Well, I did it again - another new netbook/sub-laptop. I have a good reason this time, though, because several of my netbooks have gone to new homes recently, and another is likely to go in the near future. The Lenovo S10-3s is in Georgia now (the country, not the state), and the brand new Acer Aspire One has moved on as well. Combine that with the fact that I saw an exceptionally good deal on what appeared to be a wonderful new Samsung Series 3 model, and here we are. I seem to be turning into quite a Samsung fan - this is my third one, with my existing N150 Plus and NF310 - but there is a good reason for it, because they are making very good and very interesting small systems right now.
This one is a Samsung 305U1A, which seems to be a completely new line for Samsung. It is extremely thin and light, measuring 196x277mm and only about 25mm thick, and weighs only 1.2Kg.! It has an AMD E350 1.6GHz Dual-Core CPU, 4GB of DDR3 memory, AMD Radeon 6310 graphic controller, 11.6" 1366x768 display, 500GB SATA disk drive, WiFi b/g/n and Bluetooth 3.0. All of that AND a four year warranty and I got it for SFr 399.- (about £275, €325 or $425). If you live or shop in Switzerland this is an exceptionally good deal - I checked all of the other usual distributors and the toppreise.ch web site, and the next closest price was nearly 100 francs higher. Wow. The only bad thing about it is that it comes with Windows 7, and over the next few days I am going to explain in detail how to load various Linux distributions on it, and how they work.
The first thing I wanted to do was see how the disk was laid out BEFORE going through the Windows install/startup procedure. I booted a Linux Mint 12 LiveUSB stick, and started gparted to have a look. Hmmm. All four partitions allocated already, one for the Windows bootloader, one for the Samsung Recovery partition, one looks like the Windows installer/distribution partition and one which spans most of the drive that looks like a normal Windows C: partition. Well, if it is still using four partitions after Windows installs it will make life a bit more difficult, as I will have to shove some things around to make room for an Extended partition where I can install Linux.
While I had it running Mint 12 Live, I took a quick look at the hardware. Obviously the basics were all ok, because it booted without problem and the display was the proper resolution - it was running the FOSS Radeon driver. The other common stumbling blocks looked good as well - it had recognized and configured a Broadcom WiFi adapter, and Bluetooth was up and running. The touchpad has real buttons, hooray, no idiotic "ClickPad" thing (to be honest, I had checked this in advance, I would not have bought it if it had a ClickPad). It has a pretty typical "chicklet" keyboard, which is never my favorite, but it seems ok. The display has a non-reflective coating, which makes it very easy to read in glaring light. It has an HDMI port, which is a big plus - I always look for AMD/ATI systems now, because they have HDMI while the typical Intel Atom systems do not. This is a big plus when I want to connect it to my TV or other external monitor to show pictures and such. It also has a VGA connection, three USB ports, a wired ethernet port (more on that below), and an SD/MMC memory card slot. By the time I shut down Mint Live, I was even more pleased and impressed with it - this is a lot of system for the money!
Ok, so now I am ready to slog through the Windows setup procedure. I don't want to give Windows any excuse to complain during installation, so I wanted to connect a wired network cable. Then it occurred to me, this thing is so thin I don't see how they can have an RJ-45 socket on it. Hmmm. Turn it all around, and sure enough there was none to be seen. It's not at all likely that it would not have wired networking, so look again, a bit closer. Aha! There it is! What clever lads they are! I was right, it is too thin for an RJ-45 connector. On the side, next to the power plug, there is a clever little flip-down cover which opens and forms the bottom of the RJ-45 plug.
I suppose there are other systems which have something like this, but it's the first one I have seen, and I'm quite impressed.
So, I connected the wired ethernet, booted it up and started the slog through the Windows First Use procedure. One very nice thing about the Samsung setup, it gives you the choice of using the disk as one large C: partition or splitting it into C: and D: partitions. When you are planning to install Linux you can save yourself some trouble at this point by choosing the two-partition layout so you can later delete the D: partition, create and Extended partition in that space, and load Linux in the Extended Partition. The rest of the Windows installation and configuration went pretty smoothly, it took about 30 minutes until it was up and running for the first time. Another plus for Samsung, this system is not overloaded with extraneous garbage. All I had to do was delete Symantec Internet Security and install AVG Free, then install Firefox 9.0 and Opera 11.60 and it was ready to go.
Boot time for Windows seems relatively slow, but that is no surprise. Even worse is after entering my password, the amount of time it takes to actually bring up the desktop and be ready to use seems like an eternity. Samsung seems to heavily promote "Instant On", which is nothing more than sleep/resume, so I guess if you were using Windows regularly and were willing to trust sleep/resume that might avoid this slowness. Personally I don't trust Windows to run for several hours without screwing up and barfing on itself, much less for several days and across several suspend/resume cycles. Your mileage may vary...
So, I'm now over the first hurdle and ready to start installing Linux. I'm really looking forward to this, I expect that this is going to be an excellent Linux netbook. With the four year warranty, this might actually be one that I keep for myself - unless my beloved partner sees it, and decides to claim it to replace her now aging N150 Plus.
Next up: Initial configuration for Linux installation, and installing openSuSE 12.1