Beauty of (Arch)Linux

I’m kind of a sucker for “old” computing hardware. Not old as in 1980’s old, but old like about a decade old. I’ve always wanted to get my hands on some late 1990’s/early 2000’s laptops/PC’s to create a tinkerer’s Linux box, to see if I can bring the machine back to life, and make it usable for everyday use.

So now I’ve been presented with said opportunity. I’m currently working on a “donated” ThinkPad T22 (~900MHz, 384MB RAM, 32GB HDD @5400rpm) a friend used for her MBA class at UC Irvine — apparently it was a mandatory purchase for the school. Roughly a decade ago when this piece of IBM engineering was top-of-the-line, it made your wallet a wee bit lighter, we’ll call it by a solid $3,500 (Amazon has it currently at a more meager ~$120). Yeah. For a machine that spec-wise compares to a run-of-the-mill Android phone.

This machine came with Win XP Pro installed (not the original OS I presume), a docking station, DVD ROM swappable to a 1.44MB floppy disk reader — ah yes, old skool! —  and a PCMCIA wireless card. Apparently the ‘Pad (see what I did there) hadn’t been booted in the last 5 years, and was collecting dust in the garage. Other than a quick CMOS complaint, the laptop booted up fairly quickly, even in modern standards, and everything partied like it was 1999. Truly a remarkable machine! Keyboard feels solid, as does the whole frame. Besides a few very minor blemishes, the display looks crisp, and everything “just works” (see what I did there again).

So after 2 mins and 47 secs of XP fun and all, I was lounging on Arch Linux forums to figure out the what/how/when to put Arch Linux on this piece of IBM history.

Arch has changed the installation process from last time I was sweating the KISS principle. No more GUI/wizard installer, and I use the term “GUI” loosely here. If previously you could sort of “wing it” with the installer, now you must have the noob guide handy. All you’ll have is the terminal, with installation done through the terminal under chroot. Though the interface is more bare, the “flow” of installation is better, simpler and quicker than previously, at least IMO.

After a fairly straightforward 45 minutes of reading the manual and basic installation (a good 15 minutes was wasted on my part on partitioning, mainly deciding between, reading and figuring out, GPT vs cfdisk), it was time for elementary post installation setup, i.e. Xorg, choosing a DE/window manager, display manager etc. I was hesitant to put resource intensive DE’s like Gnome or KDE on the T22, so I compromised and went with the trusted Xfce. For a moment there I tinkered with Enlightenment DE/WM as it is modern, lightweight yet doesn’t give in on eye-candy, but in the end, Xfce is still my choice of lightweight DE.

So far so good. Using Slim display manager, boot takes ~45 secs. Desktop is snappy, Chromium is initially loaded up in just few seconds. ThinkPad’s trackball needed zero attention, no issues with graphics driver either. I’ve read suspend-to-RAM works pretty much OOB, as does CPU scaling. As this is all is WIP, I haven’t gotten yet to customizing the desktop, keyboard shortcuts, getting PCMCIA WiFi card running, network printing etc, so the laundry list does go on.

I frequently read about how Linux brings old hardware back to life, but only now this back-from-the-dead-with-Linux is beginning to slowly become a part of my everyday computing. I can honestly see this T22 replacing my Alienware M11X as the travel machine. As I carry my gear in an overnight rollaboard, I often fear having shit broken by rampers, or stolen when I leave the bag in crewrooms etc. Now, having a sub-$100, yet still bank-vault-solid and fully capable Linux laptop for the overnights might be exactly what the pilot ordered!

Wish me luck.