My recent purchase of a Lenovo IdeaCentre Q180 has proved to be interesting. Hey, Lenovo, your choice of a Radeon graphics chipset was a poor one. I think.
64 bit Linux has always interested me. The real UNIXes like HPUX and AIX are 64 bit and rock solid number crunching beasts, so the prospect of running 64bit UNIX* for free* on my every day machine (without the cost of purchasing a Mac) has always interested me. The trouble is, 64bit Linux has a checkered past on the desktop with showstopping issues being graphics driver support, flash plugin, and support for scanning and printing, i.e. all the things that a 64bit UNIX number crunching server would never have to worry about.
Despite this, I figure things must have moved on a bit by now, especially with so many inexpensive 64bit CPU’s gracing the systemboards of most modern machines so I’d give it another go. The first thing to go was the 32bit installation of Xubuntu 11.10 on my 11.6″ Dell Inspiron 11z laptop – a trusty servant and a faultless OS, in favour of trialling 64bit Cruncbang Statler – and not the BPM (backported modules) one on Linux kernel 3, but the more stable, stoical 2.6 Linux kernel. This is 64 bit desktop OS territory so stability is important, and buggy, bleeding edge software modules are not welcome here. Not on my machine anyway.
The Lenovo Ideacentre Q180 didn’t come with an OS – an attractive proposition, not paying for an unwanted Microsoft license, and one which helped seal the deal if I’m honest. I installed 32bit Xubuntu with all my usual post-install customisations, i.e. adding the Medibuntu repository, installing recommended hardware drivers and a full apt-get update && apt-get upgrade and reboot, and finally adding Ad Block Plus and DownThemAll plugins to firefox, and installing Ubuntu One and Dropbox to re-sync all my important stuff stored in the cloud. After that, for me, apps are just apt-get installed on demand as and when I need them, such as the wonderfully convenient gscan2pdf for scanning receipts and saving them as a pdf in the cloud for safe keeping. I’m not spending hours trying to think of all the software I need and installing it before I need it. Life’s too short. Go do something else instead. If I want to rip and re-encode a DVD to divx, I’ll just apt-get install dvdrip rar libdvdcss2 as and when I need to. Not that I’d ever want to do that of course. I digress.
Once I’d verified that xubuntu 32 ran OK on the hardware, I blew it away in favour of trialling 64bit Xubuntu. My initial tests with Crunchbang 64 on the laptop were proving to be very very successful indeed. It’s been on there a couple weeks now, and I have no intention of replacing it anytime soon. So a win for Crunchbang. Yay.
I had to download and use unetbootin to create a bootable live usb stick from the downloaded .iso image since the startup disk creator packaged with the OS just didn’t like booting on the Lenovo. Not to worry. unetbootin worked a treat. Installation went without a hitch and hardware drivers installed etc as per the normal routine detailed above. I was all set to feel that “new vanilla OS” warm comfortable feeling experienced by a graffiti artist when they spot a white wall, or a surfer when turns up at an empty break, when all of a sudden the user interface started to play up. Frown time.
After some research I quickly realise there are issues with Radeon drivers and Linux full-stop, let alone on 64 bit linux, despite ATI’s claim that their driver supports both 32 bit and 64bit Linux. It also claims to support RedHat and Suse if you look closely enough, which left me wondering about the “automatic” install on Ubuntu I’d just done.
I’ve tried a number of things but the graphics card driver is definitely problematic. So it’s going to be Crunchbang 64 on the off chance it’s OK, with a post-install of XFCE for a slightly more user friendly experience (seeing as how Gnome has gone right off the rails since 3.0). Failing that, I’ll be going back to the more tried and true 32 bit distributions in the hope that the graphics driver behaves itself better. Reliability is king. Having a 640 horsepower supercar is no good if it breaks down. You’re better off with a 320 horsepower Evo.