Saturday, November 27, 2010

A110 Aspire One first experiences

Hello to everyone! in this post I will cover stuff I find interesting about the net book that Santa Claus has brought me for this Christmas because he knows I have been a very decent guy during this year ;-)

The version I have had the following stuff inside:

 * 1 GB RAM
 * 160 GB hard drive (no SSD type).
 * Linux Linpus (a fedora style one)

General impressions
Before purchasing this tinny laptop I did some research and was hesitating whether buying the Acer's one  or the Samsung NC10 netbook.

Finally I decided to buy the Aspire One basically because of the price but I would recommend people to wait for a version of Aspire One containing a long lasting battery or buy the Samsungs one as it comes with a 6 cell battery, wireless,bluetooth, bigger screen, etc,etc. Samsungs NC10 costs about 100€ more but as It includes a bigger battery and other details I guess It's worth the price. Apart from this, this is what I think about my netbook:

  • The price is really attractive, even more the less powerful versions: those ones with solid state disk and 512 MB of RAM. Some people are already hacking the Aspire One to upgrade RAM or use normal IDE disks.
  • The keyboard has a decent size so that I can type without problems, I tried some Asus models and the key buttons were too small for me.
  • The linux included has all the basic stuff anyone would need (instant communications client, Open Office, web browser) and you can install all things like Skype or The Gimp without any problem.
  • The fan is a bit noisy sometimes but there are many hints on the internet about how to solve this.
  • Definitely the thing I dislike is the battery duration, being a 3 cell battery you get an average usage time of 2 hours, as soon as they sell 6 cells batteries with an reasonable price I'll buy one myself.
  • The design of the notebook is very nice and doesn't look as "cheap-plastic" made like the first Eee-pcs.For the wireless auditors this machine comes with an Atheros AR5006EG that supports monitor mode in Linpus linux, injection mode is also supported but you would need to recompile the wireless module or use something like a Backtrack live CD/live USB.
Problems and Solutions
Grub doesn't let me choose what OS to load
The stupid Aspire One's default Grub didn't let me choose among the OS's I defined in the /boot/grub/grub.conf.

Everybody says RTFM so I did so and there you read to never use grub-install script and better do it through the grub shell. Well root and setup commands aren't enough to fix the boot problem.

I backed up my mbr first and then issued

grub-install /dev/sda

Then I got the normal desired grub behaviour.

I feel the default Grub installed in the netbook is a trimmed one that doesn't have the so called grub stages and therefore Grub behaves strangely because of this.

Divx movies aren't played
In my case mplayer (the media player installed) couldn't handle this type of media files. I had to manually update the player as they weren't any Acer update to do so. As I forgot the steps needed I just point you to this web site

How can I backup linpus?
Acer offers you a dvd that you can use to create a healing boot usb to restore your system to the original state, something not very desirable in case you did important changes to the system you wouldn't like to miss.

In order do a backup of the system I used the versatile program partimage included in System Rescue CD. The advantage of this software is that it gets a full snapshot of your system similarly to what Norton Ghost does. The process is essentially the following:
  • Create a System Rescue USB drive.
  • Boot you aspire one and select you want to start the system from the USB and after a few minutes you will be facing the prompt screen of Sysrescue.
  • Now its time to issue partimage command in order to backup the drive where linpus is installed:
partimage -z1 -d -b save /dev/sda1 sda1_backup
  • I would suggest to backup your Master Boot Record as well, this can be achieve by using
dd if=/dev/sda of=mbr.bin
  • The backup process would be finished. Now in case you need to restore the image you previously created following this steps you need to boot with the sysrescue usb again and execute the command.
partimage -z1 -f3 -b restore /dev/sda1 sda1_backup.000
Note, its possible the partimage will warn you about the /dev/sda1 partition not being correct, just ignore this warning. The trailing 000 in the restoration command is because partimage will split files.

How can I update bios?

BIOS updates allow you to have the Aspire Ones fan less noisy, the latest one (by the time of this writing is v3309) comes with a gui that is executable by a Windows XP/BartPE. Thus you don't necessarily have to format your pendrive with freedos as many howtos say.

Aspire One related links

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