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.

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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.

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

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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…

(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 it being advertised as an OS designed primarily for netbooks (and it is indeed really user friendly and responsive), 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 migrate to a solution other than MS Office at the moment.

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…

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. 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.

Gadget series – Acer Aspire One 751h

Από την πρώτη στιγμή που κυκλοφόρησαν στην αγορά τα netbooks ήθελα να αποκτήσω ένα. Ήταν αυτό το πακέτο μικρού μεγέθους/μικρού βάρους/μεγάλης αυτονομίας που προσέφερε παράλληλα όλες (σχεδόν) τις δυνατότητες που ήθελα από ένα laptop. Το μόνο που με προβλημάτιζε ήταν το αν η μικρή τους οθόνη θα αποδεικνυόταν κουραστική για πολύωρη χρήση. Όταν όμως είδα από κοντά ένα netbook με οθόνη 10’’, κατάλαβα ότι ήταν θέμα χρόνου η αγορά του, απλά χρειαζόμουν μια αφορμή για να δικαιολογήσω την αγορά…

… η οποία ήρθε εκεί που δεν το περίμενα: Σε κάποια φάση παρέδωσε πνεύμα το laptop μου (ένα HP Pavillion tx-1110us), στο οποίο διαγνώστηκε καμμένη μητρική και χρόνος επισκευής περίπου 30 ημέρες. Καθώς λοιπόν το έστειλα για επισκευή, αποφάσισα να καλύψω το κενό με ένα netbook κυρίως λόγω του χαμηλού κόστους αγοράς. Η επιλογή μου ήταν ένα Acer Aspire One 751h, με οθόνη 11,6’’ (ακόμη μεγαλύτερη από αυτήν που υπολόγιζα), RAM 1GB, δίσκο 160GB και μπαταρία 6-cell με αυτονομία μεγαλύτερη από 5 ώρες (!!). Φυσικά περιλαμβάνονται και τα κλασικά καλούδια των netbooks, όπως Ethernet/Wireless card, VGA-out (για σύνδεση με εξωτερική οθόνη ή τηλεόραση), 5-in-1 card reader & 3 USB ports. Αυτό που ξεχωρίζει όμως το 751h από τα 10άρια netbooks είναι η οθόνη 11,6’’ με ανάλυση 1366×768 (HD) και το πληκτρολόγιο με 100% διαστάσεις (=αρκετά μεγάλα πλήκτρα για τα χοντρά μου δάχτυλα!).

(Photo taken from avemedia.wordpress.com)

Προκειμένου να εξασφαλιστεί η υψηλή αυτονομία της συσκευής στα ίδια επίπεδα με αυτή των netbooks με 10άρα οθόνη, χρησιμοποιήθηκε chipset χαμηλής κατανάλωσης (αλλά και επιδόσεων). Έτσι το 751h φοράει επεξεργαστή Intel Ζ520 @ 1,33GHz & GPU GMA 500.

Το 751h ήρθε με διπλό λειτουργικό Windows XP Home & μια μαθητική έκδοση του Ubuntu (εξάλλου είναι και Ubuntu Certified). Αφού πρώτα έκανα ένα backup στο δίσκο, ακολούθησε format και πέρασα τα Windows XP Professional SP3: Το μηχανάκι πετούσε!  Στήθηκαν τα προγράμματα, περάστηκαν οι τελευταίοι drivers και όλα καλά… μέχρι που δοκίμασα να δω video από το Youtube: Houston, we’ve got a problem! Το video ήταν σπαστό, αδύνατον να το παρακολουθήσω. Ό,τι κι αν δοκίμασα δεν κατάφερα κάτι καλύτερο. Ήταν φυσικό, αφού η υποστήριξη για την GMA500 στα XP ήταν προβληματική, σε αντίθεση με την υποστήριξη για Windows 7. Η μετάβαση στα Windows 7 φάνηκε μονόδρομος και η κατάσταση με το video φαίνεται να έχει βελτιωθεί.

Έτσι, αυτή τη στιγμή το μηχανάκι τρέχει με Windows 7 Pro 32-bit & μια εγκατάσταση του Jolicloud (απίθανο Linux optimized για netbooks!). Οι drivers αναβαθμίζονται συχνά, υπάρχει ακόμη πλήρης υποστήριξη για το hardware και δεν φαίνεται πολύ φορτωμένο από το λειτουργικό σύστημα. Δεν είναι βέβαια XP, αλλά αναγκαστικά θυσίασα ελάχιστη ταχύτητα προκειμένου να εξασφαλίσω την καλύτερη λειτουργία του συστήματος.