Sunday, 1 June 2014

Not quite the last of the 32 bit machines ...

I've just got back my daughter's netbook. About 5 years old. Originally cost me £100 as part of a deal with my ISP.

1.6GHz Atom N270 processor, 2GB of memory, 120GB of Samsung hard disk.
It's a "Freedom" netbook - almost certainly made by Quanta. Atheros chipset for wifi. [A9285 for wifi, Realtek 8101E for Ethernet]

This is the sort of machine that is probably going into landfill round about now. It's been running XP and mostly used by my father, who has given up on it now it won't update.

I used the unofficial Debian 7.5 cd which includes firmware because I was going to be using wifi to install Debian and because I didn't know what wifi chipset was in there. I had previously tested and run a Debian live USB image but faced problems - the cursor wouldn't play although the KDE desktop appeared fine.

An expert install selecting KDE worked fine but produced immediate problems: cursor was erratic, the screen blacked out and I couldn't switch it off - I had to remove the mains power and battery to kill it.

A second install over the top of this, wiping out the first install but selecting LXDE worked perfectly and works well. It's possible that a full KDE desktop is stressing this litle 10 inch laptop's 2GB and display memory a bit too much.

I'm very pleased to have rescued this machine and got a Linux that "just works" albeit a bit more slowly than I'm used to. Even if it gets used just as a terminal for amateur radio / a spare emergency machine in a corner somewhere, it's better than  being junked. Best of all, installing vrms shows that, although I enabled non-free in the initial install, this machine requires no non-free firmware so has saved me the cost of buying an FSF approved secondhand Thinkpad.


  1. KDE4 on Debian 7 will work just fine with 1 GB of RAM on an old 32-bit P4 CPU; I know, because that's what my mother's computer has. It'll work with 512 MB of RAM too, but will be slower because it'll use some swap.

    What you ran into concerning the video problems sounds like something between the kernel, video drivers, and Xorg's choice of video driver that it tried.
    Possibly also KDE4's compositing for 3D effects, which can be turned off.

    In any event, the netbook will eventually be useful; perhaps for an upcoming Debconf 14 conference in Portland. ;-)

  2. My tips on speeding things up:
    - put the root-partition on the end of the harddrive: will boost things up significantly.
    - add noatime and nodiratime to the HD-options in /etc/fstab : again a lot of increase (after reboot). Con: no more search with -atime.
    - remove rsyslog: too much write-activities. Con: no more logmessages.
    - remove unnecessary services on the system and Desktoplevel: rygel, zeitgeist, tracker, at-spi, rpcbind, gdomap, exim4, etc. Con: loss of functionality but only if you use it...
    - a lot of tweaks in gnome: disable special effects, remove services,

  3. Hi,

    I agree with koen wybo. But instead of Gnome or KDE I would use XFCE on this tiny little Netbook. XFCE is very fast and did not need much ram.

    If you have a Netbook by Samsung you may install the Samsing-Tools, eventually, to make fn and other keys work:

    Best regards,

  4. I run KDE4 on a very similar netbook (as my main work machine no less) with no problems. Make sure compositing is off.