Fruitful Editing

Good-bye PowerBook, Hello Linux on a Laptop

- 2009.03.02

Last year, I lost a dear friend.

My wife was in need of a better laptop, and without the finances to get her a new MacBook, I decided that my 12" PowerBook G4 should be hers. As an anniversary present, I stayed up most of the night before backing up my files and customizing it for her needs.

The next day was both joyful (for my wife) and sad for me. I would have to wait until my finances would allow me to get another PowerBook.

As the months went on, I realized that continuing with PowerPC architecture was not for me. If I was going to invest money in hardware (especially in this economy), I wanted something that was going to be supported for years to come.

I also began to have some interest in Linux - and open source software in general. Since the notebook would be a secondary computer, why would I need a MacBook? I could just get a cheap PC notebook and run Linux, and then sell the Windows license and save even more.

The temptation only got worse when I started looking at the specifications of the PC laptops.

  • 3-4 gigs of RAM
  • 250 GB hard drives
  • Equally fast dual-core processors
  • HDMI
  • $500

I convinced myself that this was the way to go. I would purchase one of these machines when they were on sale, run an operating system I had no experience with, and be just fine (and save $500).

My First PC

I decided on an HP Dv4 1220, which is one of HP's Pavilion entertainment models. It has a 2.1 GHz AMD 64-bit processor, 4 GB of RAM, a 250 GB hard drive, HDMI out, and a bunch of other great features.

Best of all, I purchased it when it was on sale for $550 (MSRP $749). I figured with specs like that, I had a computer with better specs than a brand new MacBook at a "savings" of $500.

The problems started as soon as I turned the machine on.

After unpacking my new laptop, I plugged it in and decided it would be fun to poke around in Vista. I had never used Vista, so I thought it would be interesting to see what all the fuss was about. I knew I was going with a version of Linux anyway.

Vista had not been imaged properly at the factory, so I repacked everything and returned it to the store. To be fair, returning it was pretty easy. I explained the situation and was given another unit with no hassle.

When I started up machine number two, I got the same message about Windows not being correctly shut down. Thankfully, I was able to boot it. I used Windows for a few days, then made the plunge and installed Mandriva 2009. I didn't like this Linux distribution, so I began trying others.

I was getting no work done; I was merely tinkering with operating systems for two weeks.

I finally found one that worked with this HP model: Ubuntu 8.10. Surprisingly, everything worked "out of the box." My laptop has touch controls for wireless, volume, etc., and it all worked with no configuration.

The only thing that didn't work was my sound card, but my Linux guru friend assured me that it was an easy fix.

Buyer's Remorse

The more days I used the HP, the worse I felt about my purchase. I knew I had made a poor decision. I was a Mac guy, and tinkering with open source software should have been done with an old ThinkPad, not a brand new machine.

I have not been able to find a Linux distro that gives me full functionality. I have tried 6 different distributions, and not one of them allowed my sound to work.

I don't want to run Windows, so this machine has no value to me.

Now I am searching for a buyer, someone who can get some use out it - someone who uses Windows and will appreciate it.

This is not a bad laptop at all - in fact, I absolutely love the keyboard. It's one of the best I've ever used.

When I find a buyer, I'm going to put that money back into a Mac - PowerPC or Intel. Until then, I'm stuck with the HP and Ubuntu.

What do I like about Linux? You'll have to come back later to find out. LEM

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Brian Gray is a journalist from North Carolina who enjoys writing, the beach, and tinkering with Macs.

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