Acer Cloudbook 14 Running Lubuntu 16.04

Just slightly off topic here, but I'm so impressed with how this little experiment worked out that I wanted to do a blog post on it. In the past I've usually always worked either in the office or at home. You can always get more performance for your money with non-mobile hardware than mobile, not to mention the luxury of multiple large monitors.

However, for this extended period of study and independent project-building, I wanted to be more mobile or at least have the option to be mobile if needed. I looked at a number of options in the laptop/notebook domain and decided to try a very inexpensive experiment first: A low power laptop running Lubuntu.

I first was going to try this with a Chromebook until I came across the Acer Cloudbook. They come in either a 11" or 14" model running Windows 10. Let me be clear, this is not a powerful machine by anyone's definition. It has a Celeron N3050 processor and 2 GB of RAM. Running Windows 10 (as packaged) its a bit laggy at best and unusable at its worst. But, it's a different story with a lighter weight OS.

Googling around a bit I found a couple brief posts about successful Linux installs on this machine, which was my idea from the outset. After some fiddling, I managed to get Lubuntu 16.04 installed and it works quite well. I've used the machine on-the-go on numerous days now for hours on end and I'm really impressed with how it's performed.

So far, I've done the vast majority of my DASP (Darwen Audio Software Project) Linux C++ development on it since starting four weeks ago and have no complaints. The below pic shows my Cloudbook (an AO1-431-C8G8) running Lubuntu while using the latest version of CLion.

Acer Cloudbook Running Lubuntu

Some of the highlights:
  • Insanely long battery life. Depending on what you're doing, you can get up to around 15 hours max and 12 hours minimum.
  • Insanely inexpensive. I got my Acer certified refurbished Cloudbook 14 for $116.01 USD shipped, including tax. That's no typo, one hundred and sixteen dollars. They retail new for ~$200.
  • Runs CLion 2016.2 reasonably well.

I think a lot of people balk at the specs (the Celeron processor and only 2 gigs of RAM), but you can't have it both ways when it comes to mobile. What's the battery life on a typical notebook with an i5 or i7? Likely no comparison. Cost? No comparison.

I used a Kill-A-Watt to take some approximate power measurements comparing my Cloudbook to my usual development machine (an Intel i5-3570K, 8 GB of RAM, running Ubuntu 16.04). I also included build times of the current project I'm working on as well as the time to build and link a specific lib I've currently been working on.

The first three measurements in the table below are power usage while running idle, while using CLion and while building the project. The units are in watts (w). The last two columns show build times in seconds (s).

Machine Idle CLion Build Proj Build Lib Build
Cloudbook 5.3w 6-8w 7-9w 88s 14s
i5-3570K 28-30w 30-40w 46-50w 24s 4s

I didn't even include the 24" monitor I normally use with my development machine (an AOS E2460S). On its own, it uses a constant 16.3 watts of power. Roughly twice as much as the Cloudbook does while building.

Of course the build times of the Cloudbook are noticeably longer, but rarely am I building the entire project from scratch during development. Usually I'm building a small part of a single lib at a time and running some quick unit tests. In the few seconds longer this takes I find I'm usually contemplating the next code changes while this is happening (something I usually need to be doing anyway).

With an external SSD and a wireless mouse I've found I'm able to be very productive from a development standpoint on-the-go. It's pretty cool and I'm using only a fraction of the power compared to working on my development machine at home.

Bottom line: Acer Cloudbook + Lubuntu = Pretty awesome.

Date: August 14th, 2016 at 11:35am
Author: Terence Darwen
Tags: Hardware, Acer Cloudbook 14, Lubuntu, Sabbatical

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