Laptops have never been my thing. Too hard to upgrade, expensive, and people rarely give them away. I didn't want to be tied down to my desktop, so I got a USB flash drive and sneaker networked almost everywhere on campus. Worked well enough, until my roommate situation changed drastically. I couldn't use my desktop whenever I had to anymore. I began to dream of a laptop which could go anywhere and would perfectly compliment my desktop.

Primarily, the laptop must be cheap. I decided to purchase from Retrobox. Excellent prices and very good customer service. One warning- don't use a Gmail address with them. They have a "spam problem" and have blocked anything coming from gmail.com. They don't even bother to white list their registered customers. It's only fair to mention that their phone support is excellent.

Drexel has more or less complete Wifi coverage, and Philadelphia is supposed to have a municipal Wifi by summer of 2006. It only makes sense for my laptop to be wireless.

The laptop also had to be portable. This means lightweight, sturdy, with good battery life. I planned to tackle all of this in one sweeping design goal: There would be no moving parts. Hard drive, floppy drive, and CD drive would all be removed. CPU fan will be heavily modified. The hard drive would be replaced with a gigabyte of flash memory. Hence the name Quewl, because the plan is to produce a quiet, useful, efficient, wireless laptop.

Retrobox was nice to order from. The "three to seven days" shipping actually took two. The laptop arrived blank, a 5GB hard drive with just the Win98SE splash screen, which then dumps you at a DOS prompt. It's an IBM Thinkpad 600e. 366MHz PII with 128MB of RAM. Better specs than Punk, so Puppy Linux should really fly. People seem to love the Thinkpad 600 series, except for one little flaw. The battery does not have overcharge protection, so I'll have to be careful. I'll probably end up rebuilding the battery in the near future. The laptop weighs just over five pounds. No floppy drive to remove, but the CD-ROM is removable. Digging through some manuals, I learned IBM uses special locking nylon coated screws which destroy themselves. They shouldn't be reused, so there will be no peeks under the hood until I find a supply. If I get impatient, I will take it apart anyway. Thinkpad screw kits are available on eBay for around $20-$40.

Storage: The Thinkpad shipped with a 5Gb drive. This has been partitioned into a 950Mb primary, 50Mb swap, and 4Gb backup partition. Even with the most bloated Puppy install possible, it fits comfortably. Ultimately, the hard drive will be replaced with a 20x speed 1Gb CF card, using an adapter purchased from Sealevel. Installing the flash adapter has been troublesome. I'll have to open up the case to get it properly aligned.

Networking: There are two free PCMCIA slots, one USB, and no ethernet. The obvious choice is PCMICA cards, since the USB port will be occupied by removable storage. The wireless card chosen was the D-Link G-630. Good reception, more than enough to remote-desktop back to my desktop from anywhere on campus. Good Linux support through the MADwifi drivers, using this precompiled driver. At first nothing worked, but loading the PCMCIA drivers with "modprobe xircom_cb" fixed that.

Power: The 600e has some issues coming out of suspend-to-RAM, so I have to reinitialize the wireless card every time I open the laptop. The laptop also has a hardware suspend-to-disk/hibernate, but is requires a specially prepared partition. The battery life seemed quite good, but the old battery quickly wore out. I got a new battery from Battery Refill.

Video: The video chip set is a real bear. Partial and very buggy support under XVesa, but no problems under Xorg.

Audio: A real pain to set up. Read the Thinkwiki page for the details. In short, "modprobe cd4232 io=0x520 irq=5 dma=1 dma2=0 mpuio=0x330 mpuirq=9 synthirq=5 synthio=0x388" though USB transfers cause static on the speakers/headphones, and MIDIs just won't play at all. Some days the microphone works, others it doesn't. If the PII isn't enough to run Skype, then the microphone doesn't really matter.

CD-ROM: Removed! Pulling this out takes off a pound of weight and helps the battery life. To keep dirt out of the laptop, the resulting void has been plugged with lightweight foam.

Trackpoint: Originally, there was no traction. I fixed that by gluing a small piece of emery cloth to the top. This works fine and didn't scratch the screen. However, carrying the laptop in a backpack along with books squeezed the laptop just enough to mar the screen. Don't try to make your own trackpoint.



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  2005/12/31 uploaded

<center> <br> Instead of a table, which I find lame<br> This page uses a single i-frame<br> But you don't have support<br> To which you'll surely retort:<br> "No reverse compatibility? Shame!" </center>