My model came with an Intel 2.8 GHz P4 and 512 MB of RAM standard. It features a 40 GB drive, a 15″ SXGA+ TFT with 1400×1050 resolution and an ATI Radeon Mobility 9000 with 64MB VRAM (the Xorg r200 3D driver works hardware-accelerated for OpenGL games and apps). It also has an integrated 3-in-1 card reader supporting SD/MMC/MS cards, an optical DVD/CDRW Combo Drive, built-in 10/100 networking (natsemi driver included in all default kernels), 56k internal modem (third party slmodem driver required), a PCMCIA/CardBus socket for Type II, 4 USB 2.0 ports, a mini Firewire port and more (check web page). The laptop weighs 7 lb.
The laptop comes pre-loaded with Red Hat/Fedora Linux but on demand LinuxCertified can also install Debian or Linspire Laptop Edition, and there is an optional dual-boot install with Windows XP. My laptop came with Fedora Core 2 and later LinuxCertified sent me an upgraded laptop with Fedora Core 3 Test-3 on it. FC is working well on this laptop, however, in order to achieve this, LinuxCertified is using specially-compiled kernels, additional drivers and other patches. Among the patches/additions included are SoftwareSuspend, some acpi scripts, XBindKeys and Synaptics (touchpad driver for X11) and some multimedia packages.
I also took the liberty of installing other distros on the laptop, just to see how it would behave in a non-patched environment. Unfortunately, Ubuntu wouldn’t work (Ubuntu-specific bug); the kernel loads just fine, but when it’s time to get into the text-mode installer, all you get is a black screen. There’s a chance that Debian-Sarge might have the same problem, as it uses the same installer as Ubuntu (however, LinuxCertified supports Debian, so they will certainly make sure that this is fixed by the time Sarge is ready).
Arch Linux 0.7pre+, on the other hand, worked perfectly and installed fine. Its recent XOrg selected the right resolution selected automatically, and 3D worked too with the games I tried: lthough the commercial demo of “Dark-Horizons: Lore” was not running at full speed, while simpler GL games, like GLTron, Neverball etc, ran fast enough. Running in the native 1400×1050 resolution with XOrg’s r200 3D drivers (not ATi drivers), GLXGears did up to 1594 fps at 24bit color in X11, and 2212 fps while in 16bit. Sound and onboard networking also worked fine with no extra drivers needed (and slmodem and synaptics packages are part of /extra of Arch’s tree anyway, so installing them was a piece of cake).
The laptop is really a desktop replacement rather than an ultra-portable laptop. Its battery life with a stock kernel is about 1.5 hours. The laptop will automatically shut down if the battery goes below 10%, sometimes without a warning (which is actually a good thing, because users should never leave batteries drain below ~20%, as this damages all batteries in general).
The keyboard has an “ok” feel, but I had to get used to it a bit, as I was mostly used to my 12″ Powerbook’s soft keyboard touch. The biggest hurdle was to teach myself to press the right keys for Enter and Backspace, as my hands were used to find them at the right edge of the keyboard layout, while the LC2430 has the Home/End/PgUp/PgDown buttons instead on the rightmost part of the keyboard. A few days later and I was finding myself used to the new layout without a problem.
The laptop boots pretty fast and the hard drive performance is adequate, especially after adding some hdparm modifications in Arch. The screen is beautiful; its quality and viewing angle is better than my 12″ Powerbook’s (12″ which has the same LCD model as the iBook family, which is not the same as the much-better 15/17″ Powerbook LCD model).
All the USB 2.0 ports worked perfectly. I tried my new digital Canon A75 digital camera directly with it and an external card reader (that could read my camera’s compact flash card). I also found the wheel-like button for the sound volume very convenient, while the touchpad (with Synaptics) felt good too (in fact, movement was smoother and acceleration was faster than in my Powerbook (even with SideTrack on)). However, I had to tweak the default settings of Synaptics, because Firefox would misbehave (it would jump pages Back/Forward out of the blue, when my finger was moving the cursor in the touchpad in the lower part of the touchpad). So, I had to disable horizontal wheel scrolling in the touchpad with a trick.
LinuxCertified also sent us in a WiFi Prism54 PCMCIA card. The driver is included with all recent kernels, but you will need extra firmware files to make the card actually work. The LinuxCertified installations of Linux have all the needed drivers/files installed by default, but if you want to run a custom distro, you will need to hunt down these firmware files yourself. This is true for most WiFi cards anyway (see recent OpenBSD stories where the project actively pursues to “free” these files). The Prism card worked perfectly and it had much better reception than the internal antenna of my Powerbook or my TH-55 SONY Clie PDA.
The stability of the hardware/software is characteristic, I had no weird problems with the OSes I tried (except ACPI support, see below) and the laptop was able to go on for hours without getting overly hot. And it’s a plus that the laptop’s screen goes off automatically when you close the lid.
There are a few problems with the laptop, two laptop-related and two with software/hardware interaction.
The biggest problem with this laptop is its loose power cord cable. I find myself many times sitting on my couch or setting the laptop somewhere for a while in order to attend to other things (e.g. cooking), only to come back a while later and see that my battery has gone down to 80 or 70%. Then, I check the power cord and I see that it’s not sitting well inside the power port. Sometimes it just comes out completely, and sometimes it’s still inside the port but not completely inside. Update: Apparently this might be an issue with my laptop in particular and not with all the laptops of the series sold. We will investigate.
The second problem is the bad location of the PCMCIA slot. It’s directly above the combo drive, and so when the WiFi card is in, putting a CD into the drive, or taking one out, is an exercise in patience.
The software compatibility problem has to do with power management and ACPI. Apparently, recent versions of ACPI are pretty screwed up (according to the Intel engineer who’s developing it), however a new big patch is expected for kernel 2.6.10 that will hopefully fix some things that have been broken since 2.6.4+. So, first you need to make sure that ehci_hcd is not compiled into the kernel but is a module, otherwise ACPI won’t be able to unload the USB drivers and put many recent laptops to sleep (thanks to Judd Vinet for altering his kernel configuration on Arch Linux 0.7-pre2 at my request). After you have this in place, the laptop does go to sleep like a baby (with the “echo -n mem > /sys/power/state” command). However, the laptop doesn’t wake up. I tried the stock ACPI with all the Fedoras from LinuxCertified and Arch. The laptop would go to sleep, but when trying to wake it up, in the case of Fedora it would reboot the laptop while in the case of Arch it would wake up the laptop but not the screen (black screen).
The “Sleep” button on the laptop is Fn+F1 (which is actually a soft button), which doesn’t work automatically, and so it doesn’t have any effect to fully awaken the laptop (however this doesn’t seem to be the root of the problem). LinuxCertified installations of Fedora come with SoftwareSuspend, but that’s not what I personally want (takes too much time, about 20 seconds), as I am used to the Instant-On of my Powerbook (1-2 seconds). In fact, I never turn off my Powerbook, it’s always on, in sleep mode. Please note that the standby/disk stock ACPI modes have no effect (they don’t work at all).
The last problem has to do with the onboard Intel AC97 sound card which doesn’t have mixing in hardware. This results in it being able to only play one sound at a time. It’s very annoying, to say the least, while the rest of the sound experience is very satisfying (good stereo speakers, good overall sound quality). So, I had to resort to some black magic ALSA scripting, and even after that, not all sound applications supported the new “default” ALSA device (I created a software mixer via the dmix plugin).
This is a great laptop. It is actually a desktop replacement, with the added convenience of being portable when you need it to be. It’s fast, very compatible with recent distros and it has good extra support from LinuxCertfied.com to add better support on Fedora installs (in RPM form). The LinuxCertified.com guys were very responsive in my requests and so this adds plus points regarding good support within the one year that the warranty is active.
The LC2430 is a trustworthy companion for day-to-day tasks and/or development. It does the job well, and may I say, quickly (fastest machine in my office anyway). It is a highly recommended product with a good overall quality and modern features. In fact, after a few days of using it, I found myself using this laptop more than my Powerbook!
I just hope that kernel 2.6.10 will fix the ACPI compatibility problems, and I would in fact like to see LinuxCertified.com engineers actively work on the ACPI kernel code directly and test their laptops, instead of creating special patched kernels that try to soften the power management problem, rather than truly fixing it in the first place.