Thursday, September 11, 2008

Usable Linux on the laptop?

Four years ago I picked up a used G4 apple laptop as a second machine. I kept OS X on it and happily used it. The reason I picked up an Apple was that for years I had tried to use Linux on a laptop, but never been able to very well. When I got the apple I discovered some 'amazing' properties that it had. At any point in time I could close the lid and it would go to sleep. If the battery got to low it would suspend to disk. Open up the lid and it would wake up and in just moments you are back working. Not only that but it would automatically find wifi and connect to it even if you were not in the same location. So what if the thread performance of the OS X kernel wasn't that fantastic, it worked really well with the hardware to give me the user a fantastic experience and I still got all my unix tools. Two years ago I picked up a macbook and to add to the fun I can stretch it to five hours on battery if I want to. Every once in a while someone would ask me why I don't run Linux and after telling them the above they try to convince me that it is much better now. I shrug my shoulders and say I am happy so I see no compelling reason to switch to Linux on my laptop (my desktop is Linux).

At my new job I got a laptop and was excited to find out it was getting a Lenovo, one of the laptops that had support for Linux, formally part of IBM and a good rugged laptop to boot. Putting the latest Ubuntu on there I figured was the perfect combination. Ubuntu had been talking about putting themselves on laptops so I assumed that it would all work. After having it for a week here is my notes:

100 Minutes - Not sure if this is Lenovo's fault or Linux, but I get 100 minutes off the battery with light usage. Compiling webkit or something big and continuous and the battery is shot. You plugin your laptop when it has 20% left and usually it starts out at 80% just from being carried to work or being in my bag. So if I am real lucky I get less then fifty minutes before it starts warning me to plug in laptop. You could say this is really a portable workstations, but my macbook also has dual core and 2GB ram and it gets much better. I am leaning to blame Linux because I couldn't believe a laptop manufacture would actually release a non-gamer laptop with only 1 1/2 hour battery life.

Maybe I have become spoiled, but when I close the lid I expect the laptop to go to sleep. Closing the lid on the Lenovo doesn't do anything other then turn off the screen. The first day I put it in my backpack only to find my backpack getting *very* hot by the time I to MIT and to top it off the computer running out of power before the next day loosing my state. With the screen off and the graphics hardware asleep I can't imagine what is causing the heat buildup with the desktop idle.

Suspend or hibernate. Ask anyone on the street to tell you the difference and they will tell you to go away because they don't know. Laptops shouldn't bother asking you. By default they should sleep and suspend only when the battery is near gone.

In the event that the laptop sleeps for a very long time I would expect that the shiny Lenovo would suspend to disk when the battery is very low to prevent me from loosing my state, but nope Linux is happy to loose it.

When I do get it to suspend I would expect that the resume would be snappy. The first few times I assumed it wasn't working and hard rebooted. Turns out it takes nearly ten seconds to resume under Linux. Resume from sleep on OS X is near instant, maybe half a second.

On the plus side wifi in Linux now works...

1 comment:

Chad McCullough said...

Good post Benjamin. I've been a strict user of Linux for more than 10 years. Yes, Linux is much, much, much better on laptops that a couple of years ago but the way I look at it, if the MAC is doing what you want and like, then there's no reason to switch. Anyways, the MAC OS runs on top of Unix so you've got a very good, stable operating system.

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