Old Computers Made New

I am not sure why but Linux developed into something of an obsession over the past couple of weeks. I could not just stop with installing it on one machine.

I decided to stick Linux on my Lenovo 100S. A quick search of the internet will reveal that this is a problematic little laptop to install Linux on. I am not a man to be easily daunted when I have a bee in my bonnet so off I went. I downloaded a custom Xubuntu ISO from Linuxium, disabled secure boot and went for a test drive. It worked fine from the USB stick, so I did the install. Then the problems began.

I could not log in using the password I had set up during the installation. I dropped to the command line, and the password worked fine there. The keyboard worked fine as long as I was not doing anything that required user authorization too. This was bizarre, but I eventually worked out that the machine was reading the keyboard as if it was a Czech keyboard at any login except one done from the command line.

After this, everything seemed to go fine although there was no sound and the battery indicator was, to say the least, misleading. Still, Scrivener loaded roughly 10 ten times faster than it did when the machine was running Windows 10, so I was prepared to call it a win. I get the occasional report telling me Scrivener has crashed, which is a bit disturbing since it quite clearly has not. I eventually got the sound working, so that was fine. Scrivener excepted the machine is not much faster than it was using Windows 10, and maybe because of my keyboard experience, it feels a little less stable. That’s what you get using custom ISOs and bleeding edge kernels I suppose.

That said, I can use the machine, and I am fine with it. Next up was installing an SSD in the Asus K46 and doing a reinstall. It took me five minutes to swap out the SSD, and the reinstallation and copying of my files from the old hard drive took about an hour. The machine runs like a dream. It’s like getting a new computer for free.

It also got me thinking about the difference between the older generation of computers and newer ones. Modern consumer machines look beautiful, but they are completely not upgradeable. It took me seconds to remove the battery from the K46 and a couple of minutes to take the SSD out of its cradle. I would not feel comfortable attempting something like this on a MacBook or a Windows ultrabook. For one thing, the batteries are not designed to be user removable, and in many cases, the SSDs are soldered in. It’s what allows the machines to be so slim and lovely but it’s not the most practical of things. I prefer the old way of doing things.

It does not feel like there’s a huge difference in performance between my upgraded Asus and my MacBook Pro. This is not Apple’s fault. For the past half decade or more Intel has concentrated more on increasing battery life (by reducing power draw) and integrated graphics than on raw processor performance. And the Asus has a dedicated graphic card as opposed to the MacBook’s integrated IRIS graphics. That said the Macbook stomps on the Asus when it comes to battery life.

While I am rambling, I installed the Cinnamon Desktop on the Asus, and it is lovely. Here’s a screenshot to show what I mean. I don’t see a huge performance difference with Xfce on this computer, so I will be keeping the desktop.

I went for a hat-trick of installations by digging out my old Republic of Gamers G55. The SSD on this stopped working, and it would not boot. I’ve been meaning to get around to fixing it for years, but I never have. I installed Mint on the secondary hard drive, and I am pleased to report it works just fine. It is, in fact, astonishingly fast which is not surprising considering the machine has a quad core i7 processor. I’ll probably stick a new and bigger SSD in this soon. I’ll put Windows 10 on it for playing World of Warcraft and speech recognition with Dragon Naturally Speaking, and then I’ll set it to dual boot Linux.

On the software side, Scrivener for Linux works just as well as its Windows counterpart, and it loads, saves and backs up a lot faster. I have been working happily with it for a couple of weeks now and never had a problem. Scrivener for Linux is now free but it’s not supported, and there are reports of it becoming less and less stable on newer distros, so I installed the Windows version using Wine. It runs just fine as far as I can tell. Here you can see them running side by side. (I just noticed that I lazily did not change the text too much in this pic. The one on the right is Scrivener running natively on Mint.)

I could not get any games working on Linux Mint 18 using Playonlinux which was a bit frustrating, to say the least. The bright idea of simply installing them from Wine itself hit me. Now I have the Age of Wonders games running on the Linux machines.

That said, I could not get Word 2007 running using a direct Wine install, but it runs just fine from Playonlinux. You win some, and you lose some.

On balance, I am very happy with Linux Mint. It is fast, stable and I have switched to using it for all my work. The only time I have used Windows over the past couple of weeks is to play WoW. I suspect things are going to stay that way for a bit. Hopefully next time I will get around to blogging about something else.

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