The Quest for an Ubuntu Netbook

I recently came into the market for a new Ubuntu netbook, and have been scouring the Internet looking for the best deal.  It’s been a fun experience, but also one replete with frustration at certain large computer vendors with byzantine websites that treat Linux as a dirty word.  Read on for details.

Netbooks don’t offer quite as many options as a full-blown computer, so there’s not as much to think about when purchasing one.  Moreover, I like to think of myself as a flexible guy, so I’m not looking for anything too specific.  My only requirements are:

  • at least 2 gigabytes of memory
  • a built-in webcam
  • a solid-state drive
  • something that’s not Windows–ideally Ubuntu–needs to be preinstalled, because I don’t want to pay for a license I won’t use

Not surprisingly, my research has led me to conclude that the only realistic offerings in my prince range (around $350, before shipping) involve the three major vendors that include Ubuntu among their official operating system choices.

Here’s a rundown of these manufacturers’ respective offers as of December 7.


Dell, which famously became the first large PC vendor to start offering Ubuntu as a pre-installed option in 2007, was the first place I turned in my search for a netbook.  Unfortunately, although the page I found by googling “Dell netbook” suggests that Ubuntu is an option, it was nowhere to be found when I clicked the link to buy (nor was it a customizable option):


It turns out the only way to purchase an Ubuntu netbook from Dell is to start from Dell’s Ubuntu page.  Presumably this decision is intended to prevent non-geeks from accidentally purchasing computers with Ubuntu, then returning them.  If so, fair enough.  But the main netbook page shouldn’t mention Ubuntu if it’s not accessible there, and it shouldn’t take careful sleuthing around Dell’s site to find the Ubuntu options.

When I did finally find the part of Dell’s website that I was looking for, I priced a netbook with a 16-gigabyte solid-state drive and webcam at $309.  Unfortunately, Dell limits the memory option to 1 gigabyte, presumably because Microsoft has decided no one can ship Windows XP on a netbook with more than that much memory, which is really dumb.


After my frustrating experience with Dell, I visited ZaReason, which ships its computers exclusively with Ubuntu pre-installed.

Zareason’s netbook, the Terra A20, is available with 2 gigabytes of memory and a 16-gigabyte SSD for $437.  It also comes with a 6-cell battery (Dell’s was 3-cell) and b/g/n wireless card (Dell’s was only b/g), which partially explains the higher price.  But that still seemed like a bit much, so I kept looking.

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8 Responses

  1. Praveen says:

    I bought a HP Mini 110-1125NR and installed UNR 9.10 on it and everything works like a charm. Had some trouble setting the wireless, but it got resolved.


  2. FErArg says:

    Hi, I’ve got the same problem, but in Spain, here it’s impossible to buy a notebook/netbook/Desktop without MS Windows, and I decide to buy an Asus 1005 netbook with MS WinXP Home and install UNR 9.10, and it’s great, WiFi a/b/g/n, 1Gb RAM, HDD 160Gb and webcam, now I’m looking for a 2Gb to change the 1Gb memory oh teh netbook.

    Try to not buy an all back netbook, because the fingerprint!!

  3. Nick says:

    I bought as Asus 1005HA and installed Netbook Remix. I couldn’t be happier. I did a lot of research on netbooks and got some advice from friends, and I think it’s by far the best out there. It has a battery life over 10 hours, which is absolutely insane. It’s actually hard to fathom when you’re working on it like all day that you don’t need to plug it in.

    I would be wary of choosing a netbook based on whether it ships with Linux or not. You can just as easily install it yourself (it took me 10 minutes(, and the Karmic flavor of NBR fixed any problems you might read about in the forums. My mic works, my wirelss works, everything works perfectly.

  4. Eric says:

    I’ve been struggling to find a non-Microsoft net-book with a SSD and decent memory, as well.

    Nick: I’d do as you suggested and install Linux on the Windows net-book, but I refuse to contribute to Microsoft’s artificially-inflated market share, and also, I refuse to aid and abet the monopoly by paying a single penny to them in licensing fees.

    If I could find a net-book with no pre-installed operating system at all, that would be great! I generally prefer to buy hardware without pre-installed software (would you buy a toaster which contained pre-installed stale toast?). So far, I’ve had no luck in finding one.

    Good luck to us all.

  5. Peter says:

    You have the legal right to request a refund for the unused windows installation. You are in just in for one hell of a ride trying to get it.

  6. Pipps says:

    The Dell Mini 10 has no fan and an SSD HD which makes no clicking sounds.

    For a reliable and totally silent netbook, it is the best possible choice.

  7. chris says:

    I have just tried in vain to get to the ‘buy an ubuntu laptop’ page on the dell uk site. The link takes you to a page with laptops yes, but ALL with WINDOZE on them. I give up!

  8. dharmo says:

    I went through all this stuff last year in Spain. A nightmare and much worse than in the States. Dell here do not even advertise a linux option. XP and 7 rule. I eventually bought a laptop with no OS direct from Phoenix Technologies for around 420 euros and installed Ubuntu 9.04 ( now upgraded to 9.10 ). Very, very good.

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