Monday, 26 April 2021

ThinkPad X201... Beautiful & Tiny

About 9 months ago I switched from Apple and my ultra-thin MacBook Air to Linux and picked up an older Dell Latitude E5410. Performance was great, but the size and weight bothered me. So I decided to look for a smaller alternative.

I have always liked ThinkPads and had a few very old IBM ones in the past. After a week of looking I went for an X201, this is my first Lenovo ThinkPad I have had. Specs wise it isn’t much different to the Dell it was replacing, but it wasn’t about getting a faster machine.



The ThinkPad X201 packs in an Intel Core i5 2.4Ghz processor (second gen), a 12.1” screen, older style keyboard (not a fan of the new chiclet style) plus g/n wifi, USB 2, Ethernet and ExpressCard slot. Mine came with 4GB of DDR3 RAM, but it takes the same as my Dell so swapped and upgraded the ThinkPad to 8GB.

I had a 240GB SSD running Linux Mint 20.1 and it was simple case of taking it out of one laptop and putting it in the other without any fuss or needing to reinstall anything. This I have to thank my friend, and blog owner, Carl for, as I had no idea you could do this and would have wiped and reinstalled. Linux has a long history with ThinkPads and the current latest 64-bit Mint runs a dream on this X201.

Within half an hour of this tiny beast arriving this morning I had upgraded the RAM, swapped the SSD, gave it a good clean and fixed a slight bulge in the keyboard caused by a small piece of shield underneath not being in the right place.

This is a decade old business class machine. It isn’t going to suit everyone, but for web browsing, article writing and the small amount of music, image and video editing I do, this is perfect. The integrated GMA graphics card isn’t suitable for gaming, even basic games will struggle, but I have never used my laptops for gaming.

Despite its small size, the keyboard is full size with the exception of smaller arrow keys. Typing this article on it was fantastic with the only issue being the red TrackPoint button occasionally catching my fingers when typing – something I will get used to again.

The trackpad is quite small, but you expect that on a small laptop. I like the dual mouse option, TrackPoint with buttons and a multitouch trackpad with its own buttons.



It has a few extras such as built in webcam and a ThinkLight, which is a small light above the screen which will shine down on the keyboard.

This is a beautiful laptop. My Dell weighed a whopping 2.1kg and you really felt it sitting on your lap and really that is the only thing that bugged me about it. The ThinkPad however weighs around 1.4kg and is so much lighter and smaller.

For its age, it is in excellent condition, with just a few scratches on the sides and a small patch on the top that has peeled, but it looks like it is a rubbery surface.

I am very happy. I now have a great performing laptop that doesn’t crush my legs and is just the perfect combo. Modern computers are so locked down, which is why I prefer something older that I can upgrade the memory and drives in or can insert a card such as PCMCIA or ExpressCard in to add extra functionality.

Knowing the Dell ran Linux Mint fine I was expecting the same performance from this ThinkPad. I wasn’t wrong and if anything it runs a little smoother but I cannot work out why.

This really is perfect.


Written by Simon Royal. Follow me at twitter.com/simonroyal

Tuesday, 13 April 2021

How to get rid of "System Upgrade" in Discover by disabling Offline Updates in KDE Neon

KDE Neon has been my distro of choice for awhile now with no real issues but just recently I noticed that when I open Discover package manager on KDE Neon, there is now sometimes a "System Upgrade" along with other updates. And installing the "System upgrade" results in those updates being applied on shutdown and bootup, instead of straight away, thus increasing the boot and shutdown times, which I find rather annoying. It's too much like the Windows update method, which is the most irritating thing about Windows! 




Luckily, being Linux there's a way to disable it using your favourite text editor.

Edit the config file /etc/xdg/discoverrc - for example using nano -

sudo nano /etc/xdg/discoverrc

Then change UseOfflineUpdates to false like so:


And then save the file and exit, which in nano is - 

Ctrl+O  and Ctrl X

Now when opening Discover, I can see exactly what these updates are and I shall reboot when I am good and ready! 


I can kind of  see some merit in trying to avoid installing some updates while the system is in use but I'd much rather just reboot or even just logout and login to KDE since sometimes that's all that's needed. i also don;t like the way it hides what those updates are, I like to see exactly what is being installed each time without resorting to using apt all the time. Making updates act like they do in Windows is a step too far! 


Saturday, 23 January 2021

REVIEW: JBL Quantum 100 Wired Headphones

I decided to treat myself to some new headphones, I like over-ear headphones and I found these JBL Quantum 100 headphones in WH Smiths while looking for a birthday card. They were the last ones they had, as apparently people kept stealing them, they took the last ones out of their box and put them safe behind the counter. Anyway, I checked online for reviews and price comparisons and they seem to get decent reviews and are about £30 everywhere I looked. I could also have bought them from Amazon but they were there in front of me at the same price, and it's easier to take them back to a bricks and mortar shop if I need to. I was the only customer in the shop so I had plenty of time to decide and check them out to see if they looked OK before I bought them. 



The first thing that struck me about these headphones is how soft the ear pads feel and also how light they are. They are very light and comfortable to wear, even for extended periods of time. In the box next to the headphones there's a detachable mic, which I like because it's something I rarely use. Also in the box is a Quick Start Guide and Warranty. 





Sound

The Quantums have a decent sound for their price, for a budget pair of headphones, I gave them my usual headphone test of playing Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of The Moon" album through them. Speak To Me/Breathe sounded great, plenty of bass oomph to them without being too much. 



There's a little twist wheel volume control and mic on/off switch on the left hand side and the detachable microphone but it's only useful if you are using it with a device that can use the 3.5mm socket with 3 contacts (left, right and mic). 



Issues?

My only real niggle with these headphones so far is the lead only just reaches my computer from my chair, so leaning back just a few inches ends up yanking them out.  Not too keen on the angled plug either, it's not right angle, and not straight, seems designed more for mobile phone use rather than PC/gaming use. A 3.5mm socket to jack lead can extend the lead so that alleviates that issue. Also it would better for PC use if it had a seperate 3.5mm jack for the  microphone. And of course I would need a 3.5mm extension lead with the 3 pins too. They also seem to be a little too quiet when used with my phone and my desktop PC. I have the volume set to 100% on my phone and they're at an acceptable volume. On my desktop I have the volume control in Linux boosting the volume to over 100% to get an acceptable volume. It's probably not helped by me being a bit deaf but still I prefer a little head room on the volume front.   



Conclusion

Overall, I am quite pleased with these JBL Quantum 100s, they have decent sound quality for the money, and they're comfortable, fitting over my ears nicely, with soft pads on them. The slightly too short cable is my only real criticism of these headphones, clearly aimed at mobile phone usage than desktop usage, oh and they could be a bit louder too.  Hopefully they will last a while, I'll just have to see how durable these are, and I'll update this post again once I have had them awhile.  




Friday, 15 January 2021

MacOS Catalina running in QEMU on Linux

This is macOS Catalina running in QEMU on top of KDE Neon Linux. I used an easy to follow how-to at Computing For Geeks that uses the macOS-Simple-KVM project on Github. 


By default, the script sets the display resolution at a single resolution, currently 1280x720, and I haven't yet to tinker with it, It is also possible to enable PCI Express pass-through for GPUs but I am not sure how well that will work either since I am using Nvidia GT710 graphics on this machine. It's my main desktop, a HP Z400 workstation with 12GB RAM and Intel W3520 Xeon CPU, the only machine I have capable of running the macOS VM. 

MacOS seems to think it's a Late 2009 iMac 27" Core 2 Duo, since two cores are allocated to it by default. RAM and cores allocated can be changed by editing the script. I have increased the amount of RAM to 3GB. I seem to have an issue with Step 4 of the guide, adding the VM to Virt-Manager. It won't let me add the right disk image in storage so I have to start the VM from ~/macOS-Simple-KVM$ ./basic.sh every time. And Bridged Networking is a bit fiddly, so right now it can connect to the net, but not my local network. I have not thought of a particular use for this VM yet, but I am sure it might come in handy if I need a macOS-only app at some point.   




Monday, 11 January 2021

Reviving A 13 Year Old Toshiba Equium A200 Laptop With Linux Mint

I hate to see older tech being thrown out and was recently offered a Toshina Equium A200 laptop. My mum has owned it for over 10 years. Spec wise it has a 1.73Ghz Pentium processor and maxes at 2GB of RAM. As a daily driver this was getting very long in the tooth but my mum hung on to it until it really did struggle.



I know it very well. I have had it many times to clean up and speed it up a bit, until it just got too much. However, my mum is a Windows user and this machine really was couldn't cope anymore.

So when I was offered it, I immediately thought of wiping it and installing a version of Linux on it. The beauty of Linux is it runs a lot smoother than Windows and with the many distros and desktop environments you can tailor it to you hardware.

My first hurdle was this only has a 32bit processor which means it won't run the latest versions of Mint – as they require 64 bit - and that also means Google Chrome is out of the picture as it also requires 64 bit. Chromium is OK, but it suffers from a lot of plugin issues. However Firefox still seems to be working with a lot less tweaking.

So I plumped for Linux Mint 19.3 and being a low end machine I decided to go for the XFCE edition as it uses less resources.

I booted to the live version via a USB stick and set the installer going. Installation was quick even though this machine has a standard hard drive, which must be over 10 years old.

Installation was complete and all hardware was detected and automatically set up. Compared to Windows (which really struggled) Mint XFCE was very smooth and I was very surprised just how well this ancient machine handled.

Don't get me wrong, it isn't going to win any speed awards, but with the right OS on it you can extend the life of it.

It will primarily be used as a home learning machine for doing school work at home, along side watching Netflix, Amazon Prime and YouTube. It just about copes with this although full screen video really pushes it. Steam – which my son was hoping it would run – requires a 64-bit processor so that is a definite no no.

Time will tell whether this can cope with being a daily driver under Linux, but so far it is managing far better than I thought it would. Google Classrooms and Google Meet seem to run, but it is clear that it is pushing its hardware limits.

Switching from its original hard drive to an SSD made a huge improvement, but this only affects loading speeds and the operating system. It will only make minor improvements to hardware performance.

This is a 13 year old laptop with limited hardware. The 32-bit CPU and 2GB RAM ceiling really are its main limitations because it stops modern OSes running fully and the RAM is quite low by today's standards.

On the whole I have been impressed how this machine can run with a choice of lightweight Linux and a few tweaks. It has certainly given this struggling machine a last lease of life, but for how long I don't know. 

My son is using it daily and I am sure there will be things it cannot cope with, but for now it is handling his home learning work well and given the current COVID19 situation here in the UK where he is doing school work at home that is more important.

I do plan to replace it with something slightly more modern. After all, my Dell Latitude E5410 is only a few years newer but having a 64 bit processor and maxing at 8GB RAM makes a massive difference, running the latest Linux Mint Cinnamon Edition at amazing speeds.

Once again Linux saves the day.

Written by Simon Royal. Follow me at twitter.com/simonroyal

Tuesday, 5 January 2021

Unboxing and Quick Review: Chromecast with Google TV

I've been using Chromecast audios for a few years and I used to have an original Chromecast (video), the one that started it all, but have somehow lost it at some point, but then that's the problem with such tiny devices! If they're not attached to the telly or computer they are easily misplaced! I recently got the chance to setup the latest Chromecast for a friend, the snappily titled Chromecast With Google TV. The major difference compared with all the older versions is that it finally has a hardware remote control!


It arrived in the usual Google cardboard box, a bit bigger than the older ones of course. you get the device itself, the remote (and 2 AAA batteries) and a USB C power supply, that looks the same as what you get with Pixel phones, and a little instruction booklet.

I like the simple kind of flattened soap bar shape of the device but I think the remote really needs a few things changing. The little 4-way control around the Enter button can do fast forward and back but it would be nice if it could do Skip To Next/Previous Track. 


I do not need the Netflix button but it cannot be reassigned without connecting the device to a computer by USB (with Debugging set in Developer Settings) and using a third party tool to change the buttons required. But that still means sacrificing one button for another. Another possibility is buying a Bluetooth controller and using that instead, but that's extra expense on top of the £60 of the device itself. The older Chromecasts were half that price. I didn't get to setup voice control with it, which i suppose you could use to skip a track but it's just not as quick or as simple as a hardware remote.    




I do like that this device can use HDMI-CEC to control your TV - change the volume of it and switch HDMI input to the Chromecast - but this only works if your TV is supported in the long list of devices in settings. It wouldn't work properly on a Ben-Q monitor with built-in speakers that I was using. 



Just like previous Chromecasts, the setup was very easy, the only bit that took a few minutes was it downloading updated firmware for the device and for the remote. 


Overall I do like how well the Chromecast with Google TV works, that you can now it's based on Android you can install Android apps from Play, which gives it more use than the old Chromecast video I used to have and it feels a lot more refined now, I just wish it came with a better remote than had the functions of the quick remote in the Google Home app on my phone. It's worth getting one if it does what you need it to do, and was certainly a far better experience than the Roku stick I had a few years back.  




Monday, 28 December 2020

How to really make sure that Google Chrome is your Default Browser in KDE

You might find that when you have multiple browsers installed in KDE that even when you set Chrome as default, sometimes files or links open in Falkon or Konqueror or other browser you have installed. I noticed this happened recently when I sent a Chrome tab from my phone to my laptop using KDE Connect and it opened in Konqueror instead of Chrome, when everything else opened in Chrome.

Firstly check -

System Settings > Applications > Default Applications > Web Browser

You can use the filter box to quickly get to the right settings -



Secondly you can change default browser on the command line too, this is useful for doing this remotely or when you have multiple desktop environments installed.

As you can see I have Google Chrome set as default.




To really make sure Chrome opens all HTML files and links, go to 

    KDE Settings >  Configure File Associations 

    Type "html” in the filter, 

    Find the entry for xhtml+xml and move “Google Chrome” to the top of the list.

    Do the same for “html”



Click "Apply" and you're done!