Salvaging the acer aoa110

My nephew got an Acer AOA110 over a year ago. It never worked right, and probably should have been returned; Windows would do a checkdisk on every boot. After some efforts at trying to get used to it, he put it aside and ignored it.

Now, I’ve got the AOA150 (the hard-drive model; his is the SSD model). Mine dual-boots XP and Ubuntu Netbook Remix Karmic, and I love it. So this Christmas, I offered to take it and try to install Ubuntu to dual-boot.

It wouldn’t boot to Ubuntu. Grub would never come up, and it would always go into Windows. I did what I could to improve the Windows boot process (and got it going reasonably well)… but it still wasn’t great, so he asked me if I could just nuke the Windows install and put Ubuntu Karmic on it.

Easier said than done. It turns out there probably is damage to the SSD drive. The Ubuntu installer would hang. I tried using gparted to set a single, ext3 partition on the SSD… and gparted couldn’t complete the partition. The only thing that I could reliably do, when I tried to set the entire drive, was remove any formatting and leave empty space.

Now, the connector for the SSD is PATA, so I thought I might just plug in a PATA drive… but there’s not room for the standard drive. Tankgirl has a video about putting in a 1.8″ drive… but I wasn’t sure I have the skills to do that. I looked at buying a new drive, and, frankly, it just seemed too expensive. What to do?

Well, I had an idea. Suppose I just don’t use the damaged area for formatted space? I could think of two ways to do this:

  • I could try to set partitions so that there was unused space, swap, and ext4, and try to put the unused space around the damage;
  • Or I could try to put the swap partition over the damage. The Ubuntu installer doesn’t format swap space anyway.

I was lucky that the second option worked on the first try. Of the 7.4G available on the SSD, I set the swap partition for the first 1G, and formatted the remainder as ext4. And Ubuntu Karmic installed – not ideally, but it went in.

It’s not perfect. The AOA110 takes much – MUCH – longer to boot than my AOA150. There’s occasional kludginess about the applets in the taskbar at the top, and the fsck hangs at 17% for a while when it runs, but it finally does go. The wireless, webcam, and SD reader all work (mostly), and, with some tweaking, it goes into (and recovers from) suspend mode (although hibernate is still wonky). (The battery took a charge, and will maintain the suspend mode for at least 48 hours, too.)

But it runs – and it does so much better than it did under XP. We’ll see how it goes from here on out. The damaged SSD suggests that it might not last long under regular use, but any use my nephew gets will be more than he has had in the past year.


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