Christopher tm Herdt (cherdt) wrote,
Christopher tm Herdt

The Asus Eee PC - a tiny, inexpensive laptop

well_lahdidah and I purchased an Asus Eee PC last week. I've had a few days now to play with it, and I have to say that I think it is brilliant.

It's tiny. It's around 2 pounds and smaller than the Gabler edition of Ulysses. That means that the screen and the keyboard are tiny, too, but it is extremely portable. The screen resolution is only 800x480 (pay attention, web designers), but that's OK—it works like a primitive ad-blocker on most sites. It has a solid-state hard drive—the $400 model we have has a 4GB drive. It has no optical drive, but it has 3 USB ports and an SD card reader, so you can easily triple the memory for $70. It has a built-in camera and microphone—I successfully used the pre-installed Skype to call Nim Wunnan in Glasgow, although I haven't tested the video yet.

It runs a modified version of Xandros, a Linux distro, that has been customized for this system. (There are instructions on installing Windows, if you must.) The icons are huge, and the applications are basic: Open Office, Firefox, Pidgin, Skype, and a few others. These are the basic applications the majority of desktop users use anyway, and certainly most laptop users. There's a move towards web-based applications like Google Documents that may make many desktop apps unnecessary anyway. This is not a computer for power users, but for a lot of people, this is a great computer. The eee web site features photos showing a woman stashing an Eee in her purse, teens using the Eee, and even younger kids using the Eee.

It didn't take long to discover that the real KDE desktop lurks beneath the surface of the chunky icons. You can enable it with a few shell commands—just enough to keep the novices from misconfiguring the system. Of course, even if you do miscconfigure it, there's a reset button on the bottom, and with a paperclip you're back to the original factory install. (That means I can feel free to install Apache and run a web server off a USB key!)

One of the first questions my co-workers had asked me was,"can you run remote desktop?" Once I enabled the "Full Desktop" mode I discovered that remote desktop was already installed and worked, although keyboard input does not initially work in full screen mode.

The video recording has a few glitches as well. Sometimes it seems to record properly, and other times it doesn't. Sometimes you get a reasonable number of frames per second, and sometimes you don't. I'm still adjusting the settings to see if I can find something that works reliably. In particular, I think that the microphone was poorly placed—it's on the bottom of the computer, so once the fan starts running the microphone picks up more fan than voice. I think placing it up by the camera, above the screen, would have made more sense.

Sample video:

well_lahdidah is creating her next presentation using Open Office rather than Powerpoint, and will connect the Eee to a projector (the Eee has a VGA port) later this week to give her presentation.

It's an extremely affordable ultra-portable. Sure, the Mac Book Air boasts some impressive specs, but for $1800 you could buy 6 Eee PC 2G Surfs. If you need a portable computer for web surfing, word processing, chatting, and the like, I think the Eee PC is an excellent choice.
Tags: asus, computers, eee, linux, netbooks
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