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Linux-based laptop goes under review microscope

Dec 27, 2007 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 4 views

Jeff Campbell (aka “Mr. Zonbu”) has reviewed the Linux-based Zonbu Notebook. His final review score — 8.5 out of 10 — balances praise for thorough features, sharp display, and excellent support, with some questions over performance and design.

(Click for larger view of the Zonbu Notebook)

Following up on his generally positive review of the Zonbu Desktop Mini desktop system, previously known as the Zonbox, Mr. Zonbu now takes on the laptop model, which offers the same Gentoo Linux distribution and software offerings. The Zonbu Notebook (previously referred to as the Zonbook) sells for $479, compared to the more barebones Mini. With a two-year, $15/month service and support contract, it sells for $280.

Based on an Everex laptop hardware design, the Zonbu Notebook is equipped with a 1.5GHz, Via C7-M processor with 512MB of RAM, 60GB hard drive, and a DVD-ROM/CD-RW drive. It offers a 15.4-inch WXGA display driven by a Via Chrome9 HC IGP graphics processor. The 5.3-lb (2.4kg) laptop also includes Ethernet, WiFi, and three USB ports. (For a full list of specs see last month's LinuxDevices coverage.)

After a thorough investigation, Mr. Zonbu concludes that unlike the Zonbu Desktop Mini, the Zonbu Notebook has a “cheap” look and feel. “Laptops are personal and almost like jewelry to many users,” he writes. “It has got to look good and feel right.” He also issues demerits for a variety of hardware and software design flaws, including an Ethernet port that is so close to the power input that the latter must be removed in order to insert the Ethernet cable.

So far so bad, but Mr. Zonbu proceeds to go ga-ga over the “bright and clear” 1440 x 900 display, concluding that “with the cost of LCD panel monitors still hovering around $150 or more, the Zonbu is a good deal for the display savings alone.” He also praises the laptop's general Web presentation skills. However, he noted that the Flash player did not handle YouTube and other Flash-based videos very well.

The review is generally positive about the software selection, including the Firefox and productivity implementations. Mr. Zonbu is happy to see Skype 2.0, yet he couldn't get his Logitech QuickCam 4000 to work with it. He is also disappointed in the out-of-date GAIM 2.0.0beta6 software for IM (now called Pidgin), and wishes the laptop supported the Rhapsody music service.

In the end, Mr. Zonbu suggests that Zonbu should improve the Notebook's external look and feel, and replace the Via Chrome9 HC IGP chipset with a more powerful graphics processor that does a better job with Flash. In fact, he wonders whether the Via CPU itself is fast enough, or if there's enough RAM, but reminds himself that you can't have everything for $280.

The best aspect about both the Zonbu Notebook and Zonbu Desktop Mini, he says, is the seamless built-in tech support. Over a four-month period, the OS in his Desktop Mini was kept up to date and running smoothly via remote broadband support. Combined with the sharp display and good all-around feature set, this was enough to earn the Notebook an 8.5 rating.

Mr. Zonbu's full review of the Zonbook is available here.

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