A Spanner In The Works

The Leviathan, whose spotted history I outlined at tedious length((Linux: A Love/Hate Story)) not two months ago, has died. It has passed on, ceased to be, is no more, etc., etc. I have fused the motherboard by plugging in things with batteries, apparently. Said gizmos draw power that is not supposed to go through motherboards. Thus, it is an ex pooter.

My feelings are mixed. I had it pretty much as I wanted it, and it was wonderfully fast. Using it felt like driving a luxurious 1950s saloon, with more power than you could ever need and seats that both supported you and moulded around you.

At the same time, it was huge, ugly, quite noisy and used a lot of electricity. Also, a lot of the pleasure I had in using it for writing was thanks to the size of the monitor, and that is working perfectly well. The joy of a decent sized monitor, when you are a person of a certain age, is being able to have documents at a perfectly reasonable size on the screen, without taking up the whole of it. For instance, uploading the images for this post, which I did a moment ago, was a real faff on my laptop screen: I had to click between applications, minimising one to get another, and couldn’t drag and drop, but had to copy and paste, which is no hardship, really, but feels like an embuggerage when you’re used to having ample acreage of screen space on which to play.

I am going to take The Leviathan to Just PC’s (sic) in Newport and get him to assess whether it’s worth putting a new motherboard and processor in, but I’m not optimistic. Also, I wonder whether I wouldn’t be better served by getting hold of a mini computer and using that. My Nextcloud server box, a Lenovo ThinkCentre Tiny, is an excellent machine that would do the job well. Slightly newer, more powerful versions are to be had, refurbished, from ebay, for around £130. That’s £130 I’d rather not spend this month, but I’m keeping it in mind.

The Rolls Royce option is to go for a brand new computer, with whistles, bells and a warranty, but that would be an even longer-term proposition. The one I have is mind is this little beauty:

It’s called a Star Labs Byte((Details here.)), and it’s got an AMD eight core processor, built in Radeon graphics, an open-source BIOS and is supported as a Linux machine. No rubbish cost for a Windows license I don’t want. I’ve been mooning over their Starlite laptop1 for some time, since my experiment with replacing parts on an old Thinkpad went awry.((*Sigh!*)) I thought it might make an excellent travelling laptop, if I ever do get round to bicycle touring. Idle dreams. Anyway, the attraction of Star Labs is that they are British, which means there are no problems with trying to sort out import duties on machines coming from Germany or America, which is where the majority of Linux-focussed computers come from.

However, the Byte starts at £700, with a fairly small SSD and less RAM than I’d want for my main computer. And that is a competitive price for a well-specced mini-computer. It’s academic, anyway, as I’m not spending the best part of a grand on a computer when I’m planning to give up my job. The consumerist nag has got into my head, though. I wants it. It’s shiny.

But, for now, I thought I’d try a bootstrap method. We have two mini computers which I have tried to use for media centres, with mixed success. One, a Zotac, serves a useful ongoing purpose. With Peppermint Linux2 on it, we can watch iPlayer, ITVX, and other catchup services on our non-smart TV through it. very nice. We also used to stream video from the media server, but we haven’t missed that enough for me to struggle to revive it.

The other one is this oddness. It’s an Acer Aspire Revo 3600, from around 2009. It has a single core Atom processor and a curious onboard graphics arrangement called Nvidia Ion, that is a bugger to get going with Linux but does make up for some of the CPU’s shortcomings. It was taken quite seriously in its day.3 It’s basically a netbook but in desktop form, so it wasn’t powerful when it was new. Fourteen years on, it’s feeble. However, thanks to the graphics setup, it does manage a little better than my little Dell Netbook from around the same time, of which I was so fond.1

I thought it might just do as a stopgap measure though, so last night I brought it upstairs and put Lubuntu on it. This was not a success. It froze at boot and hadn’t got anywhere after ten minutes of struggling, so I pulled the plug and downloaded copies of antiX and Bodhi. antiX was ready first, so I stuck that on a memory stick and installed it.

Result? A working computer, just about. This morning, gingerly, I tried setting up Nextcloud sync client on it. It managed that, although updates brought it to a screaming halt for ten minutes or so. However, the two screenshots here were saved into Nextcloud on the Acer and appeared, dutifully, on the Thinkpad when I wanted them, so all is not useless.

The email client packaged with antiX, Claws,((https://www.claws-mail.org/)) is okay, but the calendar app is incomprehensible, so I uninstalled Claws and put Thunderbird on and, again, it coped, with a bit of a wheezy struggle, being linked to my Nextcloud calendar, task lists and contacts. I’m keeping things fairly minimal, but I could, I think, write on this machine, without being completely frustrated. LibreOffice Writer, after taking quite a while to start up, seems to work smoothly on it. It doesn’t like Firefox, though. Blogging on it would be a painful process.

It feels touch and go, as if it could freeze at any moment if I absent-mindedly ask too much of it. It has conky on the desktop as standard, giving lots of system monitor readouts, and the processor indicator spends a lot of time solid blue, which is not optimal. It’s been quite a while since I’ve had to walk on egg-shells with my computing, and I’m not sure I’m going to adapt to it.

So, I’m writing this on my laptop, the good old Thinkpad that seems to cope with anything. The keyboard is not as comfortable as the one I use on desktops, and the screen means I have to lean forward and wear my reading glasses, but it is still quick and responsive.

I think I will buy a second-hand Lenovo Tiny, probably after payday. A new computer, whizzy as it would be, is an unjustified extravagance and an environmental misstep. I was planning to buy a year’s subscription to Presto music’s streaming service4 this month, but, instead, I shall put aside the money to get as good a refurbed computer as I can.

And The Leviathan shall be consigned to the depths, not unmourned, but not without a certain relief, either.

  1. https://starlabs.systems/pages/starlite []
  2. https://peppermintos.com/ []
  3. https://www.cnet.com/reviews/acer-aspirerevo-r3600-review/ []
  4. https://www.prestomusic.com/ []

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