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Review: Pangolin Performance laptop from System76

I’ve now had my Pangolin Performance laptop from System76 for a month or so, and it’s time for a review. This won’t be one of those brilliant technical reviews that smart people write. This is just one guy’s experience with the Pangolin.

First of all, let me say that I like the laptop and I’m very happy to support a company such as System76 that’s committed to Open Source software. My laptop came with Ubuntu (Linux) 8.10 installed. I upgraded to the beta of Ubuntu 9.04 shortly thereafter. The upgrade worked like a charm.

Right from the beginning, the Pangolin and Ubuntu found the wifi network at my house. It also found and controlled my HP all-in-one printer with no problem. I was able to start surfing the Web right away, although I had to install a few extra things to make videos work on the Web. This is fairly normal for Ubuntu, and not difficult even for a non-geek like me.

The Pangolin has a nice screen. Bright, clear and easy to read. I do a lot of word processing and blogging and enjoy being able to see things. I give the Pangolin high marks in that regard. The keyboard is also responsive and easy to use, although I’ve noticed some clacking in the arrow keys and a (rarely) non-responsive “c” key. Obviously the “c” key works most of the time, or I wouldn’t be typing this.

The Pangolin’s case is solid. I’m not an enormous fan of the black finish on the lid, which shows more fingerprints than an episode of CSI. And the keyboard and surrounding plastic are much more white than they appear in the photo above, where they look a bit silver to my eye. So maybe 7 out of 10 for looks.

I ordered my Pangolin with the Core Duo T3400 2.16 GHz 667 MHz FSB 1 MB L2 (35 Watt). If I had it to do over again, I would have spent the extra $55 and upgraded to the Core2 Duo. That said, the build I have is plenty fast, as I’ll detail later. I have 2GB of RAM, a 250GB SATA II hard drive, a CD-RW/DVD-RW optical drive, and the Intel Wi-Fi Link 5300. Of all those components, the only one that feels a little cheap is the optical drive. It works just fine, but feels like very light plastic that wobbles a little in its slot.

One issue I have with the Pangolin is temperature. I have nothing technical or smart to say about it, but it seems to get pretty hot. I think, though, that I have more to learn about the fan management system in Ubuntu, so there may be more I can do to help with the temperature control.

I produce a weekly jazz interview show called The Jazz Session. Even when I made the show on a Mac, I used Audacity, so there wasn’t much of a switch to move to Ubuntu. The Pangolin is plenty fast enough to do all the multi-tracked audio editing I need to do. So much so, in fact, that it’s replaced my Mac completely. I do have one issue — there’s a lot of noise in the audio system. When I add the Pangolin to my mixer setup, I can hear a distinct buzz, which never happened with the Mac. I know it’s coming from the laptop because I can cause an attack in the buzz by hitting any key. I’m going to try to address this issue with a USB audio hub.

All in all, it’s a solid machine with everything I need to be productive and happy. I’d recommend System76 to others.


Free software in the Finger Lakes

This weekend was the Ubuntu release party in the Finger Lakes, held in Waterloo, NY. You can read about it here. All in all, a very professional session.

As an added bonus, here’s all 700 lbs. of me in a seersucker shirt showing off my Linux laptop from System76 to a soon-to-be Linux user:

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Linux = Freedom

As has been pointed out other places, this is not that good an ad for reaching people who know nothing about Linux or free software. It’s got a nice vibe and is worth watching. But it won’t do much of anything to bring more people to the idea of free and open source software.

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