Updated: September 8, 2021
Less than a year ago, I wrote a sad article about modern distros not booting on my 2010 HP laptop anymore. No matter what I chose, things went bad. This was, me guessing, because the machine comes with an Nvidia card, one pinned to the ancient 340.xx branch of Nvidia drivers, and things simply got left out or forgotten in the process somewhere.
Well, I decided to give it another go - I mean, what do I have to lose? In between having a machine that's collecting dust, or attempting all sorts of Linux tricks, I went with the latter. I decided to try KDE neon, because I like how it looks and behaves on my 2013 Vivobook, which has been revitalized in a good and fun way, age and spec notwithstanding. And so, this article is the summary of this endeavor. Begin.
A little bit of nostalgia, and we're off
I do have to say, I did ponder what to do disk-wise. The laptop has a dual-boot config, with Windows 7 in place, still running nice and true and remarkably fast. But in the end, I decided to say goodbye, with nary a tear shed. This resident operating system did pretty well, I must say. I used it for serious stuff, I played games on it, and it always responds reasonably well. The 7,200rpm disk also did the trick. The Linux side of things was more finicky, with the Broadcom Wireless and the Nvidia graphics presenting a twin challenge across the distro space.
Anyway, I grabbed KDE neon User Edition 5.22, booted ... and success! Blimey. This time, the distro did reach the desktop, and I was able to use the system. Wireless connectivity, good. Installation, yup. Like with the Ultrabook, I went for a full-disk encryption (FDE) setup, making neon the one and only system on the box.
Now, neon warned me that the hard disk is about to die - at least based on the SMART data. Well, nothing to lose. The worst case, the laptop's disk dies on me midway. So I went ahead with the installation.
Funnily enough, it was a super-quick endeavor, faster than say the Kubuntu installation I tried in parallel in a VM on my SSD-powered Slimbook Pro2. About as good as recent testing I did on my IdeaPad 3, which comes with NVMe storage. I always find this kind of exercise fascinating, because the advancement in computer technology has been rather slow recently. After all, the Pavilion has a first-gen i5 processor, and that's no slouch, even today. Nopety nope. So just think of some other other operating systems coming out to market soon, with some rather arbitrary hardware requirements. But positive, we must stay.
From start to finish, including a reboot in between, just 15 minutes. That's rather reasonable for an old machine. Let's not forget the disk encryption, or the fact you need to wait a few seconds for the disk to decrypt and boot and all that. Very nice.
How's the actual experience?
Not bad. It's not blazing fast, but it's not abysmal either. Yes, you definitely notice the difference compared to modern machines, and the CPU does take a little bit of time doing things. I had the Nouveau driver installed by default, and I had to manually select the Nvidia 340.xx branch. Now, I first had to download the Kubuntu Driver Manager, update its index, and only then, was I able to make the necessary changes. This is the same problem I encountered on my Y50-70 box only recently, in Kubuntu. This needs fixing, and fast.
But I selected both proprietary drivers, rebooted - and things were fine. I did have to re-enter my Wireless password. The desktop looks "smoother" with the official driver. The boot splash is also nice, high-res and all that. Not bad.
On top of that, you get the nice, friendly convenience of the Plasma desktop, with tons of goodies. The resource utilization is also quite reasonable. The memory load stands at about 850 MB, which is only about 10% higher than Kubuntu Zesty from 2017. On idle, the CPU ticks at about 6%. This isn't low, but this isn't too bad either, especially for an 11-year-old machine! And I could do still more to bring this down, like say disabling animations completely and whatnot.
The disk in this laptop is probably the strongest element - it was always brisk at its 7,200rpm spec, and even today, it manages to cope with I/O work remarkably well. Thinking about it, if I were to replace it, even with a lowly SSD, this laptop would still be perfectly usable for general computing. And a new battery pack, of course. The old one is a spud.
I am happy and surprised - and happy - that I managed to revive the Pavilion. I wasn't sure what would happen with neon, and I still don't know why, for several months, different modern distros refused to boot on this box, and now again, everything is fine. Must be a wonky driver blacklisting or some incompatibility in the kernel somewhere. Doesn't matter, I have a working machine.
Overall, it's still usable. Don't forget - FDE plus the latest and greatest from Plasma. Nifty. But up the challenge we must. I now intend to do the same exercise with an even older 2009 LG RD510 laptop. This one doesn't even an "eye" generation processor, but an ancient Core2Duo, and a slower disk. It manages just fine with MX Linux on it, mind, including HD on Youtube and all that, but then, let's see if it can cope with neon. Of course, it also comes with an Nvidia card. Ought to be interesting. More on this soon.