My varied experiences with running Linux on this netbook is well documented in the “My Hardware” category of this site, and a brief perusal will reveal that it has been, if nothing else, varied.
My distro hopping has stopped, or at least slowed down, with Crunchbang 11 (Waldorf). The only remaining fairly serious issue I’ve had is that the computer tends to overheat, and I can’t hear/feel the fans running. I managed to ignore it for a while until I realized how foolish it was to ignore it, and did some research.
I wound up installing lm-sensors and thinkfan (both available in the Debian repositories). With no further configuration, this seems to have taken care of the problem. The netbook runs a good 10° C cooler than previously, and I can feel the fan running (it’s ridiculously quiet). I check the temperatures by running
This question comes up time and again. This article will attempt to provide a bit of an opinion, if nothing else.
This article is a VERY SKETCHY overview of MY OWN OPINIONS on lightweight GNU/Linux distros. I will be the last to deny the possibility that I am ENTIRELY WRONG ABOUT EVERYTHING. If your favorite is not represented here, DON’T PANIC. Send me a note and I’ll check it out. 🙂
- DE- Desktop Environment (includes panels, window managers, docks, etc.)
- WM- Window Manager (software to enable running GUI programs, no docks, bars, panels, etc. included)
First, what’s old?
For clarity’s sake we’ll divide them into several categories. The most common benchmarks for measuring a computer’s speed and ability are RAM quantity and CPU speed.
RAM CPU SPEED AGE GROUP
64-256 MB 100-450 MHz, single core Ancient
256-768 MB 500-900 MHz, single core Elderly
1-1.5 GB 1-2 GHz, single core Senior
1.5-2 GB 1-2 GHz, dual core Middle Aged
Since this is my article I will start with my perennial favorite, Debian.
For someone wanting stability and to go back to the “roots” of many of today’s popular OS’s, the Debian Project is the ideal distro. Debian comes in three flavors; Stable, Testing, and Unstable. All come with the Gnome desktop environment. While Stable (as of this writing) can probably be used with Elderly computers, the other two will likely run best on Middle Aged and up.
Then there are the Debian deriviatives:
First and foremost (in my mind) is Crunchbang. Based on a minimal Debian Stable system, it uses Openbox and Tint2 for a very lightweight but extremely elegant desktop. Crunchbang is solid, reliable, and looks fantastic on top of it. Recommended for Elderly up.
antiX is Debian Testing based and uses Fluxbox and Icewm which put it in the same catagory as Crunchbang; good for Elderly on up.
MEPIS uses KDE and therefore is best for Middle Aged.
Ubuntu is Debian based and is easy to install and use.
Vanilla Ubuntu has outdistanced these computers in terms of optimal performance. Since we aren’t talking minimum requirements, we’ll be generous with resources for each distro.
There are several official Ubuntu derivatives (we’ll only look at the main ones)
- (and the upcoming Gn[ou]buntu)
Kubuntu is too heavy for anything older than Middle Aged. Yes, it will probably run, but not well, and certainly not optimally.
Gn[ou]buntu (the name has yet to be confirmed) using pure Gnome shell, would likely be in the same catagory as Kubuntu/Ubuntu.
Xubuntu and Lubuntu use the XFCE and LXDE desktop environments, respectively. Of these LXDE/Lubuntu is arguably the lighter. Pure XFCE is probably as lightweight as LXDE, but Xubuntu comes with many Gnome apps, which, while often more polished than their lightweight counterparts, take a toll in speed.
There are the unofficial Ubuntu derivatives, such as
- Bodhi Linux
- Linux Mint
Bodhi Linux is Ubuntu with the Enlightenment desktop environment. Enlightenment is very lightweight and can be customized to look very polished. It has graphical tools for all configurations and has a built in lightweight compositing manager.
WattOS utilizes the OpenBox window manager, and focuses on low power consumption. The project however appears to be more or less dormant.
Linux Mint is a popular distro that uses MATE (a Gnome 2 fork), Cinnamon (a Gnome 3 derivative), KDE, and XFCE. Cinnamon and KDE can be considered in roughly the same category, as can XFCE and MATE.
Then there are the tiny distros.
- Tiny Core
- Puppy Linux
Tiny Core is a unique system that loads only a completely base system by default. The user customizes it by adding software “modules” that the OS loads at boot, thus keeping computing requirements at an absolute minimum. TC loads itself into the RAM upon boot and runs from RAM; persistent changes can be saved. This makes it a poor choice for REALLY RAM poor machines, however; 64 MB should be the absolute minimum.
Tiny Core is BUILT for Ancient computers.
DSL is similar to TC but is easier to install straight to a HDD. It supports a number of lightweight WMs, such as Icebox, Fluxbox, Icewm, and JWM. DSL is best for Ancient computers as well.
Puppy Linux aims at being a complete GUI solution for old PC’s. It is built from scratch and comes with a large suite of software. It runs quite well on high-end Ancient to Elderly computers.
Slitaz uses a very slick, useful amalgamation of DE and WM components to create a very good looking and easy-on-the-hardware interface. This is a fine distro and is perfect for all Elderly computers.
You’ve probably figured out by now that DE/WM is easily the most influential part of any operating system’s relative “weight”. Pick your DE or WM wisely and nearly all distros will function more or less the same, the one exception being on Ancient computers.
My personal recommendation? If it’s ancient, run a CLI only system on it. 😈
In my last post about my Acer netbook, I wrote about how I had tested several distros on it and Fedora 16 LXDE was the only one that suited me for it.
Well, it’s changed.
The sad thing is, as much as I would like to like Fedora, it takes FOREVER to boot. Minute-and-a-half boot times are quite common, and for a machine with 4 GB RAM, dual core 1.3 GHz processor and an SSD that is just plain unacceptable.
I’ve been through dmesg time and time again. The main holdup can vary, but primarily it seems to be activating the wireless. After finding little on blacklisting wireless at bootup, and after borking the current system with a little too much experimentation, I decided it’s time for another change, back to one of the two distros I wanted most to run on it: Bodhi Linux.
Bodhi is based on Ubuntu LTS. The current version (Bodhi 1.4) is built on top of Ubuntu 10.04, and the next release (scheduled for June) will be based on the newest LTS, 12.04. Bodhi uses the Enlightenment DE, although you can install other DE’s if you wish. Enlightenment is… well, interesting. In some ways it feels like dated future tech (how’s that for nonsense?) but overall I find the experience to be polished and functional. On top of that, it’s extremely lightweight.
Enlightenment is almost infinitely customizable, and (gasp) there are GUI tools to do virtually everything related to customizing. Indeed, learning to navigate through the plethora of menus and options is one of the steepest learning curves I’ve found yet.
But because it’s infinitely customizable, you can make your desktop look pretty much ANY way you want. I’m going for a fairly minimal setup myself (easier on the li’l netbook) but you can get it as glitzy, gadgety, and ornate as you want. And many of the wallpapers available in the Art Wiki are absolutely stunning.
Bodhi also has a great community and an active forums. The project is definitely very alive, and that in itself is reassuring.
All told; I think I’ll be much happier with Bodhi (at least with its boot time- 26 seconds) than I was with Fedora, but we’ll see. Crunchbang still beckons alluringly… 🙂
Although Fedora 16 LXDE spin performed best on my netbook, there were still a few things I tweaked/fixed to get it running just right.
The “tap to click” and edge scrolling were not enabled on my touchpad. Also, the LXDE spin doesn’t come with any GUI utility for editing mouse and touchpad settings. Thankfully this is easily fixed by installing gpointing-device-settings-
sudo yum install gpointing-device-settings
Unfortunately when I opened it up, I found that tap to click and vertical scrolling were already supposedly enabled. Revert to the command line: Run synclient. Simply typing
brings up the list of available commands and values. Very slick little utility. I simply set
and it worked instantly. I saved these two in a text file in ~/bin, named it tpad_settings, and added the line
to ~/.config/lxsession/LXDE/autostart, and it starts up automatically at login.
Remove World’s Most Annoying Beep
Unfortunately Acer decided to include an extremely loud and annoying system chime/beep that is on full volume constantly. Thankfully this can be fixed by running this command:
amixer -c 1 sset Beep 0
It’s easy to add custom keybindings (universal keyboard shortcuts) in LXDE. Just open and edit
~/.config/openbox/lxde-rc.xml. There’s a whole section of keybindings; just copy/paste a complete code block, give it a different key and command, and you’re good to go. I added one for printscreen and my tethering utility (easytether).
I also messed around a bit with cairo-dock, xcompmgr (compositing manager) and conky. I wasn’t able to get any to run satisfactorily on the netbook- either too heavy or too many odd graphics quirks for my taste. My only gripe with conky was the fact that I couldn’t get background transparency without a compositing manager, and all compositing managers produced too many graphics bugs.
All told, I am extremely satisfied with the performance of Fedora LXDE on this netbook.
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
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
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.
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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
If all GUI’s fail, there’s a wonderful little CLI client for Synaptics touchpad. To access, enter
This will show you your menu of options. You can assign new values (some boolean) to various variables. For example
activates the vertical scrolling along the right edge of the touchpad.