June 9, 2009

Asus EEE 1008HA and Ubuntu: Keep a USB drive handy

June 9, 2009 - Categories: geek, linux

I’d been thinking about getting a netbook for a while, but I’d felt guilty over the two ultraportables languishing in our electronics drawer. I occasionally dusted them off and W- even got Ubuntu running on them again, but I just didn’t use them as much as I did before I got my work laptop. Keeping multiple configurations synchronized is a pain. Lugging two laptops around is a real pain.

I held out for the longest time. I’d been into ultraportables when having an 8.9″ screen made geeks’ heads turn (which is how I got away with selling advertising on the back of my laptop one weekend, as an experiment ;) ), and now that ultraportable computers had gone mainstream, well… <laugh>

Then W- reminded me that the real reason why I haven’t been using the Fujitsu Lifebook P1110 or the Sony Vaio U1 was that I’d used them until they fell apart. Really. Masking tape was the only thing keeping the P1110 together.

And then I ran into all sorts of computing difficulties on my work laptop, and I decided that having a backup system that I could keep in a consistent configuration was worth some of my dream/experience fund. A light machine that I could use for presentations and for blog posts would be nice, and if it could let me connect to Windows-only teleconferences while continuing to do work using the Linux partition on my main laptop, that would be fantastic.

After consulting Ted Tritchew (resident guru) and a number of Net resources, I ended up with two choices: the Asus Eee 1000HE, and the Asus Eee 1008HA. The 1000HE was relatively solid, worked well with Linux, and boasted a 9.5-hour battery life. The 1008HA was slimmer, lighter, and could get by on 6 hours. I went with light, because the pounds really do add up.

It was easy to get Windows XP and Linux to co-exist, thanks to the USB installer that Ted lent me. The 1008HA was pre-partitioned, so I just installed Linux onto the second partition. (Nice not to have to fuss with resizing things!)

The first major hiccup I ran into was getting networking to work. With the default install of Ubuntu, not even wired Ethernet worked! I came across this really useful Amazon.com review which said:

Once you install, you need to grab the AR813X-linux-v1.0.0.8.tar.gz package from http://partner.atheros.com/Drivers.aspx . Untar this (ignore the gzip errors), cd src, make, sudo make install, then insmod the resulting file. That should give you wired ethernet.

To get wifi, go to Administration > Software Sources > Updates and check off “Unsupported Updates (jaunty-backports)”, then do sudo apt-get install linux-backports-modules-jaunty . Once you reboot, you should have wireless.

So the important parts of my system work now, and I’ll worry about the other bits later on.