Eeebuntu on the Asus EeePC 4G

By Abhijit Menon-Sen <ams@toroid.org>

2009-01-12

We bought an Asus EeePC 4G (701) in October 2008 as an inexpensive, temporary replacement for my beloved Lifebook, whose motherboard had died some months ago, after nearly five years of none-too-gentle use.

The machine came with a customised version of Xandros installed. It was much better than I had expected. It booted extremely fast, and gave me access to an xterm. That, and the fact that other EeePC distributions all had one problem or the other, was enough to keep me using it for some months.

The one big problem I had was with the package repositories. I followed various instructions (which I no longer remember), but a couple of hours wasn't enough to get vim installed, and I gave up. This inability to install things kept annoying me at inopportune moments.

Eventually, I decided to install an Ubuntu derivative. This page is all about my (surprisingly pleasant) experience.

Hardware

Here's a brief overview of the EeePC 4G's hardware configuration.

It has three USB ports, an SD card reader (I got a 2GB SD card free), a VGA connector, and headphone/microphone jacks. There's an Ethernet port, and an Atheros mini-PCI card provides 802.11b/g wireless connectivity. There's also a 640x480 camera, which I've never bothered with; and an RJ-11 port, which is not connected to anything as far as I can tell.

The VGA port can feed an external display at 1024x768, and I can plug in a USB keyboard and mouse. The EeePC's own screen is quite good, but the keyboard is much too small for my hands. I've learned to use it quite efficiently, but extended use is always going to be painful.

The battery lasts me about three hours under moderate use. Thanks to an extremely annoying hardware bug, the 4G slowly drains its battery even when hibernating (or switched off, albeit more slowly still). I do not know of any cure for this, though I hear newer models are not affected.

Which distribution?

Apart from Xandros, there seem to be three notable choices:

Both EeePC-specific Ubuntu derivatives add in the Array.org kernel and the other required patches, and apt-get install works fine afterwards.

I couldn't bring myself to install something named "Easy Peasy", and it was something of a relief to discover that it was based on Ubuntu 8.04 (while Eeebuntu is based on 8.10), and had a longer list of known problems.

Installation

First, I downloaded eeebuntu-2.0-base.iso:

$ wget http://www.eeebuntu.org/downloads/iso/eeebuntu-2.0-base.iso

(None of the Bittorrent links on the Eeebuntu download page worked. I found the inspiration to write this page somewhere during the eight hours it took for wget to finish.)

Next, I copied the ISO to a 2GB USB stick (pen drive):

$ sudo ./isotostick.sh eeebuntu-2.0-base.iso /dev/sdc1

(There are many other ways to do this: with UNetbootin, or the Ubuntu Live USB creator, or by hand. I've used them all, successfully, at different times.)

I booted the EeePC from the USB stick (by hitting Esc when it was booting and selecting the USB stick from the menu).

The Eeebuntu installation process is identical to the normal Ubuntu one, and it completed with no surprises. I allowed the partitioner to use the entire disk, not bothering to preserve the default Xandros setup and its nifty one-touch "restore to default install" feature. Wireless support worked straightaway.

Next, I started the "update manager" and allowed it to install whatever updates it wanted to (which amounted to some 50MB of downloads). Then I installed the few packages that I need (vim, zsh, etc.). No problems.

Problems

The Eeebuntu release notes told me what to expect, and I was very fortunate to not run into any new problems.

The most noticeable difference is in the boot time. It takes almost one and a half minutes to from pressing the power button to having a usable desktop (where Xandros took about twenty seconds).

Next, Fn-F2 no longer toggled Wifi on and off. The recommended solution is to install eee-control, which I did (apt-get install eee-control); and it worked perfectly. I can toggle the Wifi, camera, and card reader, and switch between four performance profiles (full, high, normal, powersave).

Just for the record, I had no problem with Fn-F7 to mute and unmute the speakers (another known problem). In fact, all of the other hotkeys worked out of the box. (Testing this revealed that mplayer was installed by default, which made the whole thing nicer still.)

The "Eee Config" program makes it easy to select and execute scripts to fix some known configuration problems, but I didn't need the "Mute key fix", and I didn't bother with the "Suspend on lid close" one. Suspend and resume worked without any fiddling, but their utility on the 4G is severely limited by the battery drain problem (see above).

Summary

Once I took the plunge, I had my EeePC up and running under Eeebuntu in little more than the time it took me to download the ISO.

That, for the moment, concludes my very pleasant experience.