A Netbook in 2021

Philipp Mundhenk · April 17, 2021

As everyone knows, I am a huge fan of Linux for many applications. I have a number of Linux-based servers running, I have been using different Linux dervates for work and privately in virtual machines, but until recently, I did not have a desktop system with Linux. I have been missing that every once in a while. Some things, such as network administration and software development are just so much easier on Linux. I did not want to spend much money on an additional machine though, especially since my daily driver will remain on Windows, for family reasons. I thus settled on a netbook. Yes, one of these small screen devices popular in the early 2000s. I figured that it should offer sufficient performance for my use cases, while remaining portable and cheap. Of course, I went with an Arch Linux installation.


After some research, I decided to go with an Acer Aspire One 522. I managed to get one of these with power supply for less than 80 Euros on a classifieds platform. I was a bit worried about the battery, so I had the seller send me a photo of the “remaining time” once booted. Of course, this does not say much, but was sufficient to estimate that runtime should be more than zero. I was positively surprised when the device arrived as aside from some scratches on the lid, it looked almost new. The battery was not ideal, lasting about 1.5 hours, but since the power supply is small and I don’t expect it to use it outside of the house, that was sufficient for me. However, after some calibration (charge fully, discharge fully, charge fully), I managed to reach about 2.5-3 hours. That was ideal for me, as I barely every have more time than that in a row to “work” on things.

For performance, I did exchange the 1GB RAM with 4GB and replaced the harddrive with an Intel 320, 120GB SSD. Both bought used online for combined about 30 Euros.

Arch Linux Installation

I do like Arch Linux, especially with its minimal footprint, if desired, and the continuous upgrade proccess. Here are the steps for a minimal Arch installation. Of course this might vary depending on your setup, so consider this a general guideline.


This write-up assumes

  • BIOS is used, not UEFI
  • using a SWAP file rather than a SWAP partition


Download Arch from https://archlinux.org/download/ and write to USB stick, e.g., with Win32DiskImager, Rufus, or dd.

Then, on the target machine, boot into the live environment.


  1. Set keymap for live environment:
     loadkeys de-latin1
  2. Connect to internet with either ip (Ethernet) or iwctl (WiFi) with station wlan0 connect <SSID>.

  3. Update clock: timedatectl set-ntp true

  4. Partition disks:
     fdisk /dev/sda
     # delete all partitions (use 'd')
     # create new parition (use 'n' and defaults)
     # make bootable (use 'a')
     # write to disk (use 'w')
  5. Format partition:
     mkfs.ext4 /dev/sda1
  6. Mount partition:
     mount /dev/sda1 /mnt
  7. Install basic packages:
     pacstrap /mnt base-devel linux linux-firmware
  8. Generate fstab:
     genfstab -U /mnt >> /mnt/etc/fstab
  9. Move to new system:
     arch-chroot /mnt
  10. SetHW clock to system time:
    hwclock --systohc
  11. Localization: Uncomment en_US.UTF-8 UTF-8 in /etc/locale.gen and run locale-gen In /etc/locale.conf put LANG=en_US.UTF-8

  12. Configure keyboard layout: In /etc/vconsole.conf put KEYMAP=de-latin1

  13. Configure hostname: In /etc/hostname put <hostname>. In etc/hosts put:	localhost
    ::1		localhost	<hostname>.localdomain	<hostname>
  14. Change root password: Run passwd

  15. Install networking packages:
    pacman -S dhcpcd iwctl
  16. Install and configure GRUB:

    pacman -S grub
    # install to drive
    grub-install --target=i386-pc /dev/sda
    # change GRUB_TIMEOUT in /etc/default/grub
    # generate config
    grub-mkconfig -o /boot/grub/grub.cfg
  17. Reboot to newly installed system

Post Install

The following optional steps usually make sense:

  1. Update system:
     pacman -Syu
  2. Create user & permissions:
     pacman -S vi sudo
     useradd -m <user>
     # uncomment 'sudo ALL=(ALL) ALL'
     groupadd sudo
     usermod -a -G sudo <user>
     passwd <user>
     # log in as <user>
  3. Install yay for AUR:
     pacman -S --needed git
     git clone https://aur.archlinux.org/yay.git
     cd yay
     makepkg -si
  4. Set timezone:
     timedatectl set-timezone Europe/Berlin
  5. Install GUI:

     yay -S i3-wm i3lock i3status dmenu xorg-server ttf-dejavu
     # in ~/.xinitrc put: 'exec i3'
     # in ~/.bash_profile put:
     if [[ -z $DISPLAY ]] && [[ $(tty) = /dev/tty1 ]]; then
  6. Configure i3: In /~/.config/i3/config add:

     mode "exit: [e]xit, [r]eboot, [s]hutdown, loc[k]" {
       bindsym e exec i3-msg exit
       bindsym r exec systemctl reboot
       bindsym s exec systemctl shutdown
       bindsym k exec i3lock; mode "default"
       bindsym Escape mode "default"
       bindsym Return mode "default"
     bindsym $mod+x mode "exit: [e]xit, [r]eboot, [s]hutdown, loc[k]"
     exec "setxkbmap -layout de"

Performance & Evaluation

I was surprised about the performance of the device, booting to login screen in about 20 seconds, plus an additional about 3 seconds to login and load i3. This is absolutely adequate for a 10+ year old device.

Typing this long text, the only issue I have with the device is the size of keyboard and screen: They are totally usable, but it is just no ThinkPag keyboard and the screen is a bit small for long texts. But that is of course expected of a netbook and I could always use my larger ThinkPad T430 for this.

Web surfing is of course also not the fastest experience ever seen, but perfectly fine for my needs on this device.

So overall, I am extremely happy with the money invested. For a total of about 150 Euro, I have a very portable, decently performing native Linux device.


Arch Wiki - Installation Guide

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