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Kubuntu Chronicles: A Tale of Two Laptops

1:06 am PHT

Guess what? I have finally taken the plunge and switched to Linux, specifically Kubuntu, as my primary operating system on my main home computer. Although I am using Eeebuntu (now known as Aurora) on my netbook and I work with Slackware at the office, my operating system on my main home computer had always been Microsoft Windows (Windows 98, Windows XP, and Windows 7).

After considering long and hard on how I have been using my computer, I realized that Windows is really not that crucial for me. Most of my computer time is spent surfing the Web and you really don’t need Windows for that, just a very good cross-platform browser. And for the times I’m not surfing the Web, I mainly do graphic design and web design and development. For Web development, my platform of choice is Linux, so choosing it should be natural. For Web and graphic design, Wine can let me run my favorite Windows programs.

Kubuntu Chronicles will be an irregular series of blog posts documenting significant things I see while using Kubuntu as my main operating system. This first post will be about the hardware since the story provides a very good background towards my Linux choice.

Purchasing the ASUS K40IN

I blogged last year that I was looking for a new laptop since the laptop I bought back in 2006 died on me. After researching online for weeks, I finally settled on some variant of ASUS K40IN laptop. My first laptop was an ASUS and my netbook is also from ASUS, so it might not come as a surprise that I went with yet another ASUS laptop. My research also let me come across a study that said that ASUS and Toshiba were the two most reliable laptop brands. That cemented my decision to go with ASUS.

The K40IN is basically an Intel Core 2 Duo T6600 laptop that has a discrete graphics chip (GeForce G102M) from Nvidia with 512MB of dedicated RAM (the K40IJ variant uses the built-in Intel graphics and shares RAM). It has a 14″ screen with a native resolution of 1366×768, Altec Lansing speakers, and the usual laptop features like Wi-Fi. Different flavors of the K40IN have differing amounts of RAM and hard drive capacity. Back then, I was set to buy a variant that had no OS since I was actually considering jumping to Linux. But during the week that I was to buy the laptop, ASUS came out with a variant that had Windows 7 Home Basic installed, 4GB of RAM, and 320GB of disk space with just a really modest increase in price. Since Windows 7 was receiving very good reviews and since I wasn’t really dead set on Linux, I went with Windows 7.

When I bought the laptop from Villman at SM Mall of Asia, there was also another customer who came in looking for that very same laptop. Unfortunately for him, I got that branch’s last stock.  :-P His interest convinced me that I picked well. The whole thing cost me ₱41,899. Considering that my first laptop cost me a total of ₱47,500 and that I felt that the K40IN specs exceeded my first laptop (even factoring in the 3.5 years advance in technology), I was pretty happy with my purchase.

Stolen!

As I plurked three weeks ago, that laptop was stolen. I came home late one night and saw that our home was broken into while everyone else was asleep. The most valuable stuff stolen were three laptops: mine, my sister’s Macbook, and my parent’s Dell laptop. I was thankful for two things though. First was that the robbers didn’t notice my laptop bag which was quite near my laptop. In it were my two external hard disks which contained my backups. Second was that I came home after the burglary because they might probably have also stolen my wallet and my bag containing the netbook since I place these near my laptop.

But still, I was definitely very devastated—the lowest point of this year. I wasn’t even finished with the monthly payments for that laptop. What angered me the most was all the irrevocable files. The burglary set me back 8 months. The damage was not total since I could probably download the majority of the files, but I could never get back all the lost hours spent creating the rest. Thankfully, I had an online backup of my financial spreadsheet, one of the most important files I have, though it was one month out of date.

Up till now, I still haven’t done a full accounting of the missing files. I’m dreading the spikes of sadness that I will feel whenever I realize some essential files are missing as I go about with my projects.  :-(

The newest computer: ASUS K42J

With the help of my older sister, I was able to purchase a new laptop about a week after the incident. Since all of my laptops were from ASUS, I went with an ASUS yet again. This time I went with their K42 series, which seemed like a successor to their K40 line, and specifically chose the K42J model. This model now uses the Intel Core i3–350 2.26 GHz as its processor, which is part of Intel’s new Nehalem architecture of CPUs. The RAM is only 2GB but I was monitoring my RAM usage in the previous laptop and I was averaging 1.5GB of usage so it seems like I was wasting the 4GB. In fact, I’m only averaging less than 1GB of memory in my new laptop with Kubuntu (which shows just how much a memory hog Windows is). The hard disk space got bumped up to 500GB and the discrete GPU is now ATI Radeon with 1GB of dedicated RAM. And I now have Bluetooth (though I haven’t a use for it)!

This time, I thought long and hard about my choice of OS (and the particular K42 model). ASUS has two K42 models with the same price of ₱35,900: one had Windows 7 Home Premium but no separate graphics chip while the other had a dedicated GPU but no OS. I’m not a gamer so I probably do not need a separate 3-D-capable graphics chip but then I extensively use Google Earth. In addition, I wasn’t sure if the GPU would be supported by Kubuntu. On the other hand, I looked back on my 8 months on Windows 7 and realized that I could actually live without Windows. As I’ve said, I was almost set to jump on the Linux train last year and now I chose to do so. Besides, I thought that I could purchase Windows 7 if I really need it but installing a dedicated GPU is impossible.

Curiously, when I was figuring out how to boot my laptop from USB so I can install Kubuntu, I was shocked to find out that the laptop already has Windows 7 Home Premium installed and activated (with an OEM license)! I figured that ASUS had a mix-up or something: OEMs like ASUS typically buy Windows licenses in bulk and they probably weren’t able to control the installation of Windows. Since the Windows is already activated, I probably have a legal installation, though I don’t have the installation disks, I don’t have the Genuine Windows sticker, and I didn’t pay for it. So it’s ASUS’ monetary loss.  :-P For now I left the Windows 7 as is and have a dual-boot set-up. Hehehe. I’ve committed to Linux now and I could erase the Windows partition if need be.

Anyway, I’m also quite happy with my purchase. Not only is it cheaper than the previous laptop, it has a better CPU and a larger hard disk. Right now, there are two negative things I’ve observed from the laptop. One is that it’s quite hot. The exhaust fan on the side could double as a mini-heater! I find this surprising since the Intel Core i3, i5, and i7 processors are supposed to be more power-efficient than the old Core 2 line. I guess the discrete graphics chip is the culprit? The other drawback is the speakers; it sounds worse (the bass lacks oomph) than the previous laptop despite sporting an Altec Lansing speaker as well.

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On 1:41 a.m., 18 Sep 2010, markku wrote:

Why not a MacBook?  :P

Seriously, Asus laptops and netbooks are really good with no-nonsense support. I think you got a great laptop, too bad it heats up a bit. Try checking if Kubuntu is setting your CPU right, you might be running close to 100% utilization even when idle.

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