Light Notebook Shootout

Previous: Day Zero

created: 1215788897|%e %B %Y, %H:%M
TAGS: gadgets ubuntu

After several months of using a MacBook Air, I picked up a Lenovo X61.

Both machines have lots of great features but since it's the things that don't work which eventually matter, I'm going to make this shootout by listing all the things that annoy me.

Cost: The MBA is too expensive. Seriously, this is 2008, we don't expect notebooks to require a second mortgage. Yes, the build quality is great, yes the LED screen is sweet, but over 3,000 Euro is way too much for a notebook.

Battery life: The MBA does about 5 hours average, if you don't do anything heavy like watch video. The X61, which I've tuned to use under 10 watts (thanks, PowerTop) gets over 7 hours of work. Why can't I watch more than a couple of hours of video without killing the battery?

Ports: Part of me loves the "zero ports" attitude of the MBA. But the part of me that uses cameras, iPods, and external portable drives thinks that Apple was smoking weed when they decided that one USB slot would suffice for everything. Neat, yes. Practical, no.

mba.jpg

Operating systems: The X61 came with something called "Windows XP". What the heck? I thought they'd have banned that virus trap by now. Still thankfully Ubuntu wiped that out. The MBA refuses to dual-boot Linux. I might be able to wipe OS/X but then how do I manage my iPod? Apple has me trapped, and it's not nice.

Ubuntu: I know this is not part of the X61, but why do I have to tune the operating system to make the notebook work properly? I don't mind editing X.org config files but I'd pay money (seriously) to get an Ubuntu install that works out of the box with my hardware.

Gnome: What is it with that WiFi panel, why can't I get the WiFi to work and worse, why can I not debug the problem??? If you're going to hide stuff, fine. But don't make it impossible to fix when your fancy panels don't work. Update: it magically works, now. Hmfh.

OS/X: Please look at apt-get and learn how software distribution works post-1999. Downloading and clicking on installers is so Windows. No, no, no. Also, Apple, listen: if you want people to stick with your lovely boxes, please make them run KDE or even Gnome so we don't need to find material to run Linux on. It's a 386 CPU, and a BSD kernel, no?

x61.jpg

Real estate: Why does the MBA have a huge bevel around the screen and keyboard? It just makes the thing larger than it needs to be. Chop off an inch all the way around, and suddenly the MBA starts to look more portable. And why does that X61 have a huge bulking battery that weighs more than the rest of the machine? Surely something more elegant could be designed.

Screen: In 2003 my ASUS notebook had 1240x1024 resolution. So why do both the MBA and X61 have pathetic resolutions that hark back to 1999? What, TFT technology hasn't improved since then? We don't need the pixels? Pathetic.

Conclusions:

  • The MBA delivers a perfect experience where "experience" is redefined to mean "75% of what you actually need".
  • The X61 delivers everything you need, where "deliver" means "if you remove the horrid Windows XP and put on a real operating system, you're on your own and Lenovo will pretend you don't exist."

It still astounds me that serious notebook manufacturers have not realized how important it is to deliver fully working, fully specified machines running modern operating systems. Hopefully the crop of cheap small Linux notebooks will show how it should be done.

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