Wednesday 10 November 2021

Installing KDE Neon on a Lenovo Thinkpad X201

I recently acquired a Lenovo Thinkpad X201 from Tech Thoughts contributor Simon Royal, as he has upgraded to a newer and quicker Dell Latitude. This is only the second Thinkpad I have owned, the first being a W500 that had a failed discrete graphics chip, so it sits on a shelf as spares. The X201 reminds me of a smaller version of that, much lighter, and significantly more powerful, having a second gen Intel i5 M520, 2.4ghz quad core CPU instead of a Core 2 Duo and has Intel GMA integrated graphics. Being a little 12.1 inch laptop, it's much lighter than either the W500 or my old E6500 Latitude.

The great thing about these old Thinkpads (and Dell Latitudes) is they are easy to upgrade and replace components, Simon fitted 8GB RAM and a 128GB SSD. And also of course, like the Dell, they run Linux like a champ!       

Installing KDE Neon

I downloaded my distro of choice, the latest version of KDE Neon User Edition, and flashed it to a memory stick using Etcher. After setting the boot device to USB in the BIOS, it was just a case of installing in the usual way from the live CD installer, which took no time at all.

On first boot I was impressed how snappy this thing runs! Neon runs much better on this than my older Dell Latitude E6500. It's a definitly a step up from the older machine. The first thing I did after logging in was disable the silly update on reboot thing that KDE has now, as I detailed in a previous blog post, and immediately switched to Breeze Dark theme. Next I removed snapd and installed Synaptic package manager because Discover is infuriating! 

I then installed all my most used apps, such as Google Chrome, Filezilla (FTP client), Soundkonverter etc, and most importantly GIMP. I mostly use my Chromebook for general browsing the net and stuff but GIMP takes a while to start and still does not work properly in Linux on my Chromebook, copy and paste does not work properly for me, so this is one reason why I like having a 'proper' Linux running laptop to hand, with more storage and proper filesystem etc. 

As with all my KDE installs, I use Latte Dock and Papirus icons and Breeze Dark is my preferred desktop theme, and I configured KDE Connect to sync with my phone and other computers. 

There was a brief hold-up when Launchpad was down for several minutes so I had to wait a bit before I could install Strawberry music player via their PPA. Strawberry is a fork of Clementine, which has not been updated in years. Strawberry is great for large collections and has transcoding and good tag editing support.  

The X201 has the old ThinkLight that lights up the keyboard somewhat, before backlit keyboards became common. It's not quite as good as backlit keyboard but still better than no illumination at all, which none of  my other working laptops have, including my Acer Chromebook 14. 

The keyboard is a small but very usable classic Thinkpad design, it's nice to type on, though let down by the very small trackpad, one downside of tiny laptops. It's wide enough but not deep enough so two finger scrolling is more awkward, compared with the large trackpads on larger or more modern laptops, like my Chromebook, so I mostly use a USB mouse. I prefer using a mouse for image editing anyway.

I disabled the Nipple Mouse (TrackPoint) in the BIOS as I have never got on with it all and it stops me accidentally moving the mouse when catching it while typing. The screen is not bad but not quite as nice as my Dell, and whoever first purchased it specced the lower screen resolution version too, it's typical for a base spec business grade laptop. It does go quite bright if you want it to but I tend to have it less than half brightness. I've also found its SD card reader (located at the front of the X201) very useful for my old camera SD cards. Unlike most of my older laptops, it can support the larger size SD cards.  

I mostly use the X201 for a bit of browsing and making memes in GIMP while relaxing on the sofa, plus other stuff that is not possible (or very difficult) with a Chromebook, such as a bit of audio transcoding with Soundkonverter, and it performs just fine at those tasks. At times lately it actually feels snappier than my Chromebook, probably helped by the 8GB RAM, compared with only 4GB on my Acer Chromebook 14. Obviously with it's 4 cores it performs audio conversion significantly faster than my old C2D Dell Latitude, so overall I really am quite pleased with it, it's a fine little machine for its age.  

Update 18/01/2021 - I found that occasionally I have been getting the dreaded Fan Error preventing it form booting, so I think it could do with a clean, though that is quite a fiddly process of removing a dozen screws, keyboard and other bits. I am hoping i have alleviated the issue somewhat by installing and configuring Thinkfan, which should keep the temperatures in check too. I also found this forum post here helpful 

Monday 12 July 2021

Linuxiversary... One Year With LinuxMint.

Time flies when you are having fun and it certainly seems this year has been a great one for me in terms of computing. Exactly a year ago today I decided enough was enough and I left the Apple world behind after being an avid fan for over 20 years.

The build up had been coming for a few months – actually a few years previous I had ditched my iPhone for an Android handset - and the 13th July 2020 marked my first full day using Linux as my main operating system. 

I had dabbled for many years on and off, having an admiration for Linux. Early 2020 saw me switch to Linux Mint on my MacBook Air as a main OS, but that glowing fruit logo bugged me.

So I sold my beautiful slim and lightweight 11” MacBook Air and replaced with a rather large and chunky Dell Latitude E5410. Specification wise both laptops were similar – especially after upping the RAM in the Dell and swapping out the old hard drive for an SSD. My road to full time Linux and the final nail in leaving the Apple ecosystem had began.

It has been an amazing year. I have really gotten to grips with Linux. It is hard to learn a new way of doing things after 20 years but it soon felt natural. I am by no means a Linux expert, but I had enough knowledge to get me going and each day I learnt more and the last year has been fun.

It has been a fairly easy ride with only a few minor hiccups along the way which required me to learn how to overcome these - but at least it gave me even more knowledge.

In February 2021 I swapped my large Dell for a slimmer ThinkPad X201 – once again similar specs, just smaller.

I have never been happier. Linux is a great alternative. The mid 90s saw me venture into Windows which I didn't enjoy and I very quickly swapped to MacOS. I have never been a fan of Windows (to put it lightly), so there really was only one way out of the Apple world for me and that was via Linux.

I have modest needs when it comes to computing. I don't play games on my computer and only use it for web browsing, writing and  as well as picture, music and minor video editing and my 11 year old ThinkPad more than copes with my needs.

Linux is truly where I want to be and it is hard to believe I have been using it full time for a year already. Here is to many more happy years as a Linux user.

Check out my YouTube channel for portable and older gaming as well as tech videos, including ThinkPad X201 running Linux video.

Also check out my review of the ThinkPad X201.

Written by Simon Royal. Follow me at

Monday 28 June 2021

Hardware Review: Kygo B9/800 Wifi Smart Speaker with built-in Chromecast

The Kygo B9/800 wireless speaker is a portable speaker with Google Chromecast and Google Assistant built in, which means you can "OK Google" it to play something from Spotify or Youtube Music, or some other services. It is priced around the same price as a Google Nest Mini, usually about £20 from Amazon, but unlike the Nest, it also has Bluetooth and a line-in jack, and an internal battery which means the Kygo can be used when out and about without wi-fi, away from a plug socket. 

In the box, the device comes with a 2.1A 5.0V power supply with a USB socket on it, much like a phone, and a swappable 2 pin plug, that could be used in a shaver socket and what looks like a US plug, and a 3 pin plug adaptor if you are in the UK. 

The Kygo uses a supplied USB C cable to charge the internal battery. There's also a handy 3.5mm jack-to-jack lead for using the line-in.    

The Kygo is "waterproof" or actually water resistant, with a flap that covers the ports, so it could be useful in the bathroom. 

According to the little instruction book, it has an IPX7 rating, which means it can be "immersed in water for up to 1 meter for 30 minutes (3 feet)", though I have not tested it, and it can float!  

The tiny instruction booklet reminds me of the Little Book of Calm from Black Books...

On the side there are Power, Bluetooth, Mic Mute and Volume buttons. Hold the power button to turn on and it starts the setup process, just like a Google Nest or Chromecast, setup is all done using the Google Home. Similarly hold the Bluetooth button to pair that to your phone. There's also a special Kygo button, apparently for Kygo content but I have yet to try that.

Sound quality is surprisingly good, fairly decent volume for a speaker of its size, with some bass to it but only if you sit to the side of it, still comparable to the Nest Mini. You can also use Speaker Pairs to create a stereo pairing if you have two of them. In stereo they sound even better, in fact very much better.   

Overall, the Kygo is a good alternative to the Google Nest Mini, with the added advantage of being portable and having a line-in and Bluetooth, which makes it much more useful. With fairly decent volume, reasonable sound quality and water resistance, it's a good little portable speaker for the price.

Sunday 16 May 2021

Linux Audio: ALSA & PulseAudio - My First Linux Headache

I have been using Linux full time for about 9 months and it has been both a breath of fresh air and a steep learning curve. I had a basic knowledge of Linux, enough to get me by and enough to know I wanted to use it full time.

After using Linux Mint without any major dramas, this week I hit my first stumbling block. It was enough to make me question briefly if I had made the right choice. Being an Apple user for over 20 years I knew their hardware and operating systems inside out and being a relatively newbie to Linux I am still finding my feet and occasionally feel out of my depth.

I was trying my hand at music production using Reaper – a digital audio workstation - and purchased a USB MIDI keyboard (my second actually) and struggled to get the two to work properly.

Playing the keyboard it was hit and miss if the sound came out all the time. Rapidly pressing the same note it wouldn’t always play. Like I said I bought a keyboard prior to this – an Akai LPK25 – which suffered the same problem as this Korg NanoKey2.

After a process of elimination, I realised it wasn’t my rather aged hardware or my on-board sound, nor were either keyboard at fault. The problem lies with Linux itself and the way it handles audio. After some rather heavy reading on how audio works in Linux, it came down to a problem with PulseAudio.

Linux uses ALSA – Advanced Linux Sound Architecture - as a base for audio. It is built in to the kernel, but to use it within a desktop environment you use an additional layer called PulseAudio. It is this additional layer that causes audio delays. 

Latency is a big problem with Linux audio and eliminating this can be awkward. You can use a low latency kernel – although this didn’t make any difference for me - or even a real time kernel - but that requires a specific distro.

JACK is another option, but getting JACK to work can be tricky and a bit hit and miss. I couldn’t get JACK to work with ALSA, but JACK with PulseAudio didn’t solve my skipping audio issue.

I finally got ALSA working on its own and tweaking the settings in Reaper (the Periods and RT Priority) overcame my missing note problem. 

I am not going to say it is 100% perfect, but it certainly perfectly useable. I am sure further tweaks could improve my situation and even the possibilities of killing PulseAudio temporarily to free up more resources.

This is my first real problem with Linux. It pains me to say this, but it doesn’t happen in Windows and if your audio drivers do cause this issue you can install ASIO easily to overcome it. Mac has Core Audio which doesn’t suffer from latency issues either.

You can install ASIO via Wine in Linux, but I didn’t want to go down this route as that can cause more issues to resolve.

For me ALSA is working at present and that is good enough for me. It has been a huge learning curve and quite a stressful experience, but I am all the wiser now.

Written by Simon Royal. Follow me at

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.

Check out my YouTube channel for portable and older gaming as well as tech videos, including my video review of the ThinkPad X201.

Written by Simon Royal. Follow me at

Tuesday 13 April 2021

How to get rid of "System Upgrade" in Discover 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. To disable offline updates, 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. 


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). 


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.   


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$ ./ 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

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.