Dell Inspiron Mini 9-inch Netbook with Ubuntu 8.04 – personal experiences wanted

Warning: pretty geeky stuff in this post.

Our aging-when-we-bought-it-new laptop teetered another step toward the abyss while at the airport in Mexico City between flights on our way to Puerto Vallarta. It was there that the flakiness Sarah and I’d seen revealed itself to be due, at least in part, to a failing hard drive.

“OK, I can work around that…when we get back to Germany…” I thought to myself. I picked out an SATA hard disk drive from Amazon.de — a Toshiba MK2552GSX (250GB, for about 50 €) and downloaded a fresh ISO image of Kubuntu 9.04 (and burnt the ISO image to a CD on our Mac mini), removed the old Fujitsu 40GB SATA drive and connected the fresh new Toshiba one. The installation appeared to be going OK, until we got to the point in the process where the drive needs to be partitioned.

No dice. The BIOS wouldn’t recognnize the new drive.

“Hmm, maybe Scott‘s right and I should reflash the BIOS.” So I burnt an ISO image of that file onto CD, flashed the BIOS to the latest update for our lappy, a Fujitsu Siemens Amilo Pro V2035, and tried the whole thing again, just to make sure.

Still no dice.

We’d previously tried out an Asus Eee PC purchased from amazon.de and were pretty satisfied with that little thing, except that the battery in it refused to hold a charge whatsoever. Reading up on that particular product online after-the-fact (uh…should have done that BEFORE-the-fact) I discovered that those Eee PC things are particularly prone to significant battery drain — even when the thing is completely off, even when the battery is completely disconnected from the machine. Which kinda works against the concept of keeping a netbook charged and ready to go with you out the door on your adventures. So we opted to send it back and ask for a refund rather than a replacement. Amazon.de was prompt about that, but it still annoyed me that they sent a defective product in the first place.

So now I’m looking at turning that Toshiba drive, which despite a BIOS flash is still unrecognizable to my old lappy, into an external hard drive for use with a different netbook. Looking around online, I noticed that Dell is offering 9″ netbooks with Ubuntu 8.04 installed and an SSD, upgradable RAM, and a few other upgradable or customizable features. Sounds great, right? Still maybe not optimal for what I want. Check out this little chat session I had with a CSR from them if you can read Dorktsch.

Specifically, I’m not sure how I feel about

  • installing Kubuntu voiding the warranty (I guess for Dell that counts as a different operating system, even though I strongly suspect no one else would consider “Kubuntu” a different operating system from “Ubuntu”).
  • having no recovery DVD supplied with purchase (even though Dell sales to/from other countries apparently got recovery DVDs with them).
  • having to call tech support if I want to reset my machine back to its factory configuration.

Those things make me a little nervous. Still we are talking about a purchase of “only” 269€ (the way I configured my Wunschmaschine). I suppose Ubuntu (i.e. GNOME) might be just fine for our intended purposes (read email, do some light surfing, move photos from my camera onto an external HDD while traveling). Any advice to offer me? I’m particularly anyone who has bought one of these Dells or installed a flavor of Linux on another brand of netbook.

5 thoughts on “Dell Inspiron Mini 9-inch Netbook with Ubuntu 8.04 – personal experiences wanted”

  1. Snooker

    Please know that I kind of understand Dorktsch, but really don’t know how to write it. No would be better at it, but she’s otherwise occupied.

    Sweet No and I bought an Asus Eee PC about 6 months ago. First off, we’ve had absolutely no problem with the battery system. The only noticeable situation might be that it takes about 6 hours to get a full charge, BUT… it also supplies at least 5.15 hours of use from that charge. Strange but true. Aside from the shift keys being placed horribly for 10 finger typing, I have no issues with the machine.

    It came bundled with the Microsoft operating system for mini laptops, but No wanted to play with it a bit. We were looking for the fastest start and close down time possible. As you mentioned, no recovery disc is provided, the obvious reason being that it doesn’t have a player. The recovery system is ON the hard drive itself… which kinda sucks if you ask me. This made her think twice about blanking the hard drive and loading the Linux product exclusively (in this case Ubuntu … sorry, don’t know which number).

    She partitioned the hard drive and installed Ubuntu. When she finally got it up and running she started installing the few bits of software we wanted/needed, browser, word processor, Gimp for pictures. First she had problems getting it to see our network, when she worked through that the low version of Gimp would not run, the word processor she picked was working fine, however.

    In the end she took a stopwatch to it. The MS OS was already loaded and “free” with the unit. So dumping it completely would only be reasonable if the Linux system performed better… which unfortunately it did not. The MS OS won out and now starts up for me almost every night with no hassles, no problems whatsoever. The partition has remained however, and is now my repository for pictures whenever we travel.

    I hope that was at least helpful.

    1. cliff1976

      Thanks Snooker — that does indeed help a lot.

      As a little test, when you turn your Eee PC off some evening, note what percentage of battery life remains. Then unplug it and maybe even disconnect the battery from it. When you turn it on again in the morning, check the battery percentage and see whether the battery percentage remaining changed at all, despite having not used it over night.

      I guess some battery drain through lack of use is normal, but the complaints I saw online were to the tune of >5%, which raised my eyebrows.

      Still, if the prices is right, maybe an Eee PC is the way to for an ultraportable (yet fully functional) computer. I’m looking at a used one in a storefront window for 199€ and I probably would have bought it today already had it not been for the long holiday weekend which closed the shop completely.

  2. hezamarie

    If you are in the market to buy a netbook, maybe check out a cute Lenovo S10e 10-in? Ours arrived Wednesday. It came with Suse but we switched to Ubuntu 9.04 and the USB image worked fine. After running a list of installed software we have our old computers cloned on to one mini machine -all which took about 5 hrs tops.

    We probably won’t buy a dell in the future. They are too slow to get on-board with making a machine that works close to flawless with a linux os.

  3. cliff1976

    Hey thanks, hezamarie. I’m looking at lenovo.de right now. Where’d you buy yours? A cursory google search indicates prices starting around 329€. That’s quite a bit more than the used model I saw at a nearby shop and even more than the Dell Ubuntu (8.04…already a whole year old, but at least it’s the LTS release) machine.

    What didn’t you like about SuSE? Just curious, since I’ve never tried it myself. Good to hear that you were able to get Ubuntu on your Lenovo up and running though. Do you have an SSD in there, and if so, did you mess with swap and /tmp partitions to minimize the frequency of writes to the SSD to perhaps lengthen the life of said SSD?

  4. cliff1976

    Whoa, some more googling revealed this — a Lenovo 10″ model starting at 219€, and beefupable RAM.

    This just keeps getting more complicated. Thanks all for the suggestions.

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