I have a Chromebook that I have been using for causal browsing and occasional writing but the problem with ChromeOS is that is is so limited and restrictive. I installed Crouton to get a more genuine Linux experience out of it but the performance was a bit lack luster and frankly, the keyboard layout on Chromebooks is terrible. Why Google decided on such a design is beyond me. Delete, Page Up, Page Down, Home and End are nowhere to be found. When the Chroot environment is working, it’s fine but it is an Ubuntu based environment and I didn’t like the limitations that came with it. All this has lead me into the desire to get a simple, low cost but reasonably capable machine of which I would have more control. Since I have perfectly fine working netbooks, albeit a bit long in the tooth, I had no real strong demand for anything new. So, I waited for something to present itself, and it did.
I walked into Best Buy on a whim, I had some time and thought I would just see what they had available. There were several acceptable, low end machines machines between the $150 to $200 range. Specifically, a Dell that was real tempting, as it had better specifications than I really needed for my purposes but had a nice keyboard (for the price). I just wasn’t prepared to spend $200 on something I didn’t NEED. I asked the nice folks there if they had any small Nuk like computers so we walked over to the “Geek Squad” area to the returns cage (the place they keep the bad computers?) where there were a couple out of box laptops. Some where display models of discontinued models that had been re-baselined to be sold. One was marked “$86” and I was VERY interested. I asked the employee if I could just type on it, you know, to see how the thing types, as that is what I plan to do with it… type… things… He said it was against policy to power it on but they had an identical machine behind the counter running Ubuntu on it. It booted up, albeit rather slowly but the screen looked good and if Ubuntu runs on it, openSUSE would certainly run on it. The keyboard wasn’t spectacular but typed well enough to be in my “acceptable” range.
I was sold.
When I got the machine home, I wanted to run Windows 10. You know, see what I had been missing out on. I did a series of updates, started browsing the web with the Edge Browser, played in the control panel and so forth. I also had the opportunity to test out the Microsoft store and install a few things. Unfortunately, nothing I wanted would install. I could also only effectively do one thing at a time and it ran all herky-jerky. It was not an enjoyable experience at all, but what can you expect from an $86, discontinued computer. I would say that this laptop was not the right machine to show off what Windows 10 has to offer… But how would it run openSUSE Linux?
Specifications of this machine:
– Intel Celeron CPU N3060 @ 1.60 GHZ
– 2 GiB RAM with 1.81 GiB Available
– 32 GB SSD which ends up being 28.5 GiB
– 11.6″ – 1366 x 769 screen
– HDMI video out
– 1x USB 3
– 2x USB 2
– Micro SSD slot
– 1x 3.5mm Analog input/output
Recommended System Requirements for openSUSE:
– 2 Ghz dual core processor or better
– 2 GB system memory
– Over 40GB of free hard drive space
– Either a DVD drive or USB port for the installation media
– Internet access is helpful, and required for the Network Installer
This laptop meets 4 out of 5 requirements.
Regardless, I decided to go with openSUSE Tumbleweed as my distribution of choice for this machine and because this is not a “mission critical” machine, I also decided to play it just a bit more risky and went with the defaults of BTRFS on root and XFS on /home. Based on some discussion in the openSUSE IRC, I should use ext4 to be safe… but what fun is that. I’ll use the safe recommendations on machines I set up for other people.
To start, I accessed the Bios by pressing F2 rapidly as it started up from a cold boot. I left the machine on EFI and Secure boot. I modified the boot parameters to boot from USB
first, save and exit then completed the install process with all the defaults with KDE Plasma.
Here is the default drive layout set up by the installer:
/dev/mmcblk0p1 256M /boot/efi
/dev/mmcblk0p2 16G /
/dev/mmcblk0p3 11G /home
/dev/mmcb1k0p4 2G swap
After installation, I added a few additional packages and applications to enhance my experience: Oxygen5 (for the window decoration), Telegram Desktop, Insync (Google Drive synchronization) and Synergy. Outside of one X crash that seemingly happened out of nowhere (while writing this using Nano), I have had no issues with this machine. I want to see if I have issues with BTRFS snapshot with limited memory as I was warned about it and should I have problems or should I be problem free for an extended period of time, I will let it be noted on this review at a later date.
What can you do with an $86 laptop
More than you might expect. Since I am running KDE, which is fairly lightweight, I have a lot of memory left over with which to work. Under Windows 10, after it settled from booting up, I had about 240MB available of physical memory to do work. Nothing ran smooth, except for the menu button, that fancy Windows 10 menu popped up quite nicely and is, frankly, very pretty and fun looking. I would find it terribly annoying after a while. On KDE Plasma 5.12 with openSUSE Tumbleweed, before I installed my extras, I had about 1,458 MiB of physical memory available, according to KinfoCenter. It fluctuates a bit when it just sits so that is an approximation.
I use the default choice of Firefox for the browser as I am sure that this machine cannot handle the Chrome bloat. Watching local and streaming media is without any issue though, when streaming Netflix, the machine does dip fairly significantly into the SWAP partition. It’s nice to know this machine can handle Netflix tho that is not the reason I bought it. Running any native Linux application doesn’t seem to really tax this machine. Where I do seem to have issue is when running any multimedia heavy web site. Hopefully, browsers do indeed become more memory efficient as to make this better in the future (not holding my breath). My only real criticism of this machine is the amount of RAM. If it only had 4GB of RAM, it really could have been a great laptop for just about anyone.
I like how this machine is put together. It it is light but has a heavy enough of a feel that gives the impression of being sturdy and of decent quality. The keyboard doesn’t flex
under my typing and is most certainly rigid enough. The Screen articulates a full 180 degrees and doesn’t have that cheap creek or pop sound you would expect on a lower end machine. The The ports all feel like they will hold up when peripherals are inserted. The case is made of some sort of high durometer rubbery plastic that feels sturdy. I really cannot complain at all on the build quality.
It is easy to disassemble 11 screws and a few clips hold the bottom cover in place. Not much you can do under the hood. It appears that the onboard SSD is a soldered component but there appears to be what looks like an unused mini-PCIe slot. I may investigate that some other time.
The keyboard meets my needs. It is not as nice as my Dell Latitude E6440 or my Latitude D630 laptops but this will do well enough. I have experienced much worse keyboards on higher end machines so I am calling the keyboard a win. The only thing I don’t really care for is the function key row. Instead of F1 actually being F1, it actually mutes the sound. I have to hit Fn + F1 to get F1. I am sure that there is a Bios switch for it but I haven’t taken the time to look. This is only an annoyance. I am glad that F5 is refresh, regardless if you are pressing Fn.
The touchpad has two physical buttons which is a huge win. Ideally, having three physical buttons is best but having none makes for an unacceptable setup and I consider button-less touch pads utter garbage. The caps lock has an LED indicator. I can’t tell you how many times I have used laptops that only have on-screen software indicators… terrible…
The screen is very acceptable. Not as high resolution as I would like but how many dots do you really need? For my purposes, it is perfectly acceptable. I can see text very well in the terminal. The screen hing articulates 180°, which can be handy.
No buyer’s remorse here, I’m glad I bought it. It has almost become a daily drive for me as the thing is light and small. I can take it on the couch without worry of it falling or being inadvertently crushed by one of my kids. It doesn’t have a fan or even vents on the underside so the airflow requirements are evidently not very stringent. The fact I can go 6 to 8 hours on this machine is fantastic.
After running this machine on with BTRFS on root, I did end up having issues with the snapshots filling up the root partition. I don’t want to do snapshot maintenance on this rather small machine so I ended up using XFS for root as well as /home. The automated openQA hasn’t pushed any updates that have killed any of my Tumbleweed machines so I am comfortable with XFS as root. One might say I should run Leap instead but I just like rolling release model very much.n
Putting openSUSE Linux on this machine made it very usable and I can’t help but think how great it is that Linux gives under-powered hardware a great lease of extended life. I would recommend this machine with openSUSE Linux on it to anyone that needs a simple Chromebook-like ++ machine.
As of January 2020, I am still using this machine quite happily running Tumbleweed with Plasma. The machine’s weakness becomes apparent when having too many browser windows open. Specifically, with YouTube. Running a local service, like Emby is quite light and quite fluid.