New life from old netbooks

Netbooks at one popint were going to be the next big thing: using small and low-power consuming Intel Atom or equivilent processors, small footprints and cut-down versions of Windows 7, these A5-and-a-bit sized PCs looked a good low cost solution, that you could pick up for about 150 quid.

But they were quickly surpassed by Tablet PCs. If you now want something portable, the keyboard is entirely optional, and the ARM-type processors which power the iPads and the Nexus 7s are much more capable. So, you might have an old netbook lying around gathering dust and by now the Atom-powered Windows 7 Starter must be annoyingly slow…

But there is a use for them… you just have to change the Operating System.

There are a number of solutions and recently, I have tried a number of them…

1. Linux

Most netbooks don’t have a CD Drive so you need to download a CD image and transfer it to a USB stick and boot it (as though it was a CD)

If you download UNetBootIn you can download various different flavours of Linux directly, or download an ISO image from another site and use the program to create a linux installation. There are lots of variations (or distros as they are known) and some work better than others on a netbook. The main problem is getting a version which works with the wifi and the sound and which doesn’t place too high a demand on the small processor.

Luckily there are several which are pitched at netbooks specifically, using light installations and fast graphical front ends like LXFE; but many of these are although a little MS Windows-like, they are a bit more complex to use. Some are highly customised and therefore easier to run.

One of the most successful was JoliCloud OS which worked out of the box: wifi and sound and everything else. The interface is largely the Chromium Browser, as let’s face it, that’s all you’ll use for the most part, and if the wifi works then you are sorted…

2. Chrome OS

Using the same technique, I tried the Chromium OS, but couldn’t get the wifi to work at all, so it wouldn’t get beyond the initial setup, because a Chromebook is so internet-dependent, you can’t do anything; so on my netbook, a complete failure. You might have better luck.

3. Android

The Android-x86 Project is porting Android, the Open Source OS for Tablets and Phones and is right on the button with the latest version: 4.4.2 Kitkat. Using the same technique, downloading Android from here, it worked really really well. KitKat on a Netbook is really fast, has massive storage capacity, wifi worked immediately and on my Samsung netbook (N210 Plus) it was all great. On an HP 110 Mini, everything worked except the sound which is really low, but I am working on that. On both I was able to install everything from Google Play. The iPlayer and Netflix aren’t great at the moment on the netbook, but it works brilliantly, excellently with Chromecast – no sound problems at all, high video framerates; so I reckon with a better video driver as well, all will be well.

Early days yet, but very promising… have a go with whatever you have lying around and see where it takes you…