Thursday, April 8, 2010

Tracking (my) Ubuntu boot speed.

Measuring ones boot speed may just be another benchmark, but for mobile users it is particularly useful to have a fast boot for a truly mobile experience. When one turns on a cell phone or a portable music player, we expect it to be up and running within 5 seconds before we get frustrated. Computers running a “full OS” like Ubuntu, Windows, or Mac, have never come close to the 5 second mark. The only way they have come close is by putting the computers in hibernation or standby which drains the battery.

DISCLAIMER: The results shown below represents my personal experience and do not speak for all Ubuntu users. Based on your hardware, system setup, and benchmarking method, your experience may differ from mine. Please note that your mileage may vary. For those people coming to this post from a non Ubuntu OS, welcome and thank you for your interest. Now without further delay, here are the results with additional commentary below (Click the chart for a larger version):

Results for Ubuntu 8.10 Intrepid Ibex:
There was no announced goal for boot time in this release. I used a stopwatch on several occasions to record my time. On my hardware, Ubuntu 8.10 was the slowest booting version I had ever used with times often reaching two minutes.

Boot Speed in Ubuntu 9.04 Jaunty Jackalope:
Beginning in the Ubuntu 9.04 development cycle, Ubuntu had declared a war against slow boot times. The official goal was to decrease boot times to 25 seconds.
I tracked my boot speed by installing a program called bootchart and saved my best time of 70 seconds. A far cry from the 25 second goal, but a significant improvement over the previous release.

Boot Speed in Ubuntu 9.10 Karmic Koala:
Despite the official claim that boot time had decreased to less than 25 seconds, 9.10 did not improve boot speed over 9.04. I was getting boot times in the 100 second range for 9.10 Karmic compared to 75 seconds for 9.04 Jaunty. After using 9.10 for just 3 months, boot time had got even longer to just under the two minute mark. At this point I got frustrated and decided to join the 10.04 development cycle to track boot progress more seriously...

Measuring Boot Speed in Ubuntu 10.04 Lucid Lynx (development release):
While not yet released, a 10 second boot is the goal for this version and we will see if this comes true. I joined the 10.04 at alpha 2 beginning in January 2010. Since then, I would reboot at least 2 times a day and record the average times. On some occasions, rather nasty bugs were introduced which forced me to reboot many times leading to some really strange boot readings. On those occasions, I trashed the best and worst times before recording the average (Winter Olympics style). My time for January averaged 65 seconds which is already the best I have ever seen on my computer. In February my times got even better and I averaged 45 seconds. The results for March were even better at 39 seconds.

Final Thoughts:
Ubuntu 10.04 Lucid Lynx is shaping up to be a fast booting OS. While I'm not certain that I will hit the 10 second target, I am quite confidant that my average will drop to 25 seconds for April. Ubuntu 10.04 officially comes out in 21 days and I will most likely have a follow up post (and possibly a full review) to my results here.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Best Eee PC - Past, Present, and Future

As a Eee PC owner and enthusiast, I feel the need to keep up with the netbook market. I tend to keep an eye out for whatever I feel is the best Eee PC that is currently available. This post is mostly a timeline for the good 10 inch Eee PC’s that have been released.

The Early days:
I wanted an Eee PC since the 701 first came out in 2007. I did recognize that it was still largely a toy but that didn't bother me. When the Eee PC 900 was launched in May 2008, I rushed to my local electronics store to see it first hand. The screen size and resolution had improved from 7 inch 800×480 to 9 inch 1024 x 600, the trackpad was larger, and the Intel Celeron processor was faster. I was convinced that this was the one I wanted until one month later.

The rise of the 10 Inch Netbook:

      When ASUS moved into the 10' inch market, it was a revolution. We now had a brand new Intel Atom N270 processor, keyboards 92% the size of laptop ones, readable screens and battery life which out performed many laptops. The best Eee PC became the Eee PC 1000/H. The 1000 model got bonus points for running an alternative OS, 7 hour battery life, and having 2 SSD's. The 1000H model got points for transforming the netbook from a toy, into a cheap laptop. I ended up getting the 1000 model as a gift in August 2008 and I use it to this day.

      After the release of the Eee PC 1000/H in May 2008, it would take ASUS nearly a year to top their efforts. The rest of the industry was getting busy coming up with their own netbooks and it was during this gap that the 9 inch Acer Aspire One emerged as one of the most popular netbooks. However in February 2009 ASUS did it again with the release of the Eee PC 1000HE. It had a slightly faster N280 Intel Atom processor and an improved keyboard. Battery life was improved to a claimed 9.5 hours. Although the 1000HE was the best at the time, the overall size and weight of the device was quite bulky making it not quite the same mobility device the Eee PC used to be.

      Sometime after the release of the 1000HE, ASUS began experimenting with a new form factor. It was still a 10 inch chassis but the new design meant smaller and lighter than before. They released the 1008HA but it lacked a decent battery and it was expensive. In May 2009 they perfected it and the best Eee PC became the 1005HA with the Intel Atom N280. Weight was down to 2.8 Ibs, battery life became claimed at 10.5 hours. The keyboard was changed again and the touchpad was tweaked.

Present Day:

      Since the release of the 1005HA, the netbook market has become largely stale. 9 inch offerings are now scarce and all of the netbooks from the various manufacturers have the same features and specifications. The only real battles left are between pricing, battery size, and looks. The Intel Atom has received a much needed upgrade from the N280 Atom Diamondville to the new N450 Atom Pineview. Rather than focus on performance, the new processor adds even more battery life by being power efficient. The best Eee PC you can get today is the 1005PE. It is very similar to the 1005HA, but uses the newer N450 chip and has the 1000HE keyboard has made a comeback. 

The Future:

Some interesting developments include Nvidia’s ION graphics for netbooks which greatly improves performance for gaming and HD video playback. I think it is a much needed addition to the netbook market but too costly for most. The Eee PC 1201N has the ION graphics and it considered a netbook, but at 12 inches, I disagree. In general, I feel that good netbooks need to be 10 inches and anything over that is just a laptop. Another development has been the release of something called the Broadcom Crystal HD graphics accelerator. It's a chip designed for netbooks and it allows the user to play 1080p HD content using the standard Intel graphics. It is much cheaper than getting an ION based device but it won't improve gaming performance. 
In a few months, The Eee PC 1005PR will be released and it will come with a HD Display (1366x768) as well as a Broadcom Crystal HD graphics accelerator. which means that this 10 inch Eee PC can smoothly play HD video. No word on pricing yet, but I feel that it will be around $449 USD.

Eee PC 1005PR Specs:

10.1" LED Backlit WXGA Screen (1366x768)
1.66 Ghz Intel Atom Pineview N450 CPU
1GB of RAM
250GB Hard Disk
Broadcom Crystal HD graphics accelerator 70015
WLAN 802.11b/g/n
Bluetooth 2.1
6-cell battery with a claimed 11.5 hours of battery life


Netbooks have come a long way since the original Eee PC. Going forward, I would like to see some improvements in the default operating system choice. Many users are dissatisfied with the Windows 7 Starter experience and I would like to see ASUS address this more seriously. 3G as standard would also be welcome, but 3G plans will need to get alot cheaper first.

Monday, March 1, 2010

New Archos Home Tablets

A new 7-inch device called the Archos 7 Home Tablet was announced today (Mar 1, 2010) at CeBIT. It will run Google's Android mobile OS using a 600MHz ARM9 CPU. It features a 7-inch 800×480 resistive touch-screen and weighs about 350 grams. it will have Wi-Fi, a mini USB port and battery life of 7 hours for video playback and 44 hours of music playback. It is set for launch sometime in April 2010 and will have a 2GB or 8 GB capacity + Micro SD Slot. Suggested retail price is reported at around 179 US dollars.

Compared to the Archos 5 Internet Tablet:

Similarities include the Android OS, 720p video playback, and support for many audio codecs including FLAC.

Where the Archos 7 Home Tablet is better: 44 hr music playback (compare with 22hrs), cheaper(compared with 250-500$),

Where it is worse: slower processor (ARM9 vs ARM Cortex-A8), less ram (128MB vs 256MB), no accelerometer

Other Thoughts:
This is a really good value considering the prices of all the other tablet devices out there. This is like an iPad but expandable, cheaper, and smaller. If we take a closer look at the weight, the iPad is just too big at 680 grams.This Archos device is half that. From what I have seen, this is just a very capable device overall. If you don't need the fastest tablet or on a tight budget, this may be the tablet for you. I myself am interested in this sort of stuff. I'm sure there will be more exciting announcements from CeBIT as the week progresses, but so far, this device looks like a winner.

Also announced was the ARCHOS 8 home tablet which has the same tech as the 7, but it is more like a digital picture frame.

For More Information:
ARCHOS 7 Home Tablet hands on
Hands on Video at CeBIT 2010
Official ARCHOS 7 and 8 Home Tablet link

Friday, January 29, 2010

Thoughts on the iPad and more.

With the release of the iPad just recently, Apple CEO Steve Jobs slammed netbooks during his keynote address claiming that netbooks aren't better than anything. He went on to say that they were slow, had low quality displays, and they run clunky old PC software.

I agree with Steve. These days, netbooks come with the most useless version of Windows 7 possible and a bunch of other junk that goes with that. (Ubuntu here is your chance to dominate!) The low res displays are only just starting to get better, but one of the reasons it has taken this long is mostly because Intel is either too lazy or inept to make a decent graphics chip to drive them. Compared to laptops, netbooks are slow but compared to the iPad, I doubt it. We will never find out of course because of the iPads totally different approach to the question, “Is there room for a 3rd category device in the middle?” Apple's idea isn't to take Mac OS X on a Macbook and scale it down to create the theoretical iNetbook, but rather to take the iPod Touch/iPhone and scale it up to make the iPad.

Apple made a wise decision by not introducing the iNetbook. It makes perfect sense for their business model. If they had introduced the iNetbook, it would have been disasterous and they could say goodbye to their Macbook sales. They have been fighting for years to keep the Macbook and Macbook Pro product lines separated enough to keep sales balanced. Each type of Macbook and Macbook Pro had different enough features to make the purchasing experience tough.

Eventually they gave up with keeping up many different products and have since simplified the lineup. The only decision when buying a Macbook Pro you must make is, “What size screen do I want, 13, 15, or 17?” Sure you get slightly better performance as you increase in size, but that is expected as the computer needs more power to drive the bigger displays. Compared to choosing laptops from other brands such as HP, Dell, and Acer, the choice is beyond simple. If you want a cheap mac laptop, you get the white Macbook. Need ultra thin? You can have the Macbook Air.

The iPad is a good step up from the iPod touch but not better than a Macbook. Prices range from $499 to $829 depending on how much storage you want and if you want 3G connectivity. It's priced low enough to attract sales but high enough to keep it serious. Steve claims that the iPad is good for browsing, email, photos, video, music, games, and ebooks. However I think its good at something else. It's good at being the ultimate trap device.

The people who buy this will probably choose the cheaper models thinking they are getting a deal, but I will point out that it is completely useless without video, music, apps, and ebooks. Surprise! Apple has an answer to all that by including easy access to their Music store, Video store, App store and new iBooks store. This isn't really a device you need, but rather a utensil (such as a spoon) for Apple and the content providers to use on you to make money. So even if the iPad itself isn't a smashing success, it just needs an average but loyal fan base and it looks like they will make money just fine.

Final Thoughts

I feel that if this had come out a year ago, just as netbooks were beginning to become mainstream, it would have completely overlooked the netbook craze and we would be talking about how netbooks faded away rather quickly. Now that the netbook is established and desirable to the masses, the iPad is a tough sell. For now, I will be sticking to netbooks. The closest thing there is to the iPad is the Archos 5 Internet Tablet. Although more of a portable media player than a tablet, The Archos 5 Internet Tablet runs Google's Android OS and looks like a fun device to use.

External links (just in case you missed them)