Our resident Linux newbie finds another hardware problem, akin to popcorn in the machine, in his quest to give new life to an old Sony Vaio by using Linux.
The Linux Gadabout
My trusty old Sony Vaio laptop has been saddled up with Ubuntu MATE for a little over a month now. For the most part, it’s running just as smoothly as it ever did on Windows XP — and definitely better than it ran with the lovingly installed bloatware that came included with it shiny and new from the factory.
Upon the suggestion of FOSS Force reader Jeff, I invested in a recent upgrade of RAM that fulfills its maximum potential of a single gigabyte. Compared to its performance in the past, it’s definitely noticeable. But compared to my main work computer with a humble (by modern standards) 4 GB RAM, it can feel a little sluggish if I try to do do something unreasonable — like having two programs open at once.
Even though I’m a pretty patient person, I’m not sure if this machine is ever going to serve me well as a fully functional workstation again. I don’t want to shell out much more money to further upgrade the hardware — though the RAM addition made sense because it was cheaper than the tip on a nice dinner out. Adding an SSD as some have suggested would no doubt make it zip along respectably, but I’d rather put the money it would take to do so into one of my newer machines (and future experiments). And in spite of its fairly tiny size, the thing is kind of heavy. This could be handy for keeping it from going overboard when I’m on my next round-the-world regatta, but this quality doesn’t have much use for my everyday life.
Still, I’m not convinced this old Sony Vaio is quite ready for the scrap heap, either. A comment from Joseph got me considering the alternative of single-purpose tasks for its future: “If you’re into Pandora Radio, check out Pithos or Pianobar and you can turn that system into a simple entertainment system.”
I’ve always thought having a low-budget digital jukebox around the house would be kind of neat, and this system would seem a good fit for the task. After all, I used it for playing music (some would loosely call it DJing) at one of my local haunts for a few years, so I know it should have the physical capacity to easily dispense tunes. The laptop’s native speakers are nothing fancy, but I’d plug the machine into headphones, a soundbar, or set it up to transmit to a Bluetooth speaker for a more authentic jukebox experience. Even for me and my technical inexperience, this seemed an easy enough project. I downloaded Pithos, connected it to my Pandora account, and gave it a test run. Things went well enough for a few seconds, but a problem I’ve experienced intermittently since installing Ubuntu MATE made an unwelcome return: I call it the popcorn sound.
When I’ve just booted the machine from a restful overnight, it’s not uncommon for the popcorn sound to make itself known in full force — it’s as noisy as a coworker taking over the break room microwave with a jumbo bag of Pop Secret (mercifully without the accompanying fake butter rubbed on old feet smells). But then the machine warms up and the popcorn sound usually goes away. Now, however, I’m hearing minor instances of this annoyance when I listen to my Pandora playlists in Pithos. It’s not so much the full rumble of bursting corn en masse, but more akin to the late-blooming kernels that hold out, lonely, until the very end of the popping cycle. I tried to capture this phenomenon in action to present as an example here, but of course it chose this time to be camera shy. The most prominent instance happens around 59 seconds in (please forgive the vertical video; this wasn’t really designed with cinematic critique in mind):
You’ll probably notice the volume slider jumps in sync with the popcorn noise to disrupt Ewan MacColl’s dulcet tones. I don’t know if this problem is familiar to anyone else, but here’s the big question: does it seem to be software or hardware related? While this never happened when the laptop was running on Windows XP, I won’t instantly assume it’s a Linux issue since I have moved a couple of times in the past few years and it’s not always a gentle process (just ask what remains of my record collection). I’m hoping this might be something easily corrected with a driver, but wouldn’t be surprised if it requires another excursion into my poor machine’s innards for a more physical remedy.
“Bob” Fogarty was the editor-in-chief at Chris Pirillo’s LockerGnome.com for nearly 12 years, and has written for ReadWrite.com and TheArtofCharm.com. He lives in San Diego with his wife and a medium-sized menagerie of beasties great and small. Follow him on Twitter: @Fogarty