Colin Charles Agenda

The Eee PC: After a week

After writing my impressions on Eeedora, it seemed only natural to write about the hardware. There are definitely some issues that I found with the Eee PC that I am not too happy about (and some that are just great).

For starters, who makes a laptop these days, without integrated Bluetooth? It just seems daft. This is a tiny sub-notebook, and how can I get on the Internet if I’m sitting in a train or a bus? The most natural thing would be for me to enable Bluetooth on my mobile phone, and use it as a modem. Oh wait, the Eee PC is missing Bluetooth, and its a WiFi only device. Sure, I can stick a USB Bluetooth dongle on it, but thats an external contraption, that I’ll have to make do with.

I was going through the fine print, and while ASUS provides a 2-year warranty on these laptops, the warranties themselves, seem to be limited to the country of purchase. These warranties, are not international. Who makes a laptop these days, that doesn’t expect the user to travel much? I can imagine that when travelling, the Eee PC can’t be my only laptop – I’m the kind of person that finds Dell’s next-day-onsite-business warranty pretty darn useful.

The keyboard, is tiny, but its expected for such a tiny laptop. I’m wondering why so much space is reserved for the speakers, and why not just give us a larger screen? I have a feeling its got to do with cost, and this can only get better in the future. I’ve noticed that the keyboard requires you to occasionally “jab” it harder, to get the key press that you want. Or its just that my fingers aren’t nimble enough, on this small thing.

The location of the left Shift key, is silly. In VIM, you occasionally tend to press the Up Arrow key, as opposed to the Shift key. I’ve seen people hack their Eee, to ensure that this stupidity is reversed. However, I’m not into moving keys around, to satisfy my needs at this stage.

The one button mouse, that does both right and left clicking is a very nifty feature. How do I middle-click? This is a very crucial feature in Unix land, and especially useful in Firefox (tabbed browsing).

The battery life, for something this tiny, sucks. It sucks even worse, when the WiFi is enabled (quite naturally). My dreams of it being used daily during a conference, or at a meeting, has clearly been shattered. To fix this, I might have to order an external battery pack, that outputs between 9-12V (apparently, 9V is too little to power this 9.5V device, but 12V is just fine).

I’m pretty happy with the performance of the SSD:

[root@Eee ~]# hdparm -tT /dev/sdc

 Timing cached reads:   566 MB in  2.00 seconds = 283.05 MB/sec
 Timing buffered disk reads:    4 MB in  4.39 seconds = 932.40 kB/sec

[root@Eee ~]# hdparm -tT /dev/sda

 Timing cached reads:   566 MB in  2.00 seconds = 282.50 MB/sec
 Timing buffered disk reads:   66 MB in  3.07 seconds =  21.50 MB/sec

/dev/sda being the internal SSD, while /dev/sdc being a USB thumb drive (2GB, Sandisk Cruzer Micro).

The built-in video-camera, is pretty standard. Its resolution isn’t great, but it suffices for a video chat.

Sound, is OK. I installed VLC, to allow me to play video/audio, and realised that it was going to set me back, in total, about 21M, with all its dependencies. Hardly appealing, but I was going to have a more interesting time, bringing in Totem, for instance. I have managed to watch a DivX movie, without too much trouble. Will I be able to watch one, entirely, say, while on a plane (or train), I don’t know.

Yes, video, and DivX decoding, works fine on a 630MHz processor. Why has ASUS under-clocked the Eee, giving it a 300MHz performance slack? Did the difference, really save battery life?

There are many ways to hack an Eee. The many guides online, showing how and what one can do (from simple Bluetooth, to a GPS or a touch screen) is just amazing. I don’t plan on hacking my Eee (yet, anyway), and the most I’m going to do, is go get more memory- RAM is always a good thing.

Its small. I spent this week using the train and tram system quite a bit, and realised that even though the trips themselves were short, I was getting some work done (like finding time to write blog entries, and some code – I haven’t gone as far as installing a toolchain on the Eee yet, but if you can find some Internet access later, committing code is easy). Its OK that its cramped. And its OK that it works on top of my huge backpack. These are clear benefits of its size, and hopeful durability.

Its cheap. I had a colleague who’s laptop (a Macbook) died the night before he was about to give a talk. He could head a few blocks down, buy an Eee, and immediately start re-writing his talk again. I saw him deliver his talk, using the Eee and the stock Xandros that was installed on it. In the old day, if your laptop died, you just started to walk around with a notebook and pen,and you gave your talk informally, without slides :)

Anyway, enough rambling (I’m about to reach my stop). Next up, what powertop thinks of the Eeedora install, and re-spinning it.

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