Every year or two I get the urge to try something new, something different, something.. that does pretty much the same thing Windows can do. Last year I ventured into unknown territory, installing OSX on my netbook. The experience was interesting in of itself, but as soon as I got a laptop with Windows 7, it was quickly forgotten. Anyhow, I figured I’d give Ubuntu another go, and test the hardware support on my T400 Thinkpad. The install went without a hitch from a bootable USB drive (created with unetbootin).
I was initially impressed by the fact that almost all of the hardware worked out of the box, without much need to use the command line, rebuild the kernel, or track down proprietary drivers. However, upon spending more time with it, I noticed that my battery life had taken a turn for the worse, yielding just over an hour and a half, whereas Windows 7 would run for four to five hours, give or take.
This is specifically one of the annoyances I’ve had with Linux, as I’ve tried to adopt it long-term over the past decade. It seems nice, the philosophy of free to use free to modify is great, but there’s always one deal breaker. In the past, it was lack of 3d support for the random Nvidia card I had at the time. Sure there were forums and forums of information, and I did infact spend hours trying to get it to work, but in the end it was more hassle than it was worth.
After hours of messing around with it, I finally got to the bottom of it, compiz (compositing windows manager) was the culprit. Switching from Compiz to Metacity (disabling the compiz visual effects in gnome, by turning the visual effects to “none”) increased the battery life of my laptop by about two hours. Given I was sure I could eek out more, I disabled a bunch of on-board hardware through the bios, installed Intel’s PowerTop tool to look at power usage which could be optimized, lowered the screen brightness, and can now get five to six hours out of the notebook.
Long story short, I spent about five hours of researching and tweaking to get Ubuntu to provide similar battery performance to that of Windows 7 (with Lenovo drivers) out of the box. I suppose this says something for the Lenovo Enhanced Experience (yay marketing) drivers. In the end, I’m going to stick it out with linux – I’ve gotten Dropbox and LastPass set-up, VLC plays my movie files, and chromium is on track for my web browsing. Linux is definitely moving in the right direction, though having serious bugs like the one I experienced in Compiz (the settings were default, medium level visual effects) is definitely something which should be addressed.
Ubuntu Screenshot for those curious how the 10.04 beta looks: