I'm a creature of habit, preferring to use tools that do a good job. At some point, that stops being the case because either something breaks, or bit-rot sets in, or worse, it g-e-t-s s--l--o--w and painful to use. That's what happened with my old lenovo ideapad s10. I loved the heck out of this thing. It's not new, but it shouldn't be painful to use, right? I mean, isn't that what Linux is known for? Making the old things usable, again? Maybe it's true in some cases, but not so much with the IdeaPad. What do you mean I can't run a modern browser on a piece of damaged hardware that never accepted the upgrade ram I tried to install? So you're telling me that 1GB of RAM isn't enough to run chrome and 3 VMs simultaneously on my netbook?!?? What's a nerd to do?
The obvious answer is to re-enact a now-famous scene from Office Space, with my netbook standing in for the printer/fax machine. (What does PC/LOAD LETTER MEAN?!) Stepping back from the ledge, I realize there may yet be hope for the netbook, but not really running more modern browsers. Maybe others can offer some suggestions in that department, but I don't know if Xombrero supports plugins... and I've got other irons in the fire. Instead, I took to looking for an inexpensive alternative. Something with the ability to get some work done and also be lightweight enough to go on the road. Enter a used Surface 3 I picked up on eBay. This non-pro model has 4 GB RAM and uses a newer Atom processor. I passed up several listings with visible or the mention of damage in the descriptions. ALWAYS read the descriptions closely. Wound up winning an auction for less than $165 that came with a keyboard and power supply. The listing explained that windows had been replaced with Ubuntu 17, which is what I was looking for anyway. The auction started for less than $100, but apparently I wasn't the only person who thought this was a good idea. Still comparable to a chromebook, but with 64GB of storage. Say what you want, but I've enjoyed the surface tablet form-factor. To each their own.
The box arrived ahead of the estimate and was well packed. The listing said it was a bit dirty, and they were truthful. Took a bit of effort, but the screen is in great shape, the body has a few scratches, but that's okay. I spent time with some following the instructions on cleaning the keyboard and the special coating surrounding it and on the bottom of the type cover. Once ungrodified, I left it to dry near a fan, because I'm impatient. I even cleaned the power brick and USB cable that powers the tablet. Having interned with a video production company, I've been trained to be nice to cables, as they can either be your friend or enemy, depending on the situation. The power cable in this case... was treated like it owed somebody money. It cleaned up with some rubbing alcohol and maybe it will last? Time will tell. Oh, I forgot to mention... While this is a full tablet, it should charge / run on an external battery as long as it supports 2.5a. I've had success with Anker as a brand, but I'm sure others would work too. Just make sure the specs support 2.5a. So next time you realize you forgot the power supply, at least a phone charging battery could extend your computing session. Can't do that with a pro model at this price.
Being cautious by nature, I knew I would feel better if I re-installed from scratch, but I've never done this before. I'll admit that this took a bit more learning than expected, but was well worth the experience. I started tinkering before the reply came in... I tried 'password' and 'user' or 'admin' but sadly didn't try the shorter 'pass'. Shame, I suppose, but being so impatient, I went ahead and tried to re-build using an existing live image from a thumb drive. Oops! UEFI is different?? WHAAaaat? Of course it won't be that simple... so did a bit of learning there... so after trying 3 different attempts at rebuilding, I'm right back with Ubuntu 17.04... I had to use the simplest, unpowered USB hub I could find, because the surface only has one port. Now the one I used is a y-2146 by Unitek, but it's long since out of production. Maybe a newer version will also work? The track pad from the keyboard didn't always get recognized, depending on the distro. Worse still, the touch features only worked in Ubuntu 17. This meant I really needed a hub to add a wireless mouse. The keyboard worked, but it was a bit tricky working out keyboard only installation. Even harder to get wireless active without use of the touch screen or a mouse. So adding a hub before booting seemed the right move. Thankfully it worked and the tablet DID boot from the thumb drive.
Mint 18 and mint mate 18 were great, albeit without touch support and some other things, until the firmware updates tried to install. Then it was HANG city... and rebooting didn't help. Tried 16.04.03 LTS and BOY that was real hit and miss with firmware support. On power it seemed ok, but trying to boot on battery was _terrible_... Realized I would have to rebuild the kernel just to get things usable... So I went back and rebuilt 17.04 and that did it. Everything 'just works' now. Oh, except there was no sound... Launched a browser, tried youtube... tried internet radio in VLC... Nothing worked. Was just starting to look things up in a search engine, when I thought to check the sound settings. Of course the 'no sound' issue was as simple as changing to 'speakers' vs. headset! So, it all works again, and it was a frustrating, but all-in-all fruitful learning experience. The only minor irritations so far: the brightness control doesn't seem to work to dim the screen and the battery indicator isn't showing up on the Gnome Panel. Fairly small things to deal with. Ubuntu 17.10 is right around the corner, so hopefully the experience should keep right on getting better (or not, but I'm going to go with the optimism on this one). The docking station is certainly inexpensive enough... Looking forward to making use of this every day.
Happy tinkering, learning, growing, and computing. Thanks for reading!