Ubuntu 11.04 Installation on low storage netbooks (Eee PC 901)

Ubuntu is one of the most popular Linux Operating Systems and with the release of 11.04, I was keen to have a dedicated computer running it, so with an Eee PC netbook at hand, I had the challenge of installing it on a system with very little space.

 

In the past, Ubuntu has had a dedicated netbook version for small laptops like this but the interface was so popular they chose to mix the interface into the main Ubuntu Desktop version and simply rebrand it as “Ubuntu” meaning that all Ubuntu computers share the same interface that is suitable for both desktop and netbook.

So I bought this tiny computer yesterday second hand in a Cash Converters store with Windows XP preinstalled, well obviously I had to put a fix to that.

The specification of the Eee PC 901 that I bought came with two solid state drives on board: one 4GB drive for the operating system and applications and one 8GB drive for my own files. A quick installation using the presets for replacing XP left me with 0 bytes of space left on my first drive which effectively crippled the computer.

My challenge then was to set up the system in a way that best utilised the drives I had on board.

By default, when Ubuntu installs, it partitions the main drive it is installing on with a swap partition to use for virtual memory management. In my case, that was 1GB, so already I’d lost a gigabyte of space for my operating system.

Now a solid state drive like the one in my Eee PC has its lifetime limited by the number of writes it can perform, as a swap partition is accessed so often, it can severely drop this lifetime so I chose not to have one.

Next I would have to make sure my system knew to use the second, larger drive for my Home directory where I would be storing all of my personal data.

I chose to create a Ubuntu Live USB Stick as detailed on Ubuntu’s download page here and install it using that, when booting on Eee PC, hold down the escape key to be able to select the usb stick as the device to boot from.

Now after selecting to install Ubuntu on your computer, I’d recommend you connect it to the internet if you can and tell it to “Download updates while installing”, you will also spot the option to install some third party software that is not open source like Ubuntu. I would recommend this as it installs various bits that you’re likely to use, like MP3 support and the ability to view Flash media online. It’s not necessary but it makes like so much easier if you have it. To do this, select “Install this third-party software” and continue with setup.

Next up is to setup the drive partitioning. If you’ve already got an Operating System installed, such as Windows XP or another Linux distribution, you’ll have the option to “Install Ubuntu alongside them.” Now as we’ve already established that we don’t really have the space to do this, we would rather erase the disk, however, we already know that the default method of “Erase disk and install Ubuntu” won’t utilise the space on our netbook the way we require it to, so instead, choose “Something else” to be able to setup the partitions our own way.

Now this is where the important stuff is done. Delete all partitions across the devices and then, on the small (4GB) drive, click Add and choose to create an ext4 partition with the mount point set to root (/). Now, on the larger (8GB) drive, choose to create another ext4 partition with the mount point set to be your home directory (/home). Finally, make sure the boot loader installation is set to be on the smaller drive and click “Install Now.” You’ll receive a warning message about not using a swap partition, but as I’ve explained, that’s not something we’re wanting so just continue with setup.

And that’s it, now you have Ubuntu 11.04 all up and running on your netbook, congrats!

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  • I was trying this on my Samsung Galaxy tab.

    Can you suggest me any thing to do online

    Regards
    Nancy

  • David J.

    How’s your 11.04 install looking?
    Does everything function OK on the eee 901? (wifi etc.)

    Cheers,
    David.

    • Hi David,
      Everything performs well although I do find that the wireless can drop out from time to time although this is always very quickly fixed by simply turning the wireless off and on again by using the function+F2 key combination.

      • Frabj Johnson

        Did you ever find a “fix” for the wireless dropping out as mine does exactly the same.
        Frank

        • I’m afraid not, however, that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s not a simple solution as it isn’t my primary computer so I haven’t given it as much attention as it could have had.

  • Macchi

    Your solution of assigning the /home to the large partition is OK, but will eventually run into zero storage available in one of / or /home partitions, while there is still space available in the other partition.

    There are a few other ways of installing Linux on low storage devices. Specially for the EEE 901 with Windows XP there might be two SSD drives with 4GB and 8GB storage space.

    The two other solutions are:

    A) LVM
    I recommend using LVM by installing with the Ubuntu Alternate Install (a text installer). 1) First remove all existing partitions, 2) then create an ext2 partition with 256MB for /boot. 3) Later create two physical volumes on the rest of the space and combine them into one logical volume group and one logical volume with all storage space. 4) At last create an ext4 partition on the logical volume.
    Then your whole file system will only see a unified storage space.
    At last install the Linux distro as usual. By the way expand the RAM to 2GB if possible and do not use swap space on a SSD drive. Remember also to disable the noatime and relatime mount options that generate a lot of activity that may wear out the SSD.

    COMPRESSION
    Another way to compensate for storage shortage is to create an overlay that compresses the /usr folder, that consumes most of the storage space for the system. The compressed folder will not slow down the system so much since the transfer bandwidth is improved for the compressed areas. That compensates for the processor time used for decompression. Unbelievable, but the system does not become seemingly slow.

    PS: Yesterday I also installed Ubuntu for a friend using LVM on a EEE 901.

    • Thanks Macchi, that’s a really interesting post :)

  • untergeek

    Andy,

    I think that it’s not a good idea to kill the swap partition.

    First, I think that the fears of ruining a flash drive by too many writes are greatly exaggerated. SSD controllers like the one employed in the EEE use a technique called wear levelling which distributes write cycles evenly over the flash cells. Considering that SSD-grade chips are capable of surviving well over 100,000 write cycles this is sufficient for normal operating system usage. Meaning: While it’s well possible to kill SD cards and USB memory sticks by using them as a system drive – as I can confirm – it’s quite hard to wear out an SSD, which is why there are no wide-spread reports of dead EEEs.

    The second reason is this: I think taking the swap partiton from Linux actually increases the number of write cycles. I’m not an expert but what I learned from the Tanenbaum tome is that Linux’ strategy when running out of memory is to jettison a number of files and libraries and then relosd them when needed. This is much slower and puts much more stress on the drive than the block read/write processes into the swap partition.

  • Azrudi

    Thanks, good article.

    I was thinking of upgrading from Ubuntu 9.04 to 11.04..

    My 901 has 4gb with Ubuntu 9.04 and 8gb with WinXP

    If I try your method, I guess I will have to lose the WinXP, correct?

    Still looking for other solutions.

    Azrudi Mustapha

  • manjuvajra

    Very helpful. Thanks a lot.

  • leez

    Which install image did you use?

    Has anyone installed 12.04 on the ee pc 901?

    • Aylwyn Scally

      Just did it with Xubuntu 12.04. Quite painless and everything seems to work.

  • Peter

    I just installed Ubuntu 12.04 on eeepc 901 – no problems whatsoever. The 4 GB primary disk is big enough for mounting “/”. Then I created a 6 GB ext4 partition on the 8GB drive and mounted “/home” and assigned the remaining 2 GB for “swap”. Installation works with no problems out of the box – and yes: booting and working is way faster compared to windows xp which was installed before.

    Thanks for this guideline!

  • Thanks for the info!. I’m going to reinstall Lubuntu on my Eee PC 901 this way later today. It got it working putting everything on the 4GB ssd, but I only have 350MB of space left and can’t even install security updates…. Lubuntu really flies on this Netbook.

  • Holli

    I know this was posted quite some time ago, but I really need some help; I came across this blog because I was trying to get my eee pc 901 to a fully functioning state. sigh* I TYPICALLY use my desktop but its been super slow and its really outdated so long story short I found this little laptop 2hand and it works awesome and is actually pretty fast, but…… the memory is full on the c drive….. there is 668mb of storage left on the c drive and 6.5gb free on d drive. also at this point i can only use firefox as my browser, ugghhh, and once my cach get full it closes and i have to remove all my cookies e.c.t…. Id really like to install lubuntu on this as described but I am far from great when it comes to the confidence in knowing i wont accidentally end up in a blue screen loop… obviously Ive accidentally done that to my desktop, 2 in attempt to free up memory.. I am not a complete idiot and am a+ when it comes to following directions but given my blue screen past eeefff up’s would anyone be willing to walk me thru wonderland for this eee pc repair? plz and thx??