Ubuntu Resurrects My Netbook

Ubuntu Resurrects My Netbook

I’ve had an EeePC 901 for about 4 years. When I got it, I needed a cheap small laptop quickly, and it fit the bill. I used it for about 8 months, got a MacBook Pro through work, and abandoned it to the pile of “things I don’t use but won’t throw away” that all tech people have somewhere.

Then I left IGN. For some reason, they made me give back the MacBook Pro that they owned and I had been using. So I found myself, once again, without a laptop. I pulled the old EeePC out of the closet, fired up WinXP…and cried at how the system would lock up if I breathed near it.

So I began the process of resurrecting it, and after a few false-starts, have gotten it running perfectly fine for most day-to-day tasks (like this blog I’m writing during my dinner break at the Kat Edmonson ACL taping).

Ubuntu to the Rescue

I decided to go the Linux route – people seemed to report good performance, and I like using open-source when I can. Ubuntu is the closest Linux gets to being easy to use, and I hadn’t used it since roughly 2006, so figured I’d give it a shot.

It’s awesome. They’ve come a long way – the UI is nice, day-to-day tasks are easy and intuitive, and it’s all free! But choosing an OS was only half the battle – I now had to make it work within the weird confines of the EeePC.

A Scattered OS

The Linux variant of the EeeP 901 is an odd duck: it has a 4GB SSD, a 16GB SSD, and an SD card slot. The idea is you install your OS on the 4GB, keep your files on the 16GB, and use the SD slot for photos from your camera or whatever.

In real life, and with a modern operating system, that doesn’t work. Yes, there are ways to manually trim down Windows to fit on it, but that’s a huge pain, and you’re still in constant danger of hitting that 4GB limit.

Linux, however, is a different matter. Since you can mount drives as directories, you can configure it so that one operating system is scattered across multiple drives – which is exactly what I did. Here’s the config I settled on:

  • Put /boot and the swap partition on the 4GB SSD. All the files used at boot are on the fastest (in theory) drive in the machine, and they’ll fit with room to spare.
  • Put the root (/) on the 16GB SSD. This is where the rest of the operating system will live, except for…
  • …the /home directory. I put this on a 32GB SD card, and encrypted it. So now, not only do I have a big dedicated spot for my files, I can also pull it out of the computer for security. If someone steals the machine from my hotel room, they get…a 4 year old laptop with an obscure operating system and no valuable data. Have fun with that, thieves!

So that’s how I did it, and it’s running great so far. Plus, lots of your favorite software is also available on Linux – I’ve got Dropbox syncing my files, GIMP for basic image editing, and Firefox and Chromium (essentially Chrome) for web browsing.

I love netbooks – if you do too, maybe this has got you thinking of ways to milk more life out of that abandoned little machine.