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Hotrod Your Asus Laptop With 64-bit Kubuntu

Horsepower Junkie Needs a Fix

  • December 22, 2008
  • By Rob Reilly

I'm an old-school horsepower junkie. Brute acceleration when I push down on a gas pedal, monster trucks and triple-engine blown alcohol tractor pulling all rank way up there in the cool department as far as I'm concerned. Oddly, I have the same addiction with laptop hardware.

My four year old AMD 64-bit HP Pavilion laptop threw a rod (the LCD died) a couple of weeks ago, so that gave me a perfect excuse to score a new machine. Naturally, it had to be rugged with a lot of built-in horsepower.

After much research I ended up, of all places, at Best Buy.

The late model Asus X83-VM, with an Intel Duo Core T8400 processor, 4 GB of RAM, an Nvidia GeForce 9600GS video chip, a 1280 x 800 screen, and 320 GB SATA drive, seemed to fit the bill. It also had 5 USB ports, Gigabit Ethernet, wifi, SATA port and an interesting brown woven computer block looking kind of lid cover. The fact that there is 1 GB of dedicated video memory and an LED back-lit LCD made the $958, on sale with tax, a reasonable deal.

Am I back in '68, standing in a Plymouth dealership, signing a check for a dual-quad 426 Hemi 4-speed Roadrunner?

Nope, but this Asus is the next best thing. Now on to the shop...I mean office, for a little 'tweaking' with Kubuntu.

Adding After-market Speed Parts

There isn't much you can do to a laptop other than add memory to increase the performance. Since the Asus is pretty darn stout to begin with, bolting on Kubuntu will let you take full advantage of the hardware while adding all the features not found in other operating systems. I like the little things like various free applications, command line scripting, Web development stuff, and all manner of interesting network tools.

I wanted to retain Vista, so I registered the 3-month free trial of Norton Anti-Virus and downloaded the latest Kubuntu 64-bit ISO for Intel/AMD processors using Firefox. Under Vista, I then used CyberLink's Power2Go program to burn the ISO on a CD, followed by a quick reboot.

Running in live CD mode proved to be problematic for Kubuntu, but I was able to verify the operation of the new Nvidia video chip. I also had to use a wired Ethernet connection, because wifi wouldn't connect to my access point.

Installing from the KDE desktop didn't work at all while in live CD mode. For some reason none of the applications under the big 'K', except Konqueror, seemed to want to execute. Rebooting with the 'Install' option worked fine.

Repartitioning the disk, always traumatic for me, was simple and straightforward. The 320 GB disk was split into 3 partitions, one little DOS thing, a 150 GB slot for Vista, and a 130 GB slot for Data. I elected to split the Data partition into a 100 GB Linux OS block with the remainder being allocated for data and whatever swap needed to be configured. The change went smoothly and before long I had a new system on /dev/sda6. At some point I'll go back and re-allocate only 50 GB for Vista and divvy up the rest for data and Kubuntu.

I didn't expect KDE 4.1 to deviate so much from KDE 3.0, which was on my old HP Pavilion. The program menu under the big 'K' is much different than the old way and it has been a challenge for me to remember where everything now resides.

The basic build includes only a basic set of applications, although they're enough to get started with Web browsing (Konqueror), editing documents (OpenOffice.org), and running Linux (Adept Package Manager, Dolphin File Manager, and Konsole) on the machine. All programs loaded and ran fine. While connected to broadband, it's easy to add all the other programs you might need. Don't forget to change the Adept package manager settings in the 'Sources' tab to allow installation of main, universe, restricted, and multi-verse applications. The Nvidia card definitely needs the latest restricted drivers to function at its best.

Once the Nvidia drivers were installed, all of the KDE and Compiz special graphics effects seem to work pretty well. I've noticed that there were occasional artifacts when changing between windows, but it wasn't anything major. Compiz will spin the desktops around without any hesitation.

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