Intel Atom, Windows 7, Ubuntu Linux, patience.

I am not sure when, where and how, but I somehow got the impression that the Intel Atom processor was a kind of cheap, energy-saving and slow processor.  Well, I was wrong about the “slow” part, although I suppose that depends on what you compare it with.  But the HP Mini 2 that I bought (“baby HP” as I think of it because of the tiny size) has an Intel Atom processor, and it is ridiculously fast both in Windows 7 and Ubuntu Linux.  I know this because I installed Ubuntu on it today. That was more of an adventure than I had expected.

I did not want to wipe out the fascinating new operating system from Microsoft, but on the other hand I don’t particularly want to have it running when I am online.  I mean, I already paid for it, and that is OK, I was curious after all.  But I have no intention to keep shelling out money for antivirus and related software to keep my computer from getting turned into a spamming zombie, not to mention the identity theft.  So I quickly looked to install Linux on it for use online.  (I tend to install ClamWin, a free antivirus from the highly reliable Sourceforge, on my Windows computers.  But it is the kind of tool that you use to actively scan your machine, or individual files, for viruses. It does not patrol the computer’s memory while you are online to stop any worms trying to crawl in.  (As a result, it does not slow down the machine either, but still, I prefer not having to worry about “badware” at all.)

Usually installing Ubuntu is a snap. I have a CD lying around with a fairly recent version of the OS, and it will then bring itself up to date over the Internet once it is up and running.  However, the HP Mini 2 does not have a CD drive.  I suppose I could take it home and try with an external CD & DVD reader I have here, but even then it is uncertain whether it would work since you cannot boot from a device that is initialized long after boot time.

If I had thought of this beforehand, I could have prepared a bootable USB memory stick to do the same thing.  There is in fact a menu choice in Ubuntu for making such a tool (you still have to buy the memory key of course).   But I wasn’t at home and not patient enough to wait till next day. So I used Wubi Installer, a program that downloads Ubuntu (or any of its siblings in the *buntu family) and installs it under Windows.  The program uses Windows’ file system to reserve a chunk of the hard disk, then sets up Ubuntu within that.  Despite Wubi itself being run from Windows, and the whole Ubuntu package being deletable from Windows, it does use its own file system internally and when you reboot the machine you will get the choice between the two operating systems. So it is only during the install that you actually need Windows.

Wubi went through the routine easily enough, and asked me to reboot. I did.  A black screen came up when the machine started, with an underscore in the upper left corner.  This is widely considered a bad thing.  I waited for a while, but there was no sign of activity, so I forced the machine to shut down with the on/off switch.  It booted again, with the same paltry underscore and nothing underneath.

This is where my tiny shred of patience saved the day.  Instead of getting overly excited in a bad way (and risking physical damage to the computer, as might have happened if I had been much, much younger) I decided to unplug the mobile phone that was charging over the USB bus.  Started again with no USB connections whatsoever – and the computer continued the install of Ubuntu as if nothing had happened.

I must admit I had first thought the problem came from installing the wrong version of Ubuntu. I had left that to the installer to decide, and it installed the AMD 64-bits version. Surely, I thought, Intel is not AMD and Atom is not 64-bits.  I still think I was right on the first count, although the machine did not seem to care.  I was wrong on the second though.  This particular version of the Atom is in fact 64-bits, despite its small footprint, low price and low power consumption. What is the world coming to?

After complete installation, the computer rebooted again.  Unfortunately, it did not boot up in graphical mode (with X windows), but in pure text mode, asking for user name and password in white letters on a black screen. And then rejecting it.  I had in the meantime connected the Western Digital Passport USB-powered external hard disk.  Rebooting without it worked.

As usual, Linux is even faster than Windows, even with a new install.  Both of them are really, really fast though. Compared to my old HP laptops this one is ridiculously much faster, even though it only has 1 GB of RAM, twice as much as the last of the old ones.  This processor is really something.  Small, cool, low-power, and fast. In the good old days you could not have it all, but now you can.  And it will still be some time, it seems, till I need Ubuntu for the speed. Even Windows 7 is delightfully fast for non-gaming use.

So patience paid off eventually, what little I had of it.  But I think I will recommend starting with more patience and an USB stick.

And now, I severely need sleep. I am tired and cold and queasy and achy and came home at 10PM after cleaning in the old house.  But I got Ubuntu loaded on yet another machine and got a journal entry written, “so all in all it was a good day”.