A new laptop

A new laptop

25 Feb 2012 – Warsaw

Requirements

My previous, worn but reliable (and still kicking) everyday laptop, Asus K80S, got over 3 years old this winter. It was getting old, not only in terms of performance (Core2Duo and 2GBs of RAM was enough of a spec for everyday programming work under Ubuntu), but also in terms of comfort: below 2 hours battery time started to be an issue recently, during long train or plane trips, or when doing some coding at the cafes.

I’ve decided to upgrade. I wanted my laptop light and thin: below 2 kg, without optical drive. I wanted a decent performance: at least i3, preferred i5. And, last but very important, I wanted at least 4-5 hours of battery time when working (text editor, rails server, occasional test run) in Linux.

After some research I’ve settled for Asus U36SD. Asus, because this brand has never failed me (despite around dozen Asus laptops being in the family since quite a few years) and laptop reliability studies confirm that. U36SD seemed to have exactly the configuration I needed, packing i5 CPU and 8 hours of battery time in a small, stylish, portable and light (1.5kg) chassis with 13.3" screen. As an added bonus, it came with dynamically-switched NVidia GeForce card and OEM Windows 7, for occasional gaming.

All under $1000 (for us, Europeans, the prices are a bit higher due to VAT), which is a steal and therefore a laptop I’m not afraid of losing (or having stolen etc.).

Experiment

I’ve heard mixed opinions about recent Ubuntu versions since switching to Unity, some people recommending going with Mint and others being happy with this interface overhaul.

Because I had some time for fun and experiments, I’ve decided to install Ubuntu 64bit (!) 12.04 alpha1 (!!) on a new (released in october 2011) laptop (!!!), thus introducing at least three reasons for everything to fail with a bang. But the nerd and hacker inside me wanted to have some fun, even if it meant blowing things up and starting from scratch.

To everyone’s surprise, Ubuntu 12.04 64bit LiveCD booted up and had everything working out of the box, including wifi, sound and webcam. Installed like a charm on some freshly-fred disk space and… that’s the whole experiment.

The only tinkering left for me was, based on official Ubuntu wiki for U36SD (albeit written for older versions), adding a script to control USB buses on suspend and installing bbswitch to completely disable Nvidia graphics card in Linux (to use only Intel HD3000 and extend battery life to almost 6 hours). Everything else Just Worked™, often even better and smoother than on my friends’ Macbooks. Ubuntu has come a long way since the early releases, in a direction I’m really happy with.

Note: 6 hours of actual work time in Linux, with either WiFi or 3G modem (Android phone).

Step Three

There’s no step three. I have an everyday laptop for work that I’m really happy with after almost a month of usage, not much to add here. Whenever somebody’s looking for a new laptop with Linux for programming work, I wholeheartedly recommend Asus U36SD + Ubuntu 12.04 combo.

Disclaimer: This post was in no way endorsed by Asus or its business partners. Although it’d be cool if it were.