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Ubuntu Resurrects My Netbook

Published on July 10, 2012, by in Tech.

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.

 
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2 Responses

  1. Eleanor

    Thank you! This is exactly what I have been looking for. I have tried all sorts of ‘small’ versions of Linux recently, to get the 900 up and running, but the only ones small enough are Joli Os (which I quite like, but not quite enough), and Puppy Linux which does my head in a bit (sorry!)

    I tried installing Xubuntu onto the 16gb drive and disabling the 4gb drive – didn’t work – just got a flashing cursor at boot up.

    So your method sounds perfect. However – please could you give a bit more detail on how to install and set up the partitions etc. Have done a bit of this before (running Puppy Linux live and partitioning with Gparted), but had to follow detailed instructions from an article.

    So if you set boot and swap on the 4gb ssd – how do you do that please. And then how do you set root and home directories. I don’t want to use an sd card so would be happy just using the 16gb drive for rest of OS and any storage.
    This is a much cheaper option than buying a new £60 ssd!

    Anyway – is this how I would do it? Select ‘something else’ when installing the Linux of choice, and do the partitioning and flags etc.

    When you set the boot and swap files, how much space did you allow for boot and for swap? And do you have to set a certain amount of space for root and home, or just for root and leave the rest as unused space?

    Sorry – it’s all a bit new to me!

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