Panasonic SA-DP1 Review – hifi from the early 2000s

A Panasonic hifi and speaker sit on a cabinet with fancy lighting

Over Christmas while we were packing stuff up to move it around, my mum confided that she doesn’t use the hifi system in her office. It doesn’t get any radio signal and she doesn’t have any CDs to play in it any more, so it just sits there doing nothing.

Since my living room only has the tiny Google Home speaker, I offered to take it off her hands to hook up as an aux device to my living room TV to improve the sound. And it’s delightful.

I love a bit of a retro nostalgia trip, this website is proof enough of that, and this hifi system is really doing it for me. It harks back to a time when things were simple enough to plug together and screw around with. A good time for a kid like me.

This thing is a little beast. It’s an AM/FM CD/DVD player from back when these sorts of things were common. The year 2003 to be exact, just a year before HDMI was first released in consumer gear, so it’s the absolute peak of analog tech before digital signals fully took over.

Hooking up to my TV was a simple affair, I grabbed a 3.5mm audio to RCA cable to connect the TV straight to the hifi system. I could have bought an optical DAC (digital audio converter) for better quality, or even a HDMI audio splitter so I can play audio without the TV on, but this was the most straightforward solution and it sounds flawless.

It also happens that my TV is a hand-me-down old enough to support composite video directly (thanks Ben!) so I hooked it up in reverse to (theoretically) play DVDs. Why? Cos why the heck not.

The early and kinda disappointing days of digital video

A USB CD drive with a bright orange Verbatim CD-RW sticking out and some jewel cases in the background

Around the time this thing was made I was browsing an electronics store in Singapore and stumbled upon a VCD of the 2002 film Resident Evil with a gorgeous holographic cover (Video CD being the precursor to DVD icymi).

I needed to have it! In part because it the cover was cool, but also because I didn’t have a DVD player at home so I’d be able to watch this with the CD drive on my computer.

It was a pretty bad, but fascinating technical choice. Turns out VCDs have exactly half the resolution of VHS tape, and only fit about 80 minutes of MPEG-1 video per disc, so the movie was terrible quality and chopped in half to fit over two discs. Not only that, but the censors also cut out a bunch of good bits.

Still, I loved that film and I’ve been trying to burn a VCD with some old vlogs just for a nostalgia trip.

(Side note: Super VCD used MPEG-2 and had a higher resolution, so they’re almost passable quality-wise. But they’re still limited to 4:3 for that old school cool)

A Devede window reads 'Burning image to CD. Writing track 3. 154 MiB of 650 MiB. Estimated drive speed 723 Kib/s (4.2x)'

I didn’t have much luck creating a VCD in in the year 2020 because it’s all pretty outdated, but I found an all-in-one burner alled Devede which actually managed to take my rips from youtube, crop and convert em, then burn onto an SVCD disc.

Unfortunately the unit didn’t seem to be able to play them. I’ve got a couple of rewritable DVDs coming in the new year so maybe there it will have more luck with those.

Day to day Panasonic SA-DP1

Cool old tech aside, I’m mostly likely to use this as an aux system for the TV with the Chromecast as a source, because any other configurations are really too outdated to want to use on a day to day basis. And for that it’s fantastic.

Amazon is filled with reviews from people who loved this thing fifteen years ago. It wasn’t super expensive, it’s a solid piece of kit, and it sounds great too.

Overall, I give the Panasonic SA-DP1 five stars.

Commodore Amiga

The "amiga key" on a yellowed Amiga keyboard

Had a bbq at Ryan’s place last night. Not a big one. But Ryan was keen to show off his Amiga 4000D, freshly re-capped and upgraded.

Amiga 4000D on a desk with a glass of wine.

The Amiga 500 was my first computer and like most people who grew up with one I still regret getting rid of it. Their heyday was really the late ’80s but I know we kept ours through the mid 90s.

Me playing Silkworm ^_^
Here’s me playing Silkworm, the first computer game I think I ever played.

He’s really into the retro computing, but this is my particular favourite machine.

You can read more about the Amiga on Wikipedia.

Retro nostalgia & why my new website looks like Window 9x

For a while I’ve been wanting to update my website, but I’m really not a designer and I knew any attempts to improve on what I already had would be a haphazard mess.

I was looking for a new job as a React developer and really wanted to hone my skills, so I thought what better way than to build a new site in React?

As for design… why not pay homage to one of the most influential operating systems of my youth: Windows 9x. And for fun, why not make it all fit on a floppy disk.

The rise of retro nostalgia

Windows 9x is the loose name for the operating systems from Windows 95 through ME. They were pretty shoddily built on top of MS-DOS and kinda sucked. But they were revolutionary at the time, and we didn’t know better.

The design aesthetic, particularly in the Windows 98 era was something to behold.

In present day, retro tech is really making a comeback. One of my favourite examples of this is Paul Verbeek-Mast’s horrible excellent website which was kind of an inspiration for me through my design process.

But there are plenty of other amazing examples of retro nostalgia including the gorgeous streaming radio, and this fun game concept:

I spoke about this stuff at the October QueerJS meetup in Amsterdam.

It’s running on a floppy disk you guyz

Ultimately the entire site is designed to fit on a 3.5″ floppy disk, attached to a Raspberry Pi running nginx, sitting on the shelf under my TV.

That means the entire site is 1.44 mb (or less) at any given time, and served to you straight from the ’90s.

The site is using Hexo to render out the static content, which includes a bunch of custom theming to make the data hook together nicely.

It’s also using Netlify for builds and Cloudflare as a CDN, so chances are you’ll never actually have to wait for the magnetic drive to spin up. But you never know! I get a little thrill out of that.

Update: this is back on Netlify while I’m at Fronteers Conference since I don’t have time to put the pi back together.

React & open source

This site was largely built with Preact (A fast 3kB alternative to React with the same modern API). The content is built with Hexo then progressively enhanced, so you can disable javascript (with the skip link for accessibility, or in the Start menu just for kicks) and the site still mostly works.

The interface is inspired by the more nostalgic bits of Windows 98 and ME, which were my operating system of choice in my more formative years.

If I’m honest, this was a terrible choice because the (p)react lifting state/render model is not great for large applications like this, and I led myself into an architecture that’s super inefficient and hard to maintain. But at this point I dont care, it’s working pretty well.

The UI components and some of the apps have been released on Github as a library called ui95. It’s a bit rough but you can use the library to create your own sites, apps, or just as a learning tool. Interestingly Artur Bień has been working on a parallel component library of Windows 95 styled components as well, so that’s probably worth a check-out too.

Some apps were built by third parties, including Paint and originally I was planning on including Webamp but it was too big to fit in my size budget. You can check each app for license information.

Where to from here?

Not sure. I’d like to post more on my blog and maybe find a local computer group.

But in seriousness, this was a fun project and I learned a lot putting it together. I hope you get some inspiration out of it and bring back a little of the whimsy in the retro web.

That time a truck crushed my laptop and I replaced it with the XPS 13

Waiting at the lights, my bag popped off the back of my bike somehow. I noticed straight away because the weight was different, but by the time I’d stopped and turned around, the ute behind me had driven over it with not one, but both sets of wheels.

A laptop all bent out of shape, still turns on but the screen is shattered. A tablet next to it, equally crushed.

The guy looked at me briefly, then drove off. I didn’t even think to note his license plate, I was too busy freaking out on the traffic island. My laptop is seriously my most important possession and it was immediately obvious it’s been completely written off.

I checked out my insurance, but it’s only for medical and third party which means I’ve got nothin’. I can shift some money around, but it’s certainly changed my short-term plans.

So I set out on a search for a new computer. I wasn’t going to buy another Samsung Series 9 because the quality of the screen was absolutely rubbish and having used it for a month or so I couldn’t justify the price again. So I went searching, and found the Dell XPS 13.

The Dell XPS 13 is a laptop.

Not the Developer Edition

I was originally looking at the Ubuntu Developer Edition which isn’t available in Australia. The Developer Edition comes with Ubuntu pre-installed, and a bunch of compatibility patches and developer tools already loaded on.

It’s a pretty attractive deal, because Dell have been contributing their modifications back to the Linux kernel to make sure this machine is the Linux latop amongst the Windows-crippled alternatives out there.

The XPS 13 is the same machine, just with Windows pre-installed instead. All the same bits and pieces under the hood (and a few extra stickers), but you can wipe Windows and install your choice of Linux distro over the top with no problems at all.

The Specs

There are a few models of this machine available, and I can’t find mine on the Dell site any more, so your mileage may vary.

Intel i5/i7 available
8GB Dual channel DDR3 1600Mhz
128 GB SSD (Mine has 256 GB, but this no longer seems to be an option.)
Intel® HD Graphics 4000
Full 1080p (IPS?) display
Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6235 and Bluetooth 4.0
47 WHr 6-Cell Battery
13″, machined aluminium & carbon fibre composite shell, silicone palm rest

Initial Thoughts

My initial thoughts on this laptop were really positive. This laptop feels expensive.

Aluminium & carbon fibre shell

The device has a full 13.3″ screen, but the size of the laptop is tiny owing to the really small bezel around it. The chassis is an attractive complement of machined aluminium on the lid, carbon fibre on the base, and a silicone finish on the palmrests which is surprisingly nice to use.

There’s a metallic cover on the bottom of the laptop which opens to reveal the Windows and Intel stickers as well as FCC information and other important bits.

There are two USB3 ports, one on the left and one on the right. There’s also a Mini DisplayPort and a headphone jack. There are no other ports on the laptop. If you want to use something like cabled Ethernet you’re going to have to pick up a USB adaptor online ($10 ought to do it on eBay), or if you need more devices you’ll have to look into a USB3 hub.

I’ve noticed the lid can be a little tricky to open as the weight isn’t quite balanced with the opening mechanism but on the flip side, the lid is fixed in place wherever you put it. There’s no wobble or anything because of the heavily weighted hinge.

Installing Linux on the XPS 13

There’s a few ways you can install Linux, by USB flash drive or via an external DVD drive, it’s pretty straightforward.

The Dell XPS 13 running Ubuntu

While the device comes with Microsoft’s “Secure Boot” enabled, you have the option of going into the menus and turning it off. In addition, a number of Linux distros come with Microsoft signed keys that will run with Secure Boot enabled anyway.

Another nice touch is the ability to fall back to BIOS emulation mode, which lets you boot older OSes of if you run into shoddy UEFI support in your distro of choice.

You can get into the UEFI/BIOS interface by pressing F2 on boot. (Keep pressing it until it tells you it’s got it.)

Other than Secure Boot, this is a really straightforward machine to install on. You’ll have no problems.

The Keyboard

The keyboard is really quite nice. It’s backlit, and the chiclet style keys have a fair bit of give to them.

It’s quite nice to type with, much nicer than the Samsung Series 9 for instance, although they’re a bit softer than the generally quite firm MacBook Pro.

I’ve also been told the keyboard is an unusual layout (although I haven’t noticed), but either way you’ll likely get used to it in no time.

The Screen

The screen is the total show stealer. The original XPS 13 had a measly 768p screen, whereas this one has the full 1080p and it’s gorgeous.

I’ve gone through a few screens lately, and this is easily the best one I’ve ever used. It’s easily better than my 2010 era MacBook Pro, and wipes the floor with the rubbish used in most Windows laptops on the market these days, including the Series 9.

The screen is perfectly clear, offers no motion artefacts or screen-door effect at all (unlike it’s shonky bigger brother).

I suspect it’s an IPS screen although I haven’t been able to verify this information anywhere other than one or two news and blog sites. It has perfect colour reproduction, with no vertical colour distortion whatsoever and perfect viewing angles from all directions.

In terms of brightness it’s a 350 nit panel, which is pretty damn good. You can find other brighter laptops on the market, but this one’s perfectly good for indoor and outdoor use. It’s a glossy screen as opposed to a matte, which means it can be impossibly glarey in the wrong environments but I’ve never found myself unable to use the laptop due to lighting conditions.

Whether you’re a designer or developer, you should absolutely consider this laptop for the screen alone.


The trackpad is really nice. It has a smooth finish and tracks well with one or two fingers. It’s gesture capable, although I haven’t used any of these features.

Dell and Canonical have apparently taken the existing Cypress trackpad driver and extended it to support the Developer edition perfectly. These changes have been merged upstream into the proper Linux kernel and should be available on most new distributions.

I’m using the drivers that Fedora 18 picked up, and I’m not sure whether they’re the right ones or not. I’ve noticed very occasionally that the trackpad can get a little jumpy and I’ll need to suspend/resume to reset it. I’m interested in whether people have this issue in newer kernels than version 3.9.4-200.


This machine actually has a little more noise than I’m used to. While it’s no rocketship like my previous MacBook, it can get somewhat loud under load.

I’ve also noticed that the fan makes funny noises even when not under load. It’s barely noticeable, but if you shove your ear up to the bottom of the laptop you can hear it ticking and scraping. It’s a little bit of a concern, I’m not sure if I need to open it up and clean it or if that would make it worse.

External Monitors/VGA Out

This laptop uses Mini DisplayPort, like older MacBooks, which is pretty well supported.

The laptop itself doesn’t come with any cables, but you can grab a Mini DisplayPort cable to output to DisplayPort, DVI, HDMI or VGA.

I’ve driven my Dell U2711 27″ screen at 2560×1440 over DisplayPort with no problems. I understand there may be difficulties converting from DisplayPort to dual-link DVI etc for very large resolutions, so it pays to use DisplayPort→DisplayPort whenever you can.

I’ve also had problems connecting the Mini DisplayPort to a VGA projector using an Apple dongle. Turns out the Apple dongles are a bit special and won’t work with this particular laptop, so if you’re going to be presenting anywhere you’ll need to bring your own non-Apple adaptor.

Other features

The battery is a 47 WHr 6-Cell Battery but I can’t tell you much more than that. It’s not as good as the Samsung Series 9 for instance, but I rarely find it fails me when I’m out and about through the day. You should check out some other reviews for information on the battery life.

Graphics are standard Intel HD Graphics 4000, which are pretty standard across the board. The benefit of Intel graphics is that everything in Linux is supported so much nicer than with nVidia or ATI. If you’re looking for gaming, it’s not the worst you could do, but you should check around to see how the HD 4000 graphics fare on various games.

Sound is quite good. It’s much better than the Series 9 or 2010 MacBook Pro for instance. I’m not sure where it comes from, but it seems beefier than your average laptop sound. I haven’t put it through any vigorous tests (because it’s laptop sound after all) but I quite like it.

Output from the headphone jack is generally good too, free of pops and hisses, and I haven’t heard any processor squeal come through my earbuds which can be a problem on cheaper systems.


The Dell XPS 13 (Non-Developer Edition) is an awesome laptop and if you’re a Linux user looking for a quality device you should absolutely get this one.

While there’s a lot of different materials gone into the build, the quality is stellar. It’s a good weight, feels tough, and I consider it an extremely attractive design.

A person uses a the Dell XPS 13 at a display stand

All the useless loose ends have been removed (CD Drive, Ethernet, serial) leaving only the very basics. If you need more you can extend it with USB adaptors. It’s the ultimate minimal experience.

The speed is great, the compatibility is stellar and the display is the killer feature that beats out all the other devices on the market (with the exception, of course, of the retina Macs which aren’t much use in Linux anyway).

Everyone who sees the laptop loves it, and I recommend it for everybody. If you’re not convinced, leave a question in the comments and I’ll see what I can do to answer it. Otherwise, you’re going to love this laptop and should check it out now.