Lately I've been craving buying a new laptop. Work provides me with one, but I've been craving something smaller, lighter, and something of my own. At the moment, there's little chance I will actually act on this craving. There are a lot of bills and other concerns since I bought a house back in October. Instead, it's more of an enjoyable exercise in speculative consumerism.
The Sure Thing: The Zareason UltraLap 430
The Zareason UltraLap 430
supports my key requirement out of the box. Like other Zareason machines, the 430 runs Linux with full driver support. While my preferred distro of Arch Linux is not explicitly supported, all major distros are. It's a solid bet that this little machine would work well. The UltraLap also hits all my other requirements nicely. It's small, light, and completely solid state. While it doesn't have a DVD-R drive, it would not be difficult to connect one via USB in the few instances it would necessary for me to do so. A brief tour of configuration options suggests a cost of about $1100.
The Luxury Car: The Chromebook Pixel
The Chromebook Pixel is an intriguing option. I've used ChromeOS before during the CR-47 pilot program. I loved that plasticy little system until it suffered apparent irreparable hardware failure. ChromeOS wouldn't work as my primary OS, unfortunately. It's best if I have access to a full desktop operating system on which I can develop Drupal code. Thankfully, it appears easy to modify the Pixel in order to run a more garden variety of Linux. Others have reported some success in installing Arch Linux. The Pixel is beautiful, easily the biggest selling point of the system. The hardware is actually a step down from Zareason's offering, but more than adequate for my needs.
The cost of the system, almost $1500, is the biggest drawback. The high cost would ensure limited adoption, and the limited chance of full Linux support for the life of the system. Without knowing more detailed information about the inner workings of the Pixel, it remains an expensive risk.
The Post-PC PC: The Surface Pro
I've grown very fond of tablets over the last two years. These small, lightweight devices can be easily tucked into a backpack or carried under an arm. The solid-state nature of the device and its smaller form factor make it attractive as a primary personal device, but the power is lacking. I have, in fact, gotten a tablet to host a Drupal instance, and used it to work on module patches. Sadly, it was painfully slow. I could make it work for smaller projects, but it would not hold up under the stain of working on OSNews. If only they made an x86 machine in a tablet form...
The Surface Pro is exactly that. It's a full, x86 machine in the shape of a large, 10" tablet. The device is attractive and more along the $1000 I would rather spend. As a bonus, the included digitizer pen would make the tablet into an excellent drawing device. The biggest downside, however, is the lack of support for Linux. As expected of a Microsoft device, the Surface Pro runs Windows 8. It should be possible to convince the Surface to revert to legacy BIOS boot and from there boot until my preferred OS. Support, again, becomes an issue. Like the Pixel, there'd be little way to determine how well it would take to desktop Linux without buying and installing it myself. If it did work, however, I can imagine spending many happy hours with it indeed.
At the moment, I'm not seriously considering buying a new system. If I weren't as concerned about the loss of money and the potential failure, I would likely try the Surface Pro. It's cheaper than the pixel, the tablet form factor and the digitizer pen seal the deal. If I found myself needing a new primary system due to a change in my job, I wouldn't hesitate to buy the UltraLap. The Pixel, for all it's glamour, takes a distant third. It's OS support is the weakest, and the price is the highest.