July 21, 2006

R Cubed's thin, fast Linux notebook

Author: Rob Reilly

Linux users are flocking to the stay-connected, work-anywhere contemporary lifestyle. R Cubed's LS1250-L Linux laptop is just right for these active mobile professionals.

The model I tested sported a 1.73GHz Centrino processor with a 533MHz front side bus, 512MB of DDR2 memory, and a 60GB 5400RPM hard drive. Other options are available, with CPUs from 1.5 to 2.266GHz available, double the RAM, and hard drives up to 100GB and 7200RPM. Additional hardware features include a 12-inch 1024x768 screen, 10/100 Ethernet adapter, Wi-Fi, DVD-RW drive, USB ports, 1394 port, and an external monitor port -- but no parallel printer port.

My test machine came with Fedora Core 5, the GNOME desktop, OpenOffice.org 2.0, the Firefox browser, and Evolution mail client. The lineup also includes the normal assortment of multimedia players, administration tools, and games. If you prefer, you can choose SUSE 10.1, various flavors of Red Hat Enterprise Linux, and even Microsoft Windows XP.

I needed to enable multimedia extensions when the machine was first booted. With the extensions turned on, DVDs and various other content could be played without a problem.

Performance was fairly impressive, in spite of the average amount of RAM and midrange disk drive. Heavyweight applications like OpenOffice.org Writer were functional in around 15 seconds. There was no lag in normal function after startup.

Mandatory notebook features

The LS1250-L is a good example of a Linux notebook that is both lightweight and small in size, while having a reasonable heat signature.

Anybody that travels knows that weight kills, when it comes to lugging around your suitcase and mobile computer. The R Cubed notebook has just the right amount of heft to make it feel durable. By itself the 11x9x1.5-inch LS1250-L weighs in at a svelte 3.62lbs. Add 14 ounces for the power brick and cord combination, and you have a slim back-friendly Linux computing package.

The notebook's compact size make quick trips around the corner or across the country infinitely more pleasurable. You can close the top and wrap your fingers around the hinge side for a naturally secure grip. The LS goes into sleep mode when you close up the screen, too. To get going again, just open the top and push the blue power button once. Fill in your password, and within a couple of seconds, the desktop is right back to where you left it. The battery life seemed pretty normal, with a full charge running about 2 to 2.5 hours.

The LS notebook doesn't give off that much heat. It's slightly warm under the keyboard palm area, but nothing really objectionable. Running the notebook on your lap is bearable.

This notebook would be a joy on the subway or at business meetings. I wish I had had one of these to carry around with me at a few recent conferences.

Could use a bit of refinement

While the light weight and fast operation are real sellers, a couple of things could improve the usability of the R Cubed LS1250.

Wi-Fi connectivity seemed to be kind of flaky. The notebook sometimes wouldn't reconnect to the same access point after being in sleep mode. Occasionally, the Wi-Fi also wouldn't start up automatically after a reboot. A couple of times, I'd have to go into the Network tab, under the System and Administration menu items, and re-activate the network. I've had similar problems with Red Hat-based distributions in the past.

I was a little disappointed that the touchpad didn't have any mouse wheel-like scrolling capability. That, coupled with the necessity to push the FN key to make the page up/down keys work, made navigating around OpenOffice.org Writer and Firefox tedious. Why should you have to move the cursor to the vertical scroll bar to move up or down through long documents?

But overall, the machine's good features offset the things that could use some tweaking.

The LS comes with a one-year limited warranty that covers manufacturing defects. Two- and three-year warranties are available for additional cost.

Linux software support is available on a best-effort basis. Corporate support services are negotiated with the client.

Wrap-up

The R Cubed LS1250-L notebook feels like a good, solid machine. Performance was snappy; you won't waste a lot of time waiting for programs to start. It has a few things that could be improved, but that is true with just about any machine.

The $1,433 suggested retail price for the reviewed model seems high. On the other hand, saving your back and being able to slip the laptop into a small day bag offset that premium. The old hot rod question applies, with a twist: "Speed costs money -- how fast do you want to spend?" The same goes for weight savings.

With just a bit of tweaking, the LS could be great. As is, it's a good choice for the active professional who needs a strong mobile Linux machine.

Rob Reilly is a consultant, trend spotter, and writer. He advises clients on portable computing, presentation technology, and business process integration.

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