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A Closer Look At Lindows' US$799 Linux Laptop, & Apple Comparisons

A Closer Look At Lindows' US$799 Linux Laptop, & Apple Comparisons

by , 9:15 AM EST, February 21st, 2003

[Edit - Our story originally said that the 12" PowerBook has gigabit Ethernet, when in fact, it does not. The 12" PowerBook comes with 10/100 Base-T Ethernet, and the reference to Gigabit Ethernet has been edited out. - Editor]

Continuing its trend of selling super-low priced computers running its LindowsOS operating system, Lindows has released the Lindows MobilePC, an ultralight notebook computer that sells for only US$799. For that price, you get a 933MHz VIA C3 processor, 256MB of RAM, a 20GB hard drive, USB 2.0, FireWire, a PCMCIA slot and a 12.1" TFT LCD in a 2.9 pound package.

The C3 processor is made by a company called VIA Technologies, and is made especially for low power, low heat applications. According to the somewhat sparse information available on the C3, it is a clone of Intel's Pentium III processor, and even appears to be pin-compatible. While the Pentium III has 32K of L1 and either 256K or 512K of L2 cache, the C3 has 128K of L1 and only 32K of L2 cache. According to VIA, the C3 has a low-voltage mode in which the processor uses under one watt of power, that while greatly reducing processing power while in that mode, it makes it ideal for mobile computing platforms.

Lindows first made headlines as the company that was offering a Linux PC that could (somewhat) run (a couple of) Windows software titles. The company then grabbed attention when it began selling a US$199 PC through Wal-Mart's Web site. Lindows has also been sued by Microsoft for infringing on the latter company's Windows trademark, but that suit has so far resulted in the possibility of Microsoft losing that trademark, a development that would be devastating to Microsoft's strategy in the PC world.

Lindows' newest offering is designed to break even more barriers in the Windows world, especially in terms of portability (light weight form factor) and the price for that portability. Like most of the ultra-lights, the Lindows MobilePC sacrifices such niceties as an on-board CD-ROM or CD-RW, but it does include FireWire and a Compact Flash reader.

What many Mac users have found interesting, however, is the comparison Lindows made to both the "Apple iNote," and an interesting iBook. In the original press release issued by the company, the MobilePC is compared to four other portables. Included in that comparison was a US$1799 867 MHz Apple iBook, and verbiage in the PR said:

At only 2.9 pounds, the Lindows Mobile PC is the most affordable ultra-light laptop on the market today. Despite its small size, the 933 MHz Lindows Mobile PC features a 12.1" TFT screen, 256 MB RAM, USB 2.0, FireWire, Ethernet and a PCMCIA slot that allows consumers to add a range of features, like wireless networking. The Lindows Mobile PC has a similar shape, size and power as the new Apple iNote [emphasis TMO's] but costs less than half the price.

Mac users, and many other Observers, have noted that the specs and the price of the iBook actually referred to the US$1799 867 MHz 12" PowerBook G4, and not an iBook, and that there is, of course, no Apple iNote, at least not yet. Fortunately, Lindows corrected its Web site late yesterday to properly reference the PowerBook, and all references to "iNote" have also been deleted.

You can find more information on the Lindows MobilePC at the company's Web site.

The Mac Observer Spin:

The great thing about comparisons is that you can leave out whatever you don't wish to be compared. For instance, the rest of the comparisons are to NEC, IBM, and Toshiba offerings, each of which costs at least twice what the Lindows unit costs. All but the PowerBook are utlra-light portables, while Apple's, the heaviest of the bunch, is actually a full portable Mac, complete with internal combo drive, and other features not found on any of the other offerings.

So, if you wish to not mention the fact that your unit doesn't include a combo CD-RW/DVD player, don't include that in the categories of comparison. Instead, say that both units include a CD-ROM drive, while admitting that your CD-ROM drive is external. Don't have built in support for 802.11b or 802.11g? Only mention the PCMCIA slot where you could add a wireless card. Are you short a video-out port? Don't list that as an option when comparing your model to the models that have video-out (the PowerBook does). Don't want to mention that an 867 MHz G4 smokes a Via C3 at any speed? Just don't.

We don't say that to slam Lindows. Indeed, we are very excited by this laptop. It offers a very attractive price point that is bound to be noticed by Windows users, and the form factor is eye-catching, too. Lindows is a threat to Microsoft, and the company has made new inroads in bringing Linux to the masses. That can only help Apple, as more people are opened up to the idea of using an alternative OS to Windows.

What we do think is silly, however, is the idea of comparing the MobilePC to the 12" PowerBook. It's an apples and oranges comparison, and the MobilePC comes out more on the orange side of things. While the 12" PB weighs more than then MobilePC and costs US$1000 more, it has a much, much faster processor, includes a combo drive, built in 802.11g support, an audio line in, audio line out, built-in modem, built-in Bluetooth, a better video card, a metal case, a hard drive that is twice the size... The list goes on. It really is a silly comparison.

You know what is a good comparison? The MobilePC vs. the entry-level iBook. The iBook still has more features, but with a CD-ROM, a heavier weight, and a price tag that is US$200 more than the Lindows offering, the MobilePC actually stacks up very well. If we were handling Lindows advertising, that's the comparison we would have made, but we weren't asked.

All that said, the Lindows MobilePC looks to be an interesting deal for users who need a cheap laptop, don't have needs that are overly demanding, and that don't need Windows or Mac OS X. Every other laptop listed in the comparison far outclasses the MobilePC in every area but one: Price, but that's what it's all about. The MobilePC is what it is, a low-end sub-notebook at a low price. Comparing it to other more sophisticated sub-notebook offerings just makes the MobilePC look bad.

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