The laptop and the OS
I have an old beat up but super nice back-in-the-day Sony Vaio VGN-TZ170N that has been sitting in a drawer for a few years. This thing was pretty much a flagship machine back when it was launched in 2007, it carried an MSRP of $2,399.99.
I figure that since I never get rid of anything and living in San Francisco means that space (for normal people) is a luxury that we don’t have (let’s say family pressure is the driver), it’s time to sell this (at least try to) to someone who will appreciate it more than me.
Here is the eBay link: http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=182083511251
Here’s a quick rundown of the machine:
- CPU: Intel Core 2 Duo U7500 (1.06GHz) x64
- Screen: 11.1″ WXGA (1366×768) XBRITE-HiColor (wat)
- RAM: 2GB DDR2
- Storage: 100 GB PATA 4200 RPM (1.8″ HDD, I believe!)
- Optical: Built in DVD-RW drive!
- GFX: Intel GMA950
- Chipset: Mobile Intel 945GMS Express.
- VRAM: Shared
- Comms: Modem (v92), gigabit LAN, wireless LAN (Intel PRO 4965AGN), bluetooth, i400 firewire, 2 USB, 1 VGA, 1 docking conector, 1 headphone, 1 microphone
- Expansion: 1x ExpressCard /34 slot
- Built in webcam, and SD (plus Sony memory stick) card reader, fingerprint sensor.
- Weight: 2.7 lbs
- Dimensions: 10.9″ x 7.8″ x 0.8-1.17″ (this thing is SMALL – unbelievable how much is packed into it, even today never mind 2007).
- Windows Vista Business COA on the underside.
Looks like you can even pick up a replacement (or additional 6 cell battery for $22 now.
While the RAM slot is accessible from the underside, it doesn’t look possible to upgrade it beyond the 2GB limit (maybe there is a 4G DDR2 SODIMM that would work? I don’t have one to try).
First, I grabbed a copy of Vista Business and installed it via the internal optical drive (nice!). This took *forever*, and was over 4 CDs. Once I got into Windows after waiting about 2 days to install Windows updates, I then went on a quest to kill all the background processes that jam the CPU at 100%.
End result? Machine back in the drawer for another 2 years.
I knew that there were various distributions of Linux that are aimed at low spec, or low performance systems. Since I’ve always been an Ubuntu guy, I decided to start there. The aim of this post isn’t to review the top options of lightweight Linux – I simply don’t have enough time. I can say that at some point I must have installed Kubuntu 14.04, I powered it up, there it was – works great. Uses a bit too much RAM for my liking (about half gone at boot), I started looking into other options to prep this for eBay.
The machine’s hard drive is pretty slow, and I’m also burning these to CD, so I can’t really be assed spending a long time trying them all out. Here’s a non-scientific conclusion of what I considered over the course of an hour or two:
I did look at Lubuntu as a more lightweight replacement for Kubuntu, and that’s what started this whole thing..
Super lightweight and looks ideal for purpose. However, the choice of applications preinstalled are typically considered lighter versions. For example, no LibreOffice.
Generally, the consensus seems to be that it feels a bit too lightweight or barebones. This doesn’t freak me out, as I’d install what I want to, but for eBay purposes, I moved on.
Very Mac OSX like. However, I’ve read that it’s heavy on RAM. When you only have 2GB of RAM to play with and an old 4200 RPM drive, I think disk swapping is something that needs to be avoided..
Looks like a nice out of the box desktop, but the website put me off. Just sayin..
LXLE (Linux Extra Life Extension)
This was actually my first choice, after looking at Lubuntu!
It’s basically touting itself as Lubuntu but with everything you need configured and customized out of the box to be a nice workstation/desktop. I downloaded this one, 64bit (I know, only 2G ram..)
It’s basically Lubuntu but with the best/useful up-to-date applications, beautiful aesthetics, and a polished user interface. It’s supposed to be a drop-in replacement for Windows, as a desktop.
It did annoy me that the base image was 1.47G and not within CD-R limits. However, old PC might mean old Internet. I just would have rather had a 2 CD option versus 1 DVD.
Lots of good reviews and buzz around this. I had already settled on LXLE and cut a disc, I didn’t fancy a reinstall. I actually really like the look and sound of this OS.
Download & Preparation
First, I had to figure out a way to burn the ISO to disc. Let’s use the Sony and the Kubuntu installation.
Since I pre-downloaded it on my Macbook Air, I uploaded it to the NAS and grabbed it from there. I have to say it was much slower downloading it from the NAS than it was uploading it (and my Air doesn’t have ac wireless).
Approximately a third of the way done, the system looks OK. Interestingly, CPU software interrupts seems pretty high.
Looking further into this, it looks like it’s the timer (IRQ 0), there’s not much I can do about that. I guess this is just related to using an old machine, and not really worth tuning.
I do note that the system fan has kicked in, Firefox is taxing the machine. No real slowdowns noticed, though.
Eventually, a cup of tea later, it’s time to write the ISO to disc. I’ve not really had much of a requirement for optical discs or drives for quite a few years now, so I’ve still had the same pack of DVD-Rs for easily over 5 years. Interestingly, they all seem to have some weirdness to them now. I’m not sure if you can see this, but here’s a photo:
I’m not holding out much hope for a 9 year old machine being able to burn a 5+ year old disc, but it’s worth a shot.
Looks like it worked fine. Verified OK, and disc verification in LXLE menu was OK too. Man, I don’t even want to sell this. 🙂
Took about 5 minutes to load past the loading screen. Be free, Be open! .. Wifi connected fine.
- 20 minutes to get to “Installation is complete” message.
We’re in business!
Overall it’s pretty snappy. LibreOffice worked ok, I was able to do some basic things in terminal and used Seamonkey to perform a speedtest.net run (so Flash works OK too).
Hardware (out of the box)
- Audio: OK
- Wifi: OK
- Bluetooth: Looks OK in dmesg, didn’t test further
- Optical drive: OK
- GSM modem: Looks OK in dmesg, didn’t test further
- LAN: looks OK in dmesg, didn’t test further
- iee1394/firewire: Looks OK in lspci, didn’t test further.
- Fingerprint reader: Looks OK in lsusb, didn’t test further
- Camera: Looks OK in lsusb, no driver installed.
- Blue FN key presses; some work OK
- Volume up/down OK
- Mute OK, doesn’t un-mute
- Brightness does nothing
- Page Up/Page down OK
- Home/End OK
- Didn’t test the others.
- Right hand side of touchpad for scrolling works well.
CPU gets high, pretty much any time you do anything with the browser. It doesn’t seem to slow down the OS really from a user experience perspective, though. Right now, I guess anti-virus updates happened, and it’s using 100% of a single core doing regular updates. Overall, a nice little compact Linux laptop.
Battery life test will be difficult, it’s going to take a while to finish charging. I’m not really sure if it even still holds a charge.
Browsing generally feels OK, and modern. Youtube plays a music video smooth with no skips, although CPU is high. Works full screen too.
Now I didn’t expect Netflix to work, and I wasn’t disappointed. Before I started streaming, just after I logged in, RAM usage spiked enough to start swapping ~100MB. Once I tried to start streaming, it threw an error saying HTML5 support was needed. I guess Seamonkey doesn’t have support / correct support. Quick Google seems to show this as a known problem. I launched the Lubuntu Software Center, and grabbed Firefox from there. No dice, same issue.
Charging the battery took a long time; It’s 88% now and wants 27 minutes to fill. It was 0% (and off for years) when I started this. I switched out for a 16V 4a adapter I have from the 16V 2.2a and it only dropped to 25 minute charge time from 27 – I guess it just takes a while to charge. From 89% to empty, it’s giving an estimate of 3h 51m remaining. It looks like this thing still holds a charge!
- Started on battery at 17:54
- Had a game of DreamChess .. still 89%
- Game of CriticalMass still 89%
- I am now editing the remainder of this blog post from the laptop itself via Seamonkey. Works well, the screen is really nice.
- Down to 87% remaining and an estimate of 3 hours.
- Still only using 20% cpu and 450MB RAM.
- Have 4 desktop spaces open, with just the Seamonkey browser on one half of the screen. The keyboard is still pretty nice to type on, except for me having a missing tab key cap.
- Pandora is playing in another tab now, through the speakers at 50%. CPU 16.3%, RAM 553MB (27%) – pretty impressive memory footprint, really. 86% battery.
- Went back up the blog post and edited the section adding in the blue FN key info. Down to 84%. Pandora must be dragging the battery down a bit now.
- Opened the software center to see what games I can download..
- Descent 1 Rebirth
- Freedroid RPG
- Even while installing packages, Pandora didn’t skip, and I was still able to type and edit this post.
- Pandora wanted me to sign in, so I launched the built-in Guayadeque Music Player to stream some radio instead.
- 78% after the software all installed.
- Freedoom: silky smooth
- Freedroid RPG – what is this game? I love it.
- FreeCol ground the machine to a halt. I guess Java is a no-no. Rebooting, going to try again. 75% battery when I get back into desktop.
- FreeCol starts but when I try to click past the introduction video, it sorta just hangs. I gave it a good 60 seconds to sort itself out before I got impatient and rebooted again.
- It’s now 18:36 and I’m back on the Macbook to edit the blog.
- FreeCiv.. works great, still 73%
- Descent 1 doesn’t start
- Heading back to the software store to find some more intensive games. Installing quite a lot actually, 3G of stuff downloaded, 5G installed. I killed the radio at the start of installation too.
- After installing and playing a bunch of games.. generally what you could say “heavy use”, at 20:20, there’s 25% battery (estimate 1h 4m remaining).
- 89% to 25% battery – 2h 25m of heavy use.
- Charge estimate of 25% to full – 3h 18m
- Not bad at all for a laptop nearly a decade old.
- Boot time: 1m 20s (usable as soon as desktop appears with no slowdown)
- Shutdown time:
- Wifi performance: 23Mb down/50Mb up
- Usable for: basic web browsing, remote administration, Linux development, open source gaming, portability, those times where you need old port connectivity and optical drive in a nice tiny package – almost impossible to find now…
…and we’ll call it a day.