Besides its Linux features, there often are some main
features which have to be considered when buying a laptop.
For Linux features please see
Part V, “Mobile Hardware in Detail” Hardware In Detail
Don't underestimate the weight of a laptop. This weight is mainly
internal components, such as CD drive, floppy drive
material used for the case, usually they are either from plastics or from magnesium.
Recent laptops come with
active matrix (TFT) displays.
Laptops with passive matrix (DSTN) are no longer manufactured.
displays have better color and contrast, but usually cost
more and use more power. Also consider the screen size.
Laptops may be purchased with screens up to 17". A bigger
screen weighs more, costs more, and is harder to carry,
but is good for a portable desktop replacement.
The available battery types are Lithium Ion
(LiIon), Nickel Metal Hydride (
NiMH) and Nickel Cadmium
(NiCd). Though almost all current laptops come
with LiIon batteries.
LiIon batteries are the most expensive ones but a lot lighter
than NiCd for the same energy content, and have minimal - but
present - memory effects. NiMH is better than NiCd, but still
rather heavy and does suffer some (although less than NiCd)
Unfortunately most laptops come with a proprietary battery
size. So they are not interchangeable between different
For details about systems which are supported by the Linux Kernel, see the
The linux-kernel mailing list FAQ.
Linux doesn't support this CPU family yet. But there are some efforts at
If you like, you may use
is also a free Unix operating system. Minix supports 8088 to 286 CPUs
with as little as 640K memory. Actually there are some
laptops with ELKS and MINIX around.
i386: This covers PCs based on Intel-compatible processors, including
Intel's 386, 486, Pentium, Pentium Pro and Pentium II, and compatible
processors by AMD, Cyrix and others. Most of the currently available
laptops use Intel compatible CPUs and have quite good Linux support.
m68k: This covers Amigas and Ataris having a Motorola 680x0 processor
for x>=2; with MMU. And the early Apple/Macintosh computers.
There was a long series of Apple PowerBooks and other laptops based on
the m68k chip. Macintosh Portable (an ugly 16-pound first attempt);
PowerBook 100, 140, 170, 145, 160, 180c, 165c, 520c, 540c, 550c, 190;
Duo 210, 230, 250, 270c, 280. The PowerBook Duos were available at the
same time as the PowerBooks, they were a sort of subnotebook, but were
designed so that you could plug them into a base station (a DuoDock)
with more RAM, peripherals, etcetera, so that they could also act as a
desktop computer. The first PowerPC PowerBooks were the ill-starred
PowerBook 5300 (after the 190) and the Duo 2300c.
For a complete list of all Macintosh computers ever made, with specifications, see
For Linux installation reports see
Linux Laptop and Notebook Survey: Apple.
The proper place to
go for information on running Linux on m68k Macintoshes is
"Much like laptops of the Intel/Linux world, Mac laptops have generally
different setups that can be very hard to figure out. Also, because of
a general lack of machines to test, we are only aware of boots on the
Powerbook 145, Powerbook 150, Powerbook 170, Powerbook 180, and
Powerbook 190. Even if it boots, we currently have no support for
Powerbook-style ADB, the APM support, or just about
anything else on them. This means the only way to log in is with a
terminal hooked up to the serial interface, this has been tested on the
"Several Powerbooks have internal IDE which is supported.
PCMCIA drivers will be forthcoming if someone can
supply the necessary hardware information to write a driver. As always,
an FPU is needed also. Many of the later models have the 68LC040
processor without FPU, and many of these processors are broken with
respect to the FPU trap mechanism so they can't run regular Linux
binaries even with FPU emulation. Current status on Powerbooks 140, 160,
165, 165c, 180c, 190, 520 and Duos 210, 230, 250, 270c, 280, and 280c is
Also there are two Atari laptops, for which I don't have enough information.
The following quotations are from the
"The STacy was released shortly after the
Mega ST to provide a portable means of Atari
computing. STacy computers were shipped with TOS v1.04.
Designed to replace the STacy as the defacto
portable ST computer, the ST Book brought the basic
computing power of an ST to a lightweight notebook computer. This
machine was only released in Europe and Atari only shipped a very small
quantity. The ST Book was shipped with TOS v2.06."
From Stok, Leon <stok_AT_YIS.NL>: The STacey and the ST Book, both
can't run Linux since they are only shipped with an 68000 CPU, which
doesnt have a MMU unit.
As far as I know Amiga has never produced laptops. One company
manufactured kits to convert desktop Amigas to portables. These used
regular Amiga motherboards so any Linux setup that supports the regular
Amiga setups will support these.
Alpha, Sparc, Sparc64 architectures:
These are currently under construction. As far as I know there are only the
SPARC and ALPHA laptops, and some other ALPHA laptops available.
offers also SPARC CPUs in laptops. The TuxMobil survey of
Solaris on laptops and notebooks
may also be helpful.
a very low-power CPU found in
popular NetWinder (some kind of mobile computer, too),
and actively supported in the Debian project, it is also in several
WinCE machines, such as HP's Jornadas. Only the lack of tech specs
prevents Linux from being ported to these tiny, long-battery-life
machines. A full-scale StrongARM-based laptop would make a superb
For PDAs with ARM/StrongARM CPU see the
Part II, “Handheld Devices - Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs)”Handheld Devices part
MIPS: Used in SGI mainframes and Cobalt Micro intranet appliances, chips
based on this architecture are used in many Windows-CE machines. Linux has
been ported to a few of these.
More about Linux on AMD processors may be found at
. At TuxMobil there is also a survey of
laptops with AMD CPUs
At TuxMobil there is a survey of
laptops with 64bit CPUs
At higher speed, a CPU consumes more power and generates more heat.
Therefore, in many laptops a special low-power CPU is used.
Usually, this special CPU doesn't use as much power as a similar
processor used in a desktop. These special CPUs are also more expensive.
As a side effect you may find that laptops with a desktop CPU often have
a quite noisy fan.
Laptops and notebooks are often described by the number of spindles.
one spindle: harddisk. Usually sub-notebooks, often provided with
an external optical drive (CD/DVD).
two spindles: harddisk, optical drive (CD/DVD).
three spindles: harddisk, optical drive (CD/DVD), floppy drive. These laptops
are often used as desktop PC replacement.
An enormously important issue. Anything based on PPC or Pentium will
generate enormous amounts of heat which must be dissipated. Generally,
this means either a fan, or a heat sink the size of the case. If it's a
fan, the air path shouldn't get blocked, or it will overheat
and burn out. This means machines with a fan mounted in the bottom are a
big, big mistake: you can't use them on a soft surface.
Though you might use your desktop computer to do longer writings, a good
keyboard can save you some head- and fingeraches. Look especially
for the location of special keys like: <ESC>,
<PageUp> and the cursor keys.
Laptops are quite expensive if you compare them with desktops (though
maybe not if compared with LCD,
capabilities). So you may decide between a brand or no-name product.
Though I would like to encourage you to take a
no-name product, there are some caveats. I have
experienced that laptops break often, so you are better off, when you
have an after-sales warranty, which is usually only offered with brand
products. Or you may decide to take a second hand
machine. When I tried this, I discovered that the laptop market is
changing quite often. A new generation is released approximately every
three months (compared by CPU speed, harddisk capacity, screen size
etc.). So laptops become old very quick. But this scheme often isn't
followed by the prices for second hand laptops. They seem too expensive
to me. Anyway if you plan on purchasing a second hand machine, review my
recommendations on checking the machine.
If you travel abroad pay attention to the voltage levels which are
supported by the power supply. Also the power supply is usually one of the
heavier parts of a laptop. Another caveat is the power plug, which often
is different from country to country.