Swapping Windows 8 for Linux Mint, openSuSE, and Fedora on my new netbook

Swapping Windows 8 for Linux Mint, openSuSE, and Fedora on my new netbook

Summary: I've just bought a new Aspire One 725 Acer sub-notebook/netbook - here's my take and my adventures loading it with three different flavours of Linux.

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I picked up a wonderful new sub-notebook over the weekend, but this one has some history behind it that is worth explaining first.

When I bought my Acer Aspire One 522 a little over a year ago (November 2011, see original blog post here) I came very close to returning it because the screen resolution was only 1,024x600. But even in the first few hours of using and loading Linux on it, I was so impressed with it that I decided to keep it, and I've been pleased with it ever since.

Last week I saw an Aspire One 725 on sale here, for 399 Swiss francs (about £280), and the specifications said that it had the new AMD C-70 CPU (my AO522 has a C-60), more memory, and a larger disk. Now, these are some good reasons to get a new system!

I went to look at it and found that one of the major electronic shops here also happens to be offering a discount on all Acer laptops, so I ended up buying one for about 325 francs (just under £230). That's a heck of a good deal for what has turned out to be a heck of a good sub-notebook. (Note to Swiss readers: Tthe Acer discount is on offer until Sunday, 24 March) The specifications of the unit I bought are:

  • AMD C-70 1GHz dual-core CPU

  • 4GB DDR3 memory

  • 500GB SATA disk

  • Radeon HD 7290 graphic controller

  • 11.6-inch 1,366x768 display

  • Realtek 10/100 wired network adapter

  • Broadcom 4313 wi-fi b/g/n adapter

  • HDMI and VGA ports

  • 1x USB 3.0, 2x USB 2.0 ports

  • SD/MMC/xD/MemoryStick slot

Wow, that is very impressive, especially at that price. I can only see a few negatives:

  1. No Bluetooth (I can live without it)

  2. No gigabit wired network, only 10/100 (I seldom use wired anyway)

  3. Preloaded with Windows 8 (sigh).

Be careful about these specifications and the price: There is another model of the Aspire One 725 also on sale here at a slightly lower price, with only 2GB of memory and a 320GB disk.

That might be sufficient for those who don't need quite so much memory and disk space, and with the 15 percent discount, that model is going to be under 300 francs. The different models are probably identified by the alphabet soup that follows the 725 model number, but deciphering that is beyond me; check the specs on the box carefully to be sure which you are getting.

When I unpacked it, I was immediately struck by the size and weight (small and light). I consider this to be in the same category as the HP Pavilion dm1-4310 (see my blog post about that model), and the difference is clear:

  • Aspire One 725: 28.5x20.2x2.3cm, 1.2kg

  • HP dm1-4310: 29.2x21.5x3.2cm, 1.6kg

That's a big difference, and when you are holding them both in your hands, you can really see it and feel it. Don't get me wrong, I still like the HP dm1 a lot, and it has a lot going for it. But if your criteria is size and weight, the AO725 is the clear winner. Oh, the AO725 also seems to run much cooler, as the cooling fan is on much less often than the HP dm1. Now obviously, the C70 CPU is much less powerful than the E2-1800 and thus produces less heat, so this isn't a surprise, but it is worth mentioning.

Acer Aspire One 725
Lid closed, the Acer Aspire One 725 is less than an inch thick. (Image: Acer)

More pros and cons on the physical design and appearance: It is actually a bit nicer than the Aspire One 522. They have put a bit more effort into adding some shaping and curves around the edges and around the keyboard. It has a real touchpad with real buttons, not the dreaded "ClickPad" (which would have ruled it out for me anyway). The keyboard is probably the only thing I would complain about, the keys are absolutely flat and the feel is a bit mushy. The touchpad "buttons" are a single bar positioned on the front edge of the palm rest, which I don't much care for, but they seem to work reliably.

The variety of ports and interfaces on this unit is pretty impressive as well. First, it has an HDMI port, which I use when connecting to a television to show pictures, and a VGA plug. It has one USB 3.0 port and two USB 2.0 ports, which is becoming more important as more 3.0 devices are becoming available. It has a memory card slot which will take not only SD/xD/MMC cards, but also MemoryStick and MemoryStick Pro; this is a nice touch and still not all so common for notebooks in this class.

Acer Aspire One 725
Back view; the right side ports are audio in/out, USB, and power. (Image: Acer)

That's enough about the hardware, let's move on to the operating system. It came preloaded with Windows 8, which needed to be booted and configured — that took quite a long time slogging around, but eventually it finished.

Then I needed to make a rescue copy, because I am pretty likely to wipe Windows off this machine either intentionally, accidentally, or out of disgust.

The Acer Rescue Manager will make this backup to a USB stick, rather than DVD disks, which is nice. The sales clerk in the shop said that I needed at least a 16GB stick for this, and the Rescue Manager program said the same. Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be large enough, because when I tried it with a 16GB stick, it ran until the progress bar got a fraction from the end &mash; and then just stopped. No message, no error, no crash, no stop, no nothing.

Then I tried with a 32GB stick, and that worked just fine. Sigh. Once Windows was loaded and configured, I went in to the disk/partition management program and told it to shrink its partition as much as possible. That gave me back about 230GB of the disk, which is more than enough for the moment. The disk has a GPT partition table, so it is not necessary to fiddle with "Extended Partitions" and "Logical Paritions", and I didn't have to worry that Windows and Acer had already "used up" the only four available "Primary" partitions. Nice.

Acer Aspire One 725
Front view; left side ports are USB, HDMI, RJ45, and VGA. (Image: Acer)

The Aspire One 725 has a UEFI BIOS with Secure Boot enabled by default. There are a couple of Acer-specific things that are important to know here. First, the boot-select option is disabled by default, you have to go into the BIOS setup (press F2 during boot) and then change that to enabled before you can boot a Live USB stick.

Second, you can only disable Secure Boot if you have set a BIOS password. Yes, I really meant that — go back and read it again if you want, I'll wait. Grrr. Who does that make sense to? What is the logic there?

There is certainly nothing else in the BIOS, the BIOS help screens, or the documentation that came with it which says that this is the case. I was only lucky enough to know it because someone mentioned it in the comments in one of my previous posts about UEFI booting. So if you want to disable Secure Boot, you first have to define a BIOS password. Sigh.

Well, this might not be all that critical anyway because both openSuSE 12.3 and Fedora 18 have UEFI Secure Boot compatible Live images, so you can boot them without having to disable it.

That was what I did, booting and installing both of those, and it all worked without a hitch.

This was where things got really fun and interesting, both openSuSE and Fedora installed perfectly, including setting up UEFI Secure Boot on the new installations, and they both recognized, configured, and supported everything right out of the box.

Starting at the top with CPU frequency stepping, shown to be working with the lscpu command. I am happy with the FOSS Radeon drivers, so I didn't bother trying to load the proprietary AMD (fglrx) drivers. The wired and wireless network adapters work just fine, and it connected to my home wi-fi with no trouble. The Fn-keys for volume up/down/mute, brightness up/down/off, touchpad disable/enable, and even Sleep/Resume all work! Oh, and speaking of the touchpad, two-finger scrolling works.

Acer Aspire One 725
Lid open; the Acer Aspire One 725 is amazingly thin. (Image: Acer)

Of course, it is also possible to install Linux distributions that do not yet have Secure Boot support, or even do not have EFI boot support.

One of the more popular in this category is Linux Mint 14, which I have also already installed. To do this, you have to change the BIOS from UEFI boot to Legacy boot, and then boot the Mint Live image. From that point on, installation is routine, and once again, everything works.

I did learn one other useful trick while installing and testing these three distributions.

The openSuSE Grub2-efi installation is actually able to boot not only openSuSE itself, but any other Linux installed, both EFI and legacy boot, and even Windows as well.

In my previous experimentation with UEFI and Secure Boot, I found that Fedora can't do that, so I had installed rEFInd to manage the boot selection. Now, though, I can configure the openSuSE grub.cfg to boot EFI images and "normal" linux kernel and initrd images, so it is possible to use it to manage the boot selection, and not have to bother installing rEFInd.

On top of that, rEFInd doesn't work with Secure Boot (well, it should according to the notes and description, but I haven't been able to figure it out), so by using grub2-efi this way, I can leave UEFI and Secure Boot enabled.

What else is there to say about the Aspire One 725? I think it is obvious how pleased I am with it. Compared to my netbook systems, the difference between a 10-inch display with 1,024x600 resolution and an 11.6-inch display with 1,366x768 resolution is huge.

Compared to my other sub-notebook, the difference in size and weight are also very significant.

The AO725 really seems to have hit the "sweet spot", and best of all, it is running every version of Linux that I load on it flawlessly. If it just had a keyboard with a bit of contour to the keys and better tactile feedback, it would be perfect.

Prices

There are currently no prices available for this product.

Topics: Open Source, Laptops, Linux, Windows 8

J.A. Watson

About J.A. Watson

I started working with what we called "analog computers" in aircraft maintenance with the United States Air Force in 1970. After finishing military service and returning to university, I was introduced to microprocessors and machine language programming on Intel 4040 processors. After that I also worked on, operated and programmed Digital Equipment Corporation PDP-8, PDP-11 (/45 and /70) and VAX minicomputers. I was involved with the first wave of Unix-based microcomputers, in the early '80s. I have been working in software development, operation, installation and support since then.

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115 comments
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  • Only Fast Ethernet ?

    7.0

    It's a bit stingy that they don't give you gigabit ethernet.
    Alan Smithie
    • Agreed

      Yes, I thought this too. I can easily justify it by saying that I very seldom use wired ethernet on any of my netbooks, but honestly, how much could they be saving in production cost by doing this? I would love to know the decision process which led to this.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

      jw
      j.a.watson@...
  • Good to read about a netbook

    7.0

    To me the competing devices for netbooks are tablets, not full sized laptops. Netbooks cost less and to my mind work better. I recently took a long train trip with my older Atom N270 Acer ($180 at the time), surrounded by tablets. Those were either hand held or inflexibly propped on the meal tray with users tilting their necks and uncomfortably pawing on them, while the netbook sat securely with a full keyboard and screen tilted to a comfortable angle. I envy the specs on the writer's model but it costs twice what mine did.

    As for Linux, I'm dual booting W7 with older Lubuntu 10.10, which runs blazingly fast. My experience with recent Linux distros based on more recent kernel and desktop environments is that while they are slicker and in some ways easier to figure out, their performance is about the same as W7 on a low spec machine.
    I2k4
    • Running Linux mint 14 XFCE on an n270 with gma950 no dramas

      7.0

      I too was an avid lubuntu supporter during the pre-ubuntu days. And lxde in general for that matter. However I have found ov the last year and a bit XFCE has really gained some ground. It used to run lighter than lxde but with a bit less function, I'd say they are now pretty equal. I'd definitely recommend giving it a go.

      For real performance, I've found puppy to be an excellent choice on a netbook, especially as it slightly reduces battery usage by cutting out disk access.

      Personally, I can't speak for the the w7 comparison, unless you had starter? I've run ultimate on my netbook (now replaced by 8) and I'd say it really needs a 2gb chip. Whilst ubuntu, suse, etc will hit around 600mb ram with 3 tabs ff, libre office writer and banshee running, win 7 running ie 3 tabs, windows media player, and office word starts to get a bit pagefile-y on a 1gb chip. I'd really recommend a ram upgrade for windows 7/8.
      MarknWill
    • Performance

      10.0

      My observations on performance differ ... RAM usage under linux is often less than half of W7.

      Nice article. Good info on Grub2-efi ... thanks.
      BrentRBrian
  • Swapping Windows 8 for Linux Mint, openSuSE and Fedora on my new netbook

    1.0

    Wasn't worth the time to remove Microsoft Windows 8 from the laptop. SJVN told us you can't install linux with UEFI. You had to go out of your way just to get linux installed. We all know that linux only has the bare minimum of functionality of drivers so you won't get complete sound, harddrive RPMs, and other peripherals. Its going to be fun having the slowest gaming system in town and playing only one sound at a time. Even though that UEFI is there for your protection I can't help but think of how linux is still vulnerable through the telnet port. Oh well, better luck on the next OS.
    Loverock-Davidson
    • Stick with windows

      Loverock, you should just stick to reading Windows articles. At least then your positive 100% of the time. Why even read a article about Linux when you disagree with it 100% of the time? Stay a happier person and don't click on any articles which mention Linux. That way everyone will be happier.
      Koopa Troopa
    • you don't read do you.

      Even though UEFI is a major pain, Linux can be booted.

      And hardware compatibility even higher than MS.

      It has been 10 years since "one sound at a time" has been true, even then, playing one sound was a problem for certain hardware.
      jessepollard
      • Hardware compatibility better with Linux?

        Oh, on contrary, I don't use Mint on my D630 because for my modern printer/scanner/MFC only the printer will work. Getting Vmware View to work proved to be impossible, getting my camera to be recognized never worked.

        I own fairly modern peripheral, granted the Dell D630 is a bit older. I had Win7 already then created a dual put with Mint 13....didn't work out so well with Linux. But 7, everything works.

        To be fair, Mint boots faster so if all I want is to surf, its is just fine.
        Raid60
        • You bought a Win-peripheral -- You should have known better.

          Yes, you really should have known better. We've been through this before, with Win-modems, Win-printers, and more recently, Win-wifi.

          It's a red-flag sign that the manufacturer has at least been lazy -- if not worse (this is especially true, if it's not an obviously bottom-rung cheap-o pruduct, and you paid a lot for it).

          If your peripheral doesn't work with whatever system you connect it to, it's sub-standard.
          bswiss
          • It works as designed/advertised...

            "If your peripheral doesn't work with whatever system you connect it to, it's sub-standard."

            Ent-itled much? Here I thought the back-and forth pointing of fingers between the OS makers and the peripheral manufacturers was only a Windows thing.

            If it works as the manufacturer designed it and advertised it, then it does what you paid for it to do. That you want to use it in an unsupported fashion isn't a failing of the manufacturer, it is a failing of you.
            daftkey
    • He only said it was difficult

      1.0

      Note that the three distros Jamie used all have support for Secure Boot.
      John L. Ries
    • Huh

      "You can't install linux with UEFI." Yet he managed to do just that.

      "We all know that linux only has the bare minimum of functionality of drivers so you won't get complete sound, harddrive RPMs, and other peripherals." Except that wasn't his experience - with three distros, no less.

      What article were *you* reading? I think you're on the wrong website.
      justthisguyyouknow
    • shutdown now -h Loverock-Davidson

      1.0

      Since you apparently cannot read I'll post the Editors Linux install experience for you again:

      "and best of all, it is running every version of Linux that I load on it flawlessly"

      Now go back to bed with your Chair Throwing Boss Mr. Red faced Balmer
      Loverock-Davidson.

      Better yet the Editor needs to boot you off of ZDNET permanently!

      I am sure that I speak for everyone who has ever read your lies and
      crap before.
      ITJohnguru
    • Loverock-Davidson

      3.0

      Thank-you for your input but as you've never used Linux, how would you know?
      Agnostic_OS
  • The Aspire One 725 is NOT a netbook

    3.0

    From the article:
    "AMD C-70 1GHz Dual core cpu
    "4GB DDR3 memory
    "11.6" 1366x768 display

    You're giving the GNU/Linux desktop a bad name with these articles. Why are you replacing Windows 8 with GNU/Linux? And why do you need to replace Windows 8 with three (3) GNU/Linux distros? What does any one of Linux Mint, openSuSE and Fedora give you that the other two don't?
    Rabid Howler Monkey
    • Likely he wants something that actually works

      7.0

      Freedom of choice perhaps?

      All three are roughly equivalent, so personal preference easily makes a difference.
      jessepollard
      • RE: "Likely he wants something that actually works"

        Works with what?! Microsoft Office? Adobe Creative Suite? AutoDesk AutoCAD? Intuit's financial software?

        From the article:
        "Preloaded with Windows 8 (Sigh)

        Sigh? Buy a Mac. Either online (both new and refurbished), at a local Apple Store or at an authorized reseller (both new and refurbished). Linux Torvalds has been known to purchase a Mac Mini and, more recently, a Macbook Air. Or buy a Linux preload from one of the vendors on this list:

        http://linuxpreloaded.com/

        Also from the article:
        "I am pretty likely to wipe Windows off this machine, either intentionally, accidentally or out of disgust...

        Out of disgust? Again, buy a Mac. Or a Linux preload.

        For Linux users that despise Windows, there's plenty of choice today.
        Rabid Howler Monkey
        • For Linux users that despise Windows, there's plenty of choice today.

          Not really, in my country the only choice you have is either buy a Mac (which are expensive) or buy a bare bones PC (but what if you want a laptop?) so the best option is to go into a retail store that's having a sale and buy a windows laptop, then wipe windows and install Linux, that way you get a much larger choice in hardware too.
          guzz46
          • New Zealand?

            http://zareason.com/shop/about.html
            "Our Australiasia shop in Wellington, NZ is now open: zareason.co.nz

            " Upcoming ZaReason Locations:
            Next: LONDON
            Then:
            Canada, Toronto
            Finland, Helsinki
            New Zealand, Wellington
            Australia, Melbourne
            Ireland, Dublin
            New York, Manhattan
            Italy, Naples
            Germany, Breman
            France, Le Havre
            Brazil
            South Africa

            ZaReason sells laptops, desktop and servers.

            http://zareason.co.nz/home.php
            Rabid Howler Monkey