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Luke Myers
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Linux professional and photographer
Linux professional and photographer

24 followers
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Pinebook week 2 update:

One of the biggest things keeping me from calling this laptop ready to replace my work laptop is Teamviewer support.I wrongly assumed the Pinebook would run the Chromium plugin. The short version is, Google stopped supporting their native client (NaCl) on non-Chromebook platforms. Teamviewer doesn't have an ARM build yet, and they probably won't release hone unless Microsoft starts supporting ARM more seriously (Teamviewer for Linux is built with wine libs).

My solution? Run a minimal x86 Linux install in QEMU. I've done a lot of testing on a more powerful machine without disk space concerns. So far, the best solution has been Debian with LXDE. TinyCore is too fussy, and it looks like Teamviewer will not run under it. Slacko (Slackware-based Puppy Linux) won't play nice with my graphics settings. I'm planning to test out Bodhi and Watt to try to get some extra speed, but at least I have something for now.

My solution? Run a minimal x86 Linux install in QEMU. I've donoe a lot of testing on a more powerful machine without disk space concerns. So far, the best solution has been Debian with LXDE. TinyCore is too fussy, and it looks like Teamviewer will not run under it. Slacko (Slackware-based Puppy Linux) won't play nice with my graphics settings. I'm planning to test out Bodhi and Watt to try to get some extra speed, but at least I have something for now.

The other major issue is with graphics perforance. I believe lack of hardware acceleration is affecting all desktop apps, including web browsers. YouTube videos only play in Chromium, and even then only at 480p with mixed success. The article linked below explains what is needed to set up the Mali 400 graphics chip in Linux. The default OS install includes the Mali kernel module with proper access already set for users in the video group. You can skip these steps. If the UMP libraries are as easy to build as the instructions say, we should be a lot happier this time next week.
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First thoughts on the Pinebook. This gets a bit technical but the bottom line is, they're not joking when they say it's not for everyone.
It's nicer than I expected for a $100 laptop but the whole experience is a little unpolished. It's perfect if you want a project or a puzzle but it's not a half-price Chromebook. The processor packs much more power than a Raspberry Pi and the self-contained form and portability are better. The processor is closer to a midrange smartphone -- the 720 display means less power is required than your phone, but the poor GPU performance means videos will not work as you'd expect from a phone. The video chip itself is probably fine but the driver / h.264 entry points are missing for now. That said, if you don't care about video or networking, it's very light with good battery life and large keyboard, and you could work on a spreadsheet or dissertation for a long time with few distractions. It gives me what I really want, which is the ability to customize it as much as a 'real' Linux PC, unlike the very locked-down Chromebook.
Why is it not for you?
(1) It's picky about wi-fi and stupid about networking generally. I had my router set to automatically choose between 802.11g or 802.11n standard and 20/40MHz bandwidth by negotiating with the client. Pinebook can't do that. It just doesn't connect. It connected when I forced my network to be n-only and 40MHz wide channel, but I still couldn't get out to any networked devices until I turned off IPv6 in the NetworkManager app (you will have to manually do this for every new network you connect to). This doesn't make sense because (a) IPv6 is turned off on the router and (b) it should prefer IPv4 if no IPv6 connection is available or if you explicitly ask for an IPv4 address. Good things to know if you want to travel with it. You can't count on your local coffeeshop or a random airport or hotel to have a fixed channel width and other settings the Pinebook seems to require. Tethering my phone via USB works fine every time.
(2) Even if you sort out the video playback issues (tip: YouTube works better in Chromium than Firefox but don't expect better than 480) there's still the matter of DRM/decryption. If you watch any kind of paid service on Linux, you're already familiar with the Widevine plugin. You need this to view Netflix, Prime, or Hulu, and it works great most of the time (RIP Rick and Morty on Hulu). Even though many builds of Chromium include Widevine or have additional packages available and even though Firefox now includes Widevine in later builds, this doesn't seem to be the case in these ARM64 builds. I can't find it anywhere in the Ubuntu repositories and Google isn't helping here.
(3) Other reviews online have noted that it's a little sluggish, but it really shouldn't be for the amount of power it has. It comes with Ubuntu Mate 16.04 by default. Mate is the desktop that's a refreshed and updated fork of Gnome 2, which was my desktop of choice from 2002 until it became obsolete around 2010. It's fairly light by today's standards, and a few clicks in Mate Tweak can give you a menu/dock experience that matches Windows, Mac, or other Linux desktops in seconds. I'm pleased they used a fairly stock OS, as this means you can easily replace it. However, I'm going to look into adding on LXDE or similar. I'm hoping a lighter desktop combined with better GPU drivers in the future will make this snappy.
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