It’s been a couple of years since I reviewed a laptop from ZaReason, the UltraLap SR. Now I’m reviewing something a bit smaller — the ZaReason Terra HD.
ZaReason is a different type computer company; every single computer they sell runs Linux, and they only ship Linux (or no operating system at all) on all of their machines. They care about this to the point where they even include a screwdriver in the box of every machine they sell. That is because any system you buy is your system, and they feel that you have every right to look at what makes it tick. That’s one of the things I appreciate about ZaReason, and as an open-source advocate, I usually can’t help but like almost everything they make.
Let’s take a look at this great-looking netbook’s specifications …
The Terra HD includes a 11.6 inch LED backlit LCD, a beautiful brushed aluminum lid (in black or red), Intel Atom N450 1.66 GHz CPU, Intel GMA 3150 graphics, VGA Webcam, Draft N WiFi, Optional 3G cellular integrated (works best on AT&T), a 6-8 hour battery life, weighs in around 2.9 lbs and has a full-sized keyboard. It also includes 3 USB ports, an integrated SD/SDHC card reader, VGA port and audio ports. You may order up to a max of 2 GB of ram. For storage, you can get hard disks ranging from 160 to 500 GB. Speeds on the disks are 5400 RPM or 7200 RPM. You may instead opt to get a SSD in sizes ranging from 40 GB to 160 GB with the top two being high performance SSD drives. The loaner that ZaReason sent me had 2 GB of RAM and a 40 GB SSD drive.
The exterior of the Terra HD looks a lot like an HP Mini 5102 on initial inspection. Upon closer examination, you can see many differences that makes this a very distinctive piece of hardware. The back of the LCD is dominated by a beautiful piece of aluminum in black or red. The one on my loaner is red. Opening up the LCD reveals the excellent keyboard and a nicely sized trackpad. The LCD itself is an 11.6 inch LCD and has a glossy finish. The screen is gorgeous and spacious with a 1366×768 resolution. This size is perfect for browsing most sites with little to no horizontal scrolling needed. I also love that ZaReason has three USB ports compared to the measly one on the old MacBook Air or the two on the new Air.
The OS that they shipped on the Terra HD was Ubuntu 10.04. Ubuntu 10.10 has since been released and immediately upgraded the OS to 10.10 once it was released. Both 10.04 and 10.10 ran swimmingly well on the Terra HD, and neither required a single restricted driver. For those who don’t know, a restricted driver is one that includes closed source components. The usual suspects that require restricted drivers to work optimally are graphics cards from Nvidia or ATI as well as some WiFi cards with Broadcom chipsets. Intel graphics have been well supported by Ubuntu for quite sometime, as is every other piece of hardware on this netbook. Everything worked out of the box with no tweaking necessary. That is why buying from ZaReason is a good thing if you are a Linux supporter; everything they make uses 100 percent open source drivers and is guaranteed to work.
This netbook booted up very fast thanks to both the SSD and Ubuntu 10.10. It boots up so fast that during testing I rarely suspended it, preferring to just shut it down unless I was taking very short trips. I measure less than 15 seconds from the time you press the power button until you are ready to login.
A lot of people will say that netbooks like the Terra HD are only suitable for browsing the web and light word processing work. Since the Terra HD is running Linux, you can do even more. I was able to use it to produce a couple of podcasts, and I participated in 2 weeks of the Linux Link Tech Show using both Ekiga (a program similar to Skype) to call into the Tech Show’s conference while using it to run to connect to a chat using Internet Relay Chat(IRC). The Terra HD did not miss a beat with any of these tasks. I was also able to type up a few blog posts with the Terra HD. The excellent keyboard made it feel like I was using a bigger laptop and was very comfortable. All of this just further confirms my opinion that Linux is a great operating system for netbooks.
Not once did the Terra HD feel slow with maybe the exception of watching higher res flash video. The reason for that is that Adobe has included no graphics hardware acceleration in the current Flash client for Linux. Eventually, this will be rectified, but until then you can do like I do and run a lower resolution video on Hulu and YouTube. I watched 3 episodes of Caprica using Hulu on the Terra HD in 288p and it worked just fine. Higher resolutions worked, but were choppy. Local video suffered less than the flash video, but was still iffy when trying to watch High Def video. Local video performance would be better if this netbook had a Nvidia Ion or Ion 2 graphics card instead of the integrated Intel graphics solution.
With all that is good about the Terra HD, there are a few minor little things I don’t care for. The integrated speakers are fairly weak. I think that’s because they fire into the bottom of the netbook, and that mutes it a lot. The fan also runs quite a bit on this netbook and is fairly loud. The case also creaks a little in the corners, but it’s nothing severe. Lastly, I am a just little concerned about the pricing.
As tested, the Terra HD I have would cost around $587. That’s a little pricey when compared to some of the Windows counterparts with similar specs. However, based on past experience, working with ZaReason on any support issue has been far better than I would have gotten from Asus, Dell or anyone else — probably because they are smaller and can afford a bit more personal attention to customer’s issues. It’s also possible that most people who would buy from ZaReason might already know Linux well enough that they would typically only calling ZaReason for true support issues. So that extra money is worth it, to some, in the long run. Also, in doing a little research with a similar vendor, System76, the price is competitive. System76 has their Starling NetBook which is similar in every aspect with one exception: screen size. The Starling only has a 10.1 inch screen running at 1024×600 where the Terra HD has an 11.6 inch screen running at 1366×768. The Starling is $505 with similar specs and the Terra HD is $587 (as tested).
The ZaReason Terra HD is available direct from ZaReason’s website.
MSRP: $587 as tested.
What I liked: Nice big screen for a Netbook; great looks and construction for something in a Netbook class machine
What I didn’t care for: I wish it was priced a tick lower and had a Nvidia Ion or Ion2 graphics card as an option