I have inherited yet another old laptop. This time it is a lovely Compaq Presario 1800. If you have never actually seen one of these, here is how it looks like:
I have no clue what is it with my relatives and Compaq machines. I it just goes to show that Compaq was once as dominant force on the market as Dell is today. Everyone seems to have an old Compaq or two somewhere in the attic or under their bed. It’s uncanny.
Presarion 1800 is actually a huge step up from the previous two junkers that I managed to run into the ground. If you remember correctly, my Presario 1240 had a rather interesting life running Damn Small Linux, Slax, Fluxbuntu and then vanilla Ubuntu Hardy with Ratpoison. This laptop is actually way ahead in terms of specs:
- Intel Pentium III 696 MHz
- 128 MB RAM
- ATI Rage Mobility M3
- 20 GB HD
- Intel Pro/100 S Mobile LAN
The only bad thing about this machine is the fact that the battery is completely dead. So the only way it will even power up, is when you attach it to AC power. Still, compared to the TI Extensa Scholar ESS2 I was messing around not so long ago, this is like a race car. Btw, I eventually got a bare bones, CLI only linux system running on the Extensa, but it crapped out on my before I managed to get the networking figured out.
So far I haven’t done much with this machine. When I got it, it was running Windows XP. I don’t know how, but it was running it, and the performance wasn’t actually that bad. I t was sluggish, but workable. I decided to scrap it, and exchange it with something leaner and more fitting. And then I picked the most bloated and performance retarded distro ever: Xubuntu. I made that decision after seeing how XP was rather responsive on this system. I figured that if it can reliably run the bloated MS system, it should handle Xubuntu, no?
Well, it can but it ain’t pretty. First off, Xubuntu would not even boot into the live distro on this machine. This should have been a red flag, but I didn’t really pay it any attention. I used the alternative installer instead and managed to get the system running. The good news was that networking seemed to work out of the box. The machine didn’t have any on-board wifi card, and I didn’t really need one seeing how it needs to be tethered to power outlet at all times. The bad news was that it was running almost unbearably slowly.
Xubuntu has a nice polished UI but it is a power hungry abomination of a system. With only 128MB of RAM almost everything required swapping. Hell, moving my mouse a bit would usually cause grinding hard drive sounds to be heard. Launching Firefox was a 5 minute ordeal, during which the machine would almost shake from the frantic hard drive activity. It saddens me to say this, but if you have an older machine like this one, XP will actually perform better than Xubuntu. There is just nothing lean or low-end friendly about that distro – it is as bloated and resource crazy as the vanilla Gnome version. It’s just a distro for people who like Ubuntu but hate both Gnome and KDE.
One thing that I like about this system is the touch pad area:
It has little built in LCD display which was supposed to make this machine into something like a CD player. It will actually display the track you are currently playing and etc. I’m not sure if I could get it working under Ubuntu, but it would be neat if I could take it over and use it to display some arbitrary messages if possible. This will require some research.
Btw, if you look at the two blue buttons next to the mouse keys – they are my favorite thing in this whole laptop. They are essentially a scroll-wheel replacement and they worked out of the box in Xubuntu. I was able to scroll web pages up and down with them which was amazing. I always hate using touchpads on old laptops which do not implement that whole “drag finger across the edge to scroll” feature. This is brilliant. All the other buttons, except for the volume control were useless of course.
My next step is probably going to be installing a command line only Ubuntu system, and some lighweight UI. I might go with Ratpoison again. I’m not sure yet. Does anyone have suggestions? What distro should I try next?