Ubuntu 12.04 on a high-end laptop


Updated: May 12, 2012

After rather successfully reviewing Precise Pangolin on my T61 with SSD, I decided to expand the testing to other machines I have. Most importantly, I wanted to see how well this latest LTS edition of Ubuntu behaves on my higher-end laptops, blessed with an Nvidia card. So I took it for a spin on my LG machine.

In today's terms, you might call the three-year old laptop somewhat old, but it still comes with a proper 64-bit processor, it has 4GB of RAM, which is quite decent, and there's the Nvidia 9600M GS, which still runs most Linux games quite well. All right, let's see how I fared.

Teaser

Nouveau is dreck

I am sorry for being so blunt, but there's no other way to describe it. Ever since it had been introduced and force-fed into the kernel, it gave me nothing but problems, higher memory and CPU usage that Nvidia, slower responsiveness, much lower performance, much higher heating, as well as other weird issues. This time, though, the experience was absolutely abysmal.

The live session with Nouveau was virtually unusable. The CPU was almost without fail at 100% because of it. I did somehow manage to fire up the installer and get going, but then it froze. I was forced to reboot into the direct installation mode, where I finally succeeded in getting Ubuntu 12.04 committed to the disk.

The setup

Now, the configuration is quite tricky here. The system has four distros booting from it, including two Lucids, one Maverick and one CentOS. I have decided to start replacing the Ubuntu installations with more modern incarnations thereof, and there's going to be Linux Mint for sure, but we will talk about that domestic revolution on another occasion.

At this stage, I decided to replace the first instance of Lucid, booting with a user named roger, and import the user's home, replete with documents, settings and other fancy stuff. All in all, it worked well, sans the Nouveau stuff.

Partitions

The installed system

I was pleasantly surprised when the machine booted. First, there's no more splash screen flickering, alternating between black and kernel buffer messages and the expected purple. It was a smooth ride. Second, the system came up with the Nvidia driver already installed and configured, which is similar to what I've observed with Kubuntu Natty on my desktop.

All my documents were also properly imported, including the wallpaper, Wireless settings and such. The Launcher also displayed all of the shortcuts that were previously placed in the top panel of the Lucid installation, including their correct order, save the programs that were no longer installed. Even the right position of window buttons was preserved. Not bad at all. The only thing I had to tweak was the size of the Launcher from the huge 48px down to a more reasonable 32px bottom limit.

Installed system

Nvidia panel

Drivers available

Moreover, Cheese works fine, which it did not in the last Ubuntu release, for some reason, so there's another improvement there too. And the battery indicator seems to have been sorted, probably in one of the tiny updates since the official release.

Webcam

Battery indicator

Now, on the bad side, there were some problems. One, Jockey notification did read Restricted drivers! Holy banana, wasn't this supposed to have been resolved by now? The second issue was, I got the Nvidia driver 295.40, which is rumored to be rather buggy on Linux, which it was. I observed a somewhat high Xorg and compiz CPU usage, and the responsiveness was less than with Lucid, which was a disappointment.

Eventually, which means about 15 minutes later, I did resolve the issue, and I was soon up and running like a champ with a crisp and fast system, but I will tell you the secrets of how I tamed Nvidia 295.40 drivers on Pangolin in another article.

Anyhow, the system usage is about 500MB, which is a little more than previously, but still nothing too dramatic. With Nouveau in live session, it was around 800MB. But again, we will talk about the graphics card separately.

System usage

The power consumption is similar to what Lucid offers, with about two hours of battery. That's not quite stellar, but reasonable enough. I guess you can't milk the cow for more than it can give.

Power settings

Conclusion

This time around, the Pangolin experience was a little rougher than before. However, in a weird sort of way, you could say it wasn't the distro's fault per se, although average users will not care where the problems stem from. But if suggestions can be offered, then a switch to kill with fire the open-source driver, and an ability to choose which version of Nvidia drivers to install, not only the latest ones, as sometimes regressions happen.

Anyhow, Ubuntu 12.04 Precise Pangolin works well on this machine. All in all, it doesn't offer any revolutionary advantages over Lucid Lynx, but perhaps that's what long-term releases should be, a small improvement if that. There's a bit of an aftertaste because of all the graphics card issues, which I've really not expected, but then the resolution was quick and simple. Well, I'll keep you updated as I freshly test new things. Stay tuned.

Cheers.

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