posted by Adam S on Wed 23rd May 2007 23:54 UTC

"Darter Ultra, Page 2"

Screenshot On that note, the default setting is to turn off the display on lid-close. I was very shocked when I returned 30 minutes later to find the screen very hot. Since the settings can be tweaked easily, I'm surprised to see System76 not change this to suspend or hibernate by default. Either way, it can be changed by the user without too much effort.

I've never had a non-Apple laptop that did Bluetooth, so I fired up the included Bluetooth application and searched for devices. When none were found and I had some problems, I decided to test out the System76 resources, which includes the online knowledgebase knowledge76.com and the System76 support forums. I posted under an silly nickname, anticipating, properly, that people I had dealt with might be monitoring the forum and I didn't want to tip them off that I was doing a review. I was pleasantly surprised with the response: it was posted within 2 hours with a perfect solution exposing the real problem: an actual Ubuntu bug! I can't hold System76 responsible for this any more than I can hold Macbook hardware responsible for an OS X bug or a Dell Inspiron for a Vista bug. For those interested, the System76 forum thread is here, and it did resolve the issue, I was able to receive pictures from a Cingular phone via Bluetooth.

Screenshot One thing to note is that remaining issues with the Darter Ultra are all fixable via pushed online software updates, which is very promising.

While the Darter had its share of little "gotchas," the experience from there was almost entirely positive. Updates were a breeze. Installing the System76 driver is quick, painless, and easy. So let's dig into the Darter experience.

As I mentioned before, System76 loads their systems with mostly current Ubuntu installs, and they are served pretty much as is. The biggest difference I've noticed in the default view is the inclusion of the Beagle search box in the Gnome toolbar, which provides instant system search. The laptop runs reasonably quickly, certainly worlds faster than the Linux distros of yesteryear. Furthermore, the system runs fairly cool. While a Macbook Pro can and has burnt people who have used it in their lap, the Darter never got more than "toasty" even after long periods.

The keyboard is nice and gives generally good response, although I had a problem with the mousepad sensitivity and found that my thumb, while typing, would often "tap" the pad. That said, the keyboard is large enough for a 13.3" notebook and the lights on the front of the unit are informative.

Screenshot The Update Manager built into Ubuntu is great - and after using the laptop for just minutes it checked and found updates. I downloaded the updates and they applied without a restart. Within a few days of receiving the laptop, the new version of Ubuntu, Feisty Fawn, was released, soon after, I received notice that a "distribution upgrade" was available. After a hefty 900MB+ download and a reinstall of the System76 driver, the system was upgraded.

I plugged in my digital camera, which is a Canon PowerShot SD600. It discovered the camera and imported the photos. The onboard card-reader worked equally well - an SD card will be recognized, mounted as a disk with a nice little "SD" icon, and photos will be imported. When I connected an iPod nano, it recognized and opened Rhythmbox and showed me the contents, although the songs will not play unless you have the correct codecs installed. If you do, you can easily play songs right off of your iPod. Furthermore, you can mount and use your iPod as a disk. Peripherals-wise, the system did very well - often doing exactly what I'd expect - and all hardware, including the microphone, work well, which is a true feat for an OEM Linux machine.

When you try to play an MP3 or a file in any other unsupported format, the system will ask you if you want to search online for the codec. If you do, and you agree that you are in part of the world where it is legal to download such a codec, it will download and install it for you. This is the type of script I'd prefer to see in more Linux distributions.

In short, the Darter experience is mostly a positive one: it's as good as Linux has to offer and there's virtually no major downsides. Ubuntu appears to be most friendly of all distributions, even Dell recently chose Ubuntu for their desktop offerings, and it appears to be the distribution best fitted for a consumer friendly Linux computer.

If you are a current Linux user or even one thinking about getting into the Linux world, the Darter Ultra is a great starting point. The available documentation, the friendly staff, and the rapid free support, not to mention the modern components - including the speedy dual core Intel Core 2 Duo chip, the integrated SD card reader, and the System76 driver - all make a very convincing argument. If you are looking for a mobile Linux experience - or even a compact desktop - you can't go wrong with the Darter Ultra, especially now that they come with Feisty Fawn.

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