It’s been a few years since I got my Computer Science Masters degree. In that time I’ve had less & less free time to concentrate on my own projects. This is mainly due to the fact that I’m running my own business (web-based but not overly technical) and concentrating on making enough money to pay the rent & bills. I’ve also been clearing off all the student debt which helped me achieve two degrees. In that time I’ve mostly had my main machine which is an early 2009 iMac. It’s a great spec machine & allows me to get all my daily work done. As it’s my development machine however, I can’t really test out new OS’s and generally fool around with computers like I used to.
I’ve been looking at getting a new machine for a while & I’ve been playing a lot with the Raspberry Pi collection I have. After stumbling across a few blog posts about cheap Linux laptops, I kept seeing the Lenovo X200 thinkpad mentioned. I then came across Richard Stallmans website (I admire that guy but haven’t checked out his website in a while) and realised that he uses a ThinkPad with Libreboot and Trisquel. This is the free (libre) software foundation’s attempt to rid a machine of all non free software, right down to the bios. I headed over to the Libreboot website and found the Ministry of Freedom website. They sell X200 laptops, ready to go with the bios changed to Libreboot and the OS installed is Trisquel.
I’m never shy of a challenge, I don’t think I’ve every owned a piece of hardware that I haven’t hacked, so rather than pay for a turn-key libreboot machine I’ve decided to learn this myself & do the conversion.
To start with I needed a machine. I headed to various websites & the generally guide price for the laptop was around £120-£180. I next headed to eBay and found a glut of ex-corporate machines being sold off. I managed to bag one in great condition for £50 delivered. The X200 came next day and I’m really impressed. The body of the laptop is like a powder coated alloy, with plastic components. Having only used Apple products for a few years, it felt a little less robust but still very well-built. It’s a compact 12″ laptop and the keyboard is amazing.
I set to work removing all of the manufactures and IT department stickers. I hate generic laptop stickers. After I had removed a plethora of Intel & MS stickers it was time to disinfect and clean the laptop.
On first boot I saw that the previous owner had formatted the drive & put a fresh copy of windows 7 on there for me. That had to go. I still don’t have my new SOIC16 clip to do the libreboot flash, so until then I’m stuck with a standard bios. No matter, I can still install Trisquel and get to grips with it before flashing the bios. The bios is more of a free software principle than an out & out necessity.
Trisquel was a breeze to install, I downloaded an image from their website, copied it to a flash drive & booted from the flash drive. You can run this as a live CD to test before you install, but I wanted to get it installed & start playing (the bonus of this laptop not being my main dev machine). It only took around 15 minutes to install, encrypt my hard drive & home folder & be presented with my new Gnome desktop.
I was dubious about the performance of a 6-year-old laptop, but I have to say this thing running Linux is rapid. So much quicker than I could ever have hoped for. I even found 4GB of RAM in the back of my desk drawer which I’d removed from my wife’s Macbook when upgrading. It was a better spec of ram than that installed but RAM is generally backwards compatible if it’s the same spec & form factor. I now have 4GB of ram and the machine is a peach. I’m writing this post on my new laptop, sipping a coffee and enjoying the freedom of this absolute bargain workhorse.
I have big plans for this machine, the SOIC16 clip will allow me to flash the bios with libreboot, the current battery is original and only holds 50% of its design charge (which is still over 2 hours). I plan to get a high-capacity 7800Mah battery from eBay and hopefully hit 8-10 hours on a charge. I also need to install all my own stickers to the lid and generally get to know Linux again.
I’m surprised how much computing power you can now get for £50. I can make a start on so many projects now. I’ll keep you up to date with the progress of this Librboot/Trisquel project.
I’ll leave you with the specs of this little beast & some pictures. I’d advise all of you interested in tech to try a project like this. Having a machine you aren’t afraid to break gives you so much freedom to learn. I’m really excited at that prospect.
Processor : 2x Intel(R) Core(TM)2 Duo CPU P8600 @ 2.40GHz
Memory : 3941MB (2936MB used)
Resolution : 1280×800 pixels
OpenGL Renderer : Mesa DRI Mobile Intel® GM45 Express Chipset
X11 Vendor : The X.Org Foundation
Audio Adapter : HDA-Intel – HDA Intel