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Thursday, 07 May 2009 11:06

Ubuntu Netbook Remix 9.04 on an entry-level netbook

The newest operating system out right now is Ubuntu 9.04 which has as one of its options Ubuntu Netbook Remix (UNR) designed for, you guessed it, netbooks. Earlier this week I loaded Windows 7RC on an Acer Aspire One. Let's try UNR on the exact same machine.

I tried out Windows 7RC this week on an Acer Aspire One netbook.

My colleague, Hamish Taylor, tested UNR on his ASUS Eee PC 901 and his results were very interesting. I was keen to see how UNR compared against Windows 7 using identical hardware to avoid any machine discrepancies.

The Aspire One is not a groundbreaking machine by any means, but it is certainly sportier than the original 7” ASUS Eee netbook, coming with an Intel Atom N270 processor running at 1.6GHz, 1GB of RAM and a 160GB hard drive.

Windows 7RC installed fine and without any driver problems or other issues. Although the hard disk was more than adequate I was surprised Windows 7 required 7.73GB of disk space just for itself – and that without any other applications loaded.

Yet, Windows 7RC isn’t the only new operating system in town. Canonical released Ubuntu 9.04 just a couple of weeks ago, otherwise known as Jaunty Jackalope. Given Windows 7 is still in release candidate stage (the “RC” in its name) Jaunty is actually the most recent complete OS available.

Nicely, it comes in a netbook-dedicated version. Unlike Windows 7: Starter Edition which is restricted to only three applications running at a time, Ubuntu Netbook Remix has no loss of significant functionality over the regular version.

Instead, it sports a user interface designed for smaller screen devices. Gone is the diminutive menu bar which requires ever increasing accuracy the smaller your screen and mouse go and in its place is a full-screen collection of program icons grouped by category, as well as easy access to your personal files and folders. If you don’t like it you can switch it off and use the regular Jaunty Jackalope desktop.

Like Windows 7RC, installing UNR from a USB flash disk was a cinch. Neither operating system burdened me with complex questions or error messages. Both times I opted for a fresh install and to use the whole hard drive, totally trashing previous contents.

Once installed, booting UNR from power on to login prompt was a swift 35 seconds. That’s 13 seconds off Windows7 RC’s time on the exact same hardware.

Let’s see how it performed in practice.

While sitting idle, 191MB of RAM was being consumed by the operating system or just over 19%. That’s a dramatic difference from Windows’ 465MB.

My total disk usage sat at 2.2GB, weighing in at less than one third that of Windows 7RC. Unlike Windows, UNR provides a full suite of applications, not just the base operating system. This 2.2GB included, among other things, the OpenOffice suite which includes a word processor, spreadsheet and presentation tool.

Running OpenOffice Writer took RAM usage up to 284MB or 28.7%. Launching the Firefox web browser saw only a slight increase to 306.3MB or 30.9%.

Installing Adobe Flash Player saw the CPU hit a high of 80% but this was over in mere moments. The download and installation was a two-step process, unlike under Windows 7, but the combined time of these steps was still faster.

At this point, because the Flash install fired up Ubuntu’s package manager, I was duly advised there were 32MB worth of updates to my system since the time the USB image I downloaded had been pressed.

I opted to install these and during this time RAM usage hit its peak at 418MB (with everything else still open), or 42%. The entire time I tested out UNR my System Monitor duly advised swap space in use was a constant 0 bytes.

I connected to my WiFi network, played movies and checked the built-in webcam with the aptly-named Cheese cam tool. I could not find any hardware discrepancies at all.

The entire time I worked on the Acer Aspire One it performed reliably and with alacrity. Even when I was using several applications at once the computer never displayed any signs of slowing down. I was also more impressed with Ubuntu’s memory management within the 1GB available than that of Windows 7.

The video ran at the same native 1024x600 resolution as Windows, but it didn’t feel as cramped within the UNR environment, with its minimal reserved screen space.

At the end of the day, both Windows 7 and Ubuntu Netbook Remix installed and worked on the Acer Aspire One. Neither skipped a beat during installation.

Yet, one operating system ran smoother than the other and just plain felt like a more consistent, smoother computing experience - so much so I forgot I was using one of the cheapest machines I could find.


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David M Williams

David has been computing since 1984 where he instantly gravitated to the family Commodore 64. He completed a Bachelor of Computer Science degree from 1990 to 1992, commencing full-time employment as a systems analyst at the end of that year. David subsequently worked as a UNIX Systems Manager, Asia-Pacific technical specialist for an international software company, Business Analyst, IT Manager, and other roles. David has been the Chief Information Officer for national public companies since 2007, delivering IT knowledge and business acumen, seeking to transform the industries within which he works. David is also involved in the user group community, the Australian Computer Society technical advisory boards, and education.



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