Ubuntu for Netbooks
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 Staples.ca 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.