kipper (as in "Smoke me a kipper, I'll be back for breakfast", from Red Dwarf) is a pentium laptop running Red Hat Linux 5.0 (kernel 2.2.6). 40MB ram, 1.3GB HD, 800x600 TFTP screen. The laptop is called the "iLuFa", by Chaplet Systems. Yeah, you've never heard of it. It was a good deal, and the folks at PromoX systems who sold it to me had already made sure that linux ran happily on it.

I had some problems getting a laptop from a mail-order store last spring (a word of advice: avoid Insight Electronics, don't use FedEx to ship to a residence, and insist upon insurance) that drove me to hit the local papers instead. PromoX is nearby and had a *lot* of linux gear in their shop. The laptop was several hundred dollars cheaper than I could have gotten with a name-brand, and works just fine. I did have some troubles setting it up because nobody else on the Net had one; the closest thing I could find was the Olivetti Echo which seems to be basically the same machine OEM'ed for them.

The laptop is fully modular, with a socketed (!) processor, standard SODIMM memory, standard removeable 2.5" IDE HD, removeable keyboard. They threw in a cheap sound card: it works find but in a quiet room I can hear a slight hiss from the speakers ever since I rebuilt the kernel to activate it. Plus, the system beep is very loud and changing the volume with xmixer doesn't seem to affect it. The first time I noticed this was while I was listening to a CD through headphones at work and I mistyped something in emacs; the beep was so loud I almost fell out of my chair. (I've since discovered that the keyboard has some function keys to reduce various volumes independently of the sound card driver.. this helps alot).

APM works OK, I had to play some games with the DOS utilities that came with the laptop to set up a suspend partition. I can't figure out how to put the unit in 'standby' mode, it seems I can only pick standby or suspend, but suspend works fine and in 30 seconds the laptop is off, ready to resume after about 45 seconds. I do have one problem with it: if I leave the laptop idle without a PCMCIA card in place, after maybe 20 minutes it goes into a coma. It must be in some kind of suspend mode, but nothing will bring it out, and I end up having to powercycle it. Very annoying. Any ideas on how to fix this are more than welcome.

I've also got an ethernet PCMCIA card (3com 3c589) and a SCSI card that both seem to work fine. The one serial port works fine, the other port is wired internally to an IrDA port that I haven't built any hardware to talk to yet.

I have X running happily on it, and I built fvwm-2.0.43 as a window manager. For some bizarre reason RedHat comes with fvwm95 as the standard window manager, which is just fvwm with a default configuration that makes it look and act like Windows 95. Why anybody would want this is beyond me, especially somebody who has just finished getting rid of Windows from their computer and has moved up to Linux. But hey, it was easy to fix. I run X in 256 colors.. I found that I can do 16bpp, but it gets really slow (less than half the speed, I'm assuming that 16bpp keeps the X server from taking advantage of some hardware acceleration that it could otherwise use). Perhaps the old version of X that I'm using (XFree86-3.2) has something to do with it. 8bpp is generally plenty. I've never tried using it with an external monitor, if I did it might be nice to have more colors.

My main gripe with the unit so far is that the touchpad is a bit too sensitive, and there seems to be no way to disable the "tap touchpad to simulate a button click" feature. If my finger slips, the cursor leaps up and to the right, clicking on everything along the way. And it doesn't take much to make it think that my finger is slipping. I changed the xterm mapping to require that I type shift-button-2 to paste text; this has saved me a lot of trouble with random drive-by pastings causing strange commands to get thrown into my shell.

Jan '98 Update

I'm slowly recovering from the upgrade to RedHat 5.0 . Things I've run into: But otherwise things are working OK. I spent some time with the PromoX folks and the Chaplet folks while trying to get the floppy working so I could upgrade, and it sounds like they aren't selling my particular model of laptop anymore (sigh.. "progress"..). But if you happen to have purchased one and are looking for info on how to get Linux running on it, feel free to drop me a note.

July '99 Update

I haven't used kipper all that much for a while. Since I spend most of my time at my desk at work or at my desk at home, a portable computer has just become less important to me. Plus, now that I have the ADSL line at home, it no longer important to download large things at work and then carry them home on the laptop. It's faster to drive home and grab stuff from there. If I need it at work then I can carry it in on the laptop the next morning. :-).

In addition, the laptop has started exhibiting some funny speed issues. It spends a lot of its time pouting, running about 1/5th the normal speed. Everything takes longer. Even some basic CPU benchmarks (a simple empty loop) will report a clock speed of 30MHz instead of 120MHz. No idea.. I kill off all the extra processes, make sure no cron jobs are running, I've checked for spurious interrupts, APM power-slowdowns, network activity, the works. That's why I say it's pouting: it wants me to buy a faster laptop.

Brian Warner <>
Last modified: Tue Jul 27 22:59:37 PDT 1999