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Grandpa Gets a Dell with Ubuntu Linux Preinstalled
Saturday, July 28 2007 @ 10:55 AM EDT

Groklaw member Tyche got a Dell Inspiron 530N with Ubuntu Linux and when I saw him post that he'd ordered it, I asked if he'd please write up a quick review after it arrived. He has done so, and as you will see, he found getting online so easy he had nothing at all to do to make it happen. Just poof.

Now, he has the skills to set up whatever he wants, really, but even when you know how, it's so pleasant when it just works. And if all your grandpa wants to do is surf, he can do this. So, here's Tyche's review, in case you are thinking about a new computer. I'm thinking about a laptop, and if I do it, I'll let you know how it goes also.

If you follow along by watching the Dell videos explaining each component, you will get more out of this. At least I did. You need to hit the arrow to see all the options to the right, and it helps to hit the icon furthest to the right to see the final ones. For example, the last item is Optional Parts. The default is none. But you can add IEEE 1394a Adapter port, which is included in the price already. I use a Lacie external hard drive for storage and own a Mac laptop, and so for me a Firewire port is important, so I'd want that. But why wouldn't anyone? It's included in the price, so I'd want to be sure to select it. There are a number of other items where it pays to look closely at your options. I also see that as of this morning, you can get $100 off one of these desktops, so you'd pay $499 if you chose every default.


Review: Inspiron 530N with Ubuntu Linux
~ by Tyche

On June 30, 2007, my wife and I decided to upgrade my life by replacing my home-made‚ Pentium III computer with a Dell Inspiron 530N with Ubuntu Linux. This would be the first time in almost 10 years that I had purchased a name brand computer. A number of things prompted me to choose the Dell, in particular the fact that Dell had kept the price down but included a number of things that I was interested in getting.

The Inspiron included things like:

1. Intel®Pentium® dual-core processor E2140 (1MB L2,1.60GHz,800 FSB) -- The heart of any computer. Oh, my! Dual processor at 1.6 Giga Hertz speed? That certainly beats my tired old Pentium III at 750 Mega Hertz.

2. Memory: computers needs lots. 1GB Dual Channel DDR2 SDRAM at 667MHz- 2DIMMs memory. Twice the memory of my old machine? Better and better. [Note: this is an option, upgrading from the default, which is 512MB Single Channel DDR2 SDRAM at 667MHz - 1DIMM. But it's no extra. If you take the default, you reduce the price by $50.)

3. Monitor: 19-inch SE198WFP Widescreen Digital Flat Panel. More space sideways? Yes!! [Note: This is an upgrade, at $20 extra, from the default 17-inch. Note that if you choose no monitor, you subtract $170 from the price.]

4. Video card: despite what they say, bigger is better. 256MB NVIDIA Geforce 7300LE TurboCache video card. A definite upgrade on my NVIDIA GeForce 4 that was struggling with some videos and all movies. [Note: This is an upgrade from the default, which is 128 MB, and it adds $100 to the price and can delay delivery slightly.]

5. Operating system: Ubuntu Desktop Edition version 7.04. Good! I won't have to strip the system and install Ubuntu myself. That would let me get into playing with my new toy all the sooner. [Note: You can get support for 30 days for an additional $65 or for one year of Basic Support at $125 or 1 year Standard support for $275.]

6. CD/DVD drive: 16x DVD+/-RW Drive. Again good. I wouldn't have to install a DVD drive myself, and this one would be sure to be compatible with the system. Also, it was a +/- burner, which meant that no matter which disks I picked up, it could use them. [Note: This is an upgrade from the default 48X CD-RW/DVD Combo Drive, and it adds $30 to the price.]

7. Sound card: Integrated 7.1 Channel Audio. Well, you can't have everything. I'm used to Soundblaster, but I'll try it out and see how it works. If it can play Midi's as well as more normal sound files, I'll be happy. If not, I can always replace it with a different card.

8. Warranty and service: 1 Year In-Home Service, Parts + Labor - Next Business Day warranty and CompleteCare Accidental Damage Protection, 1 Year. OK! Who's been talking about my thumb-fingered abilities with assembly?

9. Speakers: None. This is a good thing. I would be able to select what I wanted, and not have a set of "spares" around gathering dust.

The projected date of shipping was July 31, 2007. This turned out to be too pessimistic. In fact, the machine was shipped on July 18, 2007. We followed the FEDEX shipping with avid interest as it moved from place to place. Wait a minute! "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" was to come out on the 21st. That's not fair! How am I supposed to brave the crowds at my favorite Barnes and Nobel store and assemble my new computer on the same day? How am I ever going to manage to read the book AND do an adequate analysis of the computer for PJ at the same time? Can't be done! Something's got to give. One must keep ones priorities correct. PJ will just have to wait a couple of days.

The reality was less confusing than it sounds. We knew that the computer was on the FEDEX truck and would be delivered on Saturday. I had NO intention of going to the book store at midnight Friday night to pick up my (pre-ordered) copy of the Deathly Hallows‚ and was willing to wait until the computer showed up to go get it. Besides, I knew that in addition to assembling the new computer, I would have to disassemble the old one and recycle the associated parts of it in two different directions -- the monitor to my wife and the rest to my grandson. It was going to be a long weekend. Not only that but there was the transfer of all the personal files and configurations to the new machine (you DO know that all the emails and settings can be transferred from one Thunderbird to another fresh install, don't you?)

Saturday morning dawned bright and early (all the earlier for us, since we were up before the sun. We have cats that insist on being fed at 4:00 in the morning). And then the wait began. And we waited. And we waited. And just as I was going to go to the bathroom the truck showed up (for the sake of Ms. Jones sensibilities I won't describe THAT minor panic). By the time I got to the front door, the monitor was already in the apartment and I got the computer itself and signed for it. I moved the two cartons to my room (my wife and I have had a "separation". We both snore. The first one to sleep got to sleep. The solution was two rooms at opposite ends of the apartment).

Then it was off to the book store to pick up the latest Harry Potter book. Plus an extra one for my daughter. Then it was back home, and I'm left in my room like the donkey who starved to death between two piles of hay (he couldn't decide which one to eat). Finally, I decided to set up the computer first and turn it on.

The first thing that I discovered was that the monitor was capable of full digital performance. Dell even supplied both cords, to allow the customer to decide which way he wanted to hook it up (though the one attached to the monitor was the blue analog cable). I had used a full digital monitor at work (before I retired) and absolutely approved of them. So, obviously, I opted for the digital.

Here, please insert the description of your choice of how I managed to find room on my desk for the new computer, while maintaining the old computer in it's place for the upcoming file transfers. No matter how you describe it, it probably won't do justice to the Rube Goldberg set-up that transpired.

Needless to say, I eventually managed to get the system set up and turned on. Ubuntu was already installed and only needed to be finalized for individual use. This is an easy procedure. Simply answer some questions about language, location (for time zone), and login information (name and password). Then it comes up -- Ubuntu Linux 7.04, code named Feisty Fawn. Since this is what I had been running on my old P-III I was somewhat used to it already, all except for the "desktop enhancements" which wouldn't run on the old machine. Not enough memory or CPU speed.

They certainly run on the NEW machine. I felt like my chair should have a 5-point seatbelt. Ubuntu immediately found my network without even trying and suddenly I was reading Groklaw (did you REALLY think I would go anywhere else first?). It was that easy.

I did bring up another site, the Ubuntu forums. I needed information on how to transfer the files through the LinkSys router. I didn't get the information there, as it turned out; it may be there somewhere, if I had searched longer, but I decided to figure it out for myself. [Note: Here's a page dealing with that question. Many of the questions on Ubuntu forums are by people who installed the operating system themselves; it's obviously easier if you buy it preinstalled.] I next let Synaptic (the package manager and installation program for Gnome windows manager) install 87 updates. This took about 10 minutes, in the background, while I read Groklaw comments.

I also selected some other programs to install (about 48 more programs, in fact) including a firewall. This proved to be my downfall in interconnecting the two computers, but I persevered. The answer was to set the firewalls of both of the computers to only receive and transmit to the other computer. The firewall I use is called Firestarter. Though unnecessary in Linux, particularly behind a hardware firewall (which the Linksys is), I feel more comfortable having one. Then I shared the "home" directory on the old machine by going to the System pull-down and selecting Administrative - shared folders and selecting the directory I wanted shared. I then could SSH (secure shell) between the two machines and begin transferring by copying the sub-directories to the new machine.

At this point, I was able to start reading "the Deathly Hallows". I read it while waiting for the transfer to finish. I read it in the car, while going to get speakers for the new computer (it didn't come with speakers, which was good. I was able to get speakers that included BASS (pronounced base). I read it while trying to figure out how to hook up the two machines. I read it in the car, taking my old computer over to my daughter's apartment to hook it up for her son. I finished it Monday night at about 7:00 (and NO! I won't tell you the ending. However, I've got to go back and re-read all the other books in the series to see how all the loose ends that J. K. Rowling tied off fit into the previous books.)

So, how do I feel about the new machine? WOW! It makes Microsoft's "wow" look more like "huh?" I'm happy.

First, sound. The sound card was automatically found by the operating system, and ready to go for basic things, like mpegs and pre-recorded CD's. I know it can do CD audio, because I put on "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" on Monday night, and it rained in the Valley of the Sun on Tuesday Night (for reference, see Walt Disney's "Fantasia", the Mickey Mouse sequence). Midi (which is electronically produced sound, with no actual basis in reality) was a different story. There are a number of ways to get Midi to work, and some of them require a great deal of effort and knowledge. I cheated. I downloaded a program called Automatix which, in turn, downloaded the programs and codecs that I would need for a great deal of multi-media experience. [Note: Michael Dell uses Automatix on his home laptop, a Dell Precision M90. You probably want to read the FAQ before you download, and if you decide to here are instructions on installing it. And here's a page on the topic of if you even need Automatix any more if you are running Ubuntu 7.04.]

Here, I have to caution you. There are some codecs (basically a codec is a programming explanation of what a sound or video format is for, and how to present it) and descramblers that are legal or not legal depending on where you live. Automatix puts your ability to choose them in one place with a warning. The choice is up to you, whether or not you download them. It's the same with Ubuntu's setup. You can read about the issues on this Ubuntu page on Restricted Formats and on this Medibuntu page and this one on Free Formats, so you can make responsible choices according to your area.

I can actually view movies, like "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" without glitching and hesitation. And with REAL SOUND. Almost theatrical-type sound, including bass that I can feel through my feet and chair. It also plays music files and CD's (I played "The Sorcerer's Apprentice‚" which is why Phoenix Metro got rain. If you don't get the connection, see Walt Disney's "Fantasia").

I'm very happy with my computer. I feel the price was reasonable, and the service was good. In fact, Dell appears to have gone to the "Scotty school of engineering" -- project how long you expect a project to take, then double the time. Then, when you come in under that time, you look like a whiz.

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