Percussa micro super signal processor

Five hundred bucks. In music tech terms, that usually gets you, what, a single app bundle? Now, it can get you a whole computer, pre-loaded with a bunch of music software. It may not be as powerful as a modern laptop, but it’s also in a cute, smaller form factor you can keep everywhere in case inspiration strikes, or balance on the corner of your Steinway grand. Meet the Indamixx laptop. Whether you want one or not, it’s emblematic of the ongoing commoditization of laptop technology, with ever-cheaper, lower-power brains.

Highlights:

  • Brains: 1.6Ghz Intel Atom CPU netbook (looks similar to the Asus, but it’s actually Sylvania)
  • energyXT bundled: Runs energyXT, the awesome music production workstation with modular features and some unique editing capabilities – sort of the “indie” electronic music workstation of choice
  • Full laptop-like specs: a full complement of I/O including 3 USB ports; an 80 GB hard drive (not bad for a machine this size!)
  • Custom Linux distro + apps: Tons of pre-configured Linux music production software running on a custom distribution called “Transmission” – with Hydrogen Drums, Ardour DAW, DJ software Mixxx (that’s three x’s to Indamixx’s’s two – don’t ask), and lots of other lovely tools
  • Sounds pre-loaded: 2900 drum sounds, 350 samples + scratches
  • Import sessions: The new Ardour Xchange imports from your existing DAW (worth its own article, I think!)
  • Broadcast your sets: Included Internet console for streaming your live gigs, etc.
  • Hosts Windows VSTs: An included Windows-compatible host for your existing plug-ins
  • Bundle: includes 1GB SD card, free carrying case, free US shipping, a t-shirt, and 30 days software support while you get it set up

$499 for the whole bundle – stuff like Ardour Xchange alone lists for US$75, energyXT is commercial, and you get these other goodies, as well (the memory card, case, etc.). So I think this is very competitively priced.

More reflections from Liliputing, which is a must-read blog if you’re into netbooks. (And it’s the creation of Brad Linder, audiophile and NPR producer who occasionally checks in on mobile recording here.)

In a story I originally broke here, Trinity Audio Group has already built an all-in-one, ready-to-run Linux audio machine in a UMPC form factor, the Indamixx. I reviewed that Samsung Q1 Ultra machine for Keyboard Magazine, and was particularly impressed with the software configuration. I’ll be honest, though, personally I could never get that comfortable with the UMPC-style Indamixx, because I found input methods to be overly cramped, and the tradeoff for the UMPC’s extreme mobility is vastly trimmed-down performance – at a price (US$1199) that remains awfully steep. Touch is appealing, and it’s worth holding one just to marvel at the technological achievement, but in practice I just didn’t like the thing that much. I know some people feel differently – EnergyXT creator Jørgen Aase adores his – but you realize that maybe traditional laptops have something going for them.

I’m not alone. The netbook market has already more or less clobbered the UMPC in the market. Under the hood is the same enabling technology: increasingly power-smart, low-heat Intel mobile CPUs. They still fall well short of what the Core 2 Duo can do, but they’re getting better. And in the netbook, they have two massive advantages: one, they’re super cheap, even relative to bigger conventional laptops, and two, they’re in a familiar form factor that’s been made more compact.

Turns out, that whole laptop form factor isn’t so bad, after all. It tilts the screen up, and allows for a big screen. It provides ample keyboard input. It folds to protect the vital bits. It has plenty of I/O.

So, whereas the original UMPC Indamixx might have only niche appeal, you can bet the Indamixx netbook could be a huge hit.

You can pre-order the Indamixx laptop with a US$99 deposit, and guarantee delivery by Christmas by ordering by December 15. With USB2, you could easily plug in audio interfaces and keyboards, some of which have excellent support on Linux. On the downside, unlike something like the Lenovo S10, it won’t run Ableton (at least not with some effort – anyone tried WINE?) On the upside, Linux has audio features Windows XP doesn’t, it comes pre-configured with a bunch of software, and runs nicely on this kind of hardware.

I hope to test one of these machines soon. And yes, before people start protesting, there still is a great argument for conventional laptops — $500 will buy you a fairly impressive conventional machine, and you can install Linux on that, as well; with more of an investment, you could get a machine that easily smokes this one. I do like maxing out the capabilities of just those kinds of machines. But you have to admit, you can see some appeal to this machine, as well. And I do think some of the developments here, from the low-power CPU to the use of the Linux distribution, have some implications for all laptops. Stay tuned.

Indamixx Laptop Pre-Order Page