Posts Tagged ‘netbook’

Laptop/netbook for a university student and a HP Mini 311 quick review

I recently asked on Twitter:

For a college/university student, would you get ’em a laptop or a netbook? Need opinions ASAP. Thanks!

HP MiniThe Twitterverse was quick to respond. Thank you all for responding! A little summary:

  1. @sniffit suggested that netbooks are underpowered, but might change with Linux being on them.
  2. @redsheep went for a laptop, unless I planned on being a mean uncle that didn’t want them to play games/do graphics/etc. Why, I can’t be a mean uncle ;-)
  3. @spinzer said go with a laptop because students have diverse working nature, and a netbook wouldn’t cut it.
  4. Both @alphaque and @brianritchie suggested to watch for the coursework: Computer Science, Graphics, Statistics deserve a laptop, otherwise, go for a netbook.
  5. @saimatkong suggested a 12″ notebook, but those tend to be quite expensive, to the best of my knowledge.
  6. @sureshdr, @tjunkie, @thechannelc, @liewcf, @bleongcw, @r0kawa all suggested a laptop would be better. In fact, @liewcf suggested a MacBook.
  7. @jerng brought up a good point: it should depend on the preferences of the user as speed tends to be a secondary issue.
  8. @biatch0r was the only one that outright said go for a netbook, lugging around a 10KG laptop is so 20th century :) I tend to agree.

So a bit from where I’m coming from, which I didn’t say in the original tweet. This laptop/netbook is for a complete stranger, whom I’ve never met. We do however, know her father. His daughter had just been accepted into a university somewhere up north in Malaysia, and she clearly needs a laptop/netbook for her coursework.

Anyway, all that aside, and with much thanks to the Twitterverse, I set out to pick up a machine quickly (think, 0.5hr). I had to be near MidValley for another reason, so hopped in. Checked out the Asus, and Acer stores, and found laptops and netbooks to exist, and you’d average around RM2,100 or so. Dell had a laptop for RM1,999, but it was a 14″ clunker, and it seemed really heavy. This seemed to be the large problem with a laptop: they came with everything (including a DVD-RW drive), but would come with a 13″ or 14″ screen – and they were all mighty heavy. Acer seemed to offer OS-less laptops, but I didn’t want to spend more time than need be, so wanted an operating system.

I went over to the HP store, my last stop, thinking in my head, I’d pick up the Dell. But I was taken aback when I saw the HP Mini 311. The specifications were amazing: 1.66GHz N280 Atom processor, 2GB RAM, 250GB hard disk, an external 8x DVD-RW drive (!), 11.6″ screen boasting a resolution of 1366×768, 10/100 Ethernet, 802.11b/g WLAN, 92% full-size keyboard (with great tactile feedback – I spent a lot of time in the store trying it). But that’s not all, it comes with 3 USB ports, HDMI output (why?), VGA output (and no need for any silly cable like their previous items), a multimedia card slot (for SD’s, etc.) and a built-in webcam.

The exact model is the HP Mini 311-1002TU. It seems like its an edition only available in Asia, and it comes with Windows 7 Starter Edition. Did I mention that it cost a mere RM1,799?

More goodness about it. It doesn’t come with an Intel graphics chipset, but an nVidia ION. Video performance is pretty darned good, in comparison to what Intel doles out, even on the netbook that I own (an Asus 1000HE). In my quick experiments, I was getting a good 5 hours of battery life running Windows 7.

First thing I did was install: Mozilla Firefox (and set it to be the default web browser), avast! anti-virus (to protect the PC), and with the JRE. It comes with a 60 day trial version of Microsoft Office, but who needs that when is free and should suffice. The system is quite snappy, and while the guy at the store told me that Windows 7 Starter Edition will not allow me to run more than 3 applications at a time, it works fine for me. In fact, the only thing that seems annoying is that you can’t change the desktop background – Microsoft is intentionally crippling their software for netbooks. From what I understand, a dual monitor setup will not work either (useful to have an external monitor on a netbook), but I did not try this.

I can confirm that Ubuntu works pretty well on this machine – I tested it when I got home, using the LiveCD and it seemed to “just work”. More information available at the laptop testing team HP Mini 311 on the Ubuntu wiki. A forum post to help with suspend/resume magic.

In conclusion, I didn’t get a laptop, but a netbook. But a netbook with an amazing screen size, a resolution that exceeds my expectations, a good graphics card, and an external DVD writer. Windows 7 Starter does not come with Aero, and I wrote a little README file informing the new owner that it might be better to just install Linux and she’ll be better for it at the end of her three year university course :-)

Netbook Tweaks at BarCampKL

At BarCampKL last weekend (wow, time flies), one of the more interesting talks I attended was Preetam Rai’s session, on Netbooks. Carolyn was suspicious that a Mac head was at a netbook session, but the reality is, I’ve always been interested in netbooks, ever since I picked up the Asus Eee PC 701.

I didn’t “live tweet” the session, but I did take notes:

  • Keep in mind the small screen – 800×480 is crap. 1024×600 seems to be the new preferred resolution, and it might make things like Google Reader easier to use
  • What browser? Chrome seems to work well – I’ve been Chrome free, considering I don’t run Windows… All this may change, but it seems like the interface of Chrome, the lack of a top toolbar, is a pretty good thing
  • Dock, to make it more OSX like, Rocket Dock – read Preetam’s post about Netbook Tweaks 1: Rocketdock
  • Magnification – The Magnifier, EZ Magnifier
  • Anti-virus – use AVG (free)
  • MSN Messenger – hack to remove ads, Otherwise use Pidgin, which as an alternative to MSN Messenger
  • Office – MSOffice isn’t so user friendly on small screens because the toolbars take lots of space. is also a problem, in terms of toolbars. Mozilla Prism, then use Google Docs, with offline mode
  • Using Linux? Well, you can contact your local LUG
  • Battery life? Turn of wifi, bluetooth when you don’t need it. Low power saving mode.
  • Windows? Disable computer discovery, bluetooth management
  • Linux? Mind the filesystem, also keep in touch with fstab. You don’t want to kill your SSD
  • How do you speed it up? Upgrade the RAM.
  • Keyboard? 701 has a horrible keyboard. HP seems to do pretty well with their keyboards. Ditto with MSI Winds, the Lenovo, and newer Asus EeePC’s – so the keyboards are getting better

So, with regards to Linux, the Ubuntu Netbook Remix seems to get the most traction. I am partial to Fedora… If I pick up an Asus 1000HE, do I just “enjoy” using Windows? So many thoughts…

Netbook shopping

I was in MidValley today, looking for a tiny power adapter for the power adapter on my Eee PC. After much searching, Ace Hardware seemed to have what I was after. However, post-dinner, it became clear to me that walking by the IT Mall there would be kind of useful.

Walked into the Acer shop to check out the Aspire One. I had seen one at, and Ow had recommended it to me. They were retailing at RM1,499 and were unfortunately out of stock. I walked by and saw the Dell Mini 9, and wasn’t impressed by the overall size of the unit. Heck, the keyboard seemed like there was little improvement from my Eee, and if I were buying Dell, I’d hold out for the newly announced Mini 10. I mean, who wouldn’t want a TV tuner, built in GPS, built in 3G and more, right?

The Eee PCThen, it was into the Lenovo shop, and I was taken away by the Lenovo IdeaPad S9. This is a tiny cute little machine, that has an Intel Atom 1.6GHz processor, with 1GB of RAM, a 160GB hard disk, and a lot of ports. Its also dead light, but gets heavier with the 3-cell battery attached. I’ll admit to actually liking the Lenovo S series quite a bit, The keyboard was of the right size, there was tactile feedback, I could type normally, and I even managed to crash the built-in Internet Explorer! Yes, it comes with Windows XP, which can be a minor annoyance, but I think I could live with it.

SD card slot, check. USB slots, check. It even comes with an ExpressCard slot, and for a little over RM600, I can buy a 3G modem, pop by GSM chip inside, and never have to worry about the USB modem ever again. I was almost ready to make an impulse purchase, when I thought I’d give it some time, come home and give it a little research.

Good thing I did that. I found it quite limiting that both the S9 and the S10, have a resolution of 1024×600. One of my main gripes with the Eee PC 701 is the fact that the resolution of 800×480 just doesn’t cut it – I can’t even read my feeds in Google Reader! (unless I use the mobile version, which also means I lose my keyboard shortcuts). Worse, it seems that the 8.9″ screen and the 10.2″ screen mean you pay less for the S9, but the physical dimensions of the units, are exactly the same!

Come on Lenovo. What kind of scam are you trying to pull? The price tags are just a couple hundred ringgit apart, but the physical dimensions are the same, just that the screen is a little smaller? Good thing I waited, because if I do go out and buy something from Lenovo, its definitely going to be the IdeaPad S10.

However, upon further searching, it seems that the battery lives on the IdeaPad’s aren’t so hot. It seems the Eee PC’s with the Atom processors and SSD’s or flash drives are much better. And primarily, my goal for even wanting a netbook of sorts, is to ensure that the battery life completely rocks.

I have an external APC battery pack, which I use with my Dell laptop. From what I understand, it will probably also work with the IdeaPad’s. I don’t know if it will work with the newer Asus’s. It doesn’t with my Eee 701, the last time I checked.

Then I prodded further. (All on my Eee PC 701, running Fedora 8, might I add). It seems that the Asus Eee PC 1000HE is the latest model that they have, which claims about 9.5 hours of battery life! All for under USD$400 (I’ve not seen this unit in Malaysia, so to speak). It comes with Windows XP, and its the recommended OS. For battery life, I just might keep it – I’ve seen the comparisons with Linux, and the battery lives are remarkably shorter. One wonders why?

So the 1000HE is heavy (1.45KG – even the IdeaPad is lighter), but has an impressive battery life. Choices, choices. Netbooks are becoming so commodity-like now, there’s plenty of choice everywhere, with plenty of configurations. I’m glad I didn’t make an impulse purchase, because there’s been much change in the world of netbooks.