Dell Latitude 2100-N: A Great Ubuntu Linux Netbook

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I was lucky enough to have a friend at Dell who let me play with Dell's new Latitude 2100-N for a few hours. After he chased me down, he pried it out of my fingers. I didn't want to give it up. This is one nice Ubuntu Linux-powered netbook.

The Dell unit I looked at came with an Intel Atom N270 CPU running at 1.6GHz. This one had 1GB of DDR2 SDRAM, an 80GB, 5,400rpm hard drive, and integrated Mobile Intel 950 GMA graphics chip set. It also had a 6-cell battery. Like most new netbooks, it comes with a good-sized display: 10.1". As equipped, this unit would sell for $444.

The base Ubuntu Linux 8.10 equipped unit comes with 512MBs of RAM, a 16GB SSD (solid state drive) and a 3-cell battery. This version of the netbook sells for $369. If you wanted to get the same netbook with XP Home SP3, it would cost you $399. It's always nice to see a vendor offer you the Linux cost savings.

It's also worth noting that while Dell also offers Vista Home Basic on this netbook, they also point out that "if you choose Microsoft Vista and also would like Microsoft Office productivity software, you will need to select a hard drive option with at least 80GB of space." I'd add that you'd also need to upgrade the RAM to at least a gigabyte if you expect to run Vista without screaming in frustration.

One of the features I like about this netbook is that, unlike most of its breed, Dell makes it easy to upgrade the Latitude 2100-N's RAM. While Ubuntu runs great in 512MBs of RAM, and XP does decently in it, the netbook comes with a SO-DIMM (small outline dual in-line memory module) slot that, combined with the memory on the motherboard, will let you give the PC up to 2GBs of RAM. Nice.

Ubuntu 8.10 ran like a charm on this system. It came with Dell 802.11b/g Wi-Fi and I was immediately able to find and use the local Wi-Fi. I used the net for almost the entire time I had my mitts on the netbook, and I was really pleased to find that with the pumped-up battery I wasn't even close to out of power after four-hours of zooming around the Web.

What I really liked best about this unit though wasn't really computer related at all. It comes with a hardy plastic body, which they tell me is made of PC ABS (polycarbonate/acrylonitrile butadiene styrene), which gives it a very solid feel. It also has a rubberized lid and base. The over-all effect is that you feel like this is one laptop that could take a licking and keep on ticking.

Best of all, with this rugged exterior, the Latitude comes with the option of a shoulder strap that connects directly with the netbook. At just over 3-pounds and with great battery life, this is a netbook that you can just slip on your shoulder and run from class to class, or, in my case, from home to library to coffee shop without a thought.

I like this strap idea a lot. Seriously. A netbook gets lost in most laptop bags, and you sure can't put any of them in your pocket. Now, if you're a woman with a good-sized purse, you're set. But, for most of guys, this shoulder strap makes a great way to cart a computer with you without pulling out a laptop bag.

I expect to see many other netbook vendors picking this feature up. It really makes a lot of sense. Portable, powerful, and Linux: the Dell Latitude 2100-N makes a great netbook for students and workers on the go.

This story, "Dell Latitude 2100-N: A Great Ubuntu Linux Netbook" was originally published by Computerworld.

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