Dell’s innovative new Latitude 2100 netbook is the company’s first Aussie PC with Linux factory-installed – and while it’s intended for school students, anyone can buy it...
If you like Dell’s netbooks but aren’t so keen on the company’s choice of OS (you can have Windows XP or, err, Windows XP) then the Latitude 2100 could find its way onto your shopping list.
While Dell has offered Linux on many desktops and laptops in overseas markets, the just-launched 10.1 inch netbook is the first Dell PC to be sold in Australia with Linux available as the factory-fitted OS.
The Latitude 2100 netbook is designed specifically for school students, although anyone can buy one
Jeff Morris, Dell’s Sydney-based regional director of Commercial Client products, confirmed to APCmag this afternoon that although the Latitude 2100 was aimed primarily at the education market it would also be available to anyone who wanted to buy one through dell.com.au
Coloured covers aside, the no-nonsense Latitude 2100 won't win any points for slick consumer style
“You’ll be able to see all the options and specs online from today but you won’t be able to do customisation and order it online until next week” Morris said. “But people can telephone Dell to play around with the options and get a quote for the system they want.”
The entry level system will come with Ubuntu Linux 9, an 80GB hard drive and a three cell battery and sell for $706 including GST (less for schools and education departments buying in volume, of course). Options include a 160GB hard drive, 8GB and 16GB solid state drives and a six cell battery... plus of course Windows XP Home or Vista Home Basic.
Oh, and did we mention it's available in five colours including the bright 'School Bus Yellow'? Ah, those Yanks...
Standard to all models is the almost mandatory Intel Atom N270 processor, a VGA port, memory card reader, 802.11b/g wireless and Gigabit Ethernet. In common with other models in the commercial Latitude family as opposed to the consumer Inspiron line, the Latitude 2100 also comes with next business day on-site service rather than return-to-dealer service.
Morris is well aware that the Latitude 2100 carries a slightly higher price than other 10.1 inch netbooks, even when the ‘Microsoft tax’ of a Windows licence is removed from the equation. “If you want a low-cost netbook we have the Inspiron Mini family. But we don’t believe one size fits all, especially not in the education market.”
“They treat treat their notebooks like a corporate fleet – the schools have needs in terms of manageability, life cycle and next-day on-site service and support. There’s obviously a cost associated with that, so the ticket price is higher.”
“We set out to create a product which could go into a very tough environment” says Dell's Jeff Morris
Morris is also quick to point out that Dell’s US$369 pricing on the Latitude 2100 doesn’t translate directly to the Australian market, even once our 10% sales tax (which is not included in US pricing) is taken into account.
“The poor Aussie dollar has taken a bit of a beating over the last couple of months, and we’ve also got a very different spec for the 2100 here. The US entry-level config starts at 512MB but we felt that wasn’t right for our market because the average here is 1GB, which is a much more realistic starting point. So we went with a 1GB base which still leaves a slot free so customers can take this up to 2GB if they want. The US also has return-to-depot warranty, but based on feedback from our customers prior to launch we went for next business day on-site service.”
Mobile broadband is off the menu, however, as Morris says that “mobile broadband is not something that schools are deploying”. It all comes back to the Latitude 2100 being designed with schools in mind, which has shaped the netbook’s somewhat rugged nature. It’s not a ruggedised netbook per se
but is more likely to survive handle knocks and tumbles than its siblings.
The Latitude 2100's meaty profile is made to withstand tougher treatment than its slimline siblings
“It’s not the thinnest netbook or the lightest netbook but we didn’t set out to do that” Morris explains. “We set out to create a product which could go into a very tough environment. It’s going to have to stand up to a lot of abuse. It’ll go into a student’s backpack and you look at how the the kids on the bus or train put all their bags in the middle of the aisle and then someone’s going to end up standing on it. It’s got to be able to take that.” Textured ridges on the rubberised skin which cover the top and bottom of the netbook make for a better non-slip grip
“So the case is a little thicker and the LCD back is thicker to take that sort of pressure. The ridged rubberised skin helps kids grip it and prevents it from sliding off the desk, and it wont show scratches like a nice shiny LCD back panel.”
Dell also left vents off the 2100’s underbelly “so if it was put down on any spilled liquid its not going to intrude into the chassis. There’s a fan which blows air out to the side but because the case is thicker there’s more airflow so it helps keep the netbook cool. It doesn’t get as warm to the touch as some of the others.”
Kensington locks on either side of the chassis provide the anchor points for the Latitude L2100's shoulder strap
Another innovative design touch is the pair of Kensington locks, one on either side of the chassis, which act as anchor points for carry straps. Dell has a short handle plus a longer shoulder strap, both of which remove the need for a carry case.
While the Latitude 2100 may please the Penguinistas, however, Dell still has no announced plans to offer Linux on its more mainstream consumer desktops or laptops – the official line remains that it’s “under consideration”.