May 30, 2011

Linux Mint on an Acer TravelMate 630


If you ever wondered what I use to hammer my horror movie reviews into while I sit in front of the telly, the answer is an old Acer TravelMate 630 which I usually refer to as my "craptop".

It's not my only laptop computer. I also have three Panasonic Toughbook CF-27s (two 300mhz and one 500mhz currently running Windows 2000 which I use for work), a Sony Vaio FX-101 (with Ubuntu 10.10 on it just for use as a DVD player), an old Apple iBook (500mhz with Tiger and upgraded to DVD) and an Asus EeePC (with EasyPeasy - a netbook version of Ubuntu - on it) which is too small to be useful for anything but watching YouTube.

Apart from the Sony Vaio which I bought from Comet back in 2001, all these old laptops have come dirt cheap from ebay without RAM, hard drives or power supplies which I've added later. I usually max these things out and run through just about every Windows operating system known to man before trying to force Linux on them and, until only last week, the Acer TravelMate was creaking its way through Windows XP SP3.

You would think that a Pentium 4 laptop with a 1.8ghz processor, 512mb RAM and a 40gb hard drive would be more than adequate for my portable computing needs and you'd be right. The trouble is that I can't abide Windows and, now that I have a Roku box to watch Netflix, I don't need XP for anything. I stopped playing games on computers around 2004 when I got an X-Box.

So, to cut a long story short, I have spent the best part of a week installing just about every version of Linux onto my Acer TravelMate only for it to keep freezing. I tried Ubuntu (from 8.10 through to 11.04) only to have either the annoying Orinoco internal wireless card not be able to connect to WPA or have crappy graphics due to no drivers for the 32mb Nvidia Geforce2go. I also went through all versions of Puppy, Xubuntu, OpenSuse, and Fedora before finally getting somewhere with Xubuntu 11.04 until it crashed irrecoverably.

What I found with Xubuntu was that without the new "experimental" Nvidia drivers, DVD and AVI playback was covered with flickering lines all over the screen. With the drivers, it would work for a while then randomly freeze. With Linux Mint 11 only a couple of days old, I knew it would have the same drivers but I thought it would be more stable so I tried it.

What I can tell you is that Linux Mint 11 will work on an Acer TravelMate 630 but it's still not quite right. The problem is that to prevent freezing, it has to be run with ACPI off. Obviously that means that the Nvidia drivers don't kick in and you can't shut down automatically but everything else works including the internet. Watching movies on it without the Nvidia drivers is impossible and I found that I couldn't even close VLC player while viewing "Dust Devil" (1992) which was very annoying.

It's nearly there though. I posted a screenshot above to show you how good it looks. I may have to go back to Windows XP yet again but I'm going to wait a while to see if some bright spark can come up for a fix for the "ACPI versus Nvidia" problem which has plagued thousands of laptops (according to my Googling) ever since Linux was invented. That Plymouth boot screen nonsense has to go too. I tried all the fixes and I've still never seen it work on any computer (even my desktop).

Anyway, that's how I've been wasting all my free time. I've been playing with Linux while watching all sorts of crappy "2 stars out of 5" horror films on streaming Netflix which seem to be all that they have to offer.

I just watched "Black Death" (as a physical DVD from Netflix since it won't be streaming until June 6th) and I wasn't overly impressed. I don't think it really counts as a horror film but it was pretty horrible with all that shaky camerawork. Christopher Smith has made a couple of films which I enjoyed, "Severance" (2006) and "Triangle" (2009), but, unfortunately, "Black Death" (2010) was not another one of them. It had a couple of gory bits but it was just too slow and boring. I had to watch it twice due to falling asleep the first time and I hate it when that happens.

As ever, I'm working on quite a few horror movie reviews which I'll post eventually but it's nearly Summer and I've lost a lot of my inertia due to the overwhelming heat and thunderstorms where I live. I'm not sure if there's anything worth looking forward to among this year's Summer movies but I expect to find a lot to hate about the "Fright Night" remake. I'm probably not going to like it and, as biased as that may be, it's how I feel about most of these unnecessary remakes. I very much doubt that anything about "Fright Night" will change my mind although David Tennant replacing Roddy McDowell may work in its favour and I never did like William Ragsdale or his Charley Brewster character in the original anyway.

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