Dear lazyweb, notebook research help please.

So I am planning on buying a new notebook in the coming months to replace my aging Thinkpad R50, which was purchased in January 2004. Appart from having to replace the 30GB hard disk that came with it, (I use a bigger HD in it now anyway), and getting the motherboard replaced out of warranty due to a failing GPU chip, it has been a wonderful machine. Well built, good sturdy keyboard, deacent battery life, and deacent performance for what I've needed it for. I am very pleased it has lasted me 5 years, which a lot of my machines tend to do, mainly because I make sure they do. But the time has come to move to something better.

So dear lazyweb, I am looking to get a notebook with the following list of requirements, and things that would be nice to have but aren't important. A note to all who read this, I am more likely to consider viewpoints from people based in Australia, as I only intend to buy locally, for warranty reasons. I'm also aware that the list of requirements below is longish, but any pointers to anything that may suit these requirements would be welcome.

Requirements:

  • No Windows: I will only ever use windows in a VM anyway, which is rare in itself, so no point in getting software I don't use.
  • If the notebook has an OS, it must come on optical media: I detest recovery partitions, as they are more trouble than they are worth, at least for me personally.
  • Well built: Bar one drop, and a few bumps, the external casing of my Thinkpad R50 is undamaged. Its not falling appart, no cracks, no broken latches/hinges. I travel a lot, and use the notebook around a lot at home and when I am away, so it has to withstand a lot of use, and while I treat it as gently as possible, one sometimes cannot avoid the occasional bump. I am willing to pay more for good build quality.
  • Multiple lid latches: I've had one or two notebooks in the past with only one centre latch for the lid. Needless to say it didn't last long. My current thinkpad has 2 controlled by one lever, and they still work as well as when I bought it new.
  • ExpressCard slot: I've never had a laptop that hasn't had a PCMCIA slot, so I don't want to not have a card slot for expansion. I've used PCMCIA in the past to add Firewire/faster wireless cards for example, and with 3G gaining popularity/usage, I may want to use a 3G card. (I'll never use USB for networking if I can help it.)
  • Good battery life: I think this is a given for everyone looking for a notebook.
  • At least 14" screen, but no bigger than 15". While I don't use the screen a lot, I do occasionally use it for magnification, so a larger screen is more useful in that respect. I don't want something as big as a 17", as that then makes the laptop more bulky and heavy, and harder to carry around.
  • Monitor connector: I think all notebooks have them, but just to be sure.

Things I'd like, but not fussed if I don't get:

  • No modem: I'm never likely to use a dial-up modem, and if I ever think I would need one, I'd get a USB modem.
  • Line-in jack: Since I'm into music and recording, it is nice to have a stereo line-in jack to do some on-the-spot recording if I need to, without having to take a second sound card with me to do it. In the notebooks I've had previously, only one has had line-in, so I suspect my chances of getting this are low, but it would be nice.
  • Wireless 802.11N: When I bought my ThinkPad, I decided to get wireless, all be it 802.11b, since g wasn't around. I'm thinking that if I can get the latest wireless standard now, I'm less likely to have to get a wireless card in the future, if I should need a faster wireless speed. Again something I don't have to have, but would be nice.
  • FireWire: I prefer to use FireWire for disk drives, as it uses less CPu when doing big file transfers. I also may consider a FireWire sound card for portable recording in the future.

As for no Windows, I'm willing to consider a notebook with No OS/Linux, if it also matches my other requirements. I must admit I have been pondering a MacBook Pro, as I don't mind OS X, being a *nix, and the lesser of two evils, and newer versions still being able to work on older hardware etc. However, I'm open to all options, and considerations. Colour I don't really care about, but would prefer a silver/black combination. I also don't care if the notebook supports a docking station, as I'll never use that functionality.

So any advice/tips/pointers would be most welcome.

UPDATE: One thing I forgot to add was that I would rather a mat screen, as opposed to a glossy screen.

UPDATE 2: So after reviewing Thinkpad T61/T61P specs, I realized that these notebooks are not using penryn chips. Normally this would be ok, however since I'm likely to use audio apps on this machine in its lifetime, and since SSE4 is supported by penryn chips, as well as applications eventually supporting it, I'm enclined to lean towards the T400. However, it seems the Lenovo AU website doesn't allow me to customize the options for the machine beyond office software. If anybody is able to customize one of these machines through the Lenovo AU site for things like disk space, RAM etc, please let me know.

Submitted by Ltmon (not verified) on Fri, 08/22/2008 - 11:34.

I had an Asus before my current thinkpad and it got completely beaten up within 18 months, but the thinkpad is still near pristine after similar usage. Macbooks look nice out of the box, but I've seen plenty dented and scratched quite badly after only a short time. I commute by rail twice a day, protecting the notebook only with a thin-ish courier bag so I guess I'm near to worst-case-scenario for damaging laptops.

Unfortunately it doesn't cover your OS specifications in Australia: they all come with Windows (working for a Lenovo reseller, I can't even seem to find the SuSE versions), and they use recovery partitions. What I did was boot up Vista (once), use a supplied program to backup the OS to DVD media, then wiped all partitions and started Ubuntu from scratch. If I ever need to put this on ebay I can rescue the original install from the DVDs.

Thinkpads often go cheap on graysonline.com.au. There's some R61 models up at the moment for example, and I've seen the T60 and T61s come up a lot.

Submitted by David Brewer (not verified) on Fri, 08/22/2008 - 11:50.

I have a Thinkpad T61 running Ubuntu Hardy (64-bit) and love love love it. Highly recommended.

It doesn't completely meet your requirements, as I'm not sure if it's possible to buy it without an OS and the OS did not come with a disc. However, when I got mine I was able to fairly easily burn a full installer CD for XP from the laptop and then wipe out the recovery partition and reinstall. And I was able to install XP from this disc on a virtual machine without it complaining, so it wasn't a crappy 'only-on-this-type-of-machine' version of the OS like you frequently get from Dell.

It has a 15 inch widescreen at 1680x1050, which is a lovely resolution and looks great. The Intel graphics options also works well for me (and consumes less power than the Nvidia option, although the Nvidia option likely performs better).

http://www.thinkwiki.org/wiki/Category:T61

Submitted by Benjamin Kay (not verified) on Fri, 08/22/2008 - 11:58.

I've owned a Thinkpad T61 (by Lenovo) for a year now, and I've been exceedingly happy with it. There are no BIOS dstd/acpi bugs. I do not need to use any restricted drivers (with the Intel graphics chipset). I've never had to have it repaired (despite dropping it several times). I did break the power cord by running over it with a chair once, and Lenovo overnighted me a new power adapter without me even having to send the old one in! All in all, this has been one sturdy notebook, and I am a satisfied customer.

The T61 has all but two items on your list. It is indeed available with (Suse) Linux preinstalled, and the Linux version even costs less than the Windows version (at identical hardware specs)! However it probably won't come with install media (most notebooks don't these days). Then again, what do you need install media for anyway? Aren't you going to be installing Ubuntu on it?

Also, like virtually all notebooks, the T61 comes with an RJ35 jack. Get over it; it's not adding to your cost, and you'll have a tough time finding a notebook without one. It may be possible to make it work under Linux but I've honestly never tried because, like you, I never use the darn thing.

The T61 also has one 1394 port, but may I suggest you purchase an esata expresscard for your external hard drive instead?

The only gotcha I've had with the T61 is that it doesn't support TV out, even with a VGA to S-Video dongle (although this should be possible if someone is willing to hack on the video driver). Cloning your monitor on the VGA port works just fine, and I think the docking station does TV out if you really need it.

Submitted by swj (not verified) on Fri, 08/22/2008 - 12:38.

I purchased a T61 w/ Nvidia option...the laptop is solid and meets your requirements. The only bad thing I have noticed (and read many other people have complained) is the blueish screen tint!

xcalib and a new icc profile will help...but the question is, why is it blueish in the first place?

Submitted by Mackenzie (not verified) on Fri, 08/22/2008 - 13:52.

You can fit a lot more on one page if it's college-ruled.

OK, being serious, this is my review of a ZaReason I got recently. It's ASUS hardware, so it's nice quality. It doesn't have 2 lid latches, but not 1 either. It actually doesn't have any. I really like that because it means that here's no stupid switch on the front getting caught when I put it in my bag and causing it to wake up from suspend while inside the confined space of my bag, and then overheating and locking up, forcing me to hold down power to reboot and destroying the purpose of using suspend anyway...like my old laptop did. It also means there are no small pieces to break off. And it does have 802.11n and ExpressCard. It's very sturdy. This one's the 13" model, but there's a similar 15" available. They sold out of 14" ones just now. Yes, it has FireWire. It also has ESATA. And yeah, I think all laptops except the MacBook Air do VGA-out.

Submitted by Donnie (not verified) on Fri, 08/22/2008 - 14:30.

I had a personal experience with Apple refusing to honor the warranty simply because I had installed LInux. YMMV but beware.

Submitted by TheMuso on Fri, 08/22/2008 - 15:45.

If possible, I'd reset the machine back to factory, i.e put OS X back on. I did that when I had to get my current notebook's motherboard/GPU fixed after all, i.e put the original version of windows/recovery partition data back on.

Submitted by Jon Prigot (not verified) on Fri, 08/22/2008 - 15:59.

About 3 months ago, one of their OS options was a PC-DOS RTU! Since, like you, I didn't want any part of my purchase price to go to Redmond, nor to a company associated with them, I bought my T61 with this. Someone must have gotten fired for it, because that option is gone. Interestingly, when I ordered it, I was told that it would take 3-4 weeks to get it. It was delivered 2 days after I ordered it.

It does have an embedded "winmodem", but you can pick up a driver for it from Linuxant (http://www.linuxant.com). The free version does not include 56K capability. (BTW, Lenovo uses it as their SuSE modem driver.)

Submitted by Peto (not verified) on Fri, 08/22/2008 - 18:28.

Do get a Thinkpad, one of the T-series, or maybe if you prefer something smaller, look at X-series... Linux works fine on mine T60p, albeit the ATI graphics gives me a choice - compiz effects or standby, so I would recommend an integrated intel graphics, those should have good drivers.

Submitted by cvasilak (not verified) on Fri, 08/22/2008 - 19:05.

Have a look at the recent introduced Dell Studio Line from Dell. So far only positive comments I have heard.

It even comes with Ubuntu preinstalled :)

http://direct2dell.com/one2one/archive/tags/Linux/default.aspx

Regards,
Christos

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 08/22/2008 - 19:38.

Take a look at http://au.zepto.com/Shop/Default.aspx . I just bought an Zepto Nox A15 and first impressions are that it's well manufactured. You can configure the laptops hardware to match your preference witch i liked a lot.

Submitted by Sridhar Dhanapalan (not verified) on Fri, 08/22/2008 - 20:35.

Hi Luke,

The Australian Ubuntu team has a list of laptops at https://wiki.ubuntu.com/AustralianTeam/Projects/UbuntuFriendlyNotebooks.

Submitted by Keithamus (not verified) on Fri, 08/22/2008 - 20:47.

The lenovo 3000 series come with everything you ask for, the only thing is they do come with a modem.

I have the 3000 N200 0769 and its a beauty, the screen is 15.4" 1680x1050 (very expensive to replace, so be careful!), they're rugged (they're lenovo brand) have good hinges, 2 lid clasps, built in webcam (works fine) built in firewire, 4 usb, wired lan and iwl4965 B/G/N wireless. It has a headphone and mic port. Dedicated nvidia graphics in this one also! Also its almost always cool to the touch and very light - I deal with laptops daily (I do PC repair) and I can say Lenovo stands out as consistently great.

The plus side of a 3000 over the T series is price. Most of the Ts bat around £1000 here, while some of the 3000s go for ~£300.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 08/22/2008 - 21:14.

Just go Macbook Pro, you wont have any problems and be happy. This is coming from a long time linux & non apple user who's just migrated to macbook pro from a trusty & reliable compaq evo n800v/gentoo/ubuntu.

They give you the best of all worlds (linux, win etc), just slap on vmware fusion (cheap!) and you're ready to go. Plenty top notch apps etc and OSX is like what linux should have been for the linux desktop. You'll find greater productivity gains on the OSX platform after getting comfortable with it. You'll be able to concentrate on your work instead of fiddling around getting wifi etc going.

There's rumors new macbook & maybe Macbook Pro revisions are coming out in Sept, hopefully of similar construction to Macbook Air.

I've recommended them to fellow linux users/co workers and they've been highly impressed and happy. It grows on you and you'll start recommending people including normal people, cause they're well built and headache free. They just work out of the box as they usually call it.

Good luck with your purchase and have fun.

Submitted by TheMuso on Fri, 08/22/2008 - 21:26.

It would be an easy decision, if I wasn't going to run Linux on it, but I will be running Linux on it, which then begs the question whether its worth getting an MBP when I won't be using OS X a lot of the time. Yes I would use it a fair bit, but since my work requires Ubuntu, OS X would see less use.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 08/22/2008 - 21:46.

Had the same situation as you. I use linux a lot for work (programming) and still do it inside vmware, don't really notice much vm speed impact.

If it calls for performance can get a dual-boot config going. There should be some guides online, main diff is to get a EFI boot loader going. Ubuntu has their own page here can check. https://help.ubuntu.com/community/MacBookPro

Can borrow someone's mbp/vmware and get a feel if good enough for your work needs. Need to try your laptop and see what's most comfortable/suitable for long term use.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 08/23/2008 - 00:22.

Apple will refuse warranty when you kill their slow proprietary OS and install Ubuntu. 100% nogo.

Submitted by Alex (not verified) on Sat, 08/23/2008 - 02:24.

I have a HP dv2500t, which I am quite satisfied with. However, it does not quite fit your specs (no line-in, for example). I've used some Thinkpads at work, and I really like them, so I think I would have to recommend a Thinkpad. You might also want to take a look at Dell (as someone mentioned previously). System76 machines seem to be pretty good, but their only options for size are 12.1 inch and 15.4 inch. As for MacBooks, Apple doesn't seem to have any problem with releasing firmware updates that break other operating systems, so be careful about updating if you go that route. Also, be aware that wifi may be problematic. I think Apple's Airport cards now use Atheros, but they have used Broadcom in the past.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 08/23/2008 - 18:29.

Not true re warranty, how they allow you to install windows as well if youre bothered! (Bootcamp). More like 100% FUD.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 08/26/2008 - 06:08.

Just a note in case you've not noticed this - ExpressCard (both sizes) combines PCIe x1 and USB 2.0 into one connector - thus, for things that come in Expresscard and USB versions, you'll often find that the ExpressCard is used for its USB port.

Same applies to MiniPCIe, BTW. If I bought the HSDPA card for my Dell, it'd connect internally to a MiniPCIe slot, but use USB for connectivity.

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