Sunday, November 9, 2014

Linux and SSD revisited on a Lenova Thinkpad Edge

My 60gb SSD drive had been sitting idle on my stairs for about 9 months or so.  One of my biggest “lesson's learned” in regards to purchasing a SSD drive would be to purchase a 128gb or larger drive.  At the time, cost was a consideration (it still is) and I thought that a 60gb drive would be more than adequate to contain a bare bones operating system.  It sort of is - and that is fine for testing and playing, but when the novelty wears off you want a computer that you can use for daily use and this is where a small 60gb drive falls short.  I had initially tested my SSD on a very old Windows Vista machine that had a single core Celeron processor.  I thought that the SSD might resuscitate that old turtle.  It provided some juice, but not enough to warrant the squeeze.  I had tested the SSD with both a Windows install and a Linux install.  I was disappointed to find my boot times were not that much different between between the two operating systems, certainly not sufficient to convince me to give up my Cadillacesque Microsoft world of Microsoft Office tools, nor sufficient enough to convince me to abandon my larger SATA hard drive.  So my SSD gathered dust.

After my last test laptop failed, I picked up a Lenova Thinkpad from Craigslist for $90.  The specific model number is 057866U which is a 14” screen with an Intel i3 chip.  There are certainly faster machines out there, but I thought I did pretty good for $90.  The original operating system was Windows 7 and I was able to restore the computer to its original condition.  Start up wasn't too bad – around a minute or so, but the frustrating wait came at shutdown.  Many times, this would take well over a minute and a couple of times I had closed the lid triggering a sleep mode and the computer did not shut down at all and instead fully drained the battery.  Ugh, how aggravating!

Finally, a stint of leave from work coupled with frustration converged and I decided to go for it.  (I'm so glad I did).  My first step was to swap out the hard drive – a confession here – I didn't really think it was going to be much of a difference so I didn't screw the framing onto the SSD; I just slid it on.  Next I booted up the laptop using my trusty Linux Mint Isadora (9) install CD – I like this version as it is small enough to fit nicely on a CD and installs quickly.  The install went smoothly and I did some light dabbling.  I guess I was in an ambitious mood that day because I thought why not try installing the more up to date Linux Mint 15 that I had burned to DVD.  Yes, its bigger but more refined and I thought maybe my i3 (unlike my Celeron) might be better suited to this more advanced version of Linux.  In my prior experiment with these 2 Linux implementations, I found that the install of Isadora first made the Mint 15 install much easier – for whatever reason, the Mint 15 makes you set up some Linux parameters which can be confusing whereas the Isadora install does not.  However, if Isadora is already installed, Mint 15 can write into those existing parameters.  Once again, the install went smoothly.

First the boot up is around 30 seconds or so; the shut down... drum roll –  around 10 (yes, ten) seconds!  Whee!  I've also installed Chrome for my primary browser and have done lots of surfing – it seems very responsive and no known problems.  I thought maybe Linux would be thrown by sleep mode by closing and reopening the lid... I was pleasantly surprised; Linux handles it much better than Windows 7 did – I can close the lid and reopen and it comes to life and prompts for my password.  My internet connection is responsive (as is my laptop's Bluetooth which I don't use).  In fact, I will remark that my internet connection is on upon boot up whereas with Windows 7 I would observe the connection happening after boot up (which extends my true wait as often the work I want to do involves an internet connection).  Currently, I'm typing this post on LibreOffice Writer and another pleasant surprise – I like it.  Maybe I'm not quite as cozy with Libre Writer as Microsoft Word, but it is a very good application.  I've used this configuration for my past 3 posts and also used Linux with accompanying Gimp to add a picture header to this Blog.  I may also explore using Google Docs online as a Word replacement.  I've also found it very easy with this version of Linux to take a Screenshot – whether the whole screen, current window or even a specific area – no need for my old standby Microsoft OneNote!  (For those sharp shooters who noticed that I missed posting one week, this was due to a misfire where I pressed "Save" instead of "Publish" in Blogger and didn't discover my error until later in the week when I started to wonder why no one was reading my new post).

As I stated at the start, one of my regrets is that I didn't purchase a larger SSD and that regret remains true if I decide to return to Windows.  While there may be some minimal guidelines for installing Windows 7 and Windows 8, I would recommend doubling them to account for updates, service packs and cache requirements.  I would figure 20-30gb for a Windows operating system.  Additionally, with Windows I rely on accompanying Microsoft Office software which can consume another 4-8gb of space.  Needless to say after you add it up, I'm approaching about 35gb or so of consumed space on my 60gb drive, leaving a paltry 15gb to juggle.  I just examined my current system with Linux 15 and I have 49gb free on my 60gb SSD drive!

When I explored Linux on my old Vista Celeron machine, it wasn't long before I switched back to my Windows configuration.  Maybe I'll hit a wall eventually with Linux 15, but at the current time I plan to continue enjoying my rocket i3 fueled by Linux.

Update:  It's been a couple of weeks since I crafted this initial post.  I continue to be enthusiastic about this configuration which has made my laptop much more appealing and I find myself reaching for it more often as a result.  The only caveats that I would add would be to note that it is more difficult new programs and peripherals such as printers.  I'd roughly and completely unscientifically say that about 30% of this issue is related to me being a novice to the Linux operating system and about 70% due to a lesser effort given by manufacturers in writing drivers and installation instructions.  For example, I had heard of being able to run Microsoft Office in Linux within an application named, Wine.  With much effort, I was able to figure out and install Wine on my Linux Mint version.  (I will also note that Wine is not a perfect solution; it is not supported by Microsoft and in reading many online perspectives the consensus is clear that the latest, greatest version of Office is not recommended.  I installed Office 2007 which is now about 2 versions old).  Additionally, I wrestled with the installation of my Brother printer which proved a challenge both due to my inexperience with Linux as well as install instructions from Brother that could / should be a bit more explicit.  Despite these challenges, I remain a fan of my Linux, SSD, i3 ThinkPad.  I could easily see this as an ideal machine for a college student on a budget or a traveler.  The smaller form factor makes it a great laptop for mobility; the quick boot up and shut down ideal for moving from classroom to classroom or a quick boot up in a hotel room.