Asus EEE 900a (16G) Netbook purchased – experimentation time!

After using IBM Thinkpad laptops for years now, the hardware heating/cooling continuously has made them not as reliable as they used to be.  Hanging, locking up, and many other motherboard/ram related issues have been perking up.  (with multiple operating systems, including Windows & Linux)  I’ve been following the different laptops available on the market and all of them have been a little too pricey in comparison to their desktop brethren, along with the battery life and screen quality not being much different than it was 6-10 years ago.  Also, my lifestyle has changed to being more mobile and motorcycle oriented, so lightness and size is a priority.

Insert the Asus EEE 900A netbook that came out around August, 2007.  Starting off at $579 and not needing a laptop, it was an interesting technology to see.  Mini-laptops that are measuring approximately 10″ wide, about 7-8″ depth, and about 1″ tall with a 2 lb weight.  With my Thinkpad(s) acting wonky and not wanting to put out more than $400 at best for a new system, my options were limited when it comes to laptops.  Then I saw Best Buy running a sale on the Asus EEE 900A.  Reading the data, I was interested: 1.6 Ghz processor, 1GB RAM, 4GB Solid State storage drive, 3 USB2.0 ports, 1 SD slot, 1 RJ-45 ethernet port, 802.11b/g wireless, 8.9″ screen… oh yeah and a VGA port to hook a monitor up to for when your at a desk and want to put keyboard, mouse, and monitor on it.  With a battery life of 3-4 hours under normal use and no moving parts to damage through dropping, I thought what the hell.. and did research on it.  Nothing was lacking on it other than CDROM, sizable screen, and extensive drive space.  I figured since I can see and don’t do gaming or any of that with a laptop then a 8.9″ screen is fine, along with using network-based storage over wireless to get past the 4gb storage.

So, I bought it. (with lots of haggling with trying to get someone at Best Buy on Thunderbird Rd and I-17 in pict0645Phoenix, AZ to actually listen to me enough to pick a damn laptop out of their cage instead of walking away while rolling their eyes)  That, and a 4GB flash drive to use as a “cdrom”.  I actually was pretty impressed, It wasn’t cheaply manufactured, just has the stereotypical chinese plastic coating that is normally put on white.  Other than that, great.  I let it charge, which took about 2-3 hours.  After that, opened the monitor up and booted it up.

It was so nice to boot up a laptop, and not hear any harddrive spin up and none of the irate beeping, chugging, and whistling, and screams that seem to come out of them.  Watching Linux boot up on a fresh laptop from the store was also a delight.  In 10-11 seconds, the machine is operational.  (from off to on)

pict0657

The first screen you see as your ready to login.

pict0659And Alas, the desktop presented to you once you login.  Everything is pretty much “user friendly” from the beginning, so you can’t really do anything wrong other than maybe edit the wrong document.  Of course, after a day or so of rummaging through, I found an easy drop to what is called the “advanced desktop” which is classified and not in the system unless you edit a few files and add in some things, and update the system over the net to get the proper login scheme for it.

pict0660

With the operating system alterations which I will document a little later, while shutting down the screen includes “Full Desktop” on the lefthand side which doesn’t reboot when selected but logs out and starts the desktop… which looks like the following….

pict0662

Clean, efficient, open, and yours.  Oh,and this is Linux with KDE under the Xandros distribution.  (and for those looking for XP, you can spend $100 more and get an EEE with Windows XP installed.)

Anyway, after using this in the real life situations such as Denny’s late at night while eating chili fries

for hours on end with endless coffee refills, and leaned back

in bed controlling a computer with a flashdrive being edited while your too lazy to get up and walk over… both times it works nicely.  The wireless works very nicely.

I have attempted using various other distributions of Linux on the EEE, and I have to say the development is lacking compared to Xandros.  I notice Xandros has a cd you can run an application which will slap an image onto your flash drive and you can save your EEE system… or you can just use ‘dd’ to slap it into the flash drive under Unix.  That’s how I made the Debian EEE distribution flash drive.
So far I’ve attempted Ubuntu-eee several times and the development on that is either invisible or lacking when it comes to customer-facing responsibilities.  When asked by MANY on how to create a flash drive with Ubuntu-eee without using the 2-3 peices of software (which are surprisingly Ubuntu-biased), the usual answer is always a snide remark about how it worked for them and that person is just doing it wrong.  The right answer would be information on how to create the boot sector on the flash in the right way, along with the right procedure on getting everything in place in the right way.  After trying Debian’s EEE distribution and having it working in less than 3 hours (all downloaded during install… hah) it went in flawless.  I didn’t stay with it because it was a touch slower and not quite to my liking for the EEE interface.. though I love Debian, it’s not the greatest on a small monitored laptop with low drive space.  The second problem I had with it that made me stop was that the bottom of the installation instructions were instructions after installation on altering it to make it EEE ready.  Instantly my first thought was that if it’s an EEE distribution, it should be EEE-ready on install.  What else would I find in the future broken/lacking that needs to be altered to be EEE-ready.

I will be trying Xubuntu next just to see how it is.  There aren’t many EEE specific distributions available, but since the processor is x86 compliant and has 1GB RAM, no distribution should have any problems installing.  The only problem is with the hardware since the wireless, sound card, video, and cpu scaling are unique.  The others that are close to the concept are Fedora, Mandr{ake|iva}, FaunOS, and various others that are geared towards not filling a 4gb drive, nor spreading out over 500mb ram.

Also, a 2GB RAM upgrade will hit the machine to make up for the lack of swap space.  It will be so much fun to watch the solid state market kick off as I’m watching the 128gb solid state drives being produced for the first time.  Now to wait for the prices to drop to below a couple grand…

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