Updated: March 25, 2020
Over the past several months, you've read my Slimbook combat reports, detailing my real, production-level use of a Linux-only laptop for serious stuff. But this is not the first time I've utilized a Linux machine for actual desktop work. There was the eeePC, a journey-hardened beast. And then, we also have an age-weathered 2013-vintage Asus Vivobook, which has served loyally in this capacity for several years.
For almost five years, the laptop ran the most excellent Ubuntu 14.04 Trusty, and it did well, at home and abroad, in known and unknown locations. It was always utterly stable, the keyboard is amazing, the battery life has always been decent even if the performance isn't that stellar. The only complaint would be a somewhat weak Wireless signal compared to most other machines. Several months ago, come the end of Trusty LTS, I upgraded the system to Bionic, and installed Unity and Plasma desktops. In this article, I want to tell you how the Ultrabook fared in so-called "combat" conditions since. After me.
Well, this road test focuses mostly on the Plasma edition. Anyway, the desktop is slick, fast and responsive. The system isn't quite as sprightly as it was before the upgrade, and some bloat has crept in. I've also observed this in my testing on the much older and much less capable eeePC, which struggled after a similar upgrade, but then I had it revived using MX Linux. The situation is nowhere near as bad, but there is a small if noticeable degradation in responsiveness.
That said, the laptop still works enviably well. It's also equipped with a touch screen, back when everyone was deluded with the glory of touch, before everyone got de-deluded. Things work fine, but I did observe some oddities, which seem to be the result of upgrading two full versions plus the Plasma desktop setup.
First, the boot sequence is longer than it was in 14.04 - or in 18.04 with Unity, for that matter. I also noticed some issues with suspend & resume - these happen to be slow, but then, the system was using the Gnome screen lock and whatnot, which must be something from the resident Ubuntu. Mind, I've not installed Kubuntu from scratch, I've upgraded 14.04 (Unity) via 16.04 (Unity) to 18.04 (Gnome), and then installed the extra two desktop environments. After noticing the lock screen thingie, I did set SDDM to be my login manager, but I had to manually reselect the login screen and such, and after that, the session was fully proper Plasma, and the suspend & resume became fast.
Second, Discover was throwing a Kdenlive error. Turns out, I had a leftover config file back from the olden days, which prevented the package manager from handling updates (gracefully). Manually removing the offending file did work, but this is something that Plasma needs to sort without any user errors or noise.
Loading of providers from file: http://download.kde.org/ocs/providers.xml failed"
Indeed, looking at the directory tree, all of the Kdenlive assets were new, from the upgrade, but there was one file dated years earlier, and with it in place, the system was having trouble. I'm not sure how this affected updates, because it doesn't seem to have, actually. But it doesn't inspire confidence, for sure, either.
roger@ultra:/etc/xdg$ ls -ltra | grep kdenlive
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 244 Mar 10 2016 kdenlive_projectprofiles.knsrc
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 1124 Mar 2 2018 kdenlive_wipes.knsrc
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 1133 Mar 2 2018 kdenlive_titles.knsrc
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 1197 Mar 2 2018 kdenlive_renderprofiles.knsrc
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 48 Mar 2 2018 kdenlive.categories
I also noticed the Touchpad was quite jittery - the touch screen notwithstanding. Plasma Settings to the rescue, I was able to change the behavior. Seems like there's a very narrow range in pointer sensitivity, where it goes from numb to fennec-neurotic, but I managed to figure it out. So while I don't like the original manifestation of the problem, and the difference from the 14.04 era, I am happy that the fix is relatively simple. And it also shows the amazing customizability of the Plasma desktop, yet again.
A nice, positive experience - and a surprise. Over the last 6+ years, the battery cells has deteriorated only a little, going down to 88% of the max. capacity. In comparison, my HP Pavilion has lost almost all of its storage within just a couple of years, and the Lenovo G50 currently holds about two thirds of the charge, some five years into its lifespan.
With this Vivobook, at 50% brightness, at about 50% charge, and light desktop activity, I was able to achieve some 2 hours of battery time left. This translates into more than 4 hours at full capacity, plus if we account for the 12% cell deterioration, we get about 4.5 hours - comparable to the dual-boot Windows 8 on this same box, and very similar to what the Slimbook does. Very cool.
Now, another interesting thing is - if you put the laptop to sleep, it can retain the charge for more than four days without shutting down. The Slimbook can do about two days. It's really interesting to see how seemingly identical things can vary so much.
Other than that?
Quite all right. No crashes, no weird behavior. There were some file associations that needed changing, like opening this or that file in a different program and such. But in general, I had everything, including media playback, phone connectivity, printing, and whatnot. Those settings were correctly preserved throughout the upgrades. I also tried a bunch of old Truecrypt containers, and again, no issues.
For a brief while, I did ponder reinstalling the system from scratch, but then decided against it. The problems I encountered were small (if annoying), and I was able to resolve them quickly. The system works well, it's fast enough. Not bad for a 2013 laptop that was made to be frugal to begin with. Now ideally, there should be no niggles and no upgrade ghosts, but there you have it. As far as the road test goes, I had everything I needed in strange and foreign places, and the Vivobook + Plasma did their job dutifully.
I will probably follow up with one or two more articles of this nature in the future. I'm not sure how extensively I'm going to be using the Ultrabook, but then, its age will be an interesting factor to reckon with. My older laptops are handling the brunt of passing years fairly well, but they were also in a higher cost category when new. With this machine in the mid-price range, I don't really know how things are going to evolve. That's about it for now. The end.