This will be an unexpected coda for the ugly little laptop, which, until Sunday night, I had planned to use as a guinea pig for Gutsy. However, the ascent of the Thinkpad marks the decline of the Sotec … and to be honest, I don’t think it will be missed.
It always makes me sad to see a abused computer, usually because they can be salvaged or refurbished. And the Sotec was a poster child for neglected hardware. It really should have been a top-notch, still-in-use machine because — with the exception of aesthetic flaws — there wasn’t anything that warranted its retirement.
Regardless, here’s what I learned from the ugly little laptop.
First, BIOS settings made a huge difference on that machine. It might be a quirk of the system or the version of the BIOS, but turning off any and all power management kept it from trying to scale back when there wasn’t any point to scaling back (it was an AC-only machine). And that had an enormous impact on system performance.
It’s also worth noting that the BIOS offered a strange filesystem option, switching between Windows-based operating systems and “Other”. Setting it to “Other” seemed to kick it to the Grub bootloader faster, but had no real effect after that point. Keeping it on “Other” with XP installed made the system unbootable. Curiouser and curiouser.
Video memory was the strongest impediment to a reasonable system; I believe that card used 2Mb of shared memory, but I could be wrong. Redraws were choppy, slow and stuttery at best resolution — 1024x768x16. That made the desktop a challenge to keep perky, since just scrolling a page in Kazehakase could make other processes (like Audacious) skip.
The only acceptable solution to that was to incorporate lighter, GTK1.2 software — like Dillo and XMMS instead of Kazehakase and Audacious — and try not to overwhelm the entire system. Doing that kept the system usable and enjoyable, as long I didn’t bog it down. And that, of course, is the golden rule for working with any outdated hardware.
I had a couple of unusual observations that were specific to that machine. First, the fans never shut off. That, along with the racket of a 4200rpm hard drive, made it a noisy machine. I solved part of that by using a faster, quieter drive, but short of replacing the fans in it, I don’t know if there was a way to shut it up completely. I guess noisy is just the way it is.
And this is an exceptionally esoteric point, but the “g,” “k” and right cursor keys were all flaky. When your username has a “k” in it and you password has a “g” and a “k” … well, that was the worst possible combination for me. If it had actually been my laptop, I would have replaced the keyboard before anything else.
Finally, for me, the distro winners were Wolvix and AntiX, with scattered second place finishers. Ubuntulite gets a tip of the hat too, while Lowarch gets a nod for being the fastest of the bunch, although it’s abandoned and out-of-date, which unfortunately disqualifies it.
I think that’s about it. It was an interesting experience and given the chance I might give it a home, but otherwise I’m willing to close the book on it. It wasn’t a great computer, but it could be, if given the chance.