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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Basically as the title says. It's an 11.6 inch very inexpensive laptop that'll be used for web browsing and music playback by a computer-illiterate (old) person.

Windows 11 came on it... I thought Windows 11 was light on resources - the UI feeling as slow as it does is a pretty big surprise to me. Two cores and 2.8GHz... Unless this chip is vastly different than non-Celeron parts in new and unexpected ways... I don't think it can be the amount of cache because even though there's no L3, L2 is 4MB. Not a lot, but not specifically lacking

So... which distribution should I use? I've seen a few people de-indorsing ubuntu lately for beginners, but there isn't a consistent alternate recommendation. From what I've heard I'm thinking Mint with Elementary being a (distant but not way distant) second place.

Battery life is somewhat important. The thing has a 38 watt-hour battery, but if you can't set a CPU profile, that's no good. I'd like to have the CPU run at full speed while plugged in and to clock down during periods of low utilization (music playback, video playback, idling), and for a good job of it to be done.

I have almost no experience with linux and am not in the mood to learn and teach it, but Windows 11 performance is that bad lol

SuperPi takes just under 24 seconds for 1 million digits. So everyone understands how fast this chip is: my C2D T8300 @ 2400MHz with (I think) 2MB cache took 21 or 22 seconds. 1M digit calculations are done with only the CPU cache, so it's literally all CPU being slower than a C2D. Some functions might be accelerated, but I wouldn't be surprised if most aren't. Clock for clock this chip is probably like the C2D T7000 series - slower FSB version of T8000 series
 

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I would go with either
Linux Mint MATE (Home - Linux Mint)
PopOS (Pop!_OS by System76)

Linux Mint MATE is a lightweight and very snappy Desktop Environment (DE) with no fancy desktop animations. Very feature rich out of the box and you can setup automatic updates for kernel patches/updating packages such as your web browser, and Timeshift which you can setup system snapshots (won't protect your Home directory) which allows you to roll back updates that goes wrong. Mint a very turnkey with very minimum setup and I place anyone to new to Linux on this or on systems that run Windows poorly

PopOS is also good and their DE is Cosmic which is based on Gnome for now but they are working on their own version of Cosmic which is coded in Rust. Gnome can run a bit heavy but System76 does a very good job out of the box when it comes to laptop power management and toggling of automatic windows tiling.

I lean more towards Mint MATE but I would give both of them a test drive. Since this is a laptop, I would suggest setting up Disk Encryption via LVM during the install process.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
I would go with either
Linux Mint MATE (Home - Linux Mint)
PopOS (Pop!_OS by System76)

Linux Mint MATE is a lightweight and very snappy Desktop Environment (DE) with no fancy desktop animations. Very feature rich out of the box and you can setup automatic updates for kernel patches/updating packages such as your web browser, and Timeshift which you can setup system snapshots (won't protect your Home directory) which allows you to roll back updates that goes wrong. Mint a very turnkey with very minimum setup and I place anyone to new to Linux on this or on systems that run Windows poorly
What are the biggest differences between Linux Mint and Mint MATE? Is Mint MATE as easily and often updated?
And forgive my ignorance, but what does the Home directory? Is it your personal files like documents and media?

PopOS is also good and their DE is Cosmic which is based on Gnome for now but they are working on their own version of Cosmic which is coded in Rust. Gnome can run a bit heavy but System76 does a very good job out of the box when it comes to laptop power management and toggling of automatic windows tiling.
Would you say that PopOS has better battery management? What's more important than extending battery life is being able to set a maximum performance profile which locks the chip at maximum speed. Eliminating the time for the clock to ramp up would probably go a long way to making things feel faster

I lean more towards Mint MATE but I would give both of them a test drive. Since this is a laptop, I would suggest setting up Disk Encryption via LVM during the install process.
How resource intensive is Disk Encryption? Is it something that's accelerated and done at a speed faster than what the CPU generates to be encrypted?
The laptop won't leave the house much, it's a laptop to be able to be used sitting in a recliner or desk or island, so I don't know how important it would be to do it
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Oh! I don't think I put this, but built in storage performance is almost exactly like Intel's X-25M SSD, with sequential being about 50MB/s faster at 325MB/s. 4K read/write is like 16MB/s and 38MB/s. Unfortunately you can't boot to the PCIe 3.0 x2 NVMe, but it's there. I stuck in a sn550 which is (R/W) 2300MB/s / 1700MB/s with 4K performance about 4 times faster than the eMMC.

Is there a way to put a lot of system files onto the SSD?
The way I have Windows 11 configured on it right now is the page file is on the SSD. Since it's basically a web browsing and media playback PC, there aren't many programs being installed and the ones that are, aren't huge
 

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What are the biggest differences between Linux Mint and Mint MATE? Is Mint MATE as easily and often updated?
And forgive my ignorance, but what does the Home directory? Is it your personal files like documents and media?
MATE is the Desktop Environment which is your Shell/GUI, this does not effect updates to Mint what so ever. Mint is also offered in Cinnamon and XFCE. Cinnamon is a bit heavy or resources so Either MATE or XFCE, can't go wrong with either.

Hone Directory is where your files, downloads and personal data live.

Would you say that PopOS has better battery management?

I found it very well setup out of the box for laptops. My i7 4800-MQ with a discrete GPU got 20% more life versus what I am using now that is Arch based, the battery is quite worn. The N4020 is a low power chip and I don't tink it would make a huge deal. No matter what you use, you should be able to tweak the power settings easy. The only reason I am not using it is because I can't stomach GNOME and I'm using KDE Plasma instead.
How resource intensive is Disk Encryption? Is it something that's accelerated and done at a speed faster than what the CPU generates to be encrypted?
The laptop won't leave the house much, it's a laptop to be able to be used sitting in a recliner or desk or island, so I don't know how important it would be to do it
Should not have too much of a impact unless there's heavy reads/writes.

I say skip this but the N4020 does have AES-NI which is hardware acceleration on the CPU and I bet some folks are using this CPU for their firewalls. I'm playing around with a N5105 CPU.

Is there a way to put a lot of system files onto the SSD?
The way I have Windows 11 configured on it right now is the page file is on the SSD. Since it's basically a web browsing and media playback PC, there aren't many programs being installed and the ones that are, aren't huge
In this case, I would do a custom partitions in the Installer by selecting "do something else" What you want is your /efi and your root (represented by "/") partitions on the internal drive emmc; and have the /swap and /Home partitions on the NVME drive. Will link a guide for you on this. In short

EFI/boot - 300mb good enough for boot loader
/ (root) - Linux Filesystem Think of it was C drive

The internal Emmc should be big enough to house these 2 unless it it one of those 16GB deals... in that case move the root partition on the NVME and omit the /Home partition.

/swap - virtual memory. 8GB at least for hibernate
/Home - You files live here

 

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Discussion Starter · #8 · (Edited)
MATE is the Desktop Environment which is your Shell/GUI, this does not effect updates to Mint what so ever. Mint is also offered in Cinnamon and XFCE. Cinnamon is a bit heavy or resources so Either MATE or XFCE, can't go wrong with either.
So MATE or XFCE...
I started reading "choose the right edition" on the Linux Mint page, and: Cinnamon "most sleek and full featured", then MATE "old desktop from 2006-2011, less features", then XFCE "very light on resources, works well on old computers"
They don't elaborate on which features are missing. Are they important features?
Also, it looks like the releases are maintained by different groups. For security I definitely want something kept current, and they say Cinnamon is most often updated.
In case the CPU is enough to run Cinnamon, what specifically is it that makes it harder to run on slower computers? Is it CPU? GPU? amount of RAM? memory bandwidth?
Do you know (approximately) the minimum hardware required for CPU, GPU, and RAM, that would result in fast performance? By fast I mean no animation glitches, no clicking a menu and waiting more than ~150ms, no mouse moves fine until you go to move a window then there's a 400ms delay etc.

I say skip this but the N4020 does have AES-NI which is hardware acceleration on the CPU and I bet some folks are using this CPU for their firewalls. I'm playing around with a N5105 CPU.
Nice, a N5105 - 4 cores with 2.9 turbo instead of 2 cores / 2.8. What are you running on it? How's its performance?
I think I'm pretty lucky with my n4020 because Asus removed all power limits (I think they had to for Windows 11 to run "acceptably" lol). I've seen package power increase to over 12 watts! The cores won't go over 4.8, but the GPU can approach 8, simultaneously. The laptop is a fanless design though, and once the IA cores reach a bit over 72C (package ~63-65), CPU frequency throttling begins (usually ~2.7GHz turns into ~2.0-2.2 - I haven't seen it below 2.0 though which is good).
I think the way they configured power it makes sense - very similar to an AIO cooler, but it's time to saturation is measured in seconds instead of minutes: with both you can run a huge load and have no problems until thermal saturation causes throttling to begin.

About encryption, for now I'm thinking of skipping it. I'd like to see OS performance without it, and if it's good enough, maybe implement it. Is it something I can do after the fact, or would a reload be required?

In this case, I would do a custom partitions in the Installer by selecting "do something else" What you want is your /efi and your root (represented by "/") partitions on the internal drive emmc; and have the /swap and /Home partitions on the NVME drive. Will link a guide for you on this. In short

EFI/boot - 300mb good enough for boot loader
/ (root) - Linux Filesystem Think of it was C drive

The internal Emmc should be big enough to house these 2 unless it it one of those 16GB deals
The eMMC is 64GB (58 formatted), so more than enough for a boot loader. Were you suggesting this for dual booting 11? There's definitely space for that, and it might be good to keep it (I don't know the difficulty of reacquiring Windows 11 from Asus- can I just use a Microsoft Windows 11 USB key installation with the license key on the PC as it was sold, or will that not work? Back in the day Dell did a good job IMO - they had software license tables inserted into the BIOSes, and all you had to do was use a Dell install disc - bam, done. Sorry, bit of a tangent lol. I'll check out the link about partitioning.
Just to make sure because this sounds amazing - you're saying that, apart from a bit of stuff loaded initially on boot, the majority of the OS would be stored on/read from the SSD instead of the implanted SD card, even though the dumb BIOS Asus made doesn't allow changing the boot device?
 

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Responses to a few points (I may have missed others in the long posts...)

As you say, a lot of modern prebuilts (particularly laptops) have the Windows key integrated into the BIOS the way you say Dell used to (my MinisForum NUC does, both laptops I've recently tested and returned - long story - have). But you can also look up the license key currently being used by Windows, I'll see if I can find the necessary PowerShell command to do so. My Asus laptop purchased last year has the key burned into the BIOS.

I dislike PopOS because it's still basically Gnome Shell with auto-tiling added. In terms of features between Cinnamon, MATE and XFCE it's mostly level of "bling". Cinnamon is full of it, MATE has a little, and XFCE has the least. For a low-end system, I would suggest XFCE Mint. Although there are still other options. However, Mint is probably the best known and least troublesome. That said, I get better performance (boot times in particular) with Mint 20.3 (using the updated "HWE" kernel) than Mint 21. Systems that booted from cold to login in ~10 seconds are now noticeably slower to reach the login prompt. Mint 21 is supported for 5 years, Mint 20.3 is still supported for another 3.

Dual booting Windows 11 and Linux on a single SSD has been a headache for me. Microsoft, despite their protestations, still has Windows nuke a shared EFI partition from time to time, which can/will render the Linux install unbootable without some faffing around. Whether this is intentional or just another Windows SNAFU I do not know. It's happened to two systems I've inherited responsibility for, but not on the same update; one nuked the EFI partition when updating from Windows 10 to 11, the other updating to Windows 11 22H1. It appears almost random, and is absolutely infuriating. While I like dual booting, I recommend against asking Windows and Linux to share the same disk if at all possible. Of course, in small laptops you usually have no choice.

I'm torn about encryption. If travelling, disk encryption is absolutely critical, but if the system is going to be house-bound, it does add extra complexity (it will also mean two passwords will need to be remembered and typed in at every boot) and a weak encryption key is pretty pointless. For an older person, will they want to type in two passwords? That said, if they are the only user, and not travelling, you can get away with weaker passwords I guess. Seeing the disk encrypted will put off most casual thieves' poking around, and someone with the motivation to break weaker encryption will probably be motivated to continue to try with harder keys, so then it's just a matter of time.

As for battery life... the less bling the GUI has, the less the system will be stressed and thus the better the battery will last, but in my experience Linux battery life in general is pretty poor. An LG Gram I had would get 14 hours in Windows 10 in Office with a little light web browsing. The same laptop with the same sort of load in Linux would last about 5. My Asus laptop gets about 4 hours in Windows, in Linux about 2. Linux power management still needs a lot of work.
 

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So MATE or XFCE...
I started reading "choose the right edition" on the Linux Mint page, and: Cinnamon "most sleek and full featured", then MATE "old desktop from 2006-2011, less features", then XFCE "very light on resources, works well on old computers"
Don't stress out over this, just pick something, as I said XFCE and MATE are lighter options. As I said before, program and security updates are pushed for all versions. As for new features for DE's, you won't see any until the next major release of Mint which is 4-6 months after the next major release of the next Unbuntu LTS. You can actually install and run any DE after install, but this is getting into a more advanced subject.

I dislike PopOS because it's still basically Gnome Shell with auto-tiling added. In terms of features between Cinnamon, MATE and XFCE it's mostly level of "bling". Cinnamon is full of it, MATE has a little, and XFCE has the least. For a low-end system, I would suggest XFCE Mint
Pretty much this, had KDE session running in PopOS which was great until you start to look at the whole native GTK/Qt issues.

Nice, a N5105 - 4 cores with 2.9 turbo instead of 2 cores / 2.8. What are you running on it? How's its performance?
Got one those AliExpress 6x 2.5GbE passive cooled NUCs; I installed a NVME drive and 32GB of memory in it.
Currently testing it out running proxmox with OpnSense, testing TrueNas Core, couple of Linux VM's and Pi-Hole. Currently i like it but there are some bugs to work out of it when it comes to Proxmox, and some C-state issues. People have been running PfSense/OpnSense and OpenWRT just fine bare metal. Here's running Mint in a VM with 1 core 4GB of memory.
Plant Ecoregion Light World Natural landscape

The eMMC is 64GB (58 formatted), so more than enough for a boot loader. Were you suggesting this for dual booting 11? There's definitely space for that, and it might be good to keep it (I don't know
No not suggesting dual booting, it's where your master-boot record/GRUB gets installed and your OS is going to live here. If someting were to happen such as eMMC kicking the bucket, personal data will be just fine. After you install this, you are not gonna want to install 11.

Do you know (approximately) the minimum hardware required for CPU, GPU, and RAM, that would result in fast performance?
You can run Linux on a Potato. It is very fast on older systems. I help out a non profit which distributes PC's/Laptops to people who need them and we put Linux on pretty much everything because M$ is a douche when it comes to refurbishing. We put this on old Core2 duo laptops/Mac books and these devices fly and you don't have to use a outdated version of windows/MacOS to browse the modern Internet. No issues runing this on a old AMD 64 X2-3000+ dual core with 4GB of memory which runs better then my chopped down W10 LTSC.
 
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