EeePC – First Thoughts

I’d been contemplating buying one of the Asus ultra-portable notebooks ever since the launch of their 701 model last year. I thought it’d make an ideal travel companion and a nice light-weight alternative to me having to haul around my relatively large Sony Vaio (an enormous wide-screen beast). The benefits are such a device – aside from the physical size) include the super efficient Intel Atom processor, the solid state storage (which means more power saving, less heat generation, less noise and a more shock proof system when compared to a standard hard drive) and of course weight. I’d been extremely tempted by the Linux variety as it would provide me with the development requirements I’d need and a more suitable test bed (as most running apps/websites/etc. I build run on Linux servers).

So now, 2 and a half years on I’ve finally got round to getting myself one. I lumped for the 901 Linux model which offers a 8.9″ screen in the same overall case size as the 701. It has a 20GB SSD, built in wireless and Bluetooth, SD card slot , 3 USB2.0 ports, a 1.3 mega pixel webcam and a host of other features. The little beauty set me back just over £210 exc. VAT.

Asus Eee PC 901
Asus Eee PC 901

The Physicals

As previously mentioned the 901 comes in the same sized shell as the 701 model but offers a ncie 9.1″ screen giving a 1024×600 resolution. It seems to certainly be bright enough too ( even on the lower brightness settings). The keyboard is small, there’s really no getting away from this. But after practice it seems usable for sure, in fact I’m writing this very article on it whilst travelling back from work on the bus. To be honest though the pot-holes and erratic swerving by the bus driver are making it slightly more difficult than it should be. Overall the kit feels solid; the hinge attaching the screen doesn’t seem to be flimsy at all and everything else most definitely does not echo of a rushed cheap product.

The OS and software

Of course being a fan of open source software (and hardware – see the Arduino board) I opted for the Linux version of the Eee. It comes with Xandros – a debian derivative I think – pre-installed and is setup in an “Easy Mode” which offers nice big buttons for “Internet” and “Email” and the like. The default mode is very simple to use and users could be surfing the net and emailing pretty much straight out the box. I should probably mention that I’ve not yet come across a wireless network I couldn’t use (so far used a Sky connection, my N95 and a couple of hotspots)… though reading up on the net it seems that there are connections out there that perhaps do make life difficult for Eee users.

Other notable software which come with the Linux version include Skype, Star Office, and the Pidgin IM client.

The Performance

With a 1.6 atom powering the little gem it doesn’t seem to suffer at all when wanting to do some basic browsing, word processing or mailing. These tasks are likely to be the primary tasks undertaken on my Eee… with perhaps the odd movie viewed and maybe even some development (I’ve yet to see how it copes with the Eclipse IDE which I use for my Android work).

There are three “performance” options available from the system tray which include “Power Saving”, “High Performance” and “Super Performance” as well as an “auto” option which chooses the mode depending on whether or not you’re running the Eee under battery power. If you’re watching a video clip or film then I suggest not using the “Power Saving” mode as this appears to make the images a bit juddery.

The Battery

So far battery life seems good. With the wireless on I get about 5 hours (though not using it much) and as a (yes, pretty large) MP3 player I got more like 8 hours. In fact at present I’ve been typing for about 30 minutes with the wireless off and I’ve used 6%..

The bottom line

I’m overjoyed with how good this little puppy is so far. I have made some few tweaks to be fair (like enabling the full desktop mode, removing some unwanted packages and installing some more software) but this is of course one of the plus-points of the Linux system. I’ll be detailing how I performed these tweaks in later posts… so keep ’em peeled.

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