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.