Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Disposable Computers

 The Dell refurbished site had Wyse 5470 mobile Thin Clients on sale for $79, this is a pretty good price, but early this week, that price dropped to $59 and I figured it was time to get one. The technical specifications are not all that good;

Dell WYSE 5470 Notebook:

  • 14-in FHD (1920 x 1080)
  • Webcam
  • 1x Intel Celeron Quad Core (N4100) 1.10 GHz
  • 4 GB RAM
  • 16 GB SSD
  • Intel Integrated Graphics
  • Backlit Keyboard
The 16 GB SSD is probably the most worrying thing, especial since it is most likely an EMMC drive, which is really not much better than having a SD card as a boot drive. It does however have a NVMe slot that will handle up to a 128 GB drive. Putting the NVMe drive aside, I am kind of curious just what I can install on this decidedly small SSD. Windows 11 is never going to fit on it. There is no doubt I can fit Linux on it, but a normal install of Linux for me is right around 15 GB. I can whittle that down, but it means making sacrifices, like not being able to use a nice feature filled desktop environment and probably no LibreOffice.

The nice thing about modern technology is being able to build virtual machines to almost any spec. So before this machine arrived, I decided to see what I could do as a stripped down install of Debian 12. I built out a VM with 4 cores, 4 GB of RAM and a 16 GB drive. The goal was to get a reasonably functional install of Linux in under 5 GB and not have to give up too much in the process. To start with, I did a bare bones install of Debian 12, with no desktop environment at all, this came in at just over 1 GB of drive space. The easy part after that was installing the odd text mode applications I use, so when I logged in for the first time as root, I ran a quick;

apt install sudo mc links cmus htop neofetch tmux ffmpeg lame zsh ufw -y

I then edited the /etc/sudoers file and added my user account so I ssh in and finish what I was doing.

Now came where I needed to make some choices. First was a web browser, I use Google Chrome, so I went and downloaded that, I will install it later. I also made a list of the other GUI based applications I would likely need; audacious, flameshot, thunderbird, cheese, vlc, abiword, and gnumeric. These should cover most of what I need. I also would need some tools I am use to having; synaptic, tilix, and gdebi.

Before I can install these apps though, I need to figure out what desktop environment I am going to use. Gnome 3 and KDE are straight out, both are 5 GB by themselves. Mate is my usual choice, but even it is an easy 3 GB install. The next tier down is LXDE and its sister LXQt, both of these are better, but I was looking for something that would consume around 1 GB of drive space and that pretty much left me with Xfce. This one is not optimal, it is very lightweight, but is missing features and is not as polished as the others. The whole idea here is to test it out and see what happens, I can always remove it and install one of the heavier ones if I need to. So with my list gathered, I ran;

apt install xfce4 xfce4-goodies synaptic tilix audacious flameshot thunderbird cheese gdebi vlc network-manager-gnome abiword gnumeric -y

I added network-manager-gnome to the list, because I knew from experience that Xfce does not have a network app, so I needed to borrow one from Gnome. When it was all done and I rebooted, I installed Google Chrome and then did a bit of house cleaning. The entire install came in at 4.3 GB. I do have a bit of room in my 5 GB limit, so I may add VS Code as well.

The 16 GB drive I assigned to this VM actually turned out to be more like 15, once a chunk was taken out for swap space and I ended up with almost 10 GB of free space, just enough to spare for some MP3's and a movie or two.

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