Fedora 14 on Lenovo Thinkpad X100e with Athlon Neo MV-40
I have long held disdain for laptops. I didn’t need one for most of my life, I use paper for things that undergraduates at my university seem to require laptops for. I also have often thought of laptops as conspicuous consumption, a “thneed” that people express insanely irrational desire for. My wife and I once toured a local preschool and came to a room where some children were using a computer. Our tour guide said in a sad voice “Yes, they’re all desktops now, but we should be getting laptops really soon!” Why? Why is a laptop automatically better computer than the one they already had?
About a year-and-a-half ago, however, I bought a small, used IBM Thinkpad from a member of TriLUG for $20. This machine ran mostly well for a long time, and I found it convenient in a lot of situations, the biggest being ability to move quickly from one part of the house to another, supervising my children.
That machine, of course, had a limited lifespan. I was working on somthing when Emacs told me my /home partition was read-only. Further analysis revealed the hard drive was failing. I replaced this machine with a free ($0) machine from a friend, and although I appreciated the gift, that machine was worth about what I paid for it, so I thought of buying a new computer (for the first time in a while).
Choosing the X100e
The biggest choice to make was whether to go down the netbook road. Netbooks have come a long way since I bought my first one for my wife, one of the first EeePCs that had a number of design flaws that were corrected right after we bought it. Most “netbooks” now have 10 inch screens, and bigger keyboards. However, all the netbooks I could find in stores looked really flimsy compared to one that wasn’t called a netbook, but was still really compact: the X100e.
The X100e comes in two flavors, the single core MV-40 ($400) and a dual-core (“Elite”) version for only $100 more. For a while I was thinking that I would need the dual-core version and it was worth the price. Then I saw a video review where the reviewer plays 1080p video on the single core version and it runs beautifully. This was something that I didn’t plan on doing, so I thought I’d save myself the hundred bucks. I had a minor hesitation when I read a review that said “Don’t buy these netbooks, buy a real laptop.” I don’t want to ruin it for you, but I totally disagree with that guy: this “netbook processor” I bought runs incredibly fast.
I ordered direct from Lenovo. Here’s what came out of the box:
And here are the hilarious instructions for how to turn on the machine:
I had previously created a boot USB stick with Unetbootin. This is so much easier than it was even two years ago: I must say it was amazing. I totally didn’t expect it to work (I love free software but I’m realistic about these things, and I don’t mind a little trouble to get what I want).
I plugged in the USB stick, hit the power button and then carefully watched for the right F-key to press so I could boot from USB. I didn’t find it in time, and saw the dreaded “Starting POS…” on the screen. I hit the power button HARD! and started over again. This time I pressed F12 out of instinct, and the machine presented me with a menu: it already recognized that the USB stick was bootable. I chose that option and saw this:
That was my first “WOW!” As I said, I didn’t really expect it to work. I hit ENTER again and:
Write changes to disk? You bet yer ass! Installation took less than 10 minutes. The next order of business was to cover up that disgusting little sticker:
That’s better! And look: the X100e is so thin that it fits inside a neoprene envelope!
Before buying this machine I knew that it had a wireless NIC that is not supported by recent versions of Linux. Based on another blog post I downloaded the RealTek drivers but could get the build process to go much further. This was befuddling: make returned with an error that said “/lib/modules/$(uname -r)/build” didn’t exist, when in fact it did. Installing the kernel-headers package didn’t help. Finally nirik on #fedora set me straight: I installed kernel-devel and the build proceeded through ‘make’ and ‘make install.’
Free Software Advocacy When Buying a New Machine
I recently read a perspective that buying a “Windows 7 computer” and replacing its OS with GNU/Linux actually hurts our cause. I disagree with the author of that statement for two reasons. One is that wiping out Windows 7 on this machine means that I’m getting out there with a machine that people think of as needing Windows to run, and showing them, at the coffee shop, at the playground, at the library, in the classroom, that GNU/Linux supports every piece of hardware on this brand new machine, even though most manufacturers don’t make it a selling point. Think of how important that is when there are still people saying that when you switch to Linux[sic] you should know that hardware support is virtually nonexistent. That’s bullsh*t, but people won’t know it’s bullsh*t if we all used machines cobbled together from spare parts.
The other reason is that when the difference is between a $400 machine that I can touch and a $1400 machine that I can’t, I’m going to choose the former. Hating the hardware and loving the software on it will not make a good pitch to people who ask about the software: “Yeah I bought this from a free software-oriented OEM without being able to see it, so it runs okay, but I hate the keyboard.” I think it’s far more important to get out there with GNU/Linux and show people how well it works, even if it’s against the manufacturer’s desires (and even if those desires are the result of coercion and harassment from Microsoft). I also just have to put a ceiling on how much I’m willing to spend; one of the only reasons I decided to buy a laptop is how inexpensive they’ve become.
This may be rationalization, but I don’t believe I’m paying Microsoft very much buying this computer: I believe Microsoft makes more money from that added-on crapware (i.e. Office) that people get when they order their machines than they make from Windows. Windows is how they hook people, how they make the world believe that they are necessary. They turn a profit from selling Office to people for $400 dollars with a new machine, chosen by people who basically say “Well, we need this [Office] stuff to do anything with the computer, and we’re already paying $600, so…” I think it’s just fine to buy a computer with just Windows, and never buy another piece of Microsoft crapware. I have no need to do that when I’m running a better operating system, even if I had to install it myself (did I mention how easy that was?).