Is this the end of my AAO 751h?

AAO751h_thumb.jpgI rarely used my Acer Aspire One 751h anymore; I already have my WinTab for quick and light Web browsing (and other light tasks) at home and a rather new home laptop for watching movies and doing some work @ home. Over the last months, I had my 751h dual booting Windows 10 Home (as an insider) and Lubuntu; the former ensured compatibility with apps (especially MS Office) while the latter made this crappy piece of hardware a little more responsive (but still not sufficient for serious work and multitasking).Even after upgrading its RAM to 2GB, it performance was still poor -not even good for the kids to watch cartoons on YouTube.

I spent the last couple of days updating both the Windows installation and the Lubuntu one; both of them had a lot of updates waiting to be installed – and they were successfully installed.. Today I wanted to type a couple of blog posts and since 751h’s keyboard is much more comfortable than the one of my WinTab, I decided to give it a try. I tried opening Midori in Lubuntu for writing one of the posts but the netbook froze. This was something common some years ago, when I used the netbook extensively but never happened during the last years. I reset the netbook and gave it another try. Then it froze again. Then I restarted it. Or at least I tried. The netbook tried to restart but after a spin of the drive (?) the screen remained blank and there was no hard disk activity.

At first I thought that it was about the hard disk; I wouldn’t mind as I had no personal files in any of the installations (Windows and Lubuntu) and I had a spare one I could also test. And I did. With no result – the same single spin of the disk (or fan?) and a blank screen.

Then I decided to disassemble the netbook and check for any faulty cables and dust in the fan. The last time I disassembled a laptop, I didn’t manage to re-assemble it. This time I made it, thanks to video tutorials describing the process step by step. I found the fan and removed a little bit of dust but nothing serious. No cables were harmed or out of place.When I assembled everything, nothing had changed; the system would power up but would not moe further.

I ran out of ideas. l will keep it aside for the time being and I will try again after a while. Maybe after things settle down, the system may be recovered more easily.

Another attempt to revive Acer 751h

I admit it; my Acer Aspire One 751h started collecting dust as soon as I got my WinTab; this tablet fulfills my needs more than I expected, so there is no use for the now Linux-powered netbook.

However, I recently managed to get my hands on some RAM modules that happened to be the same brand and type as my netbooks – but they were 2GB modules! I did what I wanted to do; I swapped the 1GB RAM module with the 2GB one and booted Peppermint OS 6 (the last Linux distro I installed) in order to check any performance improvements…not! Maybe due to the fact that the OS was installed while the netbook only had 1GB of RAM (so the swap partition size was set to 1GB), maybe not, no improvement was obvious.

Next test? Test the netbook for once more with Windows 10. Last time I tried them (netbook with just 1 GB or RAM) the performance was so poor that I got rid of them almost immediately. I did not have a valid license of Windows 7/8 (the netbook came with Windows XP) so I went for the Windows Insider option (see also here) –  setup Windows 10 Home 32-bit and then opt for the Fast ring of updates. The Windows are not activated but I avoid having all these restrictions of a pirate copy. Setup was pretty quick and after booting I installed all updates (Store and Windows), selected the Fast ring for the updates and then reboot again…but something was not right: screen resolution! It was lower than the native one.

I found out that GMA 500, the GPU of the netbook, was not supported at all in Windows 10 – no drivers available, nothing. So I decided to use the Windows 7 ones, the latest ones available – and after a reboot they worked!

Performance, at least at this point, is not great. The netbook is usable with Windows 10 Home but not snappy: some menus take a couple of seconds to appear, video performance is pretty poor but I still need time for evaluating the performance of my netbook with the new OS but I am not very optimistic about that. Time shall tell if Windows 10 is a keeper this time or if I will return to one of the numerous Linux distros I have tested during the last years on the same machine.

Peppermint OS 6 is out…

Peppermint OS 6 is out…

… and I had to try it out! I still have an almost obsolete netbook (an Acer Aspire One 751h), which is rarely used nowadays since I got myself the Turbo-X Windows tablet). Due to its limited capabilities, the netbook has hosted a high number of Linux distributions over the last years, always aiming at the perfect balance between performance and usability. In this context, two distributions have made it for a rather long time: Peppermint OS and Manjaro Openbox edition. Both of them are fully-featured and easy to use, as well as responsive enough on my netbook. The latter made it for about a year but with only limited use of the netbook.

I was informed that my beloved Peppermint OS (which I really love and went along pretty well with) was upgraded to version 6 – so I instantly downloaded the ISO and created a bootable flash drive; in a couple of hours everything was setup and ready to go.

p6-slide-first-1132x435[1]

I still haven’t found the chance to test drive it in terms of performance – especially compared to the previous version; however, the looks are great, as usual 🙂

The perfect OS for my Acer Aspire One

At last I have managed to find the perfect OS for my low-end netbook; an Acer Aspire One 751h with 1GB RAM, Intel Atom Z520 CPU @1,33 GHz and a GMA500 GPU. Throughout the years I have tested several operating systems on my netbook, trying to find a responsive one; moving from the initial Windows XP to Windows 7 & 8, and then trying countless lightweight Linux distributions including (but not limited to) PeppermintOS (probably my favorite), Lubuntu, LXLE, Zorin OS, Manjaro Netbook edition, Bodhi, Crunchbang, Archbang, WattOS, Linux Mint etc.

I always tried to find one that would be functional for basic use (e.g. web browsing and basic office usage e.g. document editing) and maybe some YouTube video browsing. However, due to the specificities of my netbook (mostly the GMA500), the overall performance was usually poor  while YouTube videos were barely watchable. Some distributions performed better than the others (mostly Lubuntu but Peppermint OS as well), while others had serious problems (e.g. cursor disappearing, sound not available, difficulty to install languages and change other options etc.). After I gave up on the previous distros, I decided to focus on lighter Window Managers (e.g. Openbox, FluxBox, Enlightenment etc.).

manjaro_logoIt was then that I found out about the Manjaro Openbox community edition; when I first installed it, I could not believe how responsive it was and how low on resources (RAM and CPU) it was running! Then, I also realized that even YouTube performance was much better that the one of other distros. Despite the fact that Openbox is really lightweight, it does not luck features and functionalities; it is only that sometimes manual intervention is needed (e.g. installation of GUI for some functionalities if you are not a Linux power user – I am not!). Installation was really user friendly and all hardware was automatically recognized. On top of that, you get a nice Conky panel automatically placed on the desktop!

Some of the things that I needed to set up in order to bring the installation closer to my needs were the following:

Even though I was thinking of going back to Peppermint OS for a while (I was pretty pleased with v5 and now the v6 is in the works), it seems that I am going to give Manjaro Openbox a try and keep it as long as possible.

Testing Acer 751h with Zorin OS 7 Lite – Ressurection

To make a long story short: I got tired of my netbook being so slow with Windows 7… in the meantime I have tried some Linux distros which did not treat my GMA500 really well or were not as responsive as I would like. On the other hand, Windows 8 were also malfunctioning in my netbook (GMA500 also being the cause of the Blue Screens of Death that I kept seeing every once in a while.

In the end, I decided to give Zorin OS another try. I created a live USB of Zorin OS 7 Lite using Unebootin and installed it on the second partition of my netbook’s HD (the one acting as storage and back up space for the machine – I didn’t realize that until I booted into Zorin) and I liked it quite a lot – it also identified and set up my GMA500 correctly. Since I was so pleased with the new OS, I decided to uninstall it and use the primary partition, so that it would boot along my Windows 7 Home Premium installation. Alas, something went wrong in the process (despite the fact that I have installed quite a few Linux distros, I was never fond of the partitioning options and never got to understand them) so I ended up not only with a non-bootable C: drive, but also all the entire contents of the second partition were also gone! There was a lot of non-backed up stuff there, ranging from movies and music to documents and other personal files (e.g. images) which is rather impossible to retrieve from other sources.

After realizing what was happened and that there was no way of recovering, I decided to enjoy a fully formatted disk after a long time and take the time to install a fresh copy of Zorin OS 7 Lite. Everything was set up in a few minutes (I became familiar with the process) and I started installing my favorite apps, including MS Office and Sugarsync using Wine, and Dropbox and Skype using the Software Center and setup package respectively.

So far I am pretty pleased with the behavior of my netbook; in fact I think that it has been transformed into a useful machine after a long time (during my last business trip, I decided to travel with my 17-inch/almost 3 Kg Toshiba laptop instead of carrying my lightweight but sluggish netbook with me). Operation is smooth, YouTube videos also play smoothly. I am still trying to figure out which app I will need to install in order to set up my netbook according to my needs so I guess that I will have to update this post after a while.

My gear

I am currently using two laptops, one netbook and one tablet, apart from the mobile phone… let’s take them one by one:

Office laptop: HP Pavillion tx 1110us, an old but still functioning workhorse. It features an AMD Turion 64 X2 Dual Core Mobile Technology @ 1.60GHz, 2GB DDR2 SDRAM, 12.1″ WXGA High-Definition HP BrightView Widescreen Convertible Display (1280×800) (swiveling like a tablet but not touch-sensitive…), 120GB (5400 RPM) SATA Hard Drive and a Nvidia GeForce Go 6150 graphics card. With Windows 7 Ultimate 64bit installed, it works like a charm despite its age. In addition, it has been through a series of motherboard changes, as the infamous issue with the Nvidia GPU appeared and could not be serviced despite the replacement (twice!) of the motherboard. Finally, a colleague of mine decided to take the situation in his hands and managed to fix the laptop for good with only some thermal CPU paste and a 5-cent coin!

Now the laptop is stable and used daily for my office tasks (mostly emails, document processing and a lot of web browsing). Its three USB ports are always occupied by a two-button, optical HP mouse, a USB cradlewhich is used to sync my HTC Blackstone (Touch HD) and at the same time charge the 2nd battery, and finally a Western Digital My Passport Essential USB 3.0 500GB (Red), in which Portable Thunderbird and all my emails are stored. The inbox is backed up every 2nd day in my company’s data server (manually – I have to remember that!).

Next to my laptop sits the newest member of the gadget family, a pearl-white Lenovo Ideapad A1 tablet: 7-inch capacitive screen (1024X600), 1GHz CPU, 1 GB RAM and 16 GB of storage. It is my companion during my daily trips to office and back, so I keep some of its apps updated (e.g. Lifehacker, Popsci.com, mails etc.) to keep me busy during my commuting.

Home laptop: Back at home I mainly use a Lenovo G550, which is a no-thrill, basic laptop: 15.6” screen (1366×768) driven by an Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 4500MHD and powered by a Intel Celeron Dual-Core T3100 (1.90GHz, 1MB L2 cache, 800MHz FSB) combined with 2GB of DDR3 400MHz RAM. The OS is Windows 7 Home Premium (the favorite OS of low-end laptops), but it is ok, as this laptop sits on the arm of my couch just for web surfing/checking emails (and watching movies when nothing interesting is on the TV!).

Netbook: Another machine usually sitting in a drawer at home is an Acer Aspire One 751h netbook: It was initially purchased as a lighter alternative of my broken HP Pavillion tx-1110us, as I needed something smaller and lighter due to the fact that I kept commuting with my Dahon Boardwalk folding bike. Fortunately my laptop was fixed, as the 751h proved to be much weaker than I expected. It seems that in order to keep the battery life as high as possible, and taking into consideration the relatively large (for a netbook) 11,6” 1366×768 screen (HD resolution), they decided to combine it with a low-power Intel Atom Z520 CPU @ 1.33-GHz  and 1 GB of RAM, along with an Intel GMA500 GPU, which despite its decent specs, it always suffered from bad driver support… In most cases the 160GB HD at 5,400rpm keeps reading and reading and reading and the whole system (Windows 7 Pro) is usually so slow that I can hardly do any multitasking.  the bad thing is that due to the proprietary drivers of GMA500, it is only partially supported by a number of Linux distros, so I am stuck with Windows. Maybe a format and the use of Windows 7 Home Premium would be a solution to this issue.

This netbook is my companion in my business trips or during holidays, where only minimum usage is expected (e.g. web browsing, checking emails and storing the photos from my digital camera). The good thing is its battery life, which may be close to 5 hours of working.

During my daily commuting to office and back, I usually carry my staff in my dA PRO Digital Artist Backpack, a b-day gift from my colleagues. It is really slim and it took me quite a while to get used to it, as I used to carry much bigger backpacks with me. However, it looks really nice, it has some really nice pockets, a waterproof cover and I can stuff my tablet, calendar/notepad, a small umbrella (for the rainy days), some snack in a food container and a number of pens/markers, cables, chargers etc.

Acer Aspire One 751h and Windows 8… don’t try this at work!

Image
The best introduction to this post…

To make a long story short: I recently bought a license for Windows 8 Pro, as it was quite a bargain for a limited time (29,90 euros), in order to upgrade my Windows 7 Home Premium installation of my Acer 751h.

The experiment failed: Memory usage always around 90% and CPU more than 75% all the time, with a couple of Chrome pages open, Skype, Skydrive and Sugarsync running in the background. That’s all. Netbook was so slow that was unusable. I was in a project meeting, preparing presentations… tough luck! I got so frustrated that I tried to download various Linux distros (e.g. Linux Mint 13 XFCE and ArchLinux) in order to be able to do at least the basics (e.g. browse online and check my emails; however, there was always some issue with the Linux installations, so I finally gave up…I have tweaked everything that I could (from disabling the Aero theme and system sounds to disabling Indexing in order to save some hard disk spinning time) but it was in vain.

ImageImageImageI can only see two solutions now: Either I find a compatible 2GB SO-DIMM RAM module for this ill-fated machine, or I return to the Windows 7 installation, which worked pretty well (at least much better than Windows 8) with this machine.

This was really unexpected as it was mentioned that Windows 8 are not as greedy as Windows 7 regarding memory usage, but since the upgrade to Windows 8 only took place a couple of days before my trip, I did not have enough time to check the performance under real-life operation…

Using Thunderbird portable in Linux?

For the last years I have been using Outlook express as my email client: It was free, easy to use and came with Windows, so no extra installation was required. In addition, it was closely connected with my main (back then) account in Hotmail, and last but not least, it was perfectly synced with my Windows Mobile Phones (Eten X610, HTC Touch Cruise & HD). During the last months I smoothly migrated in the Windows Live Mail Desktop, which indeed provided me with more options.

However, as soon as I started working, I had to dealt with additional email accounts and work with more than one laptops. However, there was no way for me to keep the structure of my inboxes, other than Hotmail, between my different laptops. I tried exporting the inbox each time and importing it in the other laptop, use an online folder to sync the inboxes, copy-paste the files etc. but nothing worked… so I took the decision to migrate to a more flexible email client: Mozilla Thunderbird.

I decided to totally re-organize the way that I was handling my emails: I bought an external hard disk and decided to use the portable version of Thunderbird, so that not only my inbox, but my whole email system would be always with me. Migration from Windows was not easy but easier than I expected. I managed to keep the structure of the folders of my main installation of WLM but still I ended up with a lot of duplicate emails, that I am still trying to identify and delete…

Even though this solution works like a charm for all my Windows-based machines, I recently faced an issue when I decided to drop Windows from my netbook and instead use Linux. Since there is no Thunderbird portable version for Linux (yet), I will have to find a way to “force” the Linux pre-installed version of Thunderbird to use the folders in my portable hard disk as a source for the settings and messages; however, I haven’t managed to achieve such thing despite my research and efforts…

Please let me know in case you have a workaround for this issue and I will be eternally grateful to you!

Acer 751h & Linux: Success at last!

During the last months I have been experimenting with Linux in my low-end netbook (Acer 751h), in an effort to find a faster, user-friendly and productive environment, other than than the currently installed Windows 7. I started with UNetbootin, which allowed me to create a bootable USB out of any ISO that I downloaded. Then I started downloading ISOs which I hoped that will support the really problematic GMA500...

Ubuntu latest version (12.04) installed really fine through Windows (wubi), No messing up with boot record, no weird installation options, and the most important… GMA500 support out of the box. However, the desktop was really bloated, due to the side bar (which I never liked anyway) and I cannot say that Ubuntu  was faster than Windows 7 in my netbook. So Idecided to go for another distribution.

Zorin OS looked ideal for a user coming from Windows. However, despite the numerous attempts with live USBs trying different versions, the GMA500 failed to work properly… the Core version was a mess due to problematic support of this card while the Lite version was not starting graphical interface at all! Despite the great support from the Greek Zorin OS user community, I decided to drop Zorin as well…

Easypeasy was promoted as the ideal Linux distro for netbooks, working with low-end hardware and ensuring long battery life, However, GMA was only partially supported, so I ended up with a really nice desktop but in 800×600 instead of the native 1366×768 of my GMA500. So long for this distro…

Last, but not least: Linux Mint! Instead of me trying an old version, I went straight for the latest one (13, codename “Maya”), and Cinnamon in particular, which I later found out that is not as snappy or compatible as the Matte version. However, the live USB worked great, so I decided to give it a try with a proper installation. Everything went pretty well, updates were automatically installed and I am now writing this post using my Linux Mint 13 Cinnamon installation! The only glitch I noticed is the slow playback of the YouTube videos; on the other hand, avi and mpeg videos play pretty well with the pre-installed Gnome player (VLC is really sluggish when playing the same files!).

In addition, it seems the Cinnamon version requires 3D acceleration (which is not supported), so I cannot change the theme of my desktop. However, I was pleased to see that all hardware of my netbook worked  straight from the box. For this reason, I believe that I will not change my selection and I will give Mint 13 a detailed try before I give up again!

(Re-) Installing Windows (and the required additional software)

I took some time during weekend to backup some things from my Acer Aspire One 751h, format the hard disk and re-install Windows, as it started being laggy and the hard disk kept reading and reading for long periods. In addition, there was a noticeable lagging in almost every function (e.g. Skype), which made the netbook almost unusuable in some cases (leading to several “Not Responding” messages. I had a dual booting system with Windows 7 Pro and Jolicloud installed, but I heard that Windows Home might be easier for my netbook to cope up with, having lower minimum requirements (even though I didn’t manage to confirm this statement from the Microsoft website). On the other hand, I rarely used Jolicloud (or Joli OS now) during the last months; despite them being advertised as an OS designed primarily for netbooks, it was too cloud-based for me and I found myself missing access to files etc. when I was working ofline. Joilicoud is one of the few Linux distributions with native support for the GMA500 of Acer 751h (which is a really problematic piece of hardware, when it comes to software support/drivers in both Windows and Linux), but I was not ready to

So, this time I went for the Windows Home Premium. Installation was pretty snappy, using a bootable USB with Windows 7 that I had created some time ago.

In the meantime, I tried to install an alternative OS, Zorin OS, which is considered as the Linux distribution closest to Windows interface, so I thought that it might be handy. I downloaded the free version, created a bootable USB stick with UNetbootin Even though the interface was really close to Windows (so familiar), there was no native support for GMA500, so I had to quit it really soon. Unofrtunately I do not have the time nor the knowledge to tweak any Linux settings on my own…

The netbook seems more responsive now, and I started installing my favourite freeware apps in order to bring it closer to my needs:

A, System addons:

  1. Java: A must for the system, as a lot of web sites are depending on Java.
  2. Flash/Shockwave player: Flash installation is not needed when using Chrome, as it is integrated in the system. On the other hand, Shockwave Player is a must, especially in some social networking sites.
  3. MS Sliverlight: Just in case it is needed for the playback of videos in some web sites. Makes video playback smooth.

B. Apps

  1. Google Chrome: I went for the Chrome when I realized how sluggish was Firefox a couple of years ago. Through the years I appreciated the speed and simplicity of Chrome and I have become a fan since then!
  2. 7zip: A must for handling compressed files. It is free, with friendly user interface and minimum user intervention.
  3. GOM Media Player: A great video player, especially for low-end machines like my netbook. Customizable, supporting a wide variety of formats through internal codecs, while additional codecs can be downloaded for free, if needed.
  4. Filehippo: Helps me keep my apps updated. The utility is small and quick.
  5. DriverMax: Helps me keep my drivers updates. I am not sure about how it works, but I get some updated versions of drivers every now and then.
  6. Windows Mobile Device Center: For syncing my Windows Mobile phone (an HTC Touch HD featuring a kwbr WM6.5 ROM)
  7. Dropbox:  For keeping my precious working documents synced between my various computers. I currently managed to have 3GB of space there.
  8. Sugarsync: For keeping my precious working documents, as the 3GB of Dropbox are not enough. I think I currently have 5GB of space in Sugarsync.
  9. Irfanview: A great image viewing and editing app. It is small, light and has a comprehensive package of plugins.
  10. Foxit Reader: A lightweight PDF reader with a lot of useful options (e.g. commenting, post-it notes etc.). I prefer it over the official Adobe Reader app (which is really chunky) but it seems to have issues when it comes to online forms and submitted forms.
  11. Bullzip PDF printer: A great app that allows the conversion of almost all file types to PDF through the Print option.
  12. CCleaner: Helps me keep my hard disk clean and free of temp files. You would be surprised by the amount of space allocated to temp files in your computer. It also clean the registry, by removing useless entries.
  13. Skype: A must for communicating with colleagues and family. Even though I was an old and loyal MS Messenger user, it seems that almost everyone has migrated to Skype (Messenger has even dropped the option for video calls). Using Skype for internal office communication and online meetings with colleagues is really often.