Asus eeePC still boldly marches on - with Xubuntu 14.04


Updated: September 19, 2015

Back in 2012-13, I pimped up my little eeePC netbook with Xubuntu 12.04 Pangolin, and thus gave it a fresh breath of new sprightliness and life. This little machine has been loyally plodding along since my very smart and cheap and ultra-valuable purchase back in 2010, and while the underlying metal pieces were somewhat struggling with new software, it was now as if the clock has been reset.

Now, let's do the time warp again. Oh, the wittiness. Yes. Xubuntu Pangolin stopped being supported sometime in April 2015. Which means I had to install something more modern on my netbook. I decided to go for Xubuntu 14.04, and better yet, try an in-vivo upgrade of the distro, in order to preserve all my fun stuff, as well as my custom applications. Please follow me.

Case 4

How it all went

In a nutshell, amazingly well. Smoothly, and without any problems. Even though the system has had no updates for about three months, in fact, it could not have any, as it was now running an EOL image, it offered an upgrade to 14.04. Several clicks later and about three hours of fan noises, hard disk clicks and patience, my Xubuntu 12.04 promoted itself to the current LTS, Xubuntu 14.04 Trusty Tahr. Not only that, I had the latest 14.04.2 release - at the time this article was written - with all the updates, so I did not have to go through a second round of patching.

Upgrade

Upgrading 1

Upgrading 2

The new operating system launched just fine, looking slick and beautiful just like before. All my applications were there and working, including several packages obtained without using the software center. All of my settings were retained, too.

Upgrade completed

Compatibility and such

Xubuntu 14.04 runs pretty well on eeePC, even though it has a meager 1GB RAM and a weak, non-HD graphics card. But the basic stuff was working without any problems, including both Firefox and Chromium, LibreOffice, VLC, Skype, and other programs. The responsiveness is still quite satisfactory. The software does take a few seconds reading from the disk and loading into memory, but after that, you can work without any big lags, and you can even multitask to a decent extent. My perception is, without any accurate benchmarks, that 14.04 offers a more refined experience than before.

Apps

Loading videos on Youtube was fine. Firefox struggled more, I have to admit, and the Noscript icon did not reflect the state of allowed or disallowed scripts on certain web pages. On the positive side, Parole played 720p MP4 videos without any great trouble, even though the system has not been designed for such loads. Totally cool.

Youtube, Flash

On the hardware side, because of my little GRUB tweak that enables all of the Fn keys, screen dimming does not work, which means you will be wasting more battery life on idle, and turning Wireless off for more juice does not make much difference. Fans do not always kick in, but if you've followed my advice in the past, you will be fine. Printing also works without any problems, and Samba speed is good, at about 4.5 MB/sec.

Printing works

Battery life

Back to the topic of power usage, Xubuntu 14.04 is very similar to its predecessor in terms of utilization and wastefulness. If you're not doing anything special, the CPU will be quiet and memory nomnom low. To wit, you get almost five hours of battery, with the screen brightness set to maximum and Wireless on. Mind, this is five years into the netbook's life, after it's been used in a dozen countries, in harsh conditions, and it still is better than the official Windows 7 Starter figure advertised with this machine when it was sold.

On battery and with Wireless turned off, the estimate hovers just above 5 hours. This is worse than we've seen before, but again, without screen brightness control, it is hard to estimate how efficient and lean Trusty really is. However, if I may use my background as a physicist, given that the battery life with Wireless is very similar to what we had two and five years ago, with the screen dimmed, it is fair to assume the platform would deliver some seven hours to its owner. Five years on, with chemical cells in the battery pack slowly deteriorating, this is a really, really great result.

Battery, WiFi on

Battery, WiFi off

Conclusion

Is combining Asus eeePC with Xubuntu 14.04 a perfect match? No, it is not. You cannot magic more speed out of nothing. An old netbook is an old netbook. But the combo, while not perfect, is still damn impressive. On one hand, the device itself is a rugged little bastard, and its keyboard still clicks happily after hundreds of thousands of words, harsh sun, wind, dust, and tens of thousands of kilometers spent jostling in carry on bags across the planet. On the other, Xubuntu makes the adventure possible.

The upgrade was flawless. Trusty is definitely one of the finer Ubuntu releases, and the Xfce flavor is no exception. Hardware compatibility is good, some small things can be improved, but you still get pretty much everything, plus suspend & resume, plus 720p video playback, plus webcam, plus tons of great apps, plus support for many more years. And without any compromise on aesthetics, speed, performance, responsiveness, or overall fun. So yes, eeePC is an ancient gadget, it's dirty and tired, but it works well, and Trusty gives it the edge it needs to remain relevant and useful in this modern era. To sum it up, Xubuntu does it again, delivering another life-reviving experience to old hardware, with an excellent blend of good looks, functionality and effortless charm. Amazeballs.

Cheers.

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