Updated: August 23, 2021
I've been doing a little bit of housekeeping lately. Mostly, rotating hardware. I happen to have two laptops, which I classify as for production or semi-production use, but they are getting a little bit long in the tooth and gray in the beard. To that end, I decided to "downgrade" them in their use, but also take advantage of the opportunity to do some software changes.
Firstly, with my IdeaPad Y50-70, I relegated it from primary to secondary use, and added Kubuntu to the operating system arsenal. This 2014-vintage 4K-screen laptop now runs Windows 8.1 and Plasma-flavored Focal in a dual-boot configuration. A very useful exercise, hybrid card, Nvidia, all that. Secondly, with my 2013-era Asus Vivobook, used for secondary purposes, now tertiary, I decided to do a complete makeover. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Do read on.
What you gonna do when they Tux for you?
All right. So here's what I had in mind. Start from scratch! The Vivobook has always served me well. Now, it's never been too fast or too powerful, but it did its job. During its long and happy lifetime, I also upgraded the Linux side of things from Trusty to Bionic and then Bionic to Focal, which lent it a bit of extra modernity and support. However, it wasn't a perfect exercise. There were quite a few problems, unfortunately. While I strongly believe that operating systems should NOT get slower over time, there was a noticeable degradation in performance. Thus, I thought, let's rinse, and see what happens.
I wondered what I should choose for my new operating system. I decided to go full Linux, meaning I'd delete the partition table, get rid of Windows 8.1 and Kubuntu 20.04, and set up full disk encryption (FDE). But what should I choose? MX Linux has done wonders on my super-old netbook, but I felt like something Plasma.
Using Kubuntu 20.04 was an option, but I never found its Plasma 5.18 quite as good as it should be. The more recent Plasma versions, like say Plasma 5.20, are far better, far more mature, and all that. That kind of decided it for me. I chose KDE neon, User Edition, which, at the time of writing, came with Plasma 5.22.2. I haven't officially tested this specific release of the desktop environment just yet, so you get a little preview of that, too.
OK, so bye Windows 8.1, bye Kubuntu 20.04, hello KDE neon. The distro uses the Calamares installer, which I've always found a bit odd, but then it does the job. It lets you configure a locale that is different from the timezone, and it offers system encryption. I put in a password, clicked Next, created my user account, and waited for the installation to complete. Roughly 30 minutes later, my system was ready. There was only a quick bout of light panic during the first boot. The step where you need to input your password to unlock the hard disk has no "interaction". Once you press Enter, nothing seemingly happens for a few moments, and then, the system does start booting up. All was well, and a Plasma 5.22 desktop was waiting for me to start playing and tweaking and having fun!
Some nice, cool things
I do have to say that Plasma 5.22 does a really good job. It's far more seamless than previous releases. When you open Settings, it shows you a number of common settings, including the mouse single/double-click configuration. This has always been a contention point in Plasma, and this method resolves it elegantly.
No KDEWallet nonsense, no Wireless connect/disconnect issues, and Samba flies. This is the first time EVER that Plasma offers a Gnome-like - and good - Samba experience. I did need to authenticate, but after that, things worked. No silly caching of remote files (like 5.18, which is horrible). No need to provide separate credentials in VLC to play media. No need to change prefetch values. The throughput is good. Noice.
I spent a little bit of time sorting things out on the visual side. I did find one problem - no Breeze Dark windows decorations. I dislike the low-contrast setup, even if you use Breeze Dark or Twilight for Desktop, because it's hard to differentiate between fg and bg windows. I also had to change font color to pure black.
Hardware compatibility, performance
More good stuff. 100% on the hardware font, including the laptop's touch screen - this was the era of Windows 8.1 madness and everything going touch. Better yet, neon is FASTER than what I had with Kubuntu 20.04. There could be several reasons. I reformatted the disk, so now it's all fresh and unfragmented, which is important for mechanical disks, the system resides closer to the outer side of the plate, hence faster seek and access, there was some cruft from previous installations, now gone, and lastly, Plasma 5.22 could actually be more efficient than the LTS release. All of these may contribute to a significant revival in speed and responsiveness.
I did need to install KSysGuard, because the new System Monitor is not good enough. The CPU does chirp, which is kind of expected from an eight-year-old laptop that was designed to be mid-range and frugal to begin with. Roughly 5% on idle, and 600 MB of RAM usage. Suspend & resume works fine - and fast. The battery lasts for about 4-4.5 hours. Very cool.
Thus endeth my exercise. I have to say, I'm really pleased with the outcome. I was able to configure an FDE setup on an ancient laptop, no need for TPM of anything like that, it's got the latest of Plasma, which offers superior visual results and consistency across the board (beyond Linux, too), the speed is quite decent, and for normal usage (no gaming and such), this is a perfectly reasonable piece of kit.
I am happy that I've decided to scrap the existing dual-boot configuration. The new single-boot neon thing offers a fresh breath of air to this machine. If the hardware lasts, it's got a good few more years left, without really falling behind. You can actually accomplish reasonable stuff without any issues, or having to wait for half an eternity for things to happen. I do have to say, it's been a good day. Bye bye now.