Skip to content

Ubuntu for Netbooks

July 23, 2009

Meet the baby: a new ultraportable netbook Toshiba NB200:

During the past week I bought a Toshiba NB200 ‘netbook’ and installed Ubuntu Netbook Remix (9.10). I’m happy to say I’ve got it up and running and I’m now currently blogging from this ultraportable. In my opinion this is the future of personal computing and really like what I’ve got! Ultraportable notebook computers, or ‘netbooks’ are suddenly everywhere, less than $400, and selling fast.

Here’s the specifics on this little beauty: (Canadian brown 002 version, on special at for $429)

– June 2009 Editors award from PC magazine and Laptop magazine

-10 inch screen (1024×600), 2.8lbs (1.27 kg), 10″x8″x1″

-N208 Intel Atom, 1GB 533mhz RAM (upgradeable to 2G), 160GB 5400RPM HD, Windows XP preinstalled

-Bluetooth, webcam, SD card reader, 3 USB ports, VGA out port

– 6 cell 63 Wh battery (5800mah) that gives about 6.5 hrs of practical use (Toshiba claim up to 9hrs)

My experience so far

Initially I kept the box and receipt nearby ready to return it if it wasn’t exactly what I hoped. Overall it is living up to my expectations, and I believe this ultraportable will be something I will use daily for years to come. There’s no doubt that this netbook is made even better by installing Ubuntu Netbook Remix. The keyboard is perfectly usable for touch typing at a normal speed and level of comfort. The battery life is incredible compared to anything I’ve every used before, and undoubtedly is setting the standard for all notebooks to come. (I don’t know why store sell any 3 cell laptop with only 2-3 hours of use!) At this point I think even lighter than this 3lb notebook would be ideal and at times even this will be feeling ‘heavy’ on my shoulder. I’d like lighter but this is the best option for having a ‘real’ fully usable computer with me in my bag. Yes there are pocket linux devices, but their use as a main work computer is limited at best to a quick email, instant messaging and so on. There’s not much need for optical drives anymore with owning 8GB USB keys which are double the capacity of a DVD-R. Using Ubuntu means all my software comes from the net, so I haven’t installed a program from CD in a long time. Perhaps optical drives are becoming obsolete (good riddance, they scratched and oxidized far too easily anyway).

Ubuntu Netbook Remix 8.10

I’m really pleased with my experience of the Netbook Remix of Ubuntu. It is optimized for the netbook hardware, and smaller screens. I’ve tried the original windows installation a few times and it is simply horrid in comparison (annoyingly slow logging in and loading all the demo software, and the desktop interface is too tiny to be pleasant) but then again I’m not a windows fan in any way. I just need to keep a dual boot with windows partition for my work related software. Trying Ubuntu live and installing it from a USB key was a first for me and really cool–up till now I’ve only ever burned Ubuntu on a CD-R. (Better for the environment too, with less old CD-R’s going in the garbage!)

There’s been some initial frustration with getting Ubuntu Netbook Remix properly running with wireless and sound. NOTE: You must boot the windows partition and turn on the wireless first. I feel bad for those eager pioneers who just unboxed and reformatted for Ubuntu-how frustrating that must have been to learn.  I started by doing a dd image of the drive first to backup, which took about 2 hours.  Wireless did not work on Ubuntu 8.1 desktop, nor on 9.10 without installing backports. I instead went for installing the daily build of 9.10 Karmic Koala Netbook Remix, and wireless worked upon booting. It appears a bit faulty currently with the ath9k driver, and the ubuntu forums are abuzz with fixes and tips. However, it’s working well enough for me right now. Sound currently isn’t working out of the front speaker, so if that is important to you, then avoid this notebook currently (the miniature single speaker sucks even when it works). Audio works through the audio out jack for headphones or amplified speakers. Watching a DIVX movie with headphones on the 10″ screen is an absolute pleasure when killing time. SD reader works fine. Suspend and resume work (but appears to not resume WIFI correctly) No working bluetooth yet.

Perhaps at some point I’ll post the steps needed for a fresh install and getting everything running. But I had a few odd things to fix first from the Ubuntu Netbook Remix. The boot time was 3 minutes too slow until I edited grub and removed the read only option. I also needed to edit Grub2 in a whole new way in order to add windows to the dual boot menu. The alsa config needed editing to get audio from the headphones only. Hopefully in a few months the team working on UNR will have this all fixed for an easy installation experience. If they get it right, I’d say the netbook should be sold with this OS as alternative.

Why the new netbook?

Although I currently have a working notebook that works very well with Ubuntu, and I’ve been very pleased with my Dell XPS m1210 I’ve had for a year or two. I originally bought the M1210 with the intent to get a notebook that was more portable than the ‘desktop’ replacement laptop that weighed 12 lbs and had a 15″ screen. The m1210 with 12″ screen weighs 6 lbs or 2.5kg with power adaptor and cost me about a grand if I recall correctly. Yes my Dell has a higher resolution screen and an optical drive but more than twice the cost and weight.

But lately I’ve been wanting something even smaller and lighter to throw in my shoulder bag. My wife gave me for a birthday gift a beautiful leather Roots bag the “Original Briefcase”, that I’ve started to carry with me everywhere. It’s a beautiful bag and a whole other topic. The point is I’ve been surprised how little weight I actually want on my shoulder while walking around town for an hour. So I started looking closer at netbooks.

I did a fair amount of research this month on netbooks, and ended up choosing the Toshiba NB200 (or NB205 as it is in the US) as what I thought was the best option currently. I read quite a few reviews online, and paid attention to the reviews comparing among netbooks the real world issues that aren’t often covered by comparing specs. Each computer maker seems to have a netbook now trying to corner the market, and they’re almost all the same hardware it seems. But good notebook review sites measure practical concerns like screen brightness outdoors, contrast, heat, fan noise, keyboard feel, and actual battery life.

Those of you who’ve read my blog know that I’ve been watching the development of the EEE for quite some time. My sister in-law even got one for her first notebook (and eventually switched to a larger macbook). Netbooks have come a long way in a year or two. Many people’s opinion of the first generation EEE’s was that the battery life was too short, the screen too small (hard on the eyes) and the keyboard too small to comfortably type on. I’m glad I waited and ended up with this little gem.

24 Comments leave one →
  1. July 28, 2009 4:25 pm

    How did you repartition the drive? I read of a bad experience on a netbook using gparted on the installer. I’ve never had a problem with a regular laptop of desktop; so I’m wondering. Thanks

    • dimeotane permalink
      July 28, 2009 9:34 pm

      I first backed up the whole drive with DD, then the MBR just in case things screwed up. I used gparted to resize windows down to 1/3, then made a root / partition and a /home partion and a swap. It partitioned fine, but I needed to mess with grub2 to get my windows boot on the menu… Grub2 is done differently and I had to look in the forums for that. I should post the how to here though.. Thanks for following the blog!

  2. July 30, 2009 5:18 am

    Bummer. I used 9.04 and got the problem where the C/H/S gets changed in the BIOS. The basics of it is that gparted uses what the kernel gives it for the hard drive geometry and then it gets changed in the BIOS. Unfortunately the little segment of the MBR where Windows keeps its information about the geometry is unchanged and it can’t find boot information.

    This happened to me before, but I was able to use a Win XP disk to do fixmbr and fixboot. No such luck on the netbook. There is a possible fix using sfdisk which I will try. On the last machine where this happened, the sfdisk fix didn’t work. I’m hoping this will be better. I should have used 9.10 like you did. 😦

  3. Jaroslav permalink
    July 30, 2009 11:11 pm

    Hi Dimeotane! Thank you for this post. Me and my (as yours also a) good taste wife are looking for a decent netbook and Toshiba NB200 has almost everything we are up to. The look, fine designed keyboard and touchpad, quiet fan, etc. Everything seems balanced. The only issue is Linux. I have been running Ubuntu on my desktop PC for several months but I would hesitate to call myself an experienced user. But I realy like the advantages of netbook tailored Ubuntu distributions like UNR, Eeebuntu or Easy Peasy. And I must say I’m pretty affraid of all the difficulties (and there are many of them) I read about instalation of them on NB200.

    Is it worth it? Shall I take my time and compile and complile and compile? Or is there a real expectations that (at least) the major issues will be solved in 9.10 Karmic Koala?

    Our second choice is Asus Eee PC 1005HA which is not without some minor troubles neither at this time. But I am pretty sure I could handle them a lot easier and also the future support of Eees might better than the NB200’s.

    Anyway, I am looking forward to read anything about your experiences with this Toshibita adorable.

    Greetings from Prague, CZ.

    • dimeotane permalink
      August 3, 2009 4:01 pm

      Thankyou for your readership. I really enjoyed your thoughtful letter (from Prague no less!!). Ubuntu in my experience is the most user friendly distribution, that is likely to ‘just work’ with most hardware. It also has frequent updates. When I first put Ubuntu on my Dell XPS notebook, there were a few finicky things that required tweaking… by reading more on the Ubuntu forums. (wireless required Ndiswrapper, graphics needed driver, sound didn’t work 100%) A few months and an upgrading to newer versions and everything worked!
      I’ve not had to compile anything really. (My HP laserjet 1020 did need the printer driver compiled a few versions ago.) Yes there is some time and learning required, but IMHO I think it’s good to learn more by taking more ownership, and becoming more computer literate. Learning ubuntu has been extremely rewarding for me and when I consider if years ago I had continued to only keep using Windows, my time would have been consumed by dealing with Virus attacks instead of actually learning powerful techniques for using my computer.

      The Asus EEE 1005HA would have been my other choice for a netbook, and has equally excellent specs. Asus makes great notebook computers (I understand also for some of the other big brands as well). There is a major EEE following in Ubuntu and I think that fans who contribute to Ubuntu updates will eventually work out the drivers & settings. For myself I went with the NB200 because of lower pricing and greater availability. Perhaps the EEE 1005 has better speakers than the NB200, so that could be a reason for choosing it over the NB200?

      • Jaroslav permalink
        August 5, 2009 4:39 am

        Well, thanks for this point of view. J.

  4. August 10, 2009 5:04 am

    After repartitioning with the installer for remix 9.04, I lost the ability to boot into Windows even though it was listed in grub. As I said previously, this happened some years ago and was fixed with Windows fixboot. I’m sure it was due to the change in disk geometry in the BIOS. I fixed it by getting the restore disk from Toshiba ($25) and buying an external cd drive. Now I’d like to see if we can find the original geometry, because it is possible to prevent this by giving the geometry when booting the installer. Of course, who is going to bother to find this out? With luck, most people will use 9.10!

    I don’t know why it didn’t happen in 9.10, but I’m sure it has a different kernel and possibly a newer version of gparted. Would you please report the cylinders, heads, sectors that you have when you do ‘sudo fdisk -l’? Also what version of the kernel and gparted?


    • dimeotane permalink
      October 25, 2009 11:27 am

      Hi Anita,
      Sorry to hear this happened to you. I know from personal experience how frustrating that kind of thing is. I was lucky enough that it worked flawlessly with 9.10 for me. Gosh I need to check my blog more often for comments and questions. I’m sure by now my reply will be too late, but for what it’s worth:

      Disk /dev/sda: 160.0 GB, 160041885696 bytes
      255 heads, 63 sectors/track, 19457 cylinders
      Units = cylinders of 16065 * 512 = 8225280 bytes
      Disk identifier: 0x6dbadddf

      Device Boot Start End Blocks Id System
      /dev/sda1 * 1 10199 81923436 7 HPFS/NTFS
      /dev/sda2 18152 19457 10490445 7 HPFS/NTFS
      /dev/sda3 10200 18151 63874440 5 Extended
      /dev/sda5 10200 11415 9767488+ 83 Linux
      /dev/sda6 11416 17980 52733331 83 Linux
      /dev/sda7 17981 18151 1373526 82 Linux swap / Solaris

      Partition table entries are not in disk order

      My kernel is currently 2.6.31-14-generic (but was when I installed in July it was a few versions ago).

      I don’t have gparted installed, but Karmic’s version of gparted is listed as 0.4.5-2ubuntu1

      Hope you’ve managed to recover your system ok!

      • November 5, 2009 8:36 am

        I did get it fixed by getting the restore disk from Toshiba, an external cdrom drive, and restoring Windows. Then I restored grub and all has been good.

        fdisk shows the same geometry as yours does, but that makes sense, because that is how Linux is reporting it. The question in my mind is why did Windows continue to boot for you, but not for me? I’m thinking it was because you repartitioned with version 8.10.

        A few years ago there was a lot of this happening. I have found a couple of posts of it happening recently with this netbook. Perhaps it is not a big issue. I wanted to warn people about it, because it is pretty costly to fix – for me it was $25 for the restore disk and more than that for an external cdrom drive. I’m ok with it, because I’m 10 years or so into Linux now and I would not be without it! Still, it is a puzzle to me how you got off so easy. 🙂

      • dimeotane permalink*
        November 5, 2009 10:57 am

        Thanks for your follow up! Not only does it cost $$ to repair, but also the pain-in-the-buttness of having to wait to get the restore disks, and not having a working Netbook that was just purchased.

        I agree I’ve been lucky… Almost all Ubuntu installs I’ve done I’ve been able to have a dual boot, and not needed to use a recovery CD to get the windows partition back. It’s possible I had better success by using 9.10 to resize.

        Anyways, the truth is I have rarely booted into the windows partition since. I felt the need to keep it there just in case, but day to day have no need (or interest) in using it. I did image the netbook to a backup drive first the minute I pulled it out of it’s box, so I had that to restore it, in case I needed to return it if Ubuntu wasn’t going to work out.

        My other computers are now 100% ubuntu… the windows partition long since been removed. My main attention now is to partition for easy backups. On every system I put Ubuntu on, I have a separate /home partition and separate /root. That way I only back up the irreplaceable /home partition much faster. I can always replace /root easily from the downloaded installer.

  5. Melisa permalink
    August 20, 2009 12:56 pm

    Did you try any distros other than UNR before deciding? I’ve got the nb205 and have been looking for a reasonably speedy distro that will work on it (especially the wireless) but I’m just not crazy about Ubuntu. I’d love to know if you tried anything else that worked.

    • dimeotane permalink
      October 25, 2009 11:14 am

      I’ve only used Ubuntu UNR karmic (pre release daily build) on this netbook.

      Over the years I’ve tried a dozen different distros, on many different computers. I often check distrowatch to see what else is out there in the linux work. For me Ubuntu is the most polished, with the largest community support, and frequent updates. It has the easy to use feel of a mac, but with the beauty of open source. I’ve sometimes used other distros for imaging drives, formatting, or file recovery. I think Dell chose to go with Ubuntu over other linux distros for some of these reasons.

  6. August 21, 2009 7:01 am

    I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

    • dimeotane permalink
      October 25, 2009 11:09 am

      Wow, that’s really cool of you to come here and say so! You’ve inspired me to keep updating this more often. I’ve kinda left it behind for a month now.

  7. MrBlue21 permalink
    September 3, 2009 8:11 am

    I have the Toshiba Netbook as well and I’m loving it. I have Ubuntu 9.04 and it seems to run very hot. Does your netbook’s fan turn on and off with the 9.10 Karmic Koala Netbook Remix? Thanks.

    • dimeotane permalink
      October 25, 2009 11:08 am

      Yes, the cooling fan kicks in every now and then depending on how heavy the CPU load is. Most of the time it is off. It’s very quiet! One of the reasons I picked this netbook based on the reviews.

  8. September 25, 2009 11:22 pm

    Toshiba NB205 – Great little computer.
    The 6 cell, 9 hour battery extends about 3/4″ beyond the case and is VERY useful for holding this small computer. I replaced the 1MB of RAM with 2MB and installed Office 2007 Small Office Edition. The computer boots fast and is a pleasure to use. I was unnecessarily concerned about the ability of this computer to quickly handle my 87MB Excel file that includes imbedded images. Runs PowerPoint and Outlook almost as quickly as my desktop.
    Amazing package – highly recommended.

  9. October 31, 2009 1:30 am

    Everything seems balanced. The only issue is Linux. I have been running Ubuntu on my desktop PC for several months but I would hesitate to call myself an experienced user

  10. October 29, 2010 7:49 pm

    notebook computers that are made by Sony are the best looking notebook computers**`

  11. November 17, 2010 7:18 pm

    the good thing about notebook computers is that they are not very heavy but they have small screens :.`

  12. November 18, 2010 7:20 am

    the shoulder bags that my girlfriend uses are always made up from natural leather **,


  1. Links 26/07/2009: GNU/Linux in French Schools, KDE 4.3 Excitement | Boycott Novell
  2. Nb200 grub2 | Usedguitarsonl

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: