Linux on Acer Aspire One 722-0369

I am the humble owner of an Acer Aspire One 722-0369 netbook.

I have wanted a netbook for some time. Its small size intrigues me to no end, and I find it immensely useful for my often quite mobile lifestyle. After endless deliberation and window shopping, I settled on Acer’s model as being the most up to date. It was manufactured 2.13.2012.

Specs for this netbook here.

My goal was to achieve something similar to Ultrabook spec in power and portability, but for considerably cheaper. Thus, the first thing I did when I got it was install a 120 GB SSD. I plan to upgarde the RAM from 2 GB to 4 at some point in the future.

This post will explore the best GNU/Linux options available for this netbook, what worked and didn’t work for me, and what I finally settled on.

1. Crunchbang (10, Statler)

Initially I wanted to install Crunchbang 10, Statler. After a number of false starts (see list below of things to know and fix) it installed. Immediate issues included

  • Screen resolution was maxed at 1024×768. The netbook native resolution is 1366×768.
  • No sound
  • HDMI out didn’t work
  • Computer locked up whenever trying to connect to wireless
  • Suspend and Hibernate modes didn’t work.

The first issue was resolved by updating the kernel. Because Crunchbang is based on Debian Stable it was still using the 2.6 kernel. An upgrade to 3.2 and manual installation of fglrx proprietary graphics drivers from ATI got the resolution corrected. Howeve3r, graphics rendering was poor, and moving windows around the screen resulted in a lot of lag.

The sound I never fixed, nor did I try much to fix it.

HDMI still didn’t work with ATI proprietary drivers.

I later found out that the network issue can be avoided by setting the network boot option to first in the BIOS. Why this works I have no clue, but I will say it absolutely does.

However since I didn’t realize this at the time, and was unsatisfied with the graphics performance, I ditched Crunchbang and tried

2. Bodhi

Bodhi is one of my favorite lightweight distros. Based on Ubuntu and yet with a super lightweight WM/DE, it combines both Ubuntu’s fantastic driver support with the speed of a lightweight system. As I’ve seen said elsewhere, Bodhi seems to be based on two principles

a) User choice

b) Enlightenment is cool.

Bodhi comes with virutally no preinstalled apps and the wonderfully weird, infintely customizable Enlightenment desktop environment. Enlightenment, or E17 as the latest version is called, is a WM with many options for panels, widgets, and the like. With E17 you can make your desktop look literally like anything.

The current version of Bodhi (1.4) is based on Ubuntu LTS, which currently is 10.04. It ships with a newer kernel than Crunchbang, but still had the following issues:

  • HDMI out didn’t work
  • No sound

Thankfully by this time I had resolved the network  boot/wireless freeze-up issue. Getting the sound to work was another issue. Updating alsa didn’t work. Trying various fixes for Ubuntu 10.04 didn’t work either. Upgrading the kernel, no difference. Downgrading to different kernels, still no difference. Someone with more dedication could doubtless have gotten it working, but I didn’t have the time for it. So I moved on to

3. Lubuntu

Lubuntu is the LXDE spin of Ubuntu. It’s known for being lightweight and running well on older computers. I first installed Lubuntu 11.10, and again had the same two issues, HDMI and sound. I also tried Lubuntu 11.04 and 12.04 Beta.  Still no luck.

4. Ubuntu

Next was stock Ubuntu 11.10. This was the most success I had so far, as sound functioned perfectly right after installation. Even the hotkeys worked. HDMI out still didn’t work.

Some people may want to stick with stock Ubuntu. I wasn’t happy with how slow it ran with Unity. I really didn’t want to simply install LXDE either, however. So I tried installing Openbox.

5. Ubuntu 11.10 + Openbox

So I tried installing Openbox in Ubuntu and removing ubuntu-desktop. Unfortunately this had a habit of breaking the installation, when it started tampering with GDM vs LightDM vs LXDM.

Openbox did install, but it wasn’t as fast as I’d like it, in fact, only marginally faster than Unity had been. Besides that I couldn’t find a volume widget or controller program that worked with it, so the sound remained nonfunctional. Finally I tried

6. Fedora 16 LXDE Spin

And this is the one that finally worked. Everything except the HDMI out functioned great out of the box. It’s snappy enough (still not as fast as Crunchbang, but acceptable), has enough features to please me, and most importantly, everything WORKS.

I wound up sticking with Fedora. I’m pro Debian based myself, but the yum package manager is not much of a learning curve and it functions quite similarly otherwise to Ubuntu or Debian.

Fixes and things to know about the 2012 Acer Aspire One 722

  1. Netbook will freeze right after boot-up. This is due to the wireless driver, in ways that I myself don’t understand, but it can be fixed by changing the boot order in the BIOS. Set Network boot first. This will always return a boot-up error about cables being disconnected, but that’s the price to pay.
  2. HDMI output needs to be manually configured. It works perfectly with Ubuntu 11.0 and Fedora 16, but still needs to be configured with xrandr.
  3. Graphics resolution will be fixed by 3.x+ kernel. Any kernel version < 3.0 will need ATI proprietary graphics drivers, which have decidedly inferior performance to the open source version in my experience.

Pros and Cons of each distro tested

  • Crunchbang easily ran the fastest, but graphics were poor and sound was an issue.
  • Bodhi was probabl the second fastest, but sound issues were not resolvable by myself.
  • Lubuntu was rather “meh”. Ran ok, and no sound support.
  • Ubuntu had all the drivers, but Unity was quite slow.
  • Ubuntu + Openbox should have been way faster- it was marginally faster than Unity but not much. Finding a functioning sound widget proved to be a problem.
  • Fedora 16 LXDE is fairly fast and has all the support of Ubuntu 11.10. It required a few tweaks to get it working

In another post I will talk about the various customizations and little fixes I implemented in my installation of Fedora 16, LXDE spin.