Thursday, December 4, 2014

A Note of Thanks

I have a top-of-the-line MacBook Air, which is truly a work of art, but I discovered fairly quickly that subjecting a machine that cost almost $2000 to the vicissitudes of today's travel is worrying. So for years now the machine I've travelled with is a netbook, an Asus Seashell 1005PE. It is small, light, has almost all-day battery life and runs Ubuntu just fine. It cost me about $250, and with both full-disk encryption and an encrypted home directory, I just don't care if it gets lost, broken or seized.

But at last the signs of the hard life of a travelling laptop are showing. I looked around for a replacement and settled on the Acer C720 Chromebook. This cost me $387 including tax and same-day delivery from Amazon. Actually, same-day isn't accurate. It took less than 9 hours from order to arrival! If I'd waited until Black Friday to order it would have been more than $40 cheaper.

For that price, the specification is amazing:
  • 1.7GHz 4-core Intel Core i3
  • 4GB RAM
  • 32GB SSD
  • 11.6" 1366x768 screen
Thanks to these basic instructions from Jack Wallen and the fine work of HugeGreenBug in assembling a version of Ubuntu for the C720, 24 hours after ordering I had a light, thin, powerful laptop with a great display running a full 64-bit installation of Ubuntu 14.0.4. I'm really grateful to everyone who contributed to getting Linux running on Chromebooks in general and on the C720 in particular. Open source is wonderful.

Of course, there are some negatives. The bigger screen is great, but it makes the machine about an inch bigger in width and depth. Like the Seashell and unlike full-size laptops, it will be usable in economy seats on the plane even if the passenger in front reclines their seat. But it'll be harder than it was with the Seashell to claim that the computer and the drink can co-exist on the economy seat-back table.

Below the fold, some details for anyone who wants to follow in my footsteps.

Jack Wallen's instructions for creating a recovery disk didn't work. After I had updated the Chrome OS, I discovered there's an app to create a recovery disk that requires the updated OS, which worked perfectly.

My attempt to install ChrUbuntu from Jack's instructions failed with a long string of errors as the install script tried to patch some files. I then installed Bodhi Linux from his instructions which worked fine except for the part about enabling legacy boot via crosh. I had to follow his ChrUbuntu instructions to log in as cronos before enabling legacy boot. You can see whether what you did worked by executing crossystem - with no arguments it dumps all the settable parameters.

I'm used to Ubuntu, so some Googling I should have done before installing Bodhi Linux led me to HugeGreenBug's instructions for installing it, which worked like a charm.

The 32GB of SSD is not a lot of space. I added a 64GB SD card, but there is a
problem. When inserted in the SD slot the card is only half inside the machine, so it is vulnerable and has to be removed when its being carried.

The 24 hours didn't include transferring all my customizations from the Seashell, but I don't expect any trouble doing that when I get to it shortly before my next trip.

1 comment:

David. said...

The trip to CNI was my first with the C720. During the trip I was debugging some enhancements to the LOCKSS daemon as well as the usual e-mail and browsing. My reactions:

- The bigger screen is much better for programming.

-The battery life isn't as good as the Seashell. This may be because I haven't optimized Ubuntu's power settings as well as I did for the Seashell. And I may not be making sufficient allowance for the power demands of running the LOCKSS daemon's unit test suite, which the C720 does a whole lot faster than the Seashell, or the Intel NUC on my desk.

- On a hard surface there is a faint but irritating noise from the fan. On a soft surface it is inaudible.

- I'm still not used to the much bigger touch pad, and keep accidentally moving the cursor by touching the touch pad with the balls of my thumbs.

- 5GHz WiFi wins!

Overall, I'm pretty happy.