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 2.6.29.1 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:

http://www.indamixx.com/

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

(also available from Musicians’ Friend)

  • Zoopy

    Ableton netbook plz.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @Zoopy: there may be a way to convince Live to run adequately in WINE on Linux, but I haven't found it yet. If you want Live, for now I still have to recommend Windows.

  • rj

    Puredata, Supercollider, Csound and ChucK.. all this and moar in Linux =)

  • http://celibacyclub.com celibacyclub

    re: ableton netbook

    dell makes a cheap 2ghz, 15" for about 400$

    not a netbook.. but affordable power.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Well, right, you might actually want to err on the side of processing / hard disk power for Ableton.

    But then, an ideal scenario might be Ableton on your studio machine, but a more lightweight, custom performance rig built in (any of the tools rj mentions) on the netbook for gigging and on-the-road programming. :)

  • mhulot

    The netbook looks like pretty standard fare in the hardware dept… is there a way to find a similiar linux distro tuned in much the same way and install onto other netbooks… for instance the Asus 1000he which I just purchased this weekend and am considering returning now?

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @mhulot – I believe you should be able to install Transmission 3 on the 1000he when Transmission is released. It boots from USB / CD, too. Of course, in the meantime there's also Ubuntu Netbook Remix, which works pretty nicely. The value here is the software bundle – figure in the cost of the AAF importer and energyXT, plus the whole Transmission OS and the fact that you don't have to do any work to get it going, and it's a great deal on the MSI. I think the MSI was also chosen for being ideal for this purpose. But yes, if you want just the software half on your netbook, I understand that's coming soon.

  • mhulot

    I'm not questioning the value whatsoever… I'm really considering picking the Indamixx up… I've been struggling for a couple days being an absolute Linux noob attempting to get renoise and other audio apps to play nice with Ubuntu Netbook Remix and a couple of other distros… I could see how the extra money is well worth Energy XT and the OOTB functionality.

  • http://www.indamixx.com ronald stewart

    mhulot

    You are not alone. There is something about just having everything built and turning it on and BAM! you are making music not installing software/tuning.

    Email me please ronaldjstewart@gmail.com

    Thank you

    Ronald Stewart

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    What issue were you having with Renoise? I'll test it, too.

  • http://www.indamixx.com ronald stewart

    Yes I know of the Ubuntu Netbook Remix versus Transmission 3.0 debate but I have to be totally honest here. Free Ekanayaka's (64studio.com) version of Linux RT with full optimizations for audio and Atom based chips is better than any off the shelf DIY version that I have tested. Plus you get support from a trusted partner in the Linux audio community, 64studio.

    Here is a test that I perform here in house to know how well Free's RT is tuned and optimized.

    1) Launch IDJC and connect to server via icecast2

    2) Unplug from wall and make sure you are on wifi

    3) Stream a song from IDJC

    4) While streaming and listening on another machine, launch a resource HOG like VST HOST running Minimoog.

    5) Notice that there is no buffer under runs in your stream.

    6) Launch Audacity or Ardour and start editing on your audio session and you will notice no buffering in IDJC stream. So now you can stream and work on a track from the same device.

    7) Now try this on a DIY build and notice the latency issues and drop outs when doing anything other than streaming.

    I hope this helps!

    THANK YOU FREE!!!

  • mhulot

    @ronald stewart…. I'm excited to try out 64studio… I am going to try it out tonight… great to know its optimized for atom processors… I will email you with some questions if thats ok… don't want to get too OT on this comment section

    @peter… I can not get JACK to configure on my eee pc 1000he under Ubuntu Netbook Remix… so Renoise runs terribly… not too mention for some reason the volume is dreadfully low… I'm getting very frustrated…

  • Aaron Urbanski

    Now how about native Linux drivers for the Kore 2 controller? Pleeease NI pretty please???

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    mhulot: have you tried the rt kernel?

    I agree with what Ronald says here, especially based on my own experiments with ubuntu. customization is everything. You might also look at the free studio64 and ubuntu studio or pure:dyne. But Transmission does look extremely complete.

  • mhulot

    I see… I got a little confused about all this… I may just return my asus, I've only had it a few days and go for the Indamixx… seems like a much better no fuss option. Plus no windows stickers permanently affixed to it. hee hee.

  • Brian Vadnais

    Here is a cool little netbook setup by the guys on Audionowcast.

    http://nowcastnetwork.com/NowcastNetwork/nfblog/?…

  • http://www.indamixx.com ronald stewart

    maybe we should offer a discount for every netbook owner that removes windows stickers???

    he he

  • http://xfader.com regend

    DO This —> MSI WIND 10" NetBook running OS X.

  • http://antisound.net stk

    What about a decent audio interface, though?

    Sure you can run some stereo i/o USB thing, but what about multichannel?

    I'm currently checking out the Lenovo S10 – one of the few/only netbooks with an expresscard slot. Expresscard == Firewire == RME Fireface, yay.

  • chris

    Renoise beta is amazing…all that tracker goodness easily routed into live. Indamixxx looks like good fun. Might have to pick one up.

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  • mhulot

    Just installed Ubuntu Studio and it works fantastically on the eee pc… the latencies are more than acceptable. Renoise runs terrific.

  • Charles

    I'm looking for a soft sampler on a netbook to trigger audio files by midi for live performance. I'm probably thinking about 8-12 voices polyphony. It will be a custom electro-drum kit triggering unique sounds.

    Can this do the job? I've looked at MuseReceptor (too expensive and perhaps overkill); the SM Pro Audio V-machines, but not sure about these.

    The problem is I got a MacPro and it is not very portable. I've thought of Macbook but this looks like a great alternative…

    Let me know if you think is possible….

  • http://rhythminmind.net Rhythm In Mind

    I have a Lenovo S10 netbook running with Ubuntu Studio http://ubuntustudio.org/ .. Highly recommend the s10. My coworker has setup the S10 as a Hackentosh with great success as well. It would also run Live just fine as a windows box.

  • http://www.scarkord.com ScarKord

    I'm getting good results running Acid Pro 7 on my Dell Mini 9, using the built in sound card and ASIO4ALL. I bought the linux version (it was £50 cheaper) then did a custom XP install using nlite. Haven't tried running more than two soft synths at a time as yet (FM8 and Muon Tau2 along with multiple instances of various Audio Damage plugins if you're curious) but I'm amazed it manages that much!

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  • http://www.myspace.com/djchinkial al

    yeah netbooks are cool

    ive managed to get flstudio 7 ableton live 5

    traktor 2.6 traktor 3 reaktor 5 synthedit

    puredata usine and a few other apps running pretty well

    id only bought the netbook to run traktor 3

    wasnt sure if i could get to use the 4 tracks

    but to my amazment it was possable

    after disabling 2 svchost.exe from the task bar

    still get the odd audio dropout when traktors reading a new track while playing one

    oh and this is on a standard advent 4489

    atom n270 512 mb ram 80g hd

    al.

  • shamburglar

    Not to be the devils advocate here, because I do appreciate all the work that went into making transmission and I'm sure its a job… but aren't Linux based OS supposed to be open source… shouldn't there be a distro/source released on the net that includes everything in it minus the commercial apps?

  • http://www.zacharyreese.com thesimplicity

    I've been testing various netbook configs for a while now as my main performing machine… Aspire One, Mini 9, Eee PC, MSI Wind… some work better than others, but I've found the Atom processor is really not built for stuff like that. I recently switched over to a Thinkpad X61t and it runs Live 7 flawlessly (and was only $150 more than my Mini 9). Netbooks are nice and tiny, but I don't think they're worth the performance hit.

    For netbook users rocking Windows: I can't recommend the Behringer U-Control USB interface enough. It's $30 and you get RCA ins and outs, plus the benefit of ASIO.

  • kaimerra

    I want to second Ronald's appreciation for 64 Studio and Free's work. I used Ubuntu Studio for a while, switched to 64Studio and am still amazed at how well 64Studio performs. I have been trying out the Beta 3.0 regular distrobution for a few months and its frakin great. I have slowly been weening myself off Abelton Live, Sonar and Adobe Adition with Linux audio applications. Not only have a gotten all the functionality from Linux apps, but better performance, much lower cost, and there is nothing that replaces the Jack Audio server and its adaptable connections in windows. I am anxiously looking forward to getting one of these new Indamixx laptops! :)

  • shamburglar

    Where can one download the beta 3.0 of 64studio?

  • mhult

    @simplicity the netbook isn't really a desktop replacement at all… you can't expect it to fill the shoes of a core2 duo processor… the netbook changes the rules and you have to work around its limitations… sure ableton live is not going to play very nice… but trackers will, pd will, it'll sequence outboard midi gear without a hitch… they're very useful just not as a replacement to your main production computer

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @shamburglar: 64studio is available as an open source distro (though I don't see the 3.0 beta, either)

    Key things to remember here, though:

    * yes, there is some proprietary software in here people may actually want (and personally, I think supporting app vendors that support Linux natively is a good thing)

    * distros can't include proprietary drivers, etc.

    * distros aren't generally hardware-specific

    So even without the proprietary add-ons – most of which are just sweeteners here – there is a precedent for custom OEM builders tuning Linux to a specific configuration.

    And there's reason to get pre-tuned hardware even when the software is all open-source. See also: Google Android.

    If you want to build it yourself, though, and don't mind the extra time that involves, I think pure:dyne, Ubuntu Studio, 64studio, and Fedora are all good starting points. (Fedora if you don't mind a different, non-Debian package system.)

  • http://www.zacharyreese.com thesimplicity

    @mhult Oh, I agree… but I found myself in the position of "why limit myself?" when for not much more money I could get a desktop replacement. I didn't have luck with Live, Processing or Max/MSP on a netbook, and I wasn't really eager to change the way I perform in order to match the hardware. I can definitely see the attraction to working around limitations, but I personally thought it was sort of silly seeing how a netbook costs $300-$400 and a desktop replacement costs $400-$500.

  • http://www.indamixx.com ronald stewart

    Hi All,

    Check out Al!!!

    "yeah netbooks are cool

    ive managed to get flstudio 7 ableton live 5

    traktor 2.6 traktor 3 reaktor 5 synthedit

    puredata usine and a few other apps running pretty well"

    This guys winning!!!

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Right, you wouldn't really buy a netbook based on price alone. It's about the portability combined with price. (Actually, most fully-loaded netbooks also in that $400-500 range, whereas I expect other models with 1-2 year service contracts for mobile broadband will be more like subsidized cell phones)

  • http://xfader.com regend

    @Charles – there's a band in LA named Fosforo (they are on myspace) that i've seen at shows. the drummer has drum triggers and pads and the sampler is Ableton Live 7 running on a 12" G4 1.33 GHz Mac (non-intel). The audio interface is an M-Audio Pro Fire and drum triggers.

    A 10" netbook with 1.6 Ghz atom should handle Ableton Live 7 just fine with 1 or 2 gig of ram.

  • mhulot

    I never think twice about popping the netbook in a bag and taking it with me… my previous 15inch laptop was another deal… and honestly sometimes working at my desktop I actually am stifled by the options I have working with ableton… I'll tweak a sound endlessly for hours and get nothing done… the netbook is a great device if you look like it as a sketchbook… probably not the best choice for live performance…

  • mhulot

    also i might add that they are not that expensive anymore… if you search a little bit you can find refurbished ones for under $200.

  • http://www.myspace.com/noou (noou)

    @Peter: are you sure this is the only overclockable netbook? after a quick search on the internet it doesn't seem too difficult even for other models.

    however, i can't test myself because i don't have one…

  • Armando

    Wish it came in white.. *kicks dirt*

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  • Jordan

    I would like to see it running/review on an Assus nettop …it has 15.6" touchscreen…

    http://usa.asus.com/products.aspx?l1=24&l2=16

    any possibility on that?

  • M Vincent

    The HP 2133 was once available with a VIA C7 processor clocking at 1.2ghz but with an 800mhz FSB. The Atom bottlenecks with 1.6ghz and 533mhz buss speed. What's more is that the VIA Nano will sit in the same socket as C7, clocking at 1.8ghz.

    The HP 2133 is still available with a 7200rpm HD and 2g of RAM but I would rather:

    A) Wait for the performance netbooks and enjoy some good old customer support

    B) Buy an old HP 2133 and possibly upgrade to the Nano manually.

    The aluminum case and specs make this old hp look like the mini I want. Try finding factory 800mhz fsb or 7200rpms in the netbook price range.

  • http://cupidjvalentino@yahoo.com c.j. davis

    can you make videos with this?

  • http://yjvhychlyinu.com/ qiioqktruh
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