Thursday, September 9, 2010

The HP Mini 110 Netbook: Almost One Year Later

Last October, after my third Sylvania netbook failed, I took the refund I had received and bought an HP Mini 110 netbook as a replacement. I ordered directly from HP and customized the little machine to my needs, choosing a 16GB SSD over the 160GB conventional hard drive. I also chose to upgrade the machine to 2GB RAM but did it myself with after market RAM rather than pay HP's rather inflated price for memory. My system came preloaded with Ubuntu 8.04 (Hardy Heron) and HP's now defunct Mi interface. I've now had the machine for just short of 11 months and I am still completely pleased with it.

In my various articles about since late 2008 I've had numerous comments about how netbooks are really toys, how they are underpowered, how they can't do real work, and so on. I have a one word reply: nonsense! Oh, perhaps they are underpowered when running Windows, a bloated and overly resource hungry operating system. Running Linux, as in any of a variety of distributions, there is nothing I can do with my desktop that I can't do with my HP Mini 110. Video editing? No problem. Compiling software? Yep, just fine. Writing with the little, built-in keyboard? I do it all the time. The netbook isn't as fast as the desktop when I use resource intensive applications, of course, but the portability has made it a constant companion for me.

I also write Linux distribution reviews now and again for either O'Reilly or DistroWatch. The net result is that I have installed and tried probably far too many distributions on the little machine. All of them except for openSUSE 11.2 worked well. (I have not tried a newer openSUSE version yet.) I did find some distros require that a parameter be passed to the kernel in order for the installer to boot properly.

The most frequent complaint I've read online from folks who install Linux on the HP Mini 110 is that some have problems getting Broadcom 4312 wireless to work with some distributions. I've found that Ubuntu works out of the proverbial box and on others I need to add the proprietary Broadcom STA (wl) driver. Some distributions package the driver (i.e.: Pardus) but most do not. If you are relatively new to Linux you probably want to stick to Ubuntu or one of the derivatives that use the Ubuntu repositories. The Pardus wiki also has good instructions for getting wireless and the 3G modem going. If those instructions are clear to you then Pardus is another distro that is quite easy to use on the Mini 110. A more advanced user who is comfortable at the command line, with editing configuration files, and with compiling software should be able to make almost any Linux distribution work well with this system. I am currently using SalixOS 13.1 as my primary Linux distribution on the netbook. That is, as always, subject to change.

It did take me a little while to get used to the keyboard but the small size was not the issue. I don't mind a small keyboard. This netbook actually has larger keys than my old full size Toshiba laptop did but the keys aren't beveled: they are completely flat. Until I got used to typing on the HP I made more errors with this keyboard than I did with the smaller Sylvania netbook. Now that I've had the HP Mini 110 for 11 months I can type at full speed on the keyboard and it seems perfectly natural to do so to me.

The screen on the Mini 110 is bright and easy to read even without my reading glasses. Battery life is OK, at something under three hours, but I have not upgraded to the long life battery pack. I am still using just the stock pack that came with it. The Sylvania was better in this respect.

In summary: everything just works for me and works well. The HP Mini 110 is rugged enough to go anywhere and it has been 100% reliable for me. I like the SSD because the system is all but silent and the performance seems to be every bit as good if not better than a conventional hard drive.

Why write about a discontinued netbook now? Well, for one HP has a very similar model (the Mini 210) for sale. Second, there is always the used market. Finally, I've actually used the thing long enough to write in an informed way. It's a pity HP no longer offers Linux preloaded. If they did I would recommend their netbooks to anyone.


Unknown said...

Broadcom just announced the release of open source drivers yesterday for their wireless chips.

Caitlyn Martin said...

The new Broadcom driver does not include the 4312 chipset. The HP Mini 110 and the newer Mini 210 use the 4312 so the situation for these netbooks remains unchanged.

dougz said...

I love my little Acer Aspire One with 160 GB HD. The original Linpus Linux was so buggy as to be virtually unusable, but Ubuntu Netbook Remix was OK. I'm currently running Crunchbang Statler Alpha 2 (Debian Squeeze with Openbox) and that is my favorite netbook OS by far. Solid and quite zippy.

Caitlyn, I love your stuff but white-on-black at the default font size doesn't work so well for those of us with older CRTs (and older eyes...)

Caitlyn Martin said...

I don't have a default font size set at all. It is possible (read: Google) does but I haven't set anything. I respectfully suggest you change your browser settings to compensate.

Grant Wagner said...

I'm now on my third Asus (this time, an EEE 1015) and I couldn't agree more. In all cases I've replaced the original OS (previously with Lenny Testing, most recently with Ubuntu Current). Install is no more complicated that any other machine I've worked with, and I do use my computer for everything I do except those tasks which demand an optical drive, such as ripping CD's, DVD's and some windows based gaming. It's completely changed my world.

Caitlyn Martin said...

Thanks for your comments, Grant. I actually purchased an external DVD/CD writer back in 2006 for about $65. Nowadays I see small ones designed for use with netbooks and notebooks starting at around $40. You don't need a separate system to have an optical drive.

The only reason I bought a desktop again last winter was to compile, package and test 64-bit software. That was something I really couldn't do on a 32-bit netbook. The $160 price tag for a very decent system during the holiday season didn't hurt, either.

Grant Wagner said...

For the moment, my "optical disc" needs are being split between a classic P4 home server (1TB HD, Samba, Cups, Subversion, MPD, Debian Stable) which I often use for media ripping and sharing around the home, and a now fairly aged Home Built Core 2 Due "Power" machine ( GeForce 9800, Dual Boot Windows XP, Debian testing) which is almost completely now used for windows gaming. I hope to replace the server shortly for something based on an arm processor, such as a beagle board.

mguthart said...

As a fellow HP Mini user, I's a really great little machine (I run Ubuntu 10.04 on the same 16GB SSD). My only complaint with these earlier models is with the positioning of the mouse buttons. Personally, it drives me nuts having them on the sides of the mouse pad, and I'm glad HP switched to the more common position (at the bottom of the mouse pad) in the current versions.

Caitlyn Martin said...

Good point. I didn't think about that because I've gotten used to it but you're right: the Sylvania which had the two mouse buttons side by side was easier. I do use an external mouse when I use the netbook on a desktop but when I use it as a true portable side-by-side would be much easier when emulating a center button click by clicking both buttons.

Oh well... it's not perfect but that isn't a big enough issue for me to replace it.

Frank H Jung said...

My partner and I each have a HP Mini 110. We are running Ubuntu Netbook Remix, and are both very pleased with it. I only see two areas of improvement:
(1) Audio quality when using Skype (pushing for Empathy - so that problem may soon be resolved.
(2) I've got the two non-standard keys HP and switch working properly.

It's light, *fast* and reasonable battery life for a visit to the cafe, if I stay there longer I'll over cafenate!

PS Tethering to iPhone works great!

Frank H Jung said...

PS I have created a setup guide for UNR on the HP Mini 110 here:
Please share.

BW said...

I pretty much agree with everything. I triple-boot my HP 110c with Ubuntu 10.04, OSX 10.5 and Windows7 but almost only use Ubuntu.
The only gripe I have (besides the trackpad buttons) is that I can't seem to be able to play FlashVideos smoothly. Even lowres youtube videos don't play fine.

I have the big battery that stands out a bit (after getting used to that, it's actually pretty great) the netbook runs for ~6hours which is nice.

Caitlyn Martin said...

Strange. I have no problem playing Flash videos smoothly. I am using SalixOS 13.1 with an Xfce desktop. SalixOS does use fewer resources than Xubuntu or Ubuntu so maybe that has something to do with it.

milly0 said...

I'm trying to get Ubuntu work on my HP mini 110. But when I'm running it on my USB to install it, it runs very slow and I have to shut it down. I tried the remix version as well. Any ideas? Thanks in advance.

Caitlyn Martin said...

@milly0: I'm not surprised by the problem you are having. Ubuntu's live CDs have always been terribly slow for me and using the same thing on a USB stick is not much better. Try the alternative desktop installation iso, the one with the text based installer. That has always worked well for me. I'd also advise Lubuntu over base Ubuntu, which may be quite slow on your netbook.

I gave up on anything *buntu long ago as I'm not into bloat, poor performance and bugs. I'm much happier running SalixOS on the netbook nowadays.