My new(ish) Linux laptop

I recently traded a fully-loaded ThinkPad T40-series laptop for a 12″ Toshiba Portege M200 tablet.  I’ve been so pleased with Linux on my HP Mini-Note that I wanted a faster Linux laptop.  I was ideally eying the Toshiba M400, as it is a dual-core tablet with DVD drive and Intel video, my favourite under Linux, but the M200 was available and is close enough.

The machine is a Pentium M 1.8GHz, so it’s no slouch.  It now has 1.5GB of RAM, a 120GB HD, a 32MB NVidia 5200 video card drives the 1400×1050 12″ tablet screen.

The machine weighs just under 5lbs.  It’s light, but not terribly so.  Despite the machine’s age, I still seem to get about 2.5-3 hours on the battery.

The high-res screen is fantastic.  The Nvidia card seems to drive it adequately, though I wish it were an Intel integrated card, as the binary Nvidia driver was a problem for me when plugging the laptop into a projector.  Nvidia’s software tries to do far more than the stock Gnome software.  If the projector is decent, the result is great flexibility.  However, the ancient projector I was trying to use didn’t adequately report supported resolutions to the graphics card and I was stuck with a 640×480 display.  Given enough time, I could probably have sorted this out.  Instead, I gave up and used the Mini-Note.

I have installed Ubuntu 8.04.1 on this machine.  It seems to work perfectly.  Upon first install, the tablet features didn’t work.  I installed wacom-tools and followed this guide and used this forum post to modify my xorg.conf file and now all is well.  I have since tweaked the xorg.conf file to add right-click and eraser as well as lighter pen sensitivity.  My xorg.conf file is here.

The guide linked above provides a rotate script.  I have modified it slightly by taking out the key remappings, as they interfered with the software keyboard.  The script works perfectly and keeps the wacom tablet in-line with the screen rotation.  (Hardy’s grandr applet does not.)  I have added three launchers on my gnome panel:  A link to rotate left, a link to revert to normal orientation, and a link to Ubuntu’s excellent “onboard” on-screen keyboard.

M200 Screenshot in portrait mode

M200 Screenshot in portrait mode

The tablet works perfectly in The Gimp.  I’ve tried stand-alone Wacom tablets before, I much prefer the ability to write directly on the screen.  It feels incredibly natural.  I’ve only had the M200 for a couple of weeks and haven’t had too much time to play with the Wacom tablet, but I love it so far.  It’s a truly refreshing way to interact with the computer.  Having drawn on the screen for a few minutes, I couldn’t imagine doing so any other way.

My bass!  Drawn on the M200

My bass! Drawn on the M200

Other cool tablet software include Xournal, a nifty on-screen writing program similar to MS Journal.  (I think.)  Another potentially useful piece of software is CellWriter.  It reads your handwriting and turns it to type.  Unfortunately, as you can tell by my screen shots, my handwriting is terrible, so CellWriter doesn’t exactly work for me.  Such is life.

All-told, this is a really nifty laptop.  I image I’ll keep my eyes peeled for a deal on an M400.  I think I like the tablet enough for that and the rest of the laptop seems quite good.  A dual-core CPU with VT extensions would be a real boon for running VMWare images, but the M200 will certainly do the job for now.

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