mok0's world

Ubuntu on the Dell Mini 10 (3)

Posted in Dell Mini 10, Ubuntu by mok0 on May 27, 2009

A few people have asked if the psb X driver is stable running under jaunty. It is indeed… rock stable. So now that’s established, let’s move on to something else.

I really want the Dell to be a “mini-laptop” so I originally installed the ubuntu-desktop package. But I’ve felt that the response was a bit sluggish. The menus were just a few fractions of a second to appear, they kind of “rolled” on instead of just appearing etc. Not much, but enough to make it annoying.

So a few days ago, I installed Xubuntu, and it’s brilliant! It made a true, noticeable difference in response. The Mini 10 now appears really snappy! Xubuntu makes use of the XFCE4 window manager, it’s lightweight compared to the Gnome environment, but still comes with a bunch of applications like terminal, text editor, etc. etc. I am truly impressed with the amazing installation the Xubuntu team has created!

I must admit, I am a bit shameful, because I never thought of Xubuntu as a “real” distribution… just one that could be used on really old and slow hardware. Boy was I wrong!

The default setup of the Xubuntu desktop, as designed by the Xubuntu team, is almost exactly like the default Gnome desktop in Ubuntu. I bet you could exchange someones desktop and (s)he would hardly notice any difference. All the functionality is there, and it’s just as elegant. An additional bonus for those who don’t like Ubuntu’s human theme with its brown/beige colors, Xubuntu’s default color scheme is pretty bluish, very light on the eyes.

I’ve been running with Xubuntu for a few days now. One thing that I’ve noticed — also when running ubuntu-desktop — is that the way the default desktop is set up, with panels at the top and bottom of the screen is not well suited for the Mini 10’s wide 16:9 display. What you really need is screen real estate in the vertical direction, because you tend to scroll a lot, for example in Firefox. On my Kubuntu workstation, I have a 27″ Samsung SyncMaster wide screen, and there I can use the width of the screen to have two applications running side-by-side. But the Mini 10’s monitor is really too tiny to do that.

Another thing is that the desktop looks exactly like that of a workstation, with everything scaled down to a tiny size. It looks neat, but for most people — and especially netbook users who are not familiar with Linux — it’s probably not the best setup.

So, I have played a littlebit today with reorganizing the desktop layout, to make it something of an in-between of UNR and the standard desktop. Here is what I’ve come up with:

Xubuntu running a la UNR

Xubuntu running a la UNR

The panels now appear on the left and right edges of the screen, where there is plenty of real estate. The left panel is “controlling”. At the top is the “Applications” menu, then the snapshot applet I used to make the screenshot (really doesn’t belong there). Third and fourth from the top is “Places” and “Help”, which are also on the standard top panel. Next is the desktop switcher (you really need lots of desktops with this small screen). At the bottom is the applet to hide all the application windows, so you can get to the launcher icons on the root.

The right panel is “informational”. From the top, a clock, a weather applet, the notification window (with Ubuntu One, battery, wifi and bluetooth monitors), and finally at the bottom (not visible on the screenshot) I’ve put the icon box showing running apps on that desktop.

The root window has some applications grouped in “Network”, “Office” and “System” areas. With a customized wallpaper image with labels and squares this could be elaborated even further. I have no need for that though :-).

I am very pleased with the setup as it has developed so far. I think Xubuntu, installed with lpia architecture packages, and with a simplified desktop theme is very close to the ideal setup for a netbook. Perhaps something to consider for the Xubuntu team? An XUNRR package? (Xubuntu UNR Revisited :-))

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24 Responses

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  1. jiri said, on May 27, 2009 at 18:42

    could you elaborate on xpsb being rock stable? Is it possible to watch fullscreen videos at a reasonable framerate? Is glx working on your notebook? Are you running compiz and playing opengl games?

  2. Fabian Rodriguez said, on May 28, 2009 at 04:25

    Using the alternate LPIA installer + whatever package should work just fine. I still don’t understand why anyone would install anything else than LPIA from alternate + packages on any Atom-based netbooks.

    Let us know if you try it.

    • mok0 said, on May 28, 2009 at 17:21

      Well, the reason is (as discussed below) that Ubuntu recommends UNR for installation on Atom based Netbooks, but UNR is only available for the i386 arch. You have to be experienced to disregard that advice and use the alternate installer or install the MID image like I did.

  3. Weboide said, on May 28, 2009 at 13:44

    I agree with you Fabian, that’s even why I reported a bug against UNR to ask them to make a LPIA version of UNR. (see https://bugs.launchpad.net/ubuntu/+bug/366025)

    I think I also need to try Xubuntu on my HP Mini 1000.

    • mok0 said, on May 28, 2009 at 17:17

      That’s great! I’ve subscribed to the bug and it to “This bug affects me too” — I encourage everyone to do the same. (The LP interface is a bit akward, you have to find the bit of text that says “This bug doesn’t affect me” and then click on the “(change)” link.)

  4. Weboide said, on May 28, 2009 at 13:45

    The above link to the bug report doesn’t work cause of the parenthesis, here’s the right link: https://bugs.launchpad.net/ubuntu/+bug/366025

  5. Karthik said, on May 28, 2009 at 23:07

    Hi
    Can I drag an drop application icons from Xfce menu to the panel to create new launchers or is it still still complicated.

    I loved xfce a lot but stopped using it due to that.
    Thank you

    • mok0 said, on May 29, 2009 at 11:29

      As far as I’ve found out, you can’t drag icons to the panel. You have to create a launcher and place it there. It’s a little bit slower, but then, you don’t do it that often. Same thing with the desktop… you have to right-click, and create a launcher.

      I agree those are shortcomings of xfce4. Another thing is that the application to edit the main menu is reportedly buggy and in fact not included in Xubuntu. However, newly installed apps appear automatically in the menu, so there’s no great need to edit it. I imagine the xfce devs are aware of this and working on it. To me, those a minor drawbacks compared to the drawback of the gnome desktop which is it’s sluggish response on the Mini 10.

    • Willem said, on October 10, 2009 at 13:03

      I don’t have an Xfce install close by to try it, but I’m pretty sure you can drag and drop from the xfce4-appfinder.
      If not, you can at least drag and drop from the xfce4-appfinder to the new launcher dialogue to fill in all the details automatically.

  6. Jordan said, on June 10, 2009 at 06:41

    That’s funny — I’ve been reading your blog waiting on my Mini 10 and preparing to mess with the drivers to get it working, and in the meantime was playing with a Mini 9 trying various options and environments out and came to the same conclusion.

    Xubuntu is great! It’s really perfect for a netbook too, I’m extremely happy as well. One way I recover real-estate is by setting the toolbar to automatically hide (something I don’t usually do).

  7. Steve said, on July 2, 2009 at 20:26

    Hi, Thanks for the posting. I just got a Mini 10 and would like to wipe XP and install Ubuntu…but then I ran across your posting and I’d like to try Xubuntu instead.

    I’m generally new to Linux (I’ve done some basic installs on a desktop, but I’m no expert) Could you give a little more detail on how to add the LPIA architecture package support once I’ve installed Xubuntu?

    Thanks!

    • Steve said, on July 2, 2009 at 20:43

      Nevermind, I just realized Kubuntu is just Ubuntu with the KDE packages….sorry for the newbie question :–)

    • mok0 said, on July 5, 2009 at 12:57

      Once you have installed Ubuntu (or any of its derivatives) you’ve fixed the architecture, so unless you install lpia from the outset, there’s nothing you can do to change it.

      However, if you follow the link posted by Weboide above, it seems that the official support for the lpia architecture has been dropped ( https://bugs.launchpad.net/ubuntu/+bug/366025 ). So, at this point, the recommendation is to install the i386 release even on the Intel Atom platform.

  8. Stea|th said, on July 5, 2009 at 23:57

    I have Ubuntu LPIA currently installed, and I’m thinking about trying Xubuntu (I have a Mini10 too).
    You say the interface is faster than gnome, but did you see an improvement in term of video playback with Xubuntu?

    • mok0 said, on July 6, 2009 at 05:55

      I haven’t compared video playback performance, but I very much doubt there’s any difference, since the window manager isn’t involved.

      Btw, YouTube playback is extremely slow when you use gnash, which I had installed at first; it runs perfectly smooth with the restricted Adobe flash plugin.

  9. MK said, on July 15, 2009 at 14:22

    Hi mok0, can you clarify something please.
    Is gma500 recognized out of the box with lpia architecture?
    Was your resolution set to the correct one with lpia?

    • mok0 said, on August 16, 2009 at 12:03

      No, it’s not. You need to install the psb drivers from the ubuntu-mobile ppa, then it is recognized.

  10. Xepher said, on August 16, 2009 at 11:05

    I’ve tried nearly every variant of ubuntu I can find for 9.04, including lpia and i386, and the PSB drivers give great video, and I can play 720p beautifully… for a short time. The screen freezes up all the time, after about 15-30 minutes. The cursor continues to move just fine, but everything else freezes, and X can’t even be killed (via SSH) with kill -9. It happens if I just leave it idle with one one terminal window open, or if I’m playing video, and have 20 open, so load seems to have nothing to do with it. The X log shows nothing, nor does dmesg, or anything else I can find.

    As such, I was quite surprised to hear you describe the video drivers as “rock solid” and so I was hoping that maybe I just had bad hardware (and could get it replaced.) The dell 8.04 install has no such problem though, but the video performance on that is abysmal, and the same video that plays smoothly in 9.04 is choppy and unwatchable.

    I feel like I’m stuck between “no video, but you won’t use your work to a freeze” or “great multimedia, but reboot every 30 minutes” Is anyone else having similar issues? Any module or driver options I can give it to fix things? Sorry for the long post, but this seemed like the best place to ask.

    • mok0 said, on August 16, 2009 at 12:13

      You don’t write what machine you are having this problem on. All I can say is: I have not seen this behaviour, so what you are seeing may be hardware related. For me, the Mini 10 is very stable with Ubuntu 9.04. Occasionally, it does slow down when it’s trying to do a lot at once… it doesn’t have the worlds most powerful CPU. That’s OK with me though, I only use it for basic stuff 🙂

      Btw, Canonical is dropping official support of the lpia platform. The lpia packages will still be available for Ubuntu, but as a “port”, which is only community supported, which means that the talented Canonical developers will not be spending time ironing out specific lpia problems. Therefore, you may be better off (upgrade-wise) to select the i386 arch when you install.

      • Xepher said, on August 16, 2009 at 20:38

        I am using the Mini 10, with the GMA 500 graphics… sorry, I figured that was implied with the topic of your original entry. 🙂

        Glad to hear it’s working stably for you though, as maybe I’m just missing some key element, or maybe my hardware is actually glitching/overheating or some such and I can get it replaced. Slow I can deal with and expected… total lock-up is a game killer though.

        Yeah, I heard about lpia, though to be honest, I didn’t see much performance difference on the whole… I mostly tried it just to see if a different compile would eliminate the crash bug, but no luck, so I’m back to i386 Xubuntu at the moment.

        On a positive note, I just got the Video Acceleration API version of mplayer ( http://www.splitted-desktop.com/~gbeauchesne/mplayer-vaapi/ ) compiled for i386 under Xubuntu and it was able to play full HD mkv video with very low CPU use… video that wasn’t even playable at all with the normal XV output and psb drivers, and now it plays at 20-30% cpu load. The downside is, of course, that it locks up the screen even faster. I can do about 2 minutes of awesome video and then it does the same freeze/crash. I’m really starting to think maybe I’ve got an overheating chip in there somewhere now. As this very quickly reproduces my lock-up bug, I’m curious if anyone else has gotten VA API running on 9.04 and if you/they are having different luck. If someone can tell me that definitely works for a whole movie or some such, then I’m gonna call dell about a hardware problem. 🙂

    • Federico said, on September 17, 2009 at 14:19

      I had a similar problem on my Mini 10: the system had an annoying tendency to freeze after about one hour work… To solve that (apparently related to a bug in the driver or something like that), I also add to add the following lines into the “Device” section of /etc/X11/xorg.conf:

      Option “AccelMethod” “EXA”
      Option “DRI” “off”
      Option “MigrationHeuristic” “greedy”

      I hope this works for you as well… of course, I copied the solution from someone more experienced than me, so I’m not really able to tell you why this is working 😉

  11. DC said, on August 27, 2009 at 03:23

    My psb drivers are working reasonably well and delivering reasonably good video performance without any lock-ups (under i386). I have wanted to try mplayer-vaapi but have found the instructions cryptic (for a newbie). Any guidance on where to go to learn more about how to compile it? Will then happily share how it works (as well as compare V-API vs HW video decode under the Vista/Win7 GMA500 driver).

  12. Simon said, on June 6, 2010 at 22:23

    This post inspired me to try out xubuntu on my mini10 and it is a great experience. I wrote up the instructions to do the install on this form post
    http://www.mydellmini.com/forum/dell-mini-10-guides/21292-installing-xubuntu-10-04-mini10-usb-drive-created-windowsxp-machine.html#post157397
    Thanks mok0!

  13. Shawn said, on February 8, 2012 at 16:27

    I just installed Xubuntu on my Dell Mini 1010 and it is so much faster than windows xp. I have everything working well, but I can’t seem to get the correct resolution. Your screen shots look like your display is alot cleaner and well distributed. My screen looks fussy and the icons look stretched a little from left to right.

    How did you get the correct resolution. I get no options when I go to the system settings.


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