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Ubuntu on the EeePC
by Michele Simionato
January 2, 2009
Summary
Some update about my experiences with the EeePC.

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The other day my wife told me that she was unhappy with her EeePC, the one we got as a wedding present (the story was told in a previous post). She was experiencing random freezing while surfing the net. I thought of an issue with some Firefox plugin but I could not find anything wrong. So I took the occasion and I said, "well, why not to try some other Linux distribution than the default (Xandros) since I have heard that most distributions features a good support for the EeePC?".

So I did. I chose Ubuntu since it is the distribution I use on my MacBook. I have also tried the Eeebuntu distribution which is expressly written for the EeePC, but I came back to basic Ubuntu since I prefer the standard desktop, both form an aesthetic point of view and because of familiarity and usability.

The installation went smoothly, just following the instructions at array.org, an apt-get repository where you can find Adam McDaniel's kernel for the EeePC. Actually, since I did not want to erase the Xandros distribution I did some experiment first, by installing the new OS on a separate drive. I did discover that installing on a USB pen drive is perfectly possible, but the experience is painful: the installation takes nearly two hours, and then the machine is very slow. On the other hand, installing on an external hard disk takes less than half an hour and then the machine is very snappy. It looks like disk speed is an extremely important factor when it comes to the responsiveness of the EeePC: the processor is not the bottleneck, the disks are.

After those experiments I installed on the internal disks - which are solid state devices - and I have got performances comparable to using an external hard disk. I have also discovered that the smaller disk (my EeePC has two internal disk, a 4GB one and a 16GB one) is much faster than the bigger one. I formatted the disks so that the "/" partition was on the small disk and the "/usr" partition was on the big disk.

As I said everything went fine. Notice that you absolutely wants to install the eee-control utility (apt-get install eee-control) which allows you to control the performance of the processor and to enable/disable the wifi, the bluetooth, the webcam and the card reader.

I had two big positive surprises:

  1. With Ubuntu and Adam's kernel the machine is extremely more responsive than with the default Xandros distribution. This was completely unexpected. Of course the advantage of Ubuntus versus Xandros is that you have (much) more updated and bigger repositories of packages, but I did not expect to see a substantial difference in responsivity. There is, instead: opening the video player, of Firefox, or any other application is much faster. Moreover the default Ubuntu video player is much faster than the Xandros default player.
  2. The graphics card of the Eeepc is pretty powerful and/or particularly well supported: in particular Compiz works out of the box and I could enable the Desktop Cube effect which I could not get to work on my MacBook. I could not see any difference in responsivity with respect to my desktop computer, which has 4 GB or RAM and a nvidia graphics card. I have also tried to connect the EeePC to an external monitor and to my TV (which features a 1360x768 resolution): everything works perfectly, including the Cube effect. We saw Once Upon a Time in America just yesterday night on the 42 inches display, and the vision was perfectly fluid and clear.

With Ubuntu the EeePC feels like a real computer. I have even installed Postgres on it and I think one could use it for development, not just for surfing the net. Now that there are models with bigger displays I think my next laptop will be a netbook.

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About the Blogger

Michele Simionato started his career as a Theoretical Physicist, working in Italy, France and the U.S. He turned to programming in 2003; since then he has been working professionally as a Python developer and now he lives in Milan, Italy. Michele is well known in the Python community for his posts in the newsgroup(s), his articles and his Open Source libraries and recipes. His interests include object oriented programming, functional programming, and in general programming metodologies that enable us to manage the complexity of modern software developement.

This weblog entry is Copyright © 2009 Michele Simionato. All rights reserved.

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