Eee PC 901 blackI bought a black Eee PC 901 with Linux. The 901 has an Intel Atom processor, 1 GB of RAM, a 20 GB SSD, and a 9 inch LCD. So far, I’ve been very impressed with it, except for the default Xandros-based Linux distribution.

To give you an idea of how bad it is – inserting an SD card causes it to be mounted as /media/D: to emulate Windows’ drive letters. A Linux distribution that unnecessarily Windows-like? No thanks. There’s also next to nothing available in the package manager and so far no client for Asus’ CNR-based software site. If you want to use the Eee as more than an internet appliance, you’ll likely want a different Linux distro.

For a laptop that was preloaded with Linux right out of the box, the Eee PC 901 is surprisingly unfriendly to Ubuntu 8.04. After getting around the lack of an optical drive and installing Ubuntu, you’ll find yourself with no Ethernet or Wifi support.

Distro support is getting better for the Eee PC laptops, Ubuntu 8.10 should be much more compatible. Here’s the process I went though to get Ubuntu 8.04 set up on my Eee PC 901:

  1. Boot from a USB drive or SD card to run the Ubuntu installer. I’ve already written a how-to for creating bootable Linux USB drives that you can use to install Ubuntu on the Eee PC. Pressing Esc during the Eee’s boot will bring up a menu that allows you to select to boot from USB.

    After booting into the live desktop environment Compiz should be the default window manager. If you have trouble with windows not fitting the screen, turn Compiz off for now so you can use the Alt key to pan windows.

  2. Install Ubuntu normally. The only special consideration to make during the installation is partitioning. The Eee PC 901 has a smaller SSD (sda) and a larger SSD (sdb). I used manual partitioning to place the root on the smaller SSD and /home on the larger. Don’t put a swap partition on the SSD, it’ll wear out the SSD faster than anything.

    I used the default Ext3 file system for all the partitions. The smaller 4 GB SSD just barely fits the minimum requirements, but it will fit just fine and leave you will a bit of free space even. However, if you need to install many more applications you may need to remove some that you don’t use from the default installation first.

  3. Reboot into the new installed system. If the live system has trouble shutting down, press the power button. As a last resort, hold down the power button until the Eee PC shuts off.
  4. Remove the cdrom line in fstab. The Ubuntu installer mistakenly adds the drive it was installed from to your fstab file as a CDROM. This means that SD cards (and USB drives?) will not be mounted properly.

    Open your fstab file:
    sudo gedit /etc/fstab

    Find and comment out (by adding a # to the beginning of the line) the line referencing /media/cdrom. Reboot, and you should now be able to use SD cards again.

  5. Install the custom Eee PC Linux kernel. I used a kernel created specially for Eee PC laptops, including the 901. This kernel solves most of Ubuntu’s issues with the laptop.
  6. Follow these instructions to install the new kernel without an network connection. Remember to complete the second half, adding the repository, so you stay up to date.

    After booting the Eee PC kernel, wired and wireless LAN should work. The system should also boot and perform faster thanks to the optimized kernel.

  7. Enable Bluetooth and the webcam. If you want to use the Bluetooth radio or the webcam, you’ll need to turn them on first in the BIOS. In addition, you’ll need to install a webcam application. Cheese is easy to install from the repositories and works well.

    [update] The microphone does work, but the capture volume is turned all the way down by default. Open Volume Control, and select File->Change Device->Capture ALSA PCM… to open the correct control. Turn up the volume for this device to 100%.

  8. Set up the desktop. Ubuntu’s default GNOME desktop isn’t ideal on such a small screen. Set up a single GNOME panel to save screen space. Adding a CPU scaling monitor to the panel will show that Ubuntu now supports scaling the processor speed to save power. I opened Power Management and chose the have the system sleep when I close the lid.

    Here’s what my desktop looks like now:
    Eee PC desktop

That’s about all it takes to get the Eee PC running Ubuntu with mostly everything working. I think the only thing not working are some of the function keys, which I have not bothered with yet. The battery applet estimates about 4.5 hours of battery life, which is far short of Asus’ claimed 8 hours.

Check back soon for a few more Eee PC and laptop-related posts.

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