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Dell announces Ubuntu 7.10 PCs with DVD playback

Dell has told me that it will be announcing later today, Dec. 19, that it will be releasing PCs with Ubuntu 7.10 (aka Gutsy Gibbon) as part of its Dell Consumer Linux lineup along with the ability to legally play DVDs.

According to Dell spokesperson Anne B. Camden, the “Dell Inspiron 530N desktop and Inspiron 1420N notebook PCs are now available with Ubuntu 7.10 pre-installed.” Both of these models were part of Dell’s second wave of Ubuntu-powered PCs, which were released in June 2007.

Ms. Camden continued, “Possibly in the ‘more importantly’ category, we are now pre-installing DVD movie playback all Ubuntu 7.10 systems — a feature we feel will resonate with Linux enthusiasts as well as the mainstream consumer market. In fact, one of the key requests from customers interested in Linux is the ability to watch their favorite DVD movies.”

According to Camden, this feature will enable users to play back commercial DVDs. While current Dell Ubuntu users will be supported by Dell if they upgrade their systems to 7.10 via the Ubuntu update system, Dell will not be supporting this functionality on its older systems even after being updated. Only users with the new pre-installed 7.10 Ubuntu systems will get this new DVD playback functionality. This is because Dell’s contracts to enable this make it impossible for them to offer it as a ‘retro-fit’ to its older Ubuntu-powered PCs.

The Inspiron 1420N, which comes in eight different colors, is powered by a 1.5GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5250 processor. This chip set also comes with a 667MHz FSB (front-side bus) and a 2MB cache. Dell will let users who want a faster processor upgrade it to a 2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7500 with an 800MHz FSB and a 4MB cache.

For storage, the default setup starts with an 80GB SATA (Serial ATA) hard drive with a spin rate of 5,400 rpm. At the high end, Dell offers a 160GB SATA hard drive with 7,200-rpm speed. It comes with a 24x CD burner/DVD combo drive or an 8x CD/DVD burner (DVD+/-RW) with double-layer DVD+R write capability.

For graphics, it uses an Intel Graphics Media Accelerator X3100 on the motherboard. The X3100 takes its RAM from the main system memory. The 1420N starts with 1GB of RAM.

The Inspiron Desktop 530 comes in a minitower form factor. It’s powered by an Intel 1.6GHz E2140 Pentium dual-core processor with an 800MHz FSB and 1MB of Level 2 cache. It can be upgraded to an Intel 1.8GHz E4300 Core 2 Duo Processor with an 800MHz FSB and a 2MB L2 cache.

Its default storage device is a 160GB SATA hard drive. On the high end, users can upgrade to a 320GB SATA drive. All the drive options run at 7,200 rpm.

For an optical drive, the desktop comes with a 48x CD-RW/ DVD combo drive, but users also have the option of a single 16x DVD+/-RW drive or a dual-optical-drive configuration. To connect with the Internet, this laptop has both a Gigabit Ethernet port and a 3945 802.11a/g Wi-Fi Mini-card.

The 530N comes with a gigabyte of single-channel DDR2 (double data rate) SDRAM at 667MHz. That’s more than enough memory to run Ubuntu 7.10. Users can crank the 530 all the way up to 4GB of dual-channel DDR2 SDRAM.

For graphics, the 530N comes with a 128MB Nvidia GeForce 8300GS graphics card. For an additional $100, users can upgrade to a 256MB Nvidia GeForce 8600GT-DDR card.

The system also comes with a Dell USB keyboard and Dell optical USB mouse. After plugging these in, the user will still have eight USB 2.0 ports. A 13-in-1 Media Card Reader and a 3.5-inch floppy drive are also available as options.

Dell has made it crystal clear since the introduction of Ubuntu 7.10 that it planned to pre-load the distribution on some of its PCs. Indeed, even before Ubuntu 7.10 was available, Dell had announced that it would be shipping systems with Ubuntu 7.10.

It has long been possible to play DVDs on Linux. However, with most Linux distributions, it is necessary to manually enable this functionality. That is because while the user may legally own both the DVD he or she is trying to play and the computer it’s being played on, in the United States, enabling open-source-based operating systems to play commercial DVDs, with their wide variety of DRM (digital rights management) schemes, is something of a legal swamp. There are legal ways around this, and presumably Dell has invested in one of them.

Dell Product Strategist Daniel Judd will be releasing more details shortly on the Direct2Dell site about this next step forward in Dell Ubuntu-powered computers. The 1420N starts at a list price of $599 and the 530N starts at $754.

A version of this story first appeared in DesktopLinux.

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