Thursday, January 18, 2007

Latest Laptop Recommendations

It's been over a year since my last request for comments on a new laptop. I had a scare using my almost 7-year-old Thinkpad a20p today while teaching a private class. I wanted to run VMware Server using a VM configured to need 192 MB RAM. The laptop has 512 MB of physical RAM. When I started the VM, VMware Server complained it didn't have sufficient free RAM. Puzzled, I checked my Windows hardware properties and saw only 256 MB RAM reported! Oh oh.

I guessed that maybe one of the two 256 MB RAM sticks in my laptop had been loosened on the trip to the class site. Using a grounding wrist band thoughtfully provided by my class, I removed my laptop's RAM and reseated it. After booting, I saw all 512 MB again. Whew.< This experience made me again consider buying a new laptop. I am going to buy a Thinkpad, probably something in the T series like a T60p. However, I'm considering a new OS strategy. Currently I dual boot Windows 2000 Professional and FreeBSD 6.x. For my next laptop, I'm thinking of installing an OS fully supported by VMware Server, like Ubuntu, with VMware Server over it. I won't install anything else in Ubuntu. I'll do all my work inside VMware, with one VM running FreeBSD for daily work and another running some version of Windows for Office-like tasks.

I've avoided relying on VMware in the past as a primary work environment because I thought I would regularly need hardware-level access to run wireless assessment tools. This hasn't turned out to be a real need, and I think I would just turn to a live CD like BackTrack that has figured out all the Linux kernel voodoo needed for the cooler wireless tools.

Is anyone else doing this? What has been your experience?

24 comments:

Marcin said...

I am running Ubuntu on my Thinkpad T42 (2378-FVU) and everything worked right from the get-go. All hardware is working, sound, wireless, etc. No faults there as a "desktop" OS. I get a "noob" feeling from it though, thus I am considering installing FreeBSD on it (TaoNSM is giving me the itch too)

I don't know why you would want to run everything in virtual machines... Ubuntu has a vast repository of office applications you can use. Not to mention, running two VMs at once and doing office work in one will be slower than usual.

Anonymous said...

Hello,

having gone through a fair bit of research work last month (yes it was time for me too to change my laptop) I have gone for a Samsung Q35 which in my opinion is best value for money laptop one could buy at the moment. It's very very high-spec to run vmware (I use vmware server), light, small and with a long battery life, and cheaper than the lot. It's a good operational laptop but it also looks good. I run Fedora 5, which required a little bit of work from me but there are a couple of howtos online to get everything working. I would seriously consider it against the Thinkpad

Ciao
Al

Dustin said...

I recently moved from WinXP to Ubuntu on my R51 laptop. It's setup to dual-boot, but since I installed Ubuntu, I haven't had to switch back to Windows once. As a previous poster said, everything (wireless, etc.) worked right off the bat. For some apps which require Windows, I have VMware Server installed. It's now setup to utilize my XV6700 as a tethered modem, and I'm even able to read/write to a separate NTFS partition using ntfs-3g. I've found the Ubuntu documentation to be very complete, and the software repository system is impressive. On that note why not use the host OS?

Anonymous said...

If I had to spend the money right now, I would seriously consider an Apple MacBook Pro. There is good virtualization support for Apple with Parallels (www.parallels.com) and if you prefer to stick with VMWare, version 6.0 is coming out soon that will support Intel Macs. Also, you could set up Boot Camp to partition your drive and triple-boot Mac OS X, Windows and Ubuntu all on one platform, and thus have everything you need all on one platform. I would use OS X for my everyday needs and Ubuntu or Windows for my security work depending on what tools are required. I usually create a baseline image with Acronis TrueImage or Norton Ghost after I get the system set up as I want so I can quickly restore the system to a known-good configuration should something bad happen.

As for the IBMs, we currently use them for our work and they have been great. They have been very rugged and have for the most part withstood various disaassemblies and reassemblies for the purpose of inserting or removing various mini-PCI cards. The hardware, though 3 years old, still "feels" fast enough to do everything we need to do. All in all, a well-built machine. I am sure you'll be happy with an IBM (as long as Lenovo adheres to the same QC standards).

Be sure and let us know what you decide and how it works out. Cheers!

Curt said...

I would highly suggest that you get a machine with a Core 2 Duo. The vPro in the c2d will allow the virtuals to run faster, and more trouble free. The vmware/xen will run at ring -1, and give windows/linux/bsd/... straight ring 0/3 access.

Tim Bilbro said...

I don't imagine that there are many top vendors, IBM included, that will ship you a laptop without an OS bundled as an OEM thing, so you are paying for Windows whether you use it or not. I would wait for Vista to come pre-loaded and use it for a while. With a brand spanking new Vista system, wiping it and installing Ubuntu (my fav!) may be problematic. The newer the hardware, the more likely you are to have issues with Linux. Often, big OEM's will get a custom HAL for the Windows OS and there may not be Linux equivalents for the on board HW.

Wipe your current system and run Ubuntu native. It'll run faster, I bet. You can still find RAM, I am sure.

reillyb said...

My primary system is a T60p. I boot XP and run multiple OS VMs via VMWare Workstation. I'd recommend at least 2GB of RAM and a 17" display. :>

Joe said...

I'm running Ubuntu on a desktop system. I have VMWare Workstation 5.5 . I have VM's of Windows (because I need Outlook for work), FreeBSD, and OpenBSD.

It works great. Best setup ever. (for me of course)

Ubuntu won't disappoint you. It's the EASIEST linux based distribution to patch IMO. Everything just works.

John Ward said...

I've always liked the Toshiba Toughbooks. Nothing like a laptop that can stop bullets and you can bludgeon folks with.

As far as running Ubuntu, see my earlier post http://digiassn.blogspot.com/2006/08/linux-vmware-server-under-ubuntu.html

I loved running this, worked great, even on my older Toshiba P3 laptop. It was a shame to part with it when my new Dell Latitude D820 arrived since I now am forced to be primarily a WinXP user for work, but I still keep Ubuntu around under VMWare. Be sure to get Easy Ubuntu for loading some of the non-provided software, and check with some of my other posts about issues I cam across (Running Eclipse, loading Sun Java instead of the outdated GNU Java, etc).

Dominic White said...

I have a T60. I am dual booting with Windows XP SP2 and Ubuntu. Ubuntu worked almost out of the box, had to some work on the ATI drivers to get acceleration. With 2GB of RAM I tried the VMWare approach, but I found the slow down too noticeable still.

Roman said...

Richard,

Not sure if this would work for you (haven't tried it on a laptop) but if you wanted to virtualize everything, you could try VMWare's ESX server for your laptop. It obviates the need for a Host OS, which improves the speed and interactivity of the guest VMs. Not sure what the dollar amount is, but we've used it for virtualizing servers to great effect.

iamnowonmai said...

There is a little howto here:

http://www.securityexplained.net/topics/virtEnv/index.html

if you want to install BackTrack as a
virtual appliance.

Louis Kowolowski said...

I have nothing but praise for my T60p (T2600 Core Duo, 3GB, 100GB, ATI FireGL V5200 256MB, DVD-RAM, 802.11a/b/g, Bluetooth, 15"@1600x1200).

I use it to track FreeBSD 6-STABLE and 7-CURRENT on a bi-weekly basis. I haven't had ocasion to /need/ suspend (either RAM or disk) yet. FreeBSD doesn't (currently) support suspend on any SMP systems that I'm aware of.

I also have the ThinkPad wireless (Atheros), although I understand there has been some recent work done with regards to supporting the Intel 3945 chips as well.

Xorg (from ports) doesn't currently support any non-svga driver for the FireGL, but since it can still pump out 32+fps for glgears @1600x1200 32bit, I'm having a hard time feeling negatively about it.

Bluetooth is supported with the ng_ubt(4) and I've used it for a PPP connection to a Treo650 in DUN mode.

I have the 9 cell battery, which gets about 4.5-5hrs of life, doing non-CPU intensive tasks, about 2.5 of compiling, although it completes a buildworld in about 20min.

I ocasionally notice that the em0 interface doesn't showup (using ifconfig(8) ) unless it could probe during the boot (there are various discussions on -current about em(4) issues).

The fingerprint scanner shows up as a usb device, although I can't imagine a better way to open up security, since laptops are usually covered in their owners fingerprints.

MikeP said...

We have several T60p's (15") in our department, as well as scads of lesser Thinkpads, both of the IBM and Lenovo flavours. We've very rarely had trouble with Linux on any of them, although one of the first T60p's we got never has worked correctly - we've had ongoing problems with its network interface being "laggy". We went so far as to try to debug with tcpdump using it and a T60p that worked well, and couldn't come up with anything conclusive. The vendor replaced the motherboard and problems followed. Same issues with it with Ubuntu 6.06, 6.10, and Windows XP on the old motherboard; we've only tried 6.10 so far on the new one. It's been very frustrating for everybody involved. On the other hand, since we put 6.10 on, everything else has pretty much been perfect: it suspends to RAM and disk quite happily, wireless works perfectly, the display is great, and so on. Just that damn wired network interface. So I would unreservedly recommend any of the IBM Thinkpads, would recommend Lenovo ones if I had more experience with them, and would hesitantly recommend *new* T60ps. Older models - the problem one is about a year old now - I wouldn't touch, just because this experience has been so frustrating, particularly for the faculty member who paid $2800 for his laptop.

bluehavana said...

I have a X60s and couldn't be happier. It is an older Core Duo model, but runs virtual machines great. The Intel driver support is much better than I expected. The only thing I wish it had was TV out. You might also want to check out Kernel Virtual Machines that will be standard in 2.6.20 (read: no patch) and will have Qemu front end tools.

dre said...

There was an interesting article on Slashdot on the 16th about an HP laptop that shipped with chipset that supported VT-x, but a BIOS that was purposefully disabled.

All IBM laptops have this problem except the T60p (which ships with VT-x support) and the X60t (which has a BIOS upgrade that fixes the issue). It literally took me hours to glean this information, and I had been looking for a resource on this for over a year.

Since the T60p also has a TPM and obviously NX, it makes an ideal candidate to run:

Linux+Xen in ring(-1) along with XenAccess. Richard, you will be really interested in XenAccess since it is the future of IDS. Linux can also then run grsecurity and have PaX in hardware-mode with no overhead using the NX bit.

Speaking of no overhead, Windows XP and Vista are also gonna run great in guest ring0's with hardware virtualization under Xen. I don't know why you bother with VMWare. The TPM should work for both Linux (Enforcer) and Vista (BitLocker).

I have always been a fan of yours, and I'm a long-time FreeBSD (since 2.2.2) and BSD fan (since early-early SunOS and 386bsd). But VT-x + TPM + NX on a laptop is just too cool to pass up. You can show off every new security feature to everyone.

Now what I'm looking for is a UMPC with VT-x + TPM + NX. Help anyone?

Richard Bejtlich said...

Hi Dre,

Thanks for your comments. If I can get FreeBSD and some version of Windows running on Xen on Ubuntu then I would be happy to avoid VMware! I guess I would still have VMware available so I could try VMs built by others. I haven't tried Xen yet, so I need to do that. XenAccess looks very cool too.

toddmichael said...

Richard,

I had a similar configuration on a laptop last year as I prefer to run Linux, but needed a Windows VM for my company computer image. The main difficulty I had was with USB in my VM's as VMWare does not yet support USB 2.0 (not last time I checked, that is). Not a fatal issue, but certainly something to consider when going this route. Good luck and keep me posted.

toddmichael

Richard Bejtlich said...

Note to self -- get a new laptop with 802.11N wireless.

shital jethva said...

There is a wide range of laptop specific processors available from Intel (Pentium M, Celeron, Intel Core and Intel Core 2) and from AMD (Athlon, Turion 64, and Sempron) and also from VIA (C3 and C7-M). Motorola and IBM developed and manufactured the chips for the former PowerPC-based Apple laptops (iBook and PowerBook).

Ashok yadav said...

I had a similar configuration on a laptop last year as I prefer to run Linux, but needed a Windows VM for my company computer image. The main difficulty I had was with USB in my VM's as VMWare does not yet support USB 2.0 (not last time I checked, that is). Not a fatal issue, but certainly something to consider when going this route. Good luck and keep me posted.

Easyrules said...

Good Article.

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