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Feature: LUG Laptops Review, by Paul Gray
Wednesday, April 18, 2001, 2:55 PM

There seems to be a trend these days where mobile computing devices are getting lighter, smaller, and extremely compact. While I yearn for my own Yopi, when I'm on the road I need the feel, power, and performance of a desktop. For this reason, when I went looking for a new notebook, I didn't stop until I found the "Emperor."

The "Emperor" is one of the three Linux-only notebook lines from the folks at QLITech http://www.qlitech.net. This unit has everything that I could want in a portable workstation: a 15" Ultra XGA screen that is "to die for," an 850MHz PIII, 256MB of memory, an ATI Rage Mobility adapter that does hardware acceleration out-of-the-box, an 8x DVD drive and, most importantly, Linux! All-in-all, these features hardly scratch the surface in the capabilities and performance of this model.

The 15" Ultra XGA screen and the supporting ATI Rage Mobility chipset are probably the most attractive features. The screen is super crisp at 1400x1050 resolution. To say that the ATI Rage Mobility chipset is extremely capable is a vast understatement. In 16-bit mode under X-4.0.3, the DRI test application "gears" runs at blazingly-fast 805 fps in a window. For the die-hards out there, Quake III Arena and Descent3 run smooth and fast, but you'll want a USB joystick and an external mouse to be completely functional.

The Emperor model comes with several CPU options. The top-end CPU choice was the 850MHz Pentium III mobility. Other CPU options include a 600MHz Celeron or a 700MHz Pentium III mobility. The Compal N38W2-based motherboard supports these CPUs with a 440BX chipset, along with a hibernation and speed-step-capable Phoenix BIOS.

Does the DVD work under Linux? Yes! And that's probably all that I should say about the subject.

What's more impressive is that the integrated WinModem works the very first time you boot the system. The modem, a 56K v.90 fax modem, is based upon the Lucent chipset and driven by the linmodem drivers pre-installed on the unit, and otherwise available from http://linmodems.org.

Linux specific aspects of the Emperor line include your choice of distribution and many QLITech-added features. For example, the system that I have has Debian Potato, which included the 2.4.2-ac19 kernel, reiserfs (IMHO, a must for a laptop environment), and a flawless installation of Ximian (Helix) Gnome running at 1400x1050 under XFree 4.0.3. Your mileage may vary, but if you're interested in similar specific tweaks or tricks, check with the QLITech technicians.

The system's audio chipset is supported by the maestro drivers. This is probably the only chip in the Emperor's armor. The hardware sound controls aren't supported by the current maestro drivers. Although there is a patch that brings hardware sound control to the maestro drivers for the 2.2.18 kernel (I've tested it and it indeed works well), no patch currently exists for the 2.4 series kernel. Nonetheless, while sound isn't concert quality, it works to the point where the capabilities are acceptable.

While in the air, I've found the Lithium Ion battery to be rock solid. The 3-hour runtime battery specs are very respectable. In my real-world environment test, the battery survived an Atlanta to Chicago flight under a constant kernel re-compilation load with ample power to spare on touchdown.

Other things worth mentioning are the 20Gig drive, integrated floppy drive, battery charge indicator on the battery, and a weight of 7.54 lbs with cdrom and battery. For the capabilities and productivity that it allows, it's worth every pound. The only aspect of the system's capabilities that I have not yet tested is IR.

QLITech has been around for some time. Their most recent notoriety can be attributed to publicity focusing on their Linux gaming systems. While a laptop line is a new venture, the laptops themselves are actually a continuation of the TuxTops line. QLITech has picked up where TuxTops left off, and has taken the features, configuration, and support of these units to an entirely different level. The "Emperor" line of notebooks was previously sold under TuxTop's Obsidian model.

Overall, this notebook is a portable workstation, and delivers on every hardware aspect you could ask for. If you're looking for an notebook that's an extension of your office workstation, the features and Linux capabilities of the Emperor should not be overlooked. If you're looking for a notebook with Linux pre-configured and tweaked (not to mention lacking the Microsoft(tm) tax), then your next call or mouse click should be to QLITech.

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