eeePC - not for the masses

| Posted in Computers, Linux

I managed to purchase one of these little gems in late April. I’ve been a longtime fan of Linux and Asus in general, so the thought of a little laptop running the free OS was enough to keep me dreaming until I broke down and ordered one. I bought a 7” model with the4 gig hard drive and an extra 2 gigs of ram. I did the ram install myself and setup the Advanced Desktop to my liking. The first several days were wonderful. I intended to use this to check email, read the internet, and watch streaming video piped to my TV. Then I started to notice some things…the newness was wearing off.

First - this thing is tiny. I knew that going in and anyone thinking about one should know that too. The idea of a tiny laptop didn’t scare me - I have medium to large size hands and work with computers every day. If anything a little less weight to carry would be good. I found the weight to be fine. However, I found the keyboard to be of just plain bad quality. What most have blamed on big fingers - I believe is a flaw in the design. My O and N keys consistently required more force to press than others in order to register a keystroke. In addition, the cramped spaces inside the device made it such that using a headphone plug on the side of the laptop was extremely difficult - hard to put in and hard to take out. The microphone port was fine…

Second - Linux is good. Asus branded Linux…not so hot. Initially, I was overjoyed that the flavor of Linux on the eeePC was Debian based - gotta love apt-get. However, repositories of definite quality and dependability are slim to none. Luckily, the eee has most of what you need - just hope you don’t need to update in the future.

Third - drivers within the default Linux for the wireless nic are just poor. Posts on eeeUser.com can confirm this for anyone. If you’re connecting to an unsecured wireless access point - you’ll be pleased with the eee. I don’t give away my internet connection, and so have a standard Linksys WRT54g configured for WPA with a typed in key. Connecting to this with the eee got worse every time I booted the device - to the point of waiting for up to an hour for it to connect. It just didn’t seem to receive DHCP offers. Contrast that to my workhorse Lenovo laptop that connected every time before I could even log in to Windows. I don’t doubt that Asus used good quality parts - I believe that using hacked up drivers on a commerical product that results in a boot time of under 1 minute and a WPA access time of an hour is poor form. Shame on you Asus. I love Linux - and I even prefer Asus for my motherboards. But surely there are better supported wireless chipsets out there for Linux they could have used…

Fourth - Adobe Flash on Linux works well, for the most part. However, the speed of the eee coupled with poor Flash performance on Linux makes playing back videos on Hulu jittery and unwatchable. I tried every trick I could find, stopping only before overclocking (not worth it in my book). Perhaps the next Flash version will make this better? Let’s all hope so.

I could have lived with everything above except for the 3rd point. A device meant to be instant-on taking that long to connect to a wireless network I know is in good working order is infuriating. If I can boot up my Lenovo laptop with Visual Studio, Office 2007, etc. on it and beat the eee to the Internet - the eee is now just a paper weight. For that reason - the eeePC was the first item I’ve sold on eBay. I have no doubt that 90% of the audience of the eee loves it. Heck - I think it’s a brilliant device and one we’ll see cloned 100 times over. I’ll probably buy one of those clones. But of all the praise for the eee - it is still a niche product meant for a select few. Namely those with: small hands, limited application needs, unsecured wireless routers, and flashblock installed in FireFox.

Anybody have one of the eee Clones with Linux and good WPA wireless? Maybe I’ll try my luck again.