Another in the mini-series “surviving the first weeks in a new job” – what to do whilst awaiting delivery of your promised new computer?
Go to a bioinformatics conference and you’ll see two types of bioinformatician: those with the latest swanky model of slimline, powerful laptops and those without. I fall into the latter category. To be precise, I own a Dell Inspiron 7000, circa 1997. At the time this was a state of the art “desktop replacement”, meaning that it weighs several kilos and the base alone is about three times the thickness of todays laptops. Some of the keys are becoming temperamental, the screen latches and PCMCIA slot covers are long gone and it boasts a PII 400 MHz CPU, 256 MB RAM, a 20 GB HDD and a whopping 8 MB video RAM. So what can you do with it?
Quite a lot, it turns out. It runs a 2.6 kernel and Gnome 2.12 surprisingly well, given that video RAM is a limiting factor. You could always opt for a lightweight WM like fluxbox of course. It compiles packages such as HMMER reasonably fast and runs single HMM searches versus single sequences in no time. Firefox is not especially snappy (perhaps 20 seconds to load and a noticeable lag when tab-switching), but it runs. Setting up CUPS for our local printers was a breeze thanks to LinuxPrinting.org, a truly great Linux resource. HDD performance is another limiting factor and was not much improved using hdparm. Simple word processing using Abiword is fine, of course there’s emacs for anything ASCII-based, such as Perl-ing. Various X viewers such as Xpdf keep overheads down too. Thunderbird mail client also not snappy, but runs acceptably.
I’d formed the impression that although Linux used to be suited for old hardware, recent bloat with GUIs and such had made that less true, but on the whole I’m reasonably impressed. And the wonders of Linux make it easy to get setup quickly with the essentials – browsing, email, printing, text documents. Enough to keep you going in a temporary situation. Having said all that, there’s no denying that the beast is a lumbering monster compared with any other machine that I use and I won’t be able to get going fully until the work PC arrives. Loading SwissProt into a BioSQL database on this thing would not be sensible.