Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Dell Latitude 2100

So the Mini 9 is gone going to be gone soon, so it is time to consider the alternatives for robot ground stations. The Dell Latitude 2100 is a netbook that seems to be designed for students whose destructive tendencies approaches that of angry primates. This also makes it useful when working on robots outdoors.

The outer surface of the case has a texture that is almost exactly the same as a dodge ball. The case itself seems well built and sturdy and the hinge for the display looks like one of the sturdiest designs I have seen in a laptop.

For some reason, Dell wanted me to agree to a EULA that they failed to include in a format I could actually read. However, I was able to install Ubuntu via USB flash drive without an issue. Make sure to update the operating system once you connect it to the network otherwise the Netbook Remix is broken in many random places.

All of the hardware works under Ubuntu 9.04 including the touchscreen and wifi. The bluetooth came up and I would assume it works, however I did not test it yet.

Trying to get Dell to sell you the hardware without windows seems to be impossible, as some of it is not officially supported under Ubuntu 8.04, perhaps Dell could sell misconfigured/unsupported systems for Linux users. On the upside, Microsoft probably allows the ram on the Latitude 2100 to be upgradable since you have to remove the keyboard to upgrade it. I blame Steve Ballmer.

The SD Card slot is fairly well designed allowing a normal memory card to protrude only 1-2mm outside of the case. It is as close to flush as it can be and still be easily removed. This allows those of us who like to keep our home directories on a memory card to keep it in at all times without risking damage. I would rather that it was flush but this is a reasonable design compromise for most users.

The Network Activity Light on the lid is semi functional under the Ubuntu Netbook Remix 9.04. If the network is switched on it is illuminated, if you disable wifi it turns off, it does not blink based on network traffic. The wifi switch appears to act like a USB hub connect/disconnect and the light itself appears at first glance to come up as a separate USB device. If the light can in fact be controlled via USB then it could be used as a visual alarm if you are using the laptop as a ground station.

Overall the Dell Latitude 2100 looks like it will make a great ground station for controlling robots. The only features missing are integrated GPS and cellular data, but based on the pricing for cellular data this is not a huge loss. In the future I'll look into integrating the Canmore GPS when I try to install a solid state drive for extra ruggedness


Mark Smith said...

I bought my Latitude 2100n with Ubuntu 8.10 preinstalled. I ended up testing Windows 7 on it and enjoyed that for some time. Later I installed Ubuntu 9.10, whereupon all of the hardware except for the touchscreen was supported. To get the touchscreen working, I downloaded the driver from Dell (inteded for 9.04) and installed it via dpkg/gdebi. See http://www.mydellmini.com/forum/dell-latitude-2100/9414-latitude-2100-ubuntu-linux.html. for instructions.

I can assure you that bluetooth DOES work, both in 9.04 and 9.10, though I would suggest installing Blueman instead of the standard bluetooth manager because it is easier to use. I use Blueman to connect to my Verizon HTC Touch Pro to use as a mobile broadband connection.

For my wireless card, the Intel 5100 ABGN, the wireless activity light does indeed blink on network activity. Installing a Solid State drive is trivial to do. I bought a 64GB one from OCZ (A solid series, if I remember correctly) to replace the Samsung 16GB SSD that came with mine. The service manual gives good directions, though it makes no mention of the touchscreen or webcam at the time of this post. Good luck, and enjoy your 2100!

John Oliver said...

Did you ever figure out whether the network light can be configured via USB?

I Heart Robotics said...

I have not had time to play with it, but if the light blinks in windows then you just need to monitor the USB bus.

Something like this will log the info.

I suspect that the wifi driver was modified to talk to the usb network activity light device.