April 7, 2008

ZaReason's MegaLap is a desktop replacement with an Ubuntu twist

Author: Thomas Holbrook II

MegaLap, a notebook computer from ZaReason, a company that builds and sells computer systems that run Ubuntu, is bound to give its owner bragging rights at any LAN party, especially with how loud the system can get. It has the hallmarks of on-the-go computing, while performing comparably to a desktop gaming system.

MegaLap comes with a choice of Intel Core Duo processors. The $2,000 notebook I reviewed had a Core 2 Duo T7400 operating at 2.16GHz. The machine also sports a 17-inch LCD display with 1680x1050 resolution, which works well for viewing videos in full screen. Speaking of multimedia, this desktop replacement has four speakers with a subwoofer at the bottom that can be loud without suffering from distortion. Graphics are powered by a GeForce Go 7700, which has 512MB of dedicated RAM. There are two audio jacks under the touchpad: one for headphones, and another for microphones.

You can purchase the system with 1GB of DDR2 RAM (the review unit came with 2GB) and expand it up to 3GB. A default configuration contains an 80GB hard drive running at 5400 RPM. You can also upgrade to an expensive 7200 RPM 200GB drive. A DVD burner, integrated wired Ethernet port, Intel 3945ABG Wi-Fi adapter, and integrated Bluetooth round out the system.

You want expansion ports? Four USB ports and a FireWire port allow you to add a variety of devices to the system. The MegaLap has an MMC/SD slot, an ExpressCard 34/54 slot, which is a replacement for PCMCIA, and an eSATA port. In addition to the traditional VGA port, MegaLap offers an HDMI port for external monitors.

One drawback is MegaLap's power profile. It sucks battery power rapidly, yielding about an hour of power at the most. The hibernate and suspend features work well, however, and they can act as a security measure of sorts, since the screen has to be unlocked with a password upon turning the machine back on. To preserve battery life, take advantage of GNOME's power management capabilities.

Putting it through its paces

Upon booting the machine, I chose a username and password. You need to enter the password to gain root access temporarily for applications such as Synaptic, which performs software installation and removal.

ZaReason doesn't include DVD or multimedia playback functionality to avoid the wrath of the MPAA, so I added the Medibuntu repository through Synaptic and installed libdvdcss. MegaLap played movies smoothly and without artifacts. I also installed a couple of 3-D games to test the performance of the GeForce Go 7700 video adapter. The PlanetPenguin Racer game played on its highest settings without jerky movement. First-person shooter OpenArena also performed well. I also installed Adobe Flash, though for those who prefer entirely free software, Gnash is included.

Although lockups were few and far between, they did occur when I was using OpenOffice.org Writer and OpenArena. Turning the power off and on again was the only way to get a working system back. The problem seems to be a driver issue; many of the 100 series Nvidia drivers don't play well with the system. You may want to use the 9639 driver instead, which you can find via Synaptic.

I was able to connect to wireless networks that were open to the public. If you want to connect to encrypted networks, you can use the WPA supplicant package, which is installed by default.

Conclusion

MegaLap packs in a lot of hardware. The system provides an effective multimedia platform, as well as one for everyday tasks such as word processing and Web browsing. Other than random freezes due to an Nvidia driver issue, which you can solve with a driver update, system performance is stable. But if you'll need three hours or more of battery power at a time, this notebook may not be for you.

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  • Desktop Hardware
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