ARM Chromebook – one week on

03Jan13

I got my Chromebook a week ago, so it’s time to reflect on my experiences so far (beyond my initial first impressions).

CC some rights reserved by Cajie

The good parts

Blogging – it’s pretty much a perfect blogging tool, and I’ve managed to get a lot of posts done in the past week. The holiday may have had something to do with that too, but I’ve been able to get more done than during previous weeks that were also holiday.

Battery – the battery life has stood up to expectations, and much like my iPad I don’t find myself worrying too much about where the power cord is.

Flexibility – apart from a session of micro controller hacking, where I needed an Eclipse C/C++ install and a bunch of other PC tools[1], I’ve been able to handle pretty much every task. I was worried for a moment about screen grabs and snips (as I find the Windows 7 snipping tool so handy), but the Chromebook handled itself very well in that area. For many of the things that do need a PC I’ve been using the remote desktop app to one of my Microservers.

The not so good parts

Remote desktop – I’ve had to set the native resolution of the machine I’m connecting to at  1280×720 (it was at 1600×1200, but it’s in my garage so it only gets used at the console when something bad has gone wrong). This results in black bars around it in full screen mode, but a Chromebook native 1366×768 wasn’t on offer. Another slight issue is when logging in dislodges an RDP session from another device, where it connects to log in, disconnects, and has to be connected again (after a little wait) – roll on the day when Chrome RDP works on ARM.

SSH – I’ve still not figured out an easy way to launch multiple SSH sessions from scratch rather than duplicating the first connection.

If I hold it by the left corner then the body flexes so much that the trackpad doesn’t work reliably.

The really annoying thing

It drives me mad when I go back to a browser tab and it refreshes rather than just coming back to where I was.

My iPad does this too (and it’s clearly a big annoyance for many others).

On the iPad I get cross when I’ve clicked on a Hacker News link from Google Reader, and when I go back to Reader it refreshes – so I then can’t see the article I was on because it was marked as read, so it’s a real bother to upvote what I was just reading.

On the Chromebook the issue has been WordPress refreshing[2] after I’ve gone somewhere else to get links to paste in, and then the formatting getting all messed up (e.g. paragraph breaks disappearing). Worse still I’ve had times when content has been lost.

This also seems to be a well documented problem. I’m now starting to keep a close eye on chrome://discards, and like others I suspect a memory leak somewhere as my 2G of RAM seems to get swallowed up with alarming speed whilst not doing much in particular to provoke it. The bottom line here is that if I was just running Chrome on a Windows netbook with 2GB of RAM (which I pretty much did for years) then this wouldn’t happen.

My fingers are crossed that R25 fixes the memory leak as well as bringing me Chrome RDP on ARM, but given how long this issue seems to have been around I’m not holding my breath.

Conclusion

The honeymoon period isn’t over yet, and I’m mostly pretty happy with my Chromebook, but there are some issues to be ironed out.

So far I’ve kept things stock, but after yesterday’s Ubuntu mobile announcement I’m more tempted than ever to try Chrubuntu (as I think the Samsung 303C hardware would make an excellent Ubuntu platform). A 32GB Class 10 card is on its way to me now (as the 16GB one I had spare got pressed into duty for Raspberry Jam and some other Pi stuff).

Notes

[1] Since I was playing with an ARM based STM32F3 dev board it will be interesting to see if/when the day comes where I tinker with it without using a cross compiler.
[2] To be fair it was everything that was refreshing (including gmail, which was loading from scratch – that doesn’t happen on my iPad) not just WordPress, but it’s been WordPress that I was trying to use.



3 Responses to “ARM Chromebook – one week on”

  1. 1 Roger Shelton

    There are two things that make this problem go away. FIrst, Version 25 supports zram. Open a crosh shell (ctl-alt-T) and type “swap enable”. Once you restart, this enable compressed swap. This should significantly reduce the chance of exhausting memory.

    But, I also would recommend going to the flags tab (chrome://flags) and enable “Don’t Discard Tabs”. You have to reboot after changing the flags as well.

    Zram makes a compressed swap in memory, to effectively increase the memory size. This should come very close to eliminating reloaded tabs, depending on the effectiveness of the compression. Don’t Discard Tab guarantees that none of your open tabs gets reloaded. The side effect is if you run out of memory (with or without zram), a tab new will not open. You then have to manually close some open tabs to free up memory.

    Another easy way is to Pin your WordPress tab. That moves it way up in priority. Here is the Chromium page that describes the tab discard policy.

    https://sites.google.com/a/chromium.org/dev/chromium-os/chromiumos-design-docs/tab-discarding-and-reloading

    I have had both zram and Don’t Discard Tabs for a couple of months now. I haven’t run out of memory but if I do, I know my data (like in this reply when I went to another tab to find the url above) won’t be lost.

    • Thanks Roger.

      I’d already started pinning key tabs (including WordPress when in the middle of editing a post). I’ll give zram and don’t discard a go too.

      • 3 Roger Shelton

        glad to help. You might also enable the flag “Enable memory monitor”. It puts memory info in the status area. You can watch free memory dwindle :-)

        And if you are interested in swap status, open the crosh shell and enter the command “top”.


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