Thursday, August 15, 2013

A New Machine

I like to make things last. The last time I bought a computer was in late 2008. I booted my computer one morning to find that the boot drive could not be found. It was an old Dell Dimension machine and the disk controller hosting the boot drive had failed. As soon as a break in work came along, I went to Best Buy to get a new machine.

That machine lasted for 5 years with no electronic or mechanical failures. It is slated to become an entertainment machine in the near future. It was an HP Pavillion machine and it ran Ubuntu just fine, but was getting a bit chunky with Gnome Shell since the machine had only 3GB of RAM. I know, I know, that's an odd number, but it worked pretty well for a long time.

Christmas came a bit early this year as I had the good fortune to be able to buy a new Dell XPS 8700. It had all the goodies. 4th generation Core i7 CPU, 12 GB of memory, 1 TB hard drive, 1 GB Radeon 7570 graphics card (a supercomputer on a card with 624 Gflops of computing power) and, well, Windows 8. This machine has a CPU that is about 8 times faster than the old machine, 4x the memory and almost 3x the disk space and the disk speed is double what it used to be on the old machine.

So that's enough to last at least 5 years of abuse from Ubuntu Linux. I can hear some of you now..."Linux? You're going to install Linux on that rig?" Sorry, bub. I run a Linux home. No Windows will run here again. Ever. Well, maybe I will run a virtual machine with Windows if I need it because some web resource requires Windows. But that's it.

To safely make use of this new computer with Linux, I had to take several precautions. First, I needed to be sure that Linux would run as expected on the machine. I started by disabling the Windows boot environment. I turned off secure boot. I turned off UEFI boot and relied instead on the legacy boot system. I made sure that the setup for Windows would never happen so that I could capture the disk in it's pristine condition.

Once I was sure that I had the BIOS set to run properly, I proceeded to image the hard disk. I started with Clonezilla on CD. But that wouldn't boot. I tried Parted Magic, but that wouldn't work either. I was going to use one of those tools to record an image of the hard disk before installing Ubuntu. This way, if something goes wrong, no problem. I can lay the original factory image back on the disk and ship it back.

For some reason, the live CD imaging tools were not working. Apparently, they were not able to find working space with the Windows 8 file system, an apparently newer version of NTFS. Or maybe it was vFAT. I don't know. Didn't need to know, either.

I used a nearby laptop to turn a USB drive into a Clonezilla boot disk and I was on my way. After about an hour of waiting for the image to complete, I was good to go. Happily, the new machine has more USB 3.0 ports that move data at 5 Gb/s than the USB 2.0 ports that poke along at 480 Mb/s. During the imaging process, I was moving data from the boot disk to the external hard disk I connected to the machine at rates up to 7 GB per minute. That saved a lot of time.

Whew. Once I had a good image of the disk, I was ready for the next step. I booted up Ubuntu Gnome on CD and started installing a new operating system. The option I chose was "Erase disk and install Ubuntu", and that is exactly what happened. Once the install process starts, I just wait about 15 minutes for it to complete. This is much, much faster than Windows.

Once Ubuntu was installed, I ran updates until there were no more. I also added the repository for Gnome 3.8 and installed that, too. I have a script that I run that will install what I want so that every new machine is approximately the same. See, the vast majority of programs in Linux are installed through repositories. I don't go to any websites to download and install them. This system makes scripted installs easy and much more secure.

Finally, I restored my data from backup. I have a few main folders that I need: Documents, Music, Pictures and Videos. I believe in backup, so I backup my data every day to an external USB drive. I do this because hard drives fail. It is not a question of if, but of when.

To restore my backups, I just right-click on the folder, select "Revert to previous version", and point to the latest backup on the external drive. Then I click Next and let the restore begin. Documents went fairly quickly, but the music folder took the longest. Once all of my personal files were restored, I am ready to roll.

Now I have a spiffy new machine that is clean and smooth running Ubuntu Gnome. If you'd like to learn more about Ubuntu Linux and how to migrate from Windows, let me know. I'm happy to point out the way.
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