This post is a follow on to my previous post about the Acer Aspire One (AAO).
There is one really bad thing about the Acer Aspire One and that is that to get the hardware I wanted required getting the one that has WinXP pre-installed. No big deal for me: Ubuntu 8.10 is now installed and running very very nicely, and the hardware is just counting the minutes (or maybe its me...) until Mint 6.0 is released so that it can get the latest version. I thought about going to Mint 5R1 of course, but wanted a chance to play with Ubuntu 8.10. The new AAO hardware presented that opportunity.
What is bad about the XP on the AAO is that when my wife got hers, she did not also go to Linux. No.. instead she looked at it as a chance to get a computer she could run WordPerfect X3 on. She still spends most of her time on her MacBook and Pages, and is saving her pennies for a new Macbook, but that means Windows camel has a nose back under the tent flap at the Casa, Yes: I know my Acer 5610 dual boots to Vista, and that my AAO dual boots back to XP as well, but these are for experiments and professional learning, not for production use. I wish Corel would release WP for Linux (a modern version I mean. I have WP8 for Linux) so I could head this off at the pass. Nuts. OpenOffice.org 3.0 does everything I need and more, but my wife is more of a power user than I am when it comes to word processing. Apparently mail merge on OOo is not up to WP X3. Then there is the whole "Show Codes" thing that every word processor other than WP is missing.
The AAO has surprised me with its speed and utility. The Intel Atom 1.6 Ghz processor is hyperthreaded, which to Linux looks like two CPU's. I turned on various monitors like gkrellm and the Gnome taskbar monitors, and can see that the threads are getting different workloads: Linux is taking full advantage of the design. It is crisp. The monitor is also still amazing: the LED back-light making the white color look so clean and bright that the previous king of my monitor stable.. the Macbook Pro... looks a little gray and dingy in comparison.
Despite being crisp with is factory 1GB RAM, I decided it was worth the time, effort, and 22 USD to replace the stock Hynix 512 MB pc2-5300 stick with a 1 GB unit from Crucial. In fact, I decided it was worth taking the Acer apart over and over and over... although that was not the original plan.
I noted in my last post about the AAO that my unit did not match the box documentation: For one thing, I had a 160 GB HD rather than the advertised 120GB. My wife ordered hers from Outpost, and hers is also 160 GB while documented as 120 GB. I got to wondering if I was really limited to only 1GB of RAM on the upgrade, so I went to Fry's and got a Kingston 2GB PC2-5300, and dived into the Acer. I used the instructions here:
However, the pictured routines are not complete, and the video gave me the clues for the missing bits. The video also told me that once I got to the part about taking out the mainboard I had a different unit than they did. The screws were not all in the same place, and how the hard drive connected in to the mainboard was utterly different. This made me hopeful that 2GB RAM stick would work.
For all I know, it would. The problem was that the stick I had had been returned as not working, and it did not work in my unit either. I have no idea if this was because the stick was bad or the AAO... even the new one... does not support the larger RAM size. If it does not, it seems a stupid limitation.
I went back in with the 1 GB stick, total 1.5 GB, and all was well with the AAO again. Both XP and Linux felt crisper. I expected Linux to be faster since it is far better at addressing memory, and it uses memory not in use by programs as disk cache. I did not expect WinXP to speed up though.
Quick aside here: XP can only run about two programs at a time on my wifes AAO. I have never tried to figure out if this is a weirdness of hers (as long as she is on MS Win, she is on her own) and XP has not been up enough on mine to know if that is also true on mine. I have no idea if MS dumbed down XP ULCPC even more than XP Home (which would seem redundant and unnecessary but since MS says they are not making as much money because of the Netbooks, it might be true). I can tell you it is not a limitation of the hardware. Ubuntu 8.10 (and soon, I am sure, Mint 6) have no such problems. I have all sorts of things open all the time. My problem is screen real estate on the 1024x600 screen for active tasks!.
If you have researched the AAO at all, you know that adding the RAM to the system unit is not for the faint of heart. I take apart hardware all the time, and at first I did not think it was that bad... till I crunched the right hand speaker cable putting it all back together and had a horrible speaker buzz for a while till I took it back apart and fixed it. Doh. An AAO is not as hard as a G3 or G4 iBook. But it is not as easy as an Acer 5610 either!
It it a total mystery why there is no access hatch over the top of the memory slot. It is on the bottom of the mainboard, and there is an access hatch on he bottom. The hatch lines up with what looks like a place that they might someday solder in a connector for something: maybe a G3 wireless card? But there is nothing there on mine, and to get to the freakin' RAM slot is a complete system teardown...
The Hard Drive that the AAO uses was not what I expected at all. I thought it would be the same form factor as what iPods use. Given the small size and bantam weight, surely it used an itty bitty HD. No. Looks like a standard 2.5 inch laptop hard drive.
Before I leave the AAO hardware for this post, I do have to say that I can not wait till the aftermarket catches up to the AAO. For one thing, there are not yet any decent cases for this form factor. I bought a car DVD player case, and it works pretty well, but it would be nice to have something a bit more form fitting and with a place to stick the power cord. The other thing I will buy as soon as I can find it at a reasonable cost is a 6 cell battery. The stock three cell battery lasts about 2.5 to 3 hours, but part of the reason to have the uber-portable form factor of the AAO is to leave the power cord behind for the day.
Its Not Puppy Love
I do not try to diss Linux Distros for the most part. The people that work on them usually do it out of love, and often for free or for what people donate who love their work. That being said I have to say that Puppy Linux 4.1.1 is not ready for the Netbook form factor... at least not the AAO. Where Ubuntu (with a quick disablement of the ATH5k drivers) works pretty well, and extremely quickly, Puppy 4.1.1 does not work quite as well. Fast... but no 802.11, so what is the point? Web 2.0 pretty well sucks rocks when you can not get to the web.
I followed the directions at PenDriveLinux ....
.... and created a bootable CD. I booted this on the Acer 5610, and created a bootable USB fob (FWIW: I had to replace the USB Flash drives MBR, even though the on-screen directions says you probably won't have to)
I booted this on the AAO, and while Linux boots *fast* it does not detect and load the Atheros drivers in a way that works. I messed around with it: Puppy has a pretty nifty tool for this: but nothing that Puppy provided created a working wireless connection. Sure, I could have gone NDISWRAPPER, and Puppy even has a cool way to load this, but I refuse to go that route on an Atheros equipped computer.
Puppy worked fine on the Acer 5610 with its Intel wireless though, so this appears to be a problem that is specific to the AAO and its very recent Atheros card. Probably "fixed in the next release". lcpci on the AAO says:
03:00.0 Ethernet controller: Atheros Communications Inc. AR242x 802.11abg Wireless PCI Express Adapter (rev 01)
I had a spare USB fob, so I left Puppy on it. The other USB fob on that keyring has Ubuntu 8.10, so if nothing else I have a pretty nice repair tool set with me at all times. Is it geeky to have more than one USB fob on your keyring?
Puppy is interesting and fun to play with: Not the easy-breezy Ubuntu/Mint experience, but amazingly complete for being 96 MB or so. My 2GB fob that Puppy 4.1.1 is on has all sorts of room to spare.
Another day closer to Mint 6......