Monday, 14 September 2009

Downsizing to a Netbook

Over the past 20 months or so I've been lugging my Lenovo 3000 N200 laptop with me around the world when I attend various conferences, Sprints and the Ubuntu Developer Summits. While travelling, I generally use it for Email, Web, IRC, Skype and note taking - which are netbook type activities. If I need to build and kernels I will ssh into an appropriate build server at home and grind code on a far more capable build box. With my neck playing me up, I don't really want to carry a heavy laptop if I have to.

So, it's time to move over to a netbook - the plus point is that it's much smaller and lighter (which is good since I'm not to carrying heavy objects at the moment) - however the downside is that the HDD is smaller and the screen is only 10" and the processor has easily half the compute power as my Lenovo.

My experiment is to see if I can use a netbook over the next week or two and see if it makes my Lenovo redundant.

The first step was to install the latest Ubuntu Karmic Alpha onto my HP Mini 1000 netbook. I could have opted for the Ubuntu Netbook Remix but I personally like using the normal desktop distro (call me old-fashioned!) so I installed the 32 bit Karmic Alpha 5 (since 64 bit won't work on Atom based processors). I pulled in the latest updates and I'm running the latest kernel which I know for sure gets the audio working correctly. I'm using the broadcom wl closed source wireless driver which required just a little bit of attention to install, but all in all it's fairly straight forward.

After installing my normal apps that I need for work I then transferred my home directory over from my Lenono to the netbook and that was about that. I've made some minor tweaks to alter the panel sizes and tweak the fonts just to squeeze in more text onto the screen, but that's about it.

The 1.6GHz Atom N270 processor is fast enough for Skype and also watching the BBC iplayer - although the rendering is a bit choppy when there is a lot of motion, but it's OK enough for casual usage. The integrated webcam works fine and picture quality is most reasonable.

The keyboard is 92% the size of a normal laptop keyboard, so it's quite usable. Even with my chubby fingers it's fine to use - I'm currently writing this blog entry with it without any finger pain.

Suspend/Resume works reliably and fairly fast too. When one opens the netbook lid the resume occurs so quickly that the only clue that it was suspend is seeing the wireless re-associate. So Kernel Mode Setting seems to help in the overall suspend/resume experience.

Email in Evolution is usable, but I could do with more pixels - the 1024x600 TFT display can make things a little cramped. As for battery, I'm getting over 3 hours without any powertop tweaks; I hope to get a better result with some tweaking. I could have opted for an SSD rather than using a HDD to extend battery life, but I needed the larger disk capacity for some of the work I carry around with me.

Tomorrow, I'm going to see how well an external monitor works with this netbook to see if it can be used for my normal desktop tasks. Since most of the day I'm ssh'd into my servers, I don't need a powerful desktop, so it will probably work.

I will let you know if it's thumbs up or thumbs down.

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