comment to clarify my view of the situation; I've heard a lot of people grumbling about it as if they believed it.
(?) As for aviation, well I am only 43, but I took up flying when I was 16. I am not currently flying, as things got all f&*^%$d up for me after 9/11. It's a rather long story.
(!) [Ben] Yeah. I've heard of a number of pilots who were affected... and you've probably heard about the recent TSA alien flight training/citizenship verification rule. That's going to shaft a LOT of pilots - and the damned thing is as confusing as can be imagined, and a couple of miles beyond that. AOPA is fighting the good fight, but there's a lot of fear in the air - and about it.

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Published in issue 109 of Linux Gazette December 2004

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