Netbooks are all the rage right now with Linux as one of the primary operating system (OS) options. The Eee PC from ASUS got things started and originally only shipped with a Linux OS. This year's Consumer Electronics Show was overrun with the little laptops from a wide variety of vendors. It was only a matter of time before the big guys rolled out their own mini-laptop offerings. Now you can find a netbook from just about every major laptop manufacturer, with the exception of Apple.
Cost is, without a doubt, a big driver in the success of these machines. You can find any number of models for something around the $300 price point. These are fully capable machines with typically a screen size in the 7-inch range. Newer models have hit the market recently with larger screens and somewhat higher prices. While the 7-inch screen is OK for reading, it drives a smaller total footprint that tends to make the keyboard smaller than is conducive to touch typing. With a 10-inch screen there is more room for a larger keyboard and other nice features, such as bigger batteries.
The Lenovo S10e we tested came with an Intel N270 Single Core Atom processor clocked at 1.6 GHz. With 1 GB of RAM and a 120 GB hard drive, there's plenty of room to run just about any application you would want to on a machine this size. The 10.1-inch screen is driven by an Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 950 and is topped off with an integrated Web cam. A Broadcom 802.11 b/g Wi-Fi card and Bluetooth round out the communication options quite nicely.
Some time back we tested the HP 2133, which was HP's first foray into the mini-laptop or netbook world. It was obviously a first try type of product and wasn't without a few kinks. It did come with the same OS, Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop (SLED), that the Lenovo S10e comes with, so the comparisons there were similar. The screen on the HP 2133 is 8.9", giving an edge to the S10e in readability.
One definite advantage the HP 2133 has over the Lenovo S10e is the keyboard. HP boasts that the 2133 has a 92 percent-of-full-sized keyboard, and it really does work well for most typing intensive tasks, such as editing a document. The HP 2133 didn't come with Bluetooth, so advantage S10e in that department. Using an external Bluetooth mouse sure beats the tiny mouse pad and buttons you get on most of the netbooks. The HP 2133 also ran quite hot at times; we found the s10e to be considerably cooler. The fan is a little noticeable when you're in a quiet room, but you'll never hear it otherwise.
Although we didn't actually weigh the two devices, the S10e seemed a bit lighter. We tested a unit with a black molded plastic case that seemed durable enough, but not the same as the rugged-feeling metal case of the HP 2133. Battery life was a little better than the HP unit, but not significantly more as they had the same number of cells (three). The S10e is available with a six-cell battery, providing roughly twice the life.
We did have to do a little command line magic to get the unit to recognize the Bluetooth mouse. Our first try with the included utilities didn't work, but a quick Google search turned up just the fix in the form of the hidd command as follows:
$ sudo hidd --search
With the mouse set in discover mode, the command found it and connected it straight away. It even worked after closing the lid and letting the machine go to sleep. It only took a few seconds for it to start working again after opening the lid, turning on the Bluetooth mouse and giving it a wiggle. We did manage to get the S10e into a strange video mode a few times after bringing it out of sleep mode. Closing the lid and letting it go back to sleep seem to fix the issue when we opened it back up again.
Another configuration step we needed to accomplish was to change the network interface to allow browsing of Windows networks. Our test network has several different file servers including a Linux-based network attached storage (NAS) box, a Windows Home Server and multiple desktops and laptops running a wide range of OSes. Once the wireless interface was set as internal, we were able to see all files on all servers.
Installed software on the S10e is impressive, including Open Office 2.4 Novell edition, The GIMP, Firefox 3.0, Evolution, Helix Banshee, the F-Spot photo manager, and Tomboy for note taking. If you don't find what you need, there's an easy-to-use software update tool to help you find it. You will have to go through a registration process to connect to the Novell-sponsored repositories, but it doesn't take long.
From a cost perspective you get lots of bang for your buck with the S10e. The MSRP for the unit we tested is $379 and you can find it cheaper if you look around. There's also a version with a 4GB solid state disk (SSD) for the exact same price if you'd prefer that. The SSD version comes with the 6-cell battery, as well.
HP has released the successor to the HP2133 in the form of the HP 2140. It keeps much of the good parts of the original design including the keyboard, but fixes many of the original complaints including the heat issues and a more powerful Intel Atom processor. The 2140 has the same 10.1-inch screen and similar specs to the Lenovo S10e. It also comes with a higher price tag with models starting in the $499 price range.
Both HP and Lenovo have jumped head-long into the netbook market with multiple offerings. At CES both companies showed off a variety of models targeted at different buyers. HP even has a Vivienne Tam edition you can buy for that special someone for Valentine's day. ASUS hasn't slowed down their pace of releasing new models either.
With all these manufacturers vying for a chunk of the market that ASUS created, it should prove to be a very interesting year from a buyer's perspective. Newer models with faster processors, more memory and other twists like the mini Tablet-PC convertible model from ASUS will only make the buying decision more difficult. From the consumer's side of the table it all looks good.
For more information on the various S10 models, visit the Lenovo site.
Adapted from LinuxPlanet.com.
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