The Acer Aspire One 722 is a fine netbook, but it requires love, coaxing, and copious amounts of patience to produce a Linux system.
In addition, anyone who has attempted this endeavor is well aware of the wireless adapter issue, system lockups, suspend issues, and other quirks that often require hacks to resolve.
Good news! Ubuntu 12.04 installs and performs brilliantly on the Aspire One 722, and almost(*) all hardware issues are fixed. Once again, Ubuntu 12.04 shows why it remains one of the more popular Linux distributions.
*Update: It seems that the internal microphone and the external microphone both record, but recordings are too faint to be usable. Entering alsamixer in a terminal will offer more control over the audio devices than Ubuntu’s Sound Preferences, but recording levels are still too low.
Given the lackluster experience with Ubuntu 12.04 beta 2 in VirtualBox, expectations were low for the final Ubuntu 12.04 release. However, that might have been due to reviewing a beta version, so let’s give Ubuntu another chance.
Doing something different, Ubuntu 12.04 64-bit was installed on real hardware using the Acer Aspire One 722 netbook with the goal of answering one question: Are the hardware problems of the Aspire One 722 resolved with Ubuntu 12.04?
What a surprise! After plenty of time experimenting with this project, Ubuntu 12.04 is a Linux distribution that runs properly on this netbook with full hardware compatibility minus the issues (aside from the faint recording level of the internal microphone). Wireless works. Suspend works. The default video drivers work. All of the Linux issues previously plaguing this netbook have vanished.
Ubuntu 12.04 is just what the doctor ordered.
Ubuntu 12.04 64-bit installs normally from a USB to a 7200 RPM netbook hard drive without any issues. Installation is the same as a desktop system, and it takes about 13 minutes to complete.
Oh, look at the sharp graphics!
Ubuntu installs its own video drivers, and they work with the ATI Radeon 6290 netbook video. Ubuntu boots into the native 1366×768 resolution without needing to install the proprietary ATI Catalyst drivers.
Video response is smooth and complete with the desktop effects, such as window shadows and transparency. Ubuntu 12.04 is completely usable without installing the ATI drivers.
The wireless adapter is the biggest problem with the Aspire One 722. With previous Linux distributions, the netbook would often freeze at random points upon login or when connecting to a wireless network. Setting the wireless adapter as the first boot device in BIOS fixed this problem, but it was a hack.
With Ubuntu 12.04, wireless works properly without freezing the netbook, and there is no need to set the wireless adapter as the first boot device. The netbook never froze whether connected to a wireless network or not.
Suspend and Hibernation – Do They Work?
Suspend works. Choosing Suspend from the shutdown menu puts the netbook into suspend mode, and pressing enter wakes it up. Any open windows at the time of suspend are restored.
Hibernation is disabled by default in Ubuntu 12.04, but it can be enabled by editing system files or testing it with sudo pm-hibernate. Until then, hibernation appears grayed out in menus.
But does hibernation work? Not completely. The netbook will go into hibernate mode, but it reboots as normal. Open windows are not restored. However, even this is an improvement.
Ubuntu 10.10 64-bit with the ATI Catalyst drivers could enter suspend and hibernation, but the display would never appear upon waking up. However, this appears to be a fault of the ATI proprietary drivers, not Ubuntu. Installing the ATI Catalyst drivers in Ubuntu 12.04 will produce the same blank display effect, making suspend and hibernation useless.
As long as Ubuntu’s video drivers are in use, suspend works fine and hibernation almost works.
With Ubuntu 10.10 64-bit on the Acer Aspire One 722, restarting X using the Left Alt + PrtScrn + K key combination freezes the netbook and requires a forced reset. This no longer happens with Ubuntu 12.04 using the Ubuntu video drivers. Restarting X returns to the Ubuntu login screen as it should.
Opening programs and files seems slower in Ubuntu 12.04 64-bit than Ubuntu 10.10 or Linux Mint. There seems to be a consistent delay in hard drive response time despite testing Ubuntu 12.04 on a 7200 RPM hard drive and on a solid state drive (SSD).
Audio recording using the internal microphone or an external microphone works, but recordings are so faint that the recordings are useless. Setting the recording levels at maximum in Sound Preferences and alsamixer still produced faint recordings.
Ubuntu 12.04 uses Unity. If you like Unity, then you will adore Ubuntu 12.04. For those who dislike Unity, expect more of the same. Unity (as well as GNOME 3) feels too dumbed down and oversimplified. While novel at first, Unity eventually gets in the way of using the computer.
Unity also feels like a cross between the Mac OS X user interface and the iPhone visuals — as if trying to appeal to people attracted to those devices. Window buttons on the left side of the title bar and a single, context-sensitive menu bar along the top of the screen (among other features) make Unity look more like Mac OS X than anything else.
Other desktop environments are available, so if Unity seems inadequate, try the others. User interfaces are available at the login screen by clicking the Ubuntu icon next to the username. A list of installed desktops appears.
GNOME 3 requires installation.
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:gnome3-team/gnome3 sudo apt-get update sudo apt-get install gnome-shell
Once installed, return to the login screen, click the Ubuntu icon at the right of the username, and choose GNOME. Logging in will activate the GNOME 3 desktop.
GNOME 3 is more usable than Unity, but it, too, gets in the way of using the computer and feels like an oversimplified toy meant for beginners.
To use GNOME 3, users must rethink how they use the desktop and approach computing differently. This might be helpful for novices, but experienced users seeking direct control over the computer may find GNOME 3 to be an annoying mess over time.
GNOME Classic provides the best experience by replicating GNOME 2 as much as possible. While not true GNOME 2, Ubuntu 12.04 with GNOME Classic felt more usable than the default Unity or GNOME 3.
Cinnamon is an alternate desktop environment that attempts to preserve the GNOME 2 usability while offering GNOME 3 features. Of all the desktop environments tried, Cinnamon was the most functional and rarely interfered with using the computer. Cinnamon eliminates all whiz-bang eye candy meant to impress Linux beginners, but it still looks attractive. It does what it needs to do, and that’s it.
However, the deal-breaker with Cinnamon involves the lagging menus. The menu highlights never kept up with the mouse cursor. There is always a half-second delay between moving the mouse and watching Cinnamon catch up. Combined with the hard drive access delay, this makes Ubuntu 12.04 feel slow and sluggish.
Linux Mint 12 with the Cinnamon desktop exhibited the same effect. At first, this was attributed to running inside a virtual machine, but since it also happens on real hardware, this must be an issue with Cinnamon.
Cinnamon holds potential as being the darling desktop for those who dislike Unity and GNOME 3, but it needs polish before it replaces GNOME 2.
Cinnamon is not installed by default, but it is available from the Cinnamon web site along with installation instructions.
The System Monitor shows that Compiz is active, and the desktop effects appear enabled by default. Therefore, the desktop cube should also work, right? All that remains is to turn it on.
Sadly, the desktop cube never materialized no matter what, so the cube was abandoned. The cube does work as demonstrated by other Ubuntu users, but it never happened in this experiment.
“Are the hardware problems of the Aspire One 722 resolved with Ubuntu 12.04?”
Yes! Anyone seeking a reliable Linux distribution for the Acer Aspire One 722 should try Ubuntu 12.04. All hardware issues — especially the wireless problems — are nonexistent.
Ubuntu 12.04 64-bit is a fine improvement over Ubuntu 11 by offering better hardware support. It is compatible with the Acer Aspire One 722, and aside from the weak internal microphone levels, all of the previous Linux incompatibility issues are fixed. This is truly an “install and go” operating system.
However, Ubuntu is still plagued with Unity and GNOME 3, which is either good or bad depending upon the user’s preference. The slight hard drive lag when opening programs, even from an SSD, makes Ubuntu 12.04 feel slower than Ubuntu 10.10.
Those who enjoy Unity might consider Ubuntu 12.04 the best Ubuntu yet, while those who dislike Unity might view Ubuntu 12.04 as a step in the right direction and better than Ubuntu 11, but not as good as Ubuntu 10.10.
Users clinging to Ubuntu 11 should upgrade, and owners of the Acer Aspire One 722 should definitely give Ubuntu 12.04 a try. Those who admire Ubuntu 10.10 and GNOME 2 should stay with Ubuntu 10.10 because it still offers superior performance over newer Ubuntu distributions by being more responsive and providing a user interface that never intrudes on the user.
Ubuntu 12.04 — An improvement, but not quite as good as Ubuntu 10.10.