A cat-proof Linux-friendly netbook…?

This here is the Samsung NB30, a semi-ruggedized netbook with one of those new Pine Trail Atom processors. I bought one over the weekend as a cat-proof alternative to my aging Eee PC. I like it so far, but there’s one big problem — I can’t get the WiFi radio to work with my favourite Linux distributions.

Actually it’s a bit more complicated than that. Staples, the chain store I bought it from, is giving me 10 days to return it, no questions asked. This is very cool, except that this particular netbook doesn’t come with any optical media, so once I wipe the hard drive and put Linux on it it’s mine forever. And I’d rather not pay Samsung for a Windows restore disc, for reasons that should be fairly obvious. It would probably take more than 10 days to be shipped to me, anyway.

So far I’ve tried Easy Peasy and Jolicloud, and neither gets any WiFi signal at all, encrypted or not. Nor will either pull in any restricted drivers when connected via Ethernet.

Which begs the question: What’s the most Linux-friendly netbook out there right now?

For reasons of cost I’d rather stick to commodity hardware than go with a custom vendor like ZaReason or system76. I’ve actually got a couple of netbooks I’d like to run by you, and if you’ve a better idea you’ll let me know in the comments. Please?

The Asus 1001P would be a logical upgrade, except that its keyboard, like my current Eee PC, looks like it’s prone to cat vandalism.

In its least expensive configuration it’s $100 CAD more than my Samsung; still, I really like the Lenovo x100e — not just because Cory Doctorow has one, but it doesn’t hurt [swoon]. I’ve tried one out in a store and the keyboard is fantastic, but it does seem like I’m paying a premium for the ThinkPad name. And according to at least one source there are WiFi issues with this netbook as well.

I don’t want to say that Dell is ubiquitous, but their new mini does seem to be supported by a lot of distros — it’s one of the models that MeeGo officially supports. No less than Adam McDaniel of Jolicloud recommended it to me earlier this year.

It’s got some other things going for it as well: It’s cheap, has all the specs I need and is one of the few netbooks that ships with a one-piece “wall-wart” power plug instead of a two-piece cord and brick.

But unlike you lucky netbook users in the USA (and beyond?), Linux is not available as a pre-installed option for Canadians. Hell, Dell.ca won’t even load properly in Firefox half the time I’ve gone there.

So I’ve got 10 7 days to find myself a netbook with a Linux-friendly WiFi radio and island-style/chiclet keyboard. Can you help?

20 comments:

  1. My HP Mini 210 offers what you are looking for. The WiFi is a bit problematic, but with an ethernet connection it should load the drivers without a hitch (the problem for me was: no ethernet connection available – out of cables…)
    But apart from the Broadcom WiFi everything worked without requiring additional drivers

  2. Thanks, but I am looking for a netbook that’s not “problematic” at all, like my current Eee PC seems to be.

    Maybe such a thing no longer exists…

    Which distro are you using, btw?

  3. Linux Mint 9, but if you go the Jolicloud way (you seem to be very fond of that one) the HP Mini 210 poses no big problem, just the clickpad was too sensitive when I tried it some time ago.

  4. I’m looking to upgrade my aging netbook too, the WiFi has stopped working and I guess I need something better…. and for once I’d like a dual booting OS just for tinkering around…

  5. Re wiping your disk, could you not boot to a LiveUSB environment, mount a networked NFS/samba share on another computer and dump an image of the built-in disk to that? Then install what you like to see if you can’t get WiFi working.

    If you can’t, boot back into the live environment on day 9, restore the image. Good as new.

    As for WiFi, check later kernel versions to see if they have better support. You might be able to get away with jolicloud if you can compile a new .24 or even .25-rc4 kernel for it.

  6. Have you looked at the Acer Aspire line? I have an Acer Aspire One Z5G model which worked fine with UNR 9.10, Ubuntu 10.04, and Chromium OS mix from Hexxeh.

  7. Acer is one of those companies I heard bad things about, but honestly can’t remember from where or whom. I’ll definitely look into them, thanks.

  8. Clonezilla on usb with a USB HD is one example of a working imaging scenario that requires no “other computer” or optical drive.

  9. Thanks Oli, this is something I hadn’t considered.

    It would be ideal to find a netbook with better WiFi support at boot (I’m using variants of the latest Ubuntu release), but if I can’t this would at least help me test further.

  10. I can’t give you but one advice. For your benefit, and for everybody: return the samsung to staples. Buy a netbook from a vendor that does offer ubuntu/other distro preinstalled.

    Samsung in a BAD company. you will have also problem with the ACPI later on, and it’s just not worth your time. For System76 netbook you’ll pay about 100 dollar more, but they do ship to canada !

    Plus, time = money right ? Save yourself the trouble of learning how to use clonzilla, and imaging, and restoring, and distrhoping just to find out your WiFi is not supported (it’s kernel issue not distro issue, right ?).

    If you earn more than 10$/hour, I assume you’ll benefit from buy a pre-installed ubuntu. You’ll spend more than that solving the problems from the crap that Samsung feeds you.

    But most importantly, you won’t be the only one gaining. We, the whole linux eco-system earn from every pre-installed linux netbook sold out there. Because it proves there is a Market for us.

    By buying cheap Windows laptop you are part of the problem we are all trying to fight against, even if you don’t pay the “Windows Tax”.

    I hope, I might convince you to buy a linux laptop. I live in Germany, and I bought two of these laptops:

    http://www.one.de/shop/one-ulv-notebook-s1340-p-3867.html?tab=1#tabs

    Which came with Ubuntu. It was worth every cent !

  11. “By buying cheap Windows laptop you are part of the problem we are all trying to fight against…”

    I respect your devotion to Linux but your position is a little extreme for me.

    I would love the option of a Windows-free product but to pay a surcharge + currency conversion + shipping + import duties makes a cheap and cheerful netbook purchase prohibitively expensive.

    Would anybody care to weigh in on the other models I’ve mentioned in my post?

  12. I’m not really disappointed from your answer, after all I don’t expect the linux break through to come from north america.

    In 20 years from now, linux will dominate simply because in BrazilIndiaChina significant parts of Europe linux has infiltrated the education system, and linux will kick out microsoft since the kids are the easiest to lock in.

    By the way, I’ve been to Staples in Vancouver last week and asked if they will refund me the WIN XP on the Acer netbooks they sell. They said they won’t but they are willing to wipe it off for me so I can reclaim my “Windows Tax” from MS.

    So, I guess you can do that – but again only if you want to waste your time.

    Remember, by devoting time for this problem you also loose money.

    Be a responsible bloger. You are much more popular then me (hack, nobody reads my blog) so serve an example.

    I’ll make a deal with you, if you buy a Linux laptop from the USA, I’ll pay you half the shipping ! Just be nice to all of us. You could probably blog about you fancy system76 laptop etc. etc.

  13. That’s very generous of you!

    Remember, though, that I have specific keyboard requirements as well. Let me see what else is out there — and you won’t have to pay for shipping, but thanks for the offer. 🙂

  14. PCLinuxOS has the broadcom drivers already on their live distro. I have a Lenovo with the same problem and PCLoS worked a treat. Someone wanted me to put Ubuntu Netbook on their compaq mini and I used an ethernet to USB adapter so I could download the broadcom drivers and now all is well.

    PS I backed up the broadcom software for easy re-installation so future distro hopping should be easy.

  15. If you’re able, try installing Wicd as your network manager. It finds things wifi devices that others haven’t found on many of my systems, and it is the only network manager I use these days (even on my KDE setups, which are all of my setups). If you can boot into a LiveCD environment (external media drive), it may (or may not) solve your issues.

    You could use CloneZilla (external optical drive needed) to clone the Windows install for later reinstallation if you return the netbook…

  16. Well, one thing’s for sure: This Samsung is going back.

    It’s got a terrible slider to turn it on and off; even worse, they put it on the front of the netbook instead of in a protected place under the screen.

    SD cards stick out about halfway when mounted, and aren’t secure at all. And I can’t seem to boot from them, either.

    I’ve identified the WiFi driver as this:

    The source of my WiFi woes...

    And it looks like getting it working will be more trouble than it’s worth — at least with a Ubuntu-based distro…

Comments are closed.