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Xubuntu 8.04 on IBM ThinkPad T-21

April 28, 2008

You wouldn’t think an eight-year-old laptop would be good for much.  Its PIII processor and paltry 512mb of RAM, plus its puny 30 gig hard drive just don’t add up to a lot of firepower.  This wasn’t a problem until a month ago when a couple new Microsoft patches came out that just bogged it down.  Even a fresh build didn’t help.

But the IBM ThinkPad T-21 is just too good to throw out.  It was a maximally-engineered model with a carbon-fibre frame, a crisp, easy-typing keyboard, and a great screen topped with a titanium lid.  And it was cheap: it sold for three grand when it was new, but I bought for my son a couple years ago for one-tenth that much.

I tried Ubuntu on it but running Ubuntu is a young laptop’s game.  Ubuntu is intended to compete with Windows Vista and it’s really needs a P4 with a gig of ram to run well.  (Vista needs much more)  An older machine like this one needs a lighter, more stripped-down OS.  Then Webs05 sent me this email:

Xubuntu 8.04 is [great]!  There is no other way to put it! So far I am having super amazing results. And I am currently installing it on Katie’s laptop, which means they fixed A LOT of previous issues. Katie’s laptop is the old X23… Anyways, try it out. I am going to be writing a post soon.

Well that’s interesting because the ThinkPad X-23 is a smaller but otherwise very similar machine as far as the operating system is concerned.  And I did try it out, splitting the HD into two primary partitions and putting the /home in the second partition, with / and /swap in the first partition.  It works great, it’s reasonably fast, it suspends well, and the wireless works fine.  It even set up the Broadcom 54g wireless card with no problem. 

Xubuntu is Ubuntu without all the gingerbread; it doesn’t waste CPU cycles trying to be pretty.  And it works: this old laptop has a new lease on life.  I’m putting a new battery in it and giving it back to my son.

One little thing though: do you suppose the Ubuntu people could quite naming their releases things like “Feisty Fawn” and “Gutsy Gibbon”?  It just sounds kind of Disney, like a character on one of their “video-only” kids’ movie releases.  Couldn’t they call it something cool like “Great White” or “Leopard”?  Oh wait, that one’s taken…

Categories: Geeky, Software
  1. Lucas
    April 28, 2008 at 23:21 | #1

    I’ve been absolutely loving Ubuntu Gutsy Gibbon on my laptop.  It’s got loads of math-oriented applications (it also runs sage—an OSS poke at mathematica, which I could never get working on my mac).  It’s very speedy, and extremely customizable.  I’ve changed the hotkeys to match the ones I’m used to on my weird mac keyboard, and added several more (Alt+B loads Firefox, Alt+` opens my home folder, Alt+T loads a terminal.)  That’s the great thing about the interface: it’s very customizable, and what’s more, it’s *easy* to customize (unlike some other OS’s I know).

    The only lingering problems I’ve run into are that it has its own ideas about what my screen brightness should be, and occasionally the sound doesn’t work when I wake it up from hibernating.  I hope that both of these problems will be fixed when I upgrade after finals.

    (BTW, Milly was recently given (!) a mildly broken, though fairly new MacBook Pro.  OS X Leopard has taken several steps backwards in terms of usability.  I think I’m on the fence when it comes to OS 10.4 vs Ubuntu, but Ubuntu beats 10.5 hands down…)

    I’m with you on the cutesy names…

  2. April 29, 2008 at 08:05 | #2

    An upgrade should fix those problems. Release 8.04 is supposed to fix all kinds of power management issues.

    The issues of 10.5 OSX should be fixed this summer with the next major patchwork coming out. We have a MAC server at the office here and have run into some major roadblocks, but the rumor is 10.5.3 (I think) will fix all the problems.

  3. Lucas
    April 29, 2008 at 13:08 | #3

    Last night after posting that comment, I discovered that I could upgrade ubuntu by clicking a few buttons in a menu, and letting it churn overnight.  Hibernate is now somewhat faster, and suspend actually works.  It kept all my old settings.  Ubuntu fraking rocks!

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