My Ideal Laptop (fall 1999)
Not looking too tightly at the wallet, these are things I find
are pretty essential in a laptop. Mind you that not all items
are optional or cost more, they are just features of the
laptop, and not all laptops carry them. And of course they
are my needs and taste, and plenty of people will disagree with
me on that :-)
and things I don't care about yet, but maybe in the future:
- Must run linux, if windows can run, that's ok, as long as it
does not jeopardize disk space. Ideally installing windows from
scratch should not require a disk with a single partition as some
vendors make you do.
- LCD: big active matrix (TFT) screen, probably 14-15" these days.
1280x1024 (XSGA) would be nice, but most currently do 1024x768 (a.k.a. XGA,
don't ever buy the 800x600 SVGAs). Avoid anything but true TFT. A nice
laptop also comes with a function key whereby you can use the native
resolution, i.e. display 800*600 in truly 800 by 600 pixels, as opposed
to a regridded 1024*768.
- VIDEO: good video card that doesn't use SVGA emulators in XFree86,
but a real accelerated (e.g. ATI cards), and of course supports multiple
resolutions are multiple color depths. Also important is the fact that
one should be able to view the LCD as well as video output at the same time.
Most laptops come with 3 settings to do this: LCD, video out, and both.
- MEMORY: 64MB minimum, be really 128MB is what you need, 256MB if you
want to run VMWare.
- DISK: 6GB minimum, 2G for Win9x, partition Linux also in pieces
for easy (leapfrogged?) upgrades. Ideally a second slot (CD, battery?)
can be used for a co-existing second HD.
- CD: a CD that can read CDRW's (not all can). should be high enough
speed, and not a flimsy one. there are ones that feel much sturdier than
Get a feel for how the tray moves in and
out when you (un)load the CDs. Of course should be able to boot
Ideally CD/R/RW and/or DVD.
- MOUSE: hot swappable mouse. Most mice are PS/2, but some require a
reboot or BIOS setting for external mouse. I want it hot swappable. Some
will want you to do a virtual console switch (ctl-alt-Fn) to re-activate
it after a suspend.
- modular laptop, such that HD, FDD, CD and BAT could be exchanged in
various places. Ideally the FDD and CD can be inside at the same
time, as well as the battery, but this usually gives you a 8lbs laptop.
Would be very nice if either FDD or CD could be replaced with a 2nd HD.
- APM: reliable APM, so we can suspend to disk as well as memory. Switching
between those modes would be nicest via a Fn-key, but most (all?) laptops
require that change via BIOS setup. An APM that can be activated with
a lid closing (not all do that!) would be very nice too. If the APM can
tell how much time is left, instead of a percentage, that's nice too.
If you have a fan on it, it would be nice if that fan can be turned off.
- MODEM: onboard modems often tend to be WinModems,
and we can't use those in linux.
Probably PCMCIA modems are the easiest, especially when in a combo with
an 10/100 Ethernet card.
- SOUND: external volume control of sound with reasonable speakers. A minimum
of 3, ideally 4, connectors: line-in, line-out, mic and speakers.
Most laptops have a low output, so a bit more power on those would be nice,
but that's what you get.
- removable HD, as opposed to user-replaceable. Ideally with a simple
pull, as opposed to based on messing with screws or even worse.
- upgrade paths: in addition to HD, you may want to consider various
common upgrades (memory, CD->CDR or DVD, Floppy -> LS120 or ZIP etc.)
if they can be done safely by the user, or require installation by a
certified technician (in which case it can cost you $$$ and/or
having to send in the laptop for an undeterminate amount of time).
- batteries without memory, Li-Ion, with
the usual stuff of course: a good battery life :-) 2 hours is bad.
3.5 hours is acceptable, but still a bit short for crossing the
- battery should be hot swappable, but often it means you still
need to be able to suspend to disk and recover. Vaio's have a nice
snap-on battery for which you don't need to suspend the machine.
- hinges for the display should be nice and tight, and not too loose.
Some tend to get awfully loose after even a year of usage. The hinges go
through a lot of torque (careful usage can lengthen the life). Usually
the hinges is where your first damage on the machine occurs.
- A nice small "brick" charger. Some laptops come with big bulky ones,
most modern ones are better. Be careful with some models which only need
a cable, the transformer is inside the laptop and thus adds to the weight
and they may not be so "international".
- A sturdy (fullsize) keyboard. Some come with a very thin flimsy
keyboard. Look if the "unix" keys are in the "normal" places, and the
ctrl-alt-shift locations in the lower left. Famous bad example: (older)
- WEIGHT: this is a hard one. Of course I want a machine with all
these features in under 2 lbs, right? But if you
want all those features, you pay for this in weight.
Currently all of the
above comes to about 7-8lbs, including battery. Of course it would
be nicer to have half the weight, but those machines often lack
internal bays so you can have cd, floppy, battery and HD all
- WARRANTY: Since laptops tend to travel more:
does the maker honor the warranty abroad? In case you want to
sell the laptop at some point, is the warranty for the machine,
or for the owner. Famous bad example: Compaq Pressario.
Problems, Suggestions, Solutions? Email:
- IR port(s)
- DVD instead of CDROM, CDR/RW would be a nice option actually