Going ultra-mobile: Korg’s nanoKEY controller plus a svelte, two-and-a-half-pound netbook running Linux and energyXT.

Laptops for music are nothing new. But better versions of Linux make no-hassle music production easier and more powerful – and new netbooks make it cheap and ultra-portable, too, for times when even that 15” laptop feels clunky. Netbooks aren’t for everyone, and I imagine some people will miss Windows and Mac OS, even with better compatibility and powerful features on Linux. But if you are looking for an additional, more mobile machine, the combination is definitely worth a look.

A significant revision to the one netbook customized for Linux music has just become available today – you read about it here first.

The elements of Linux-based music making have reached a nice convergence with the release of Ubuntu 9.04 – the combination of a polished, mature Linux distribution with a newly-updated real-time kernel for low-latency audio is looking especially potent. At the same time, the increasingly-popular netbook has also improved in the latest generation. Ronald Stewart of Indamixx, a custom Linux mobile computer builder and OS packager, writes to brag about his latest generation. And he’s even found a way to do mobile music in his vehicle. (Let’s hope traffic in the LA area isn’t so bad that you’re actually adjusting beats in a tracker on the road, however.)

Indamixx has three products here, one software and two hardware:

  • The original Indamixx portable studio is built on Samsung’s OLPC platform. I reviewed it for Keyboard Magazine. It’s really, really ultra-portable, and is something of a technological achievement. But most of us would prefer something more like a laptop, with a little more power and a conventional keyboard/mouse. Good news:
  • The Indamixx Laptop is a netbook, with more power and more conventional uses – but still pre-tuned to run Linux audio, and still ultra-portable.
  • Transmission is Indamixx’s custom Linux distribution, built on Studio64 and Ubuntu 9.04, but with extra tools to make hosting Windows VSTs and importing your existing projects easier.

Transmission should be available soon for people who already own a netbook. You get more than you get with a stock Ubuntu install. For instance, the included commercial product ardourXchange allows you to import AAF files from Pro Tools, Logic, and the like into the open source Ardour DAW.

It also ships with the commercial app energyXT. I think it’d worth buying a copy of the superb, modern tracker Renoise, which has excellent Linux support. Renoise also got a significant update, now in beta, which I’ll talk about by next week. Ardour 3.0 is expected to be a major update, as well, with support for MIDI and VSTs – that could be a game-changer when it happens, so stay tuned.

The laptop is what especially intrigues me. Linux is great, but it is nice having a configuration that’s static, because it helps navigate around potential compatibility issues with specific hardware specs. (That’s a problem we see regularly on Windows, too, and even occasionally – as with a specific wifi bug on an early build of Leopard – on the Mac.)

Indamixx has a special version of the MSI Wind that comes pre-optimized for Indamixx. Ronald describes the newly-updated Indamixx Laptop specs. (We saw the laptop here on CDM first in November, but this is a significant upgrade from that model):

  • Transmission OS 3.0, which thanks to the new kernel and Ubuntu 9.04 has various enhancements and does a much better job of handling network 3G / HDSPA cards for mobile connectivity
  • A 2.0 GHz CPU – the only overclocking-capable netbook
  • 2 GB pre-installed RAM from the factory, which (sadly) is rarity in netbooks
  • 160 GB HDD (doubled from the previous model)
  • 10.2” widescreen display, up from the somewhat-cramped 8.9” on the previous model
  • Large-style keyboard layout, roughly 95% of the size of a regular keyboard
  • 2.6 pounds, up to 4 hours battery life

The Transmission OS will soon be available for other machines, too. Here it is running on Ronald’s mom’s BestBuy-bought model. (No, the Indamixx Laptop is not available in pink.)

The kernel is new to Ubuntu 9.04. Combined with the real-time JACK, you get excellent low-latency performance. (Incidentally, I’ve found that also applies to Windows software running in Linux under the Windows compatibility environment WINE – I’ve had success with NI’s Reaktor. Not officially supported, but quite a lot of fun. Ronald reports at least one user running Guitar Rig 2, as well.)

Indamixx also throws in a carrying case and free FedEx shipping.

I’ll be installing Ubuntu 9.04 on my main PC laptop soon, and possibly also my MacBook. Stay tuned for more on the latest Linux OS and what you can do with it for creative music making.

More info:


Indamixx Laptop @ Amazon: Indamixx Portable Studio Netbook Edition Model 2

(also available from Musicians’ Friend)