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Re: Choosing Hardware

Hello Richard,

On 2007-08-14, Richard Hector <richard@walnut.gen.nz> wrote:
> Hi all,
> I'm looking at buying my first ever brand new laptop, and I'm a bit
> rusty when it comes to the available technology.
> One of my main concerns is keeping at least my hardware drivers Free -
> I'd rather not have firmware blobs either, but I can tolerate those if I
> have to. I can also tolerate drivers that aren't in the standard kernel,
> but again I'd rather not if possible.
> If any/all of these questions can be best answered by existing websites,
> I'm happy to be referred - though most of the ones I've seen are written
> by people less picky about free software than I am, so it's a bit hard
> to judge whether their solution will be acceptable to me.
> Video:
> From what I can gather, if I want video to work properly with free
> drivers, I should probably go with Intel. I know there are free drivers
> for nVidia and ATI, but not for 3d or other useful features of newer
> cards, is that right? How about others such as SiS? Are all Intel
> chipsets supported equally well?

I heard rumors that only the new Intel graphics chipset contained in "Santa
Rosa" isn't supported well. But Intel actively develops drivers for new HW.

The best choice for non-gamers is today imho GMA950. I'm using this adapter 
in my Core Duo Thinkpad X60s. It works well out-of-box. Only small hack to
get higher external resolution is needed. I'm not Compiz or Beryl fan or 
Quake player so I can't report how good is for that.

Before this X60s I had SIS chipset based laptop and I can't suggest. It's crap.

> Wireless:
> Again my understanding is that Intel will give me the best support -
> again, are all Intel Wireless chipsets supported freely, or do I need to
> pick the right one?

There are two current Intel wireless chipsets - 3945 and 4965. For 3945 exists
two driver branches/dists - ipw3945 which is more stable and complete, but needs
userspace regulatory daemon. Second, iwlwifi wich is primarily developed for
4965 (only option here) doesn't need userspace daemon, but for me isn't very
stable (with 3945), doesn't support killswitch and led. Both drivers are
opensource with firmware and regulatory daemon (in case of ipw3945) distributed
in binary form.

> Audio:
> Something I've never paid a huge amount of attention to; if sound
> doesn't work I shrug my shoulders and carry on without it. But if I'm
> splashing out on a new machine, it would be nice to have it going. What
> should I be looking for here?

Intel HDA on most of laptops works well. Vanilla kernel contains all drivers.

> Others? I think just about any Ethernet (wired) NIC works fine, right?
> Do I need to worry about power management, Cardbus (etc) drivers, memory
> card slot drivers, TPM chips etc? Do they vary much in terms of
> compatibility? I probably don't care too much about fingerprint
> scanners. Bluetooth is important.

* Ethernet - I recommend you Intel or Broadcom NetExtreme gigabit card - both
works fine. 
* Power management in Linux is still incomplete - await problems with suspending
to disk or ram and shorter battery-life than in Windows sometimes. There are
various powersaving daemons - I'm using my-own configuration based on acpid and
cpufreqd. Also tested powernowd (really great but too all-in-one for me). You
can also spare minutes by using tickless kernel and laptop-mode.
* Bluetooth - mostly installed as internal USB dongle and works out-of-box.

> Given that most of the best supported chipsets seem to be Intel, I guess
> that means I'm stuck with an Intel CPU - if they're providing the best
> support to Linux, that's fine by me. Then I probably want to go with the
> complete Centrino (or Santa Rosa?) package, is that right?
> Are any particular manufacturers doing a better job than others at the
> moment in terms of Linux support? I know that Dell are offering Linux on
> some of their machines at the moment, but that offer has not reached New
> Zealand yet. Anything I buy will have to be available here in NZ, which
> may restrict things a bit, but I want any warranty issues to be easily
> dealt with.

I bought IBM Thinkpad X60s because is small but solid and not cheapy-looking. 
Contains various usefull gadgets (ThinkLight - keyboard light in lid) and 
Linux support is almost complete (HDD protection, advanced battery charging
control, SMAPI, extended ACPI info and controls). 
Visit http://www.thinkwiki.org for more info about these laptops.

> Two examples I've found that look quite nice are the Toshiba A8 and the
> HP Compaq 6710b - the latter looks quite nice with its bigger (well,
> higher res) screen, and being available from my preferred shop with 2GB
> of RAM and 2.2GHz CPU. It seems to be available in slightly different
> configurations, whether geographically or something else I don't know -
> the local one I'm looking at seems to have Intel wireless, while others
> I've seen in howtos have Broadcom. Anybody know if these are any good?

Before this I had HP bussiness class laptop. I can recommend this brand. Only
reason to sell my HP was high weight. Be warned and buy rather model with Intel
wireless chipset. Only way to get broadcom in my previous HP laptop to work was
ndiswrapper (and I heard it won't work on 64bit distros). 

Dell brand also started with Linux enabled laptops. 

> Anything else I need to look out for?
> Many thanks,
> Richard

PS: I'm very sorry. My english is worse.

Ondrej Balaz

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