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This is Strata!

February 15, 2012 9 comments

There is only one word to describe the speed, style, and power of the ZaReason Strata 6880 laptop.

Damn!

First things first: This laptop is wide — a 15.6-inch-screen-wide-in-high-definition wide — and it is powerful, to the tune of the test model’s Intel i7 Quad-core with 8 threads running at 2 GHz. The 8GB of memory below the keyboard coupled with the Nvidia GTX 540M video card make this a well rounded machine for, well, just about anything. The width of the laptop — oh, it still fits on my lap because that itself is wide, too — allows the laptop to have a full keyboard that includes a number pad on the right.

For something this fast and powerful, you should probably have a license of some sort — a pilot’s license comes immediately to mind.

As mentioned yesterday in my review of the ZaReason Alto 3880, my current ThinkPads come in the basic black. This laptop, too, comes in basic black, but it’s a shiny, slick black as opposed to a staid, utilitarian black favored by IBM and then Lenovo. In terms of black, if the ThinkPad makes you think of a limousine, the Strata 6880 in turn makes you think of the Batmobile.

Strata 6880′s strengths

Originally, I thought that for a laptop, this was kind of big — maybe wide would be a better word to describe it. Sure, I have a wide lap, as I mentioned before, but for something this size? Anyway, it only took an hour or two to become accustomed to the extra witdth in screen real estate — a bonus on a machine like this that’s so nimble and quick. Multiple windows are a snap here and there’s a lot less promoting and reducing when working on multiple projects simultaneously. And the screen: a crystal-clear LCD display with a 1980-by-1080 footprint shows whatever I choose to bring up with a clarity bordering on perfect. This comes in handy especially when watching DVDs or streaming video — which you can do while working on other things (why would you? I don’t know, but for the sake of testing this machine, the Strata 6880 handled everything I had thrown at it) . Not only does the streaming audio/video come across clear and uninterrupted while working on other things, the performance was nothing short of remarkable. I would imagine that most of the graphics performance would have to do with the Nvidia video card, that seems to handle things easily.

Like in yesterday’s review of the Alto 3880, the Strata 6880 ran three different distros: Linux Mint 12, Fedora 16 and CrunchBang Statler. It ran each perfectly and, with the addition of Flash on Fedora in the post-install, everything ran as it should out of the box. If you’re wondering, I did spend extra time with Fedora, only because I wanted to give some extra time to GNOME 3 and, while I can see some of its advantages now working on a machine that will run it, personally speaking that desktop is not for me. As for Linux Mint, MATE and Cinnamon ran quite remarkably, and my home distro — CrunchBang — was flawless and fast on this hardware.

There are times when using the Strata 6880 that I feel like I am driving a Testarossa to go to the grocery store and back. I don’t mean this as a slight — the capabilities and potential for this machine are far wider that what I would use it for. What I’m currently using it for is this — Web stuff (including streaming audio and video), a little testing (though most of that is done on a desktop), correcting photos in GIMP, making and running presentations in LibreOffice Impress (which worked well, by the way), and watching DVDs. This laptop, though, does make me want to break out the Blender book again and give that program another shot, maybe seeing what more the laptop can do.

Still, when I was running multiple programs like GIMP, LibreOffice and streaming a video, the warmest the Strata 6880 got was 54 degrees C — doing the same thing with the ThinkPad usually get the temperature up to the 70s (though, kids, don’t try this at home). All of which is to say that the laptop does all the work thrown at it and seems to look for more.

I understand that the Strata 6880 can be a gaming platform, and I would believe it judging by the high performance. I don’t “game” — I may have game, but I don’t usually play on the computer — so I didn’t try it out the gaming side of things. But with the current setup, it would not surprise me that games would be an easy fit for this laptop.

Needs improvement?

To be honest, I had a few qualms about the wide screen at first, but they quickly subsided as soon as I started getting used to the width and found I could put it to good use. Like the Alto 3880, it has the same single-button-on-a-fulcrum setup where you push either side of the single button to get the left/right mouse button, and having a separate left- and right-button mouse set up on the laptop is more of a personal preference than anything. Unlike the Alto 3880, the Strata 6880 had a stiffer keyboard which was more to my liking, so it gets high marks there. One thing that could be a reflection of how much I was using the machine unplugged moreso than anything — and I don’t think it’s a “need improvement” item, but some might: I only got a little over two hours of battery time while unplugged, but again it was while multiple programs — including streaming video — were running. To be honest, I’m never more than two hours away from an electrical socket, so battery life is not a big issue with me.

A final look

As I said a couple of days ago, I don’t have a ranking system — I still don’t, even after yesterday’s review of the Alto 3880 — but I would give the Strata 6880 the highest marks across the board for design and performance. Looking more closely at the machine itself and judging by the firmness of the keyboard, the laptop also feels durable. My only regret in having this laptop for several days is that I couldn’t make it break a sweat — again, the activities I normally do in my day-to-day digital life include the typical Web stuff augmented by some Web and photo work, some software testing for programs that are not terribly complex and a lot of LibreOffice, either writing or using Impress. Also, as I mentioned yesterday, I can’t emphasize enough how important considering a purchase from a Linux hardware vendor is, and apparently the differences in prices are not as much as I thought: After a trip to Best Buy in Capitola yesterday, the difference in price between this laptop and others like it is marginal. The $849 base price for the Strata 6880 is about $50 less than a comparable HP laptop with similar specs on the showroom floor at $799. So if this is in your price range, the Strata 6880 is a good buy.

Of course, the worst part of this process now comes with me having to pack up these laptops and send them back to Berkeley. Thanks, ZaReason, for allowing me a chance to give these two laptops the once-over, and thanks, too, for making such great Linux-based hardware.

Specs as tested

Screen: 15.6-inch bright glossy LCD display at 1920-by-1080 pixels
Processor: Intel i7-2630Q 2 GHz, Quad-core, 8 thread
Memory: 8GB DDR3-1333
Graphics card: Nvidia GTX 540M 2GB
Hard Drive: 128 GB SSD
Optical Drive: CD-RW/DVD-RW
Audio: Speakers above the keyboard for quality sound output
Wireless: #WZF B/G/N
Reader: 3-in-1 card reader — SD/MMC/MS supported
Camera: 1.3 Megapixel webcam included
Ports: HDMI and VGA monitor ports; Gigabit Ethernet port; 2 USB 2.0 ports; 1 USB 3.0 port
Operating System: Your choice from a variety of Linux distros, or no operating system
Battery: Six-cell battery
Weight: 5.51 pounds
Basic price: $849
Price as tested: $1,426

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started developing software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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Eliminate DRM!

Not a normal week

February 7, 2012 1 comment

Last week up to today, which is still Tuesday in most parts of the world, had not been the most normal of weeks. First, I was busier than I have been in the past with a lot of different things, both digital and non. This is not a complaint — certainly in the face of having two ZaReason laptops to review, and putting new, fast hardware through its paces when you’re at your busiest is something that is a plus.

I’ll get to the reviews — yeah, I swore them off after the last one I did for ZaReason, but these will be the last . . . honest — a little later this week. There will be two by both me and my daughter Mimi, for a grand total of four. Watch this space.

This past week had some pretty interesting developments, like

Robyn Bergeron, trivia question: So here’s the question that will come up in various conversations way in the future — “Who was the first female lead of a major Linux distribution?” That, of course, would be Robyn Bergeron, who was given the nod to replace Jared Smith as the Fedora Project Leader. Not only does Fedora make history, but the project puts itself in incredibly capable hands with the new leader. Congratulations, Robyn.

Rumors of Kubuntu’s death . . . : OK, here’s the story. Listen closely: Canonical dropped funding for Kubuntu a few days ago, but that does not mean, as some bloggers have wrongfully stated, that the distro is dead. On the contrary; apparently it’s going to be treated in the same way as Xubuntu, Lubuntu and the other official ‘buntus. I understand that Kubuntu developers are going to meet and discuss this at the Ubuntu Developer Summit in Oakland in May. If you’re a Kubuntu user or have thought about contributing back to the project, now would be a good time to do so.

Coming tomorrow
: LibreOffice 3.5 gets its official release tomorrow, Feb. 8. The latest release candidate is already available from the Document Foundation — go get it, either today while it’s still hot from the oven, or tomorrow when it’s ready.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started developing software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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Eliminate DRM!

Hello, I must be going

February 1, 2012 1 comment

It’s a very busy week among with redwoods in Felton, not the least of which had a Monday visit from the UPS delivery guy with two — count ‘em, two — ZaReason laptops to test. Sadly, that’s not the biggest reason that I’m busy — a new refrigerator comes today and we’ve had to carve a path from the door to the kitchen to get it in the house (though, interestingly, the refrigerator is by a window we can take out . . . hmmm), adjusting furniture to make a clear path. Oh, and I’m starting the media machine going for Linux Fest Northwest — you’ll be hearing a lot more about that as time goes on.

Therefore, in the words sung by the immortal Groucho Marx, “Hello, I must be going . . . .”

But before I do — you didn’t think you’d get away that easy, did you? — a couple of things:

Open palm, insert face: I haven’t had a chance to weigh in on Canonical’s new HUD, the (ahem) Head-Up Display — head-up what, exactly, is something you’ll have to determine for yourself. Without going into detail, I don’t see it as progress or innovation if I have to type something in a field where previously I had to just click on an icon. Maybe Steve, er, Mark Shuttleworth does, but it wouldn’t be the first time he and I have disagreed (incidentally, I’d like someday to agree with something Mark does. Maybe someday). What’s next, the progress or innovation of using a green monochrome screen? I’ll try it — HUD, not the monochrome screen — but from the looks of it, it doesn’t deserve the “oohs” and “aahs” it’s been getting — maybe a disengaged “hmmm” at the most. But we’ll see.

All work and no play: As mentioned earlier, ZaReason sent me a pair of laptops — the Alto 3880 and the Strata 6880 — to put through their paces and give them a review. I was going to swear off reviews after the last one I did, but I reconsidered. They’re currently running Linux Mint with the MATE desktop — very interesting — and there’s a better than excellent chance we’ll have Fedora, CrunchBang and other distros on the HDs before the week is out. Plus, as a bonus, my daughter Mimi is also going to give a review of the laptops as well, since she’s using the one I’m not using, and when she’s done with it we’ll swap laptops. These reviews come sometime next week, probably around Wednesdayish.

Ruh roh: Time to bring a refrigerator up a flight of stairs.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started developing software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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Eliminate DRM!

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