Ubuntu 7.10 on Acer Aspire 3680


After giving up on the notion of the Eee PC for the twins, I purchased a pair of Acer Aspire 3680 laptops for them. A quick search revealed that these were fairly well supported, with a couple of odd quirks, so I felt reasonably comfortable making the purchase. I confirmed last night that they would run Ubuntu by taking a Live CD into the store with me, just to make sure.

From the store, these laptops came with some version of Windows Vista (I didn’t even inspect the stickers to see which flavor of Windows Vista, specifically). When I told the sales clerk that I wanted to buy a pair of them, he immediately suggested a RAM upgrade. I said “Thanks, but no thanks, I’ll be running Linux on these.” The clerk must not have heard me, because he said “Huh?” I calmly explained “I’ll be running Ubuntu GNU/Linux on these laptops, so 512MB RAM is more than sufficient for right now.” (Carina claims I was being harsh in my tone of voice, but I think she’s making that up.) Once I had said this, the clerk walked off to get the laptops for me, and didn’t offer a single other upgrade or add-on, which I found rather telling: these guys live for the extra commission earned by add-on sales.

As mentioned on this post about Linux on the Aspire 3680, the default audio device is seen as surround, which means you need to make a few adjustments in order to get sound working correctly:

Acer must have refreshed the hardware in these laptops for the specific sub-model of 3680 I purchased, because everywhere I’ve seen online so far suggests that these laptops come with Atheros wireless cards, whereas ours claim to use Broadcom BCM94311MCG mini-PCI cards. If you enable the Ubuntu Universe repository, you can use the restricted drivers with the bcm43xx-fwcutter package to have fully-functional wireless networking.

I must admit that I share Theodore Ts’o’s enthusiasm for when things just work: once the Broadcom driver was activated, wireless networking worked straight away. To make things even better, I was able to install the Adobe Flash plugin and the Sun Java plugin all through the browser, without ever using a command-line. I wouldn’t have minded had I been required to drop to a shell – after all, I’m setting these laptops up so that the kids won’t have to – but I was extremely pleased that I was able to do it all in the way in which you would expect plugins to be installed: through the browser!

My initial reaction is that this is a decent little low-cost laptop. I don’t expect we’ll get superb battery life, and I know it’s not a workhorse machine; but for the way the kids will use it (playing Club Penguin and Runescape, watching YouTube videos, email, and school work) it looks to be a fine choice.

I can’t wait for the kids to come home from school so that I can see their reaction!

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