Tuesday, July 29, 2014

New Linux Laptop

Earlier this month I decided to get a netbook, and of course I wanted to run Linux (preferably Linux Mint) on it. After shopping around, I settled on an Acer Aspire V5-131. I won't say it was my dream machine -- it has a conventional hard drive, whereas I would have preferred a solid-state drive -- but it satisfied my other key criteria:
  • size and weight are appropriate for a netbook;
  • it comes with Linpus Linux, ensuring that I could load a different Linux distribution without having to learn the new Windows 8 interface or fight through a lot of UEFI secure-boot obstacles (I think the BIOS supports UEFI, but I think it's off by default);
  • it has 4 GB of DDR3 RAM (a lot of the competing machines only had 2 GB); and
  • it was pretty cheap for a machine with its specs.
When I received the machine, I downloaded and ran UNetbootin (on a Windows box, as it happens), which allowed me to install a "live" (bootable) version of my preferred Linux distribution (Mint 17) to a USB drive. I use the Cinnamon version of Mint on my desktop, but I went with the Xfce version for the netbook because I figured it would put less strain on the processor.

From there, I just had to boot the Aspire, interrupt the boot sequence to get to the BIOS, change the BIOS to boot first from a USB drive, plug in the USB stick and reboot. That put me into Mint. After verifying that WiFi worked (there really wasn't much else to test), I chose the option to install Mint, and took defaults for pretty much everything. You can install Mint to coexist with another operating system, but all I wanted was Mint (no disrespect to Linpus intended). so I let it overwrite Linpus. Just like that, I had a working Mint netbook. There was no drama (possibly a first for me when installing/configuring a machine).

So far I've been quite happy with the Aspire. Some people seem be concerned about the bulge in the back caused by the battery. (The Aspire has better-than-typical battery life, as I understand things, so that bulge pays dividends.) The battery causes a slight downhill tilt to the keyboard, which I find comfortable.

The Aspire has a touchpad but does not have separate mouse buttons. Some of the reviews I read before purchasing seemed to think that was an issue, while other people said gestures (single finger tap for left button, double finger tap for right button) were good enough. After setting the machine up, I discovered that it does in fact have mouse buttons, or at least mouse button functionality. The touchpad appears to be hinged along the top edge and not anchored to the case along the bottom. If you push the front left (lower right) corner of the touchpad reasonably firmly, you get a left (right) mouse button click. For the left mouse button, I think it's easier to tap, but I find pushing the front right corner down to get the "hardware" right mouse button action much more accurate than two fingered taps (or tapping the lower right corner with one finger, which will generate a right mouse button event if are very precise).

The only issue I've encountered so far is that the touchpad is a bit too sensitive for my tastes. When I'm typing, I can generate a mouse event without meaning to, presumably because the angle of my hands brings my palm a tad too close to the pad. Flexing at the wrists eliminates the problem, but too much typing with flexed wrists is probably not good for the associated tendons.

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