If some weird and geeky reincarnation of Muddy Waters were to sing today “I’ll Put a Penguin On Your Lap” I’d probably say “thanks, but no thanks”. I wouldn’t want to cook my internal organs by Penguin Exposure.
With the introduction of the APU by AMD, which integrates a CPU and a GPU core on the same die, the netbook and laptop market has seen a small invasion of decent, sometimes great, kit powered by AMD’s C-series and E-series APUs. These offer a much better performance / value ratio compared to the previous generations, where the CPU and the GPU were two separate power-hungry, yet measly, things.
Sometimes, certainly more frequently than in the past, you can also find some of these notebooks without Windows pre-installed, thus saving another €80 or so.
So, if you’re lucky and a little careful about the specs, you can easily end up with a netbook sporting a nice 720p screen, only slightly larger and heavier than a tablet, for one half of the price. Oh, and with the capability to, say, develop & edit some RAW photos on the road, not just limited to Angry Birds or The Next Big Fad.
That same ‘book can also come in handy for long train rides or flights, when with a pair of earbuds you can isolate yourself from that noisy family sitting next to you and watch hours of your favorite TV show in HD – you did buy a six-cell battery ‘book, didn’t you?
The problem is – and please keep in mind that I’m talking about a product more than a year old – that simply slapping Ubuntu or Fedora on your Windows-free ‘book, simply won’t cut it. AMD releases updated, proprietary graphic drivers every single month (the Catalyst suite, called “the binary blob” by OSS purists). You’d imagine that in a year, without having to release any source code to anyone, it would have had all the time in the world to come up with something that can fully take advantage of those two great cores, sitting cozily on the same die, right?
Wrong. Even compared to an unfinished product such as Windows 8, both Developer and Consumer Preview, the performance and power drain delta is, simply put, immense. On Linux, HD Flash video is simply out of the question, while HD local content is barely viewable, if you can stand the “liquid redraw” effect that often occurs.
Heat and noise levels, inversely proportional to how long your battery will actually last, are uncomfortably high on Linux. Every Kernel version, every Catalyst version – I’ve tried them all in one year. On Windows, your favourite HD local content will barely stir the fan. Otherwise the general performance is snappy enough for a €240 netbook.
In one final attempt to give the Penguin another chance, I doubled the RAM bringing it up to 4GB, and replaced the slow HD with a smaller but far snappier SSD. Alas, as Led Zeppelin said, the song remains the same. In the process, my netbook has become a much more expensive little thing, thanks to the upgrades. Or, to put it in another way, it is still a warm brick, but now it cost me a lot more.
Never mind the infamous Year of Linux On the Desktop that never comes: on the AMD APU front, especially in its portable incarnation, the Penguin doesn’t stand the remotest of chances.
Finally – and sadly – realising this, last week I capitulated at last and bought a Windows 7 licence. And now I’m a happy Borg drone! And my first victim has been a cute little Penguin.