Today, I took delivery of my new Asus EEE 901 netbook and I’m quite excited. I bought it to take along to BarCamp Leeds 2008 as my old G4 iBook is feeling a bit out of date for such a geeky gathering.
I want to get Ubuntu 8.04 installed on there with a working Apache server, PHP, Perl and MySql. This post will record my attempts to go from an unopened box to complete set up in just three hours - can it be done? Read on...
Start the clock - 18.15
First to download the Ubuntu ISO onto my desktop machine. I’ll leave that downloading whilst I open the box.
Wow, looks nice. Box contains the netbook itself, power supply and manuals but also a cleaning cloth and carry wallet (nice touch) and curiously recovery CDs, despite that the EEE 901 does not have a CD drive.
I’ll quickly boot it up and check that it all works OK in the standard configuration...
Setup is a breeze as a wizard takes you through choosing a username, password, timezone etc. Next, setting up the wifi connection by following the quick start guide. This was not so easy because my network uses a whitelist of MAC addresses, so how to find the EEE 901’s MAC address in Xandros Linux?
Without an obvious command line terminal, I hunted round the icons on offer (a good way of getting to know Xandros). It turns out that I just needed to click the "Properties" button on the network settings dialog and choose the hardware tab.
Once I’d added the netbook’s MAC to the router and entered my shared key to the 901, a DHCP lease was obtained and all was good! Hello Google.
Time check: 19:12
Wifi working? Camera working? Disks OK?
The EEE 901 comes with a diagnostic tool that checks sound recording and playback, display, networking etc so I ran through this before overwriting Xandros. Happily everything worked.
The camera gave an impressive picture and sound output was acceptable. Sound recording was pretty crackly but the microphone was definitely working.
Ubuntu Onto USB
The Ubuntu ISO has downloaded, so now I need to transfer it to my USB stick because I don’t have a USB CDROM (there’s no CD drive built into the EEE).
Using the UNetBootIn application from EEE-Ubuntu is a piece of cake, but it takes a loooooong time. Now to try and boot the EEE from USB and follow these instructions.
Installing Hardy Heron Onto The Asus EEE 901
I choose to use an Ext2 partition on the 4Gb drive as the root partition. The 16Gb drive was split into a 4Gb Ext2 partition for /var and 10Gb for /home. The separate /var is where the MySql databases will reside and Ext2 was chosen because (I read somewhere) that it uses fewer disk write operations. That leaves about 2Gb for swap.
Installing files from USB stick is quite slow and... but wait... FAIL!
A quick google suggested that I might be running out of space, which seemed odd but I shaved a few megabytes off the root partition for a bit of free space and tried again. Same failure. After trying various partition configurations and rewriting my USB stick the time has got to 21:15 - I had failed in my challenge.
The next morning I figured out the problem. The Ubuntu installer was trying to write the boot partition to a non-existent hard disk (/dev/hda) when it should have been writing to /dev/sda. The option to change this is hidden behind the “Advanced” menu on the very last page before installation begins. Change the combo and installation progresses smoothly. So now to check what is and isn’t working...
The first problem I came across was that my USB drive would not mount, giving the error “Invalid mount option”. This was an easy fix, edit /etc/fstab and comment out the last line which attempts to mount /dev/sda3 as a CDROM.
With that fixed, setting up the LAN connection was easy - just follow these instructions. I left the update manager to upgrade installed files and went to the cinema.
Aaargh! I Hate Linux Wifi!
Took me ages to sort the wireless LAN out, I tried re-compiling the kernel, adding about three different native drivers but in the end I had to go with the Windows drivers via NDISwrapper - annoying. Why do I need an Windows XP machine to extract drivers for my Linux netbook? Come on, hardware manufacturers - sort yourselves out.
Installing Apache, PHP, Perl & MySql
I love apt-get, it just makes everything so easy.
Seriously, this part of the installation was better than Windows, better than Apple, better than good! If you’ve ever been through this process before, you know what I mean - no rebooting, no messing.
The little EEE 901 was perfect for Barcamp, connecting to the free wifi at Old Broadcasting House first time. I used it to take notes, surf the net and even hack a few lines of code whilst there. It’s tiny form-factor, solid state disk and light weight made it perfect for the very dynamic environment. There were quite a few other Barcamp attendees with 901s too and we got a few jealous glances from those carrying hefty 19" MacBooks.
The Asus’s strengths could also be its weaknesses - the keyboard and trackpad are difficult to use because of their small size. I need to get a wireless mouse for it as a priority.
In all, the Asus EEE 901 does exactly what I bought it for - it’s an ultra-portable, full featured machine on the cheap. I love it!