Thursday, 4 September 2008

Advent & Ubuntu, A Perfect Partnership?

Advent Screenshot - 002
Screenshot of Ubuntu on the Advent 4211

No. Sadly not perfect, but it is a close call. I recently purchased an Advent 4211 from PC World, this had not been my original intention as the MSI Wind was what first turned me onto the world of UMPC/Netbooks. The Asus 'effect' never got my attention, it was a lot of money for a fairly basic machine while its strongest attribute was also its smallest, the diminutive SD harddrive. Reliability and long life are assured, but I have hauled laptops all over the world over the last 10 years and via many different modes of transport and have yet to have a 'standard' harddrive fail. Screens and screen hinges seems to have failed on every machine and the harddrive died on my 7 year old Sony Vaio (bought in 1999), so no complaints.

Advent Screenshot - 005
Compiz 3D effects

It is the specs that grabbed my attention with the MSI Wind as it seemed to be a genuine full-featured mini-notebook with a mini-price tag. The only item missing is a CD-ROM/DVD drive, but that is a given for this market. Lets face it, no 7”-10” screen will do a Hollywood blockbuster justice! Anyway, back to the story, After researching the MSI Wind and following it on the net and the various retail sites I noticed a worrying trend, the price kept going up and soon it seemed to be a no better deal then other offerings, I was dismayed and once again turned away from the netbook effect until I read something in the RSS feeds about a rebadged MSI Wind selling in PC World for the price we originally wanted. Off shopping I went and did not look back.


A MSI Wind/Advent 4211 Comparison

Also of note, while Expansys.ie has the MSI Wind for some €491, I purchased the Advent 4211 for €380. I also got 3 years insurance cover at €75. Then a wireless card and 1GB RAM from Dimension4 for €50 delivered. So my final total was €505, now keep in mind no need for anti-virus/firewall/ software subscriptions and I think you have to agree it is excellent value.

First off let me make it clear, I have no interest in Win-doh's being an Ubuntu convert so my first task would be to install Ubuntu 8.04.1 LTS Hardy Heron. Now the following should be noted:

1st – The wireless will not work. I have bought an Intel card (detailed below) to get around this
2nd – Upgrading my RAM at the same time, might as well!
3rd – Live CD will have to be from a USB stick or external cd-rom drive. I went USB stick.
4th – Tweaks will have to be made, but tiny ones to make it just right
5th – Everything you need to know is laid out step-by-step on the net. SWEET!

Installing Ubuntu


My main source of info to convert the Advent 4211 into a Ubuntu loving netbook has been the MSI Wind User Wiki. This is an excellent source of information and everything you need to know is linked from there. Just follow the steps like I did and you too can be blogging (or whatever) on the web within no time at all. Seriously, it is pretty straight forward. I elected to install via the UNetbootin method, this worked perfect first time. The only hair-raising stuff will be tearing apart your brand new piece of kit to install the wireless card and ram, while these are optional things, though recommended. Be sure also to go to the 'tweaks' page for loads of tips on how to get the most out of your new OS.

RAM & Wireless Card Install



Installing the upgrades


Installing the RAM and wireless card is rather painless but take note that this may invalidate your warranty. I notice that some machines have a sticker covering some screws but my Advent 4211 does not. Accessing the machine is just a matter of flipping it over, removing the battery, then carefully unscrewing all the screws with a Phillips screwdriver. To make things easy I just left the screws in place as I removed the cover.

Once the cover is removed I found myself staring into the heart of the machine. A screw holds the wireless card in place, the screw is not of great quality so I took care not to round the head. Once out the wireless card popped up towards me. With the wires removed the card pulled away easily. I then took the new Intel (R) PRO/Wireless 3945ABG and slotted it into the empty slot. The wires snapped into position easily, tidy it all up so it looks neat then move over to the RAM.

This is very quick and painless I took the Kensington 1GB PC2-5300 CL5-PIN SODIMM and slided it in at a 45ยบ angle. Then pressed the back of it down and all was done when I heard a satisfying 'snap'. With that I put the case back on and tightened up all the screws. Booting up the computer the wireless was working straight away and a quick look at system monitor saw the new RAM figure (2GB).

Advent 4211 (1)
Before

Advent 4211 (2)
What Was I thinking? Note, top left original wireless card and in the center an empty RAM slot

Advent 4211 (4)
Everything Installed...time for a brew


Advent Screenshot - 006
Extra RAM and the new total memory of some 2GB

Webcam Woe

The webcam failed to work under Ubuntu so I was forced to compile the necessary software. This was the first time I had to compile code so was slightly concerned, but once again the members at Ubuntu forums had already come across this problem and an useful guide can be found here:

NEW Notebook, Fujitsu Siemens Si 2636, Webcam Problem!

This thread had me up and running in no time. Bare in mind though that I had to use Synaptic to download some compliling software.

SD Card Reader

I got an error when I tried to use the 4-in-1 card reader. So back to Google and I began searching for solutions. I have yet to get this working just right. It seems that there is some confusion about the location of the CD-ROM drive, which obviously does not exist. Some have offered the suggestion of editing out the CD-ROM option but I have tried this and has not made a difference. This is not a major issue and not something I will use often on this laptop. It also helps that my SD Cards can also plug into USB slots so certainly no panic.

Conclusion

All-in-all I have really enjoyed my first week with the Advent 4211 running Ubuntu Hardy Heron 8.04.1 LTS. Note that the earlier 8.04 does not seem to run on the Advent so be sure to install the latest. As updates come along the above process will get easier and some people are already running the Alpha Intrepid Ibex 8.10, though with some bugs, while others are trying the new Ubuntu Netbook Remix, again this is buggy and only recommended for experienced Linux users. I intend to try out 8.10 after it is officially released and once I hear that people have the Netbook Remix running relatively trouble free I will also give that a sample! So early days yet but much can be done. I look forward to making this my daily workhorse and keeping the Sony Vaio as a permanent work station at home.

Advent Screenshot - 003
Normal internet browsing view

Advent Screenshot - 004
Pressing F11 gives you full-screen mode

No, not perfect, but I am very pleased and excited at what is in store. Ubuntu, linux for human beings!