posted by Adam S on Wed 23rd May 2007 23:54 UTC
IconIf online articles and blogs are any indication of things, the number of Linux users migrating to, and satisfied with, Ubuntu GNU/Linux seems to be staggering. Given that, it was only a matter of time before a capable company had the resources to offer accessible, affordable Linux desktops and notebooks that delivered the way that Apple's products have. Colorado-based System76 sent us their Darter Ultra for review, and proved that there is an OEM hardware/software combination capable of being the primary PC for the general public.

With an impressive array of notebooks, desktop computers, and servers, System76 preloads a mostly stock version of the the current iteration of Ubuntu Linux and the System76 driver, which adds support for any included devices not supported by Ubuntu proper, such as microphones or integrated memory card readers. Our Darter Ultra came with the following specs:

  • Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo T7200 at 2 Ghz
  • RAM: 1.5 GB DDR 2 667 MHz Memory
  • Hard Drive: 40 GB 5400 RPM Hard Drive
  • Display: 13.3 Widescreen WXGA
  • Graphics: Intel GMA 950 224 MB Integrated Graphics
  • Sound: Intel High Definition Audio
  • Networking: 10/100 (LAN)
  • Wireless: Intel 802.11 abg & Bluetooth
  • Drives: CD/RW and DVD/RW
  • Card Reader: 4 in 1 Card Reader
  • Expansion: PCI Express Card Slot (34/54)
  • Ports: VGA, 3x USB 2.0, Mic In, Headphone Out, FireWire 1394B, S-Video
  • Battery: 6 Cell Lithium Ion (4.5 Hours)
  • Dimensions: 12.4" x 8.9" x 1.24" (W x D x H)
  • Weight: 4.3 lbs

    Screenshot The Darter came via DHL in a well packed box. The packaging was comparable to a similar Dell notebook, and secured the laptop very well. There is a "quick start" page included, but the rest of the documentation is digital.

    The first thing you'll notice on the Darter is the number of ports it has. The power is connected on the back, but all sides except the front have a USB port, which is great for multi-peripheral support. The laptop is solid enough - it does not feel cheap - and it's an attractive white color reminiscent of another manufacturer's 13 inch offering. Around the sides, you have a PCMCIA slot, headphone jacks, an external display connector, a locking point, an S-VIDEO jack, a modem, an ethernet port, a mini firewire jack, the disk writer, and an SD card slot. The machine is full of options.

    Screenshot Upon first boot, a configuration program runs. I entered my name and pressed enter, and had some difficulty when I realized that the field was for username and I had typed my full name. There was no error when I attempted to use a space, it just refreshed the screen. Once I realized my error, I was in and the default desktop, at 1280x800, was the gorgeous Ubuntu Edgy Eft. My first order of business was flipping through several of the included Ubuntu/Gnome applications. Since the Darter comes pre-loaded with what is essentially a vanilla Ubuntu install, I will not get into the details of reviewing the specific applications. Suffice it to say that performance on the laptop is admirable; applications that load slowly still load slowly on the system, and applications capable of loading quickly do so.

    The array of problems I experienced with the Darter all showed themselves relatively quickly. They were all fairly minor and were mostly distractions with simple fixes. Nonetheless, they might stump some who don't know where to go for support.

    My first order of business was getting online. It was so easy to click System > Administration > Network to find the network administration too. Imagine my surprise when I found that the system did not automatically search for wireless networks. In short, I had to know the SSID of the network in order to join it.

    Shortly thereafter, I found that there were 2 DNS servers and a search domain listed in my network properties - on first boot. One of the biggest things that I would focus on is out-of-the-box connectivity. I was able to use a wired ethernet cable to connect immediately.

    Screenshot Linux has had a long, sordid history with notebook hibernation and suspend. First off, I don't know that the average user knows the difference. When I tried to hibernate, the system looked as if it was shutting down, led to an error message, and then finally shut off successfully. Pressing the power button resembles a new boot, complete with the Intel splash screen and then the Ubuntu loading screen. Furthermore, the internet connection is hit or miss when the laptop resumes. To be clear: on the edgy unit I got, hibernate did work, it just gave an error on resume, and the internet connection restoration was shaky. With so much work going in to cleaning up the boot and shutdown process, it's a bit of a shame to see the hibernate process look so unfinished. I'll touch on this again later: there are no errors on upgrade to Feisty, but the display is still non-graphical. Suspend mostly worked for me. This is the closest I've seen a Linux machine come to pulling off these processes successfully.

    Table of contents
    1. "Darter Ultra, Page 1"
    2. "Darter Ultra, Page 2"
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