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The EeePC 900 Review May 6, 2008

Posted by reverseengineer in Hardware, Review.
9 comments

Ok gang, here’s the short and sweet review. (Check the June 2008 issue of Mobile Philippines for the fleshed-out version.)

Almost everything else is the same, except for the following:

  • Larger screen – 8.9″, 1024×600
  • More RAM – 1gb built-in
  • More storage – Windows XP version has a 12gb SSD, Linux has 20gb
  • Better webcam – 1.3 megapixel
  • Mic’s now beside the webcam
  • Speakers were moved to the bottom
  • Bigger touchpad – with FingerGlide multi-touch features
  • Just a hair bigger, thicker and heavier than the 701
  • More vents on the underside
  • Only comes in white and black (for now, but good luck getting black)

Ok. Here’s the good stuff, the stuff I think you’d be most curious to know, in no particular order:

  • Trackpad buttons are a bit hard to press; at least the button is longer in shape, which minimizes zig-when-zagging mistakes
  • As of now, I don’t know where the multi-touch pinching can work – doesn’t seem to work on any of the included apps (still exploring this)
  • Two-finger scrolling is nice, but limited; hey, it’s a short trackpad – it’s not swiiiiiiipe, swiiiiiiipe as with a Mac, but more like swipeswipeswipeswipeswipe
  • No two-finger tapping to replace right clicks (like on Macs); at least I think so. Haven’t found the pref setting for it, anyway. [UPDATE: Found it. It’s buried in the Mouse prefs under Control Panel. And apparently it’s more full-featured than originally thought. The ElanTech pad has all the features and conveniences of the Apple multi-touch trackpad. Good then.]
  • Trackpad size also inadequate for pinch-zooming; your fingers barely have room to move apart before they jam up against the edges of the pad (for me at least; I have big fingers); so like swiping, it’s pinchpinchpinchpinchpinch
  • The productivity app add-ons are…wait for it …Microsoft Works and Star Suite 8 from Sun Micro. Eh?
  • Whenever it starts up Microsoft Works, the app warns you that screen resolution is below Microsoft’s recommended minimum – which is 1024×768. Eh? Didn’t they know that coming in? They could have at least reset the app to the proper setting so we don’t keep getting reminded that the screen is still tiny.
  • Speakers are now on the bottom; loud, but needs room around the base to be heard
  • Screen is beautiful, but not too bright; kinda like the proverbial dumb blonde
  • The microphone is now beside the webcam. Finally.
  • Getting the Linux version is a no-brainer; 20gb is a big deal; you can dump Linux and install Windows later. You got an XP installer around, right? You have any idea how much an 8gb SSD costs these days?
  • Keyboard still sucks. Same one from the 701, save for the markings on the Windows key – it ain’t the little house no more. It’s at least more sturdy and solid.
  • Build quality seems better all around. Seems. Can’t prove it, but it feels like it is.
  • The faux modem hole is gone, rubber cover and all; no sense pretending there’ll ever will be a modem for this thing, after all.
  • Battery life sucks. No numbers yet, but I can tell you it sucks. Bigger screen, more ram, larger SSDs – and then you match those with a weaker battery than the previous (and less-equipped, hence less needy) model? Ex-squeeze me? Baking powder? (I hope this changes with the release version.)
  • The hinge seems abnormally tight; I need two hands to open it up, and with difficulty at that. Then again maybe it’s just this unit.
  • Doesn’t seem to get unreasonably warm. Then again, my old 701 never did too. At least there are more vents on the underside.
  • The included pouch sucks big time; what happened to the sexy, black neoprene? It’s like exchanging black thongs for granny panties.
  • A power brick? Doh! Bring back the cellphone charger!
  • From a plain-vanilla config, boots up in 30 sec. Shuts down in 31. Cool.
  • Response time is about what you’d expect from a capable PC. Not fantastic, but not a slouch either. In fact, it’s a lot better than I expected. But still and all, it’s what you’d expect from Windows XP. No more, no less.
  • Here’s the surprise: that 12gb SSD? It’s two drives – a 4 and an 8! At least that’s what System Information tells me. I think it’s the old built-in 4gb of the 701, plus an extra 8gb SSD in the ol’ extra slot. (Can’t tell because I’m not allowed to open it.) Makes sense from a production standpoint. Old mold, then just stick an extra SSD in. (Now I’m wondering how the 20gb Linux version is configured – a 4gb on-board and a 16gb in the slot?) This is something we don’t see in any of the press releases and company literature. Why do I feel like someone’s cheating? [UPDATE: Apparently this info is in the eeepc.asus.com website already. My guesses were right. Question now is, can we swap SSDs when we want, or are they hard-soldered into the port?]

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The EeePC900 Unboxing Gallery May 5, 2008

Posted by reverseengineer in Hardware, Pics.
14 comments

Nothing sweeter than unboxing a new toy (well, I can think of a couple of other sweeter things, but never mind that). Here we go:

The box itself.

I received the one with Windows XP pre-installed. It comes with just a 12gb SSD. The Linux version comes with 20gb, for the same price. The rationale is, with the WinXP version you buy a licensed copy of Windows XP, which is apparently worth 8gb these days. Linux is free and open source, so you get back the 8gb in kind.

Boo! It’s the EeePC900 in its body bag.

The stuff inside the box. Yum.

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Arise, Lazarus May 5, 2008

Posted by reverseengineer in Asus, Developments, Hardware.
1 comment so far

So I’m back.

Didn’t think I’d be back this soon either, but nothing like a line refresh to get the blood blog going again.

I knew this blog’s still got some life in it.

Yes, I got me an EeePC 900 today. It’s a review unit, and they want it back before the official launching Monday next.

Sure. As soon as they pry it from my cold, dead fingers.

Kidding.

Actually, they said I can buy it if I want – at the usual press discount? – but I dunno yet.

Anyhow, expect some input here again. At least for the duration.

Unboxing pics are coming up later, when I get home.

F911 March 28, 2008

Posted by reverseengineer in Hardware, Xandros.
5 comments

Had a bit of a scare with my Eeep yesterday. I’d somehow rendered it unusable, and had to figure out how to fix the thing.

I fixed it after an hour of twiddling with it at home, not to worry, but at one point I thought I’d have to use the Xandros F9 reinstallation option. Or maybe, finally, make that Xubuntu-on-a-stick dalliance a bit more of a permanent committment. Of course my data was backed up and safe (I’d learned that lesson eons ago). It’s just the hassle of reinstalling everything I already had again, and losing my settings and preferences and bookmarks and all the little things that make up my digital life on the Eeep.

So what happened? How did I bork the Asus? Torrenting did it, my friends.

I was at the office. Since the office network is blocked and firewalled (and it wasn’t fair to use it), I got the Eeep to leech off an open signal in our building and got BitTornado running to get something off the net while I worked. Everything went fine.

Except I didn’t bother to double-check the settings of the client. I didn’t see that the destination folder wasn’t the one on the external WD Passport it’s normally set to. Unbeknowst to me, the 350mb file was going straight to the SSD! It was 10mb short of finishing when it tanked.

I was to find out that in a case like this, an Eeep will promptly hang, then will go on an endless reboot loop since the was no room on the SSD to properly set up the reboot. Argh. At least an error message screen told me the problem right off. So it should be a matter of deleting some files (or that pesky torrent download), and everything should be back to normal.

After a half-hour of fruitlessly trying to get it to run, I hit upon the idea of getting it to boot off a Xubuntu live USB stick – and give me access to the full-to-bursting SSD. And it did boot up properly – but then I couldn’t find the damned SSD directory off the File Manager so I could delete the offending fiile.

Was the SSD even mounted? I called some EeePH friends who didn’t really know how to help me – one of my gurus said I could boot off a dual-boot SD into Windows and fix it from there. Fine, but I didn’t have a bootable Windows SD card. Besides, I was already trying that approach from the Xubuntu angle.

So I went to a neighboring iMac and researched how to mount SSDs. Armed with the info, I went into the Xubuntu console and did some hacking into the structure, carefully because I was a babe in those woods. (It would later turn out that the SSD was mounted after all, and in my fluster I didn’t see the proper /home/user/ folder.)

So I did find my stuff, but when I got to my files, discovered I didn’t have the proper permissions to trash them. Godalmighty. Another couple of calls netted me the advice that I’d need to log on as the proper user so I’d get access to the files to delete them. So I tried it, and discovered that I wasn’t quite sure what name I had used. Whatever I SU’ed only got me an Unknown ID error message.

Throwing in the towel, I went home – but still tried to figure it out on the long drive home, with the Eeep on my lap, running off a Xubuntu stick, with a USB gooseneck light plugged in so I could see the keyboard.

In the house after dinner, I went at it again, determined to fix it before finally surrendering to F9. Or as I like to call it, F-911.

With Terminal open in front of me, the cursor blinking, I figured – why not just SUDO the damn thing? Get the right path and just RM the damned file. Surely it would bypass permissions. Which is what it did, and it worked. The file disappeared. The SSD loosened up. After that my EeePC booted up in Xandros as usually does, and it was as if nothing had happened.

Dang.

Must’ve been the food that kicked my brain into gear. In hindsight it was the obvious, simple solution, and you veteran Linux users are probably thinking what a bozo I was not to have thought of it in the first place. True. Noobs move in mysterious ways.

At least I figured it out before I took the F9 plunge. Moral of the story, gang? Don’t fill up the SSD if you can help it. That’s bork city, especially under Xandros.

Camera obscure March 14, 2008

Posted by reverseengineer in Hardware, Video, Xandros.
2 comments

The EeePC’s webcam seems to be a big deal with a lot of folk. It certainly gives the Eeep more pogi points with the general computing populace and adds a bit more value for the money. Now the fact that the EeePC 900 will have a 1.3 megapixel camera as opposed to the 300k one the 701s and below are outfitted with seems like a big selling point for the newer model.

I’ve never been a big fan of the webcam. Oh, sure, in the old days I thought it was the bomb. I even bought a separate, expensive Kodak USB camera back in the day so I could videochat and live the Dick Tracy life I’ve been looking forward to since I was a kid. The hype never lived up to the promise though: a dark, jerky little postage stamp with major lag, if it worked at all. Lots of wishful thinking. Better these days for sure; given the right conditions the vid hardly stutters, but it’s still not quite what I’ve imagined. Dick Tracy’s video wristwatch is still scfi vaporware as far as I can tell.

When the portable Macs started coming out with built-in iSights, I wasn’t too excited. It was a hoot to vid-chat, and if I was living abroad and wanted to see my family back here every day, I guess I’d be more enthusiastic about them. But I’m of the school that prefers to communicate face-to-face if I have to, but not force the issue if the person isn’t really there. Call me anti-social, but even old-fashioned chatting is a chore for me too. All that typing, when as a writer typing is all I do the whole damn day. Same goes for texting. I get so impatient I prefer to just call.

That said, here are my two cents about the EeePC’s 0.3 megapixel webcam. It’s not great, but it’s not too terrible either. About par for the course, the kind of webcam you’d expect to get with a bare and basic lappie like the Eeep – dark and pixellated, but workable. While it does 30 fps with proper lighting, it drops to 7.5 frames per second in a dim room. Then again, what can one reasonably expect from a 300k webcam, anyway?

For all the workable software they included where the cam is anywhere useful (almost nothing), it seems that Asus added it to the mix because they felt they had to; aside from that I guess they felt it added value for next to nothing. In a purely PR, way they were right.

What gets me when using it with Xandros is that it takes some amount of prep just to get it running in the first place – and then the default Skype included with the distro doesn’t even work with the webcam – you’ll have to downgrade to an older beta, and then manually turn on the webcam by performing some patented sudo moves in Console mode (or you could automate the thing if you know the spells) everytime you needed it for Skyping. (Although I haven’t tested the official Linux Skype 2.0 – just out of beta today, incidentally – for Xandros yet.) And let’s not get started on Yahoo Messenger.

When the EeePC 900 comes out with the additional megapixel, I guess most of the objections as far as clarity and resolution become moot and academic; let’s just hope it’s really more useful and usable. Apart from the bigger screen, trackpad and SSD, it’s a nice frill …but still just a frill. I hope they didn’t abandon plans of an even bigger screen just so they could keep the cam in.

Upgrade blues March 7, 2008

Posted by reverseengineer in Hardware, Ramblings.
6 comments

It’s the inevitable fate of the Early Adopter – when Revision A comes out, thus will begin a new round of wailing and gnashing of teeth, of ashes on heads and tearing of clothes. It’s a built-in, programmed destiny – by the very nature of being an EA, it’s a fait accompli. But even with that knowledge, they still go and do it.

They buy the newest thing, and have several weeks of cool – maybe a couple of months, six at the outside. But that newer, better thing will come out, sooner than anyone expects, at which point regret and self-recrimination take over immediately, and the sneaking suspicion that everyone who ooohed and aaaahhed at their new gadget are now derisively mocking them behind their back. Fool. You should have waited.

Which leaves the Early Adopter with two choices: suck it up and stay with the first version, or sell it quickly and upgrade, and suck up the price difference. Most EAs take the second, more painful option, as that is their nature. It’s hardwired into their DNA.

Upon succumbing, they buy themselves a coolness extension, a reprieve which lasts precisely until Revision B comes out, which will be, as these things go, soon. And Rev B will always be better, and more desirable, and more powerful, have more features – you will always be swept up by whatever justification you think up. So the cycle continues.

It’s a depressing, bottomless hole geeks tend to fall in. And addiction from which only a drained budget is the only cure. Or an exasperated wife.

I used to be caught up in it, and was only eventually cured by the two things I just mentioned. But I’m terrified the emergence of the EeePC 900 is threatening to drag me back into the old black addiction again.

I’m trying to talk myself out of selling this little friend of mine, a friend I’ve just come to know in the few inseparable months we’ve been together. I’m almost there; am trying to figure out who to sell it to, for how much less, and from where I’ll be pulling in the price difference.

The fact that almost every accessory I’ve bought for my little friend will not be obsolete and will still be useful comforts me no end. The bag, the memory cards, the external drive. I shall bequeath the ones I can’t use to the next owner of my friend: the screen protector, the additional RAM.

In my head I’ve convinced myself that I cannot live without the extra two inches of screen of the EeePC 900, that I’ll be eternally miserable without the extra half-inch of the new trackpad, the additional megapixel of the webcam, the extra 8gig from the SSD. This is not to mention the glorious advantage I’d extract from the faster Intel Atom processor.

The New Generation computer positively puts the 701 4G to shame; it’s an undeserving, abominable, underpowered, underclocked and unusable device that will forever be in the list of the worst gadgets ever created.

Sure.

I hardly use the darned webcam. I’ve grown accustomed to just 7 inches of screen. I can’t even fill my SD cards with files, not to mention the 160gb external drive. Trackpad? I use a mouse!

So I try to stiffen my resolve. I don’t need the EeePC 900. I just want it, but I don’t need it.

But it shore looks good, don’t it?

Nine-inch goodness March 5, 2008

Posted by reverseengineer in Hardware, Pics.
7 comments

It’s one thing to see the new screen on a demo unit that isn’t even turned on, and it’s another seeing it actually work. Here’s what the EeePC 900‘s screen looks like when the computer is on:

(Pic from Engadget)

So, how much bigger will it be? March 4, 2008

Posted by reverseengineer in Hardware, Pics.
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This much bigger:

(As you can see from the watermark, pic cribbed from Engadget.)

It’s one of the questions uppermost in my mind. Not too bad as it turns out.

(Also, on a side note, I just found out that Asus calls their EeePC 900 campaign the “New Generation”. I titled the previous post, unaware, the “Next Generation”. Almost had it. Serendipitous. Is that a sign to upgrade when it comes out?)

The next generation March 4, 2008

Posted by reverseengineer in Asus, Developments, Hardware.
5 comments

The only thing that’d possibly get me to sell my EeePC is coming out: another EeePC. New and improved.

DailyTech confirms the new EeePC 900, which is coming out in a few months.

8.9-inch screen, 1024×600 resolution, a 12gb SSD, a bigger touchpad, a gig of RAM. It might use a different processor (likely the Intel Atom, also known as Silverthorne), and might have a different software bundle.

It’ll be a little thicker and a little heavier, but everything I’ve been grousing about is fixed. (It’s as if Asus was actually listening!) Although the deal breaker might be the eventual price. If it wanders off the value-for-money sweet spot, I might hold on to the 701 longer yet. Reports put it at US$600. Hmm…

RAM and storage are moot; we’ve found alternatives and solutions we can live with. But damn. 1024×600 on 9 inches. Bigger touchpad. Oooh.

I hope there’ll be black ones too.

UPDATE: Engadget‘s got a photo gallery! (It looks almost exactly the same save for the bigger parts; in one photo we see they took out the modem hole entirely.)

UPDATE II: It’ll have a better webcam too. 1.3mp, as opposed to the original .3mp. Nice. And Xandros’ll still be the default OS. (Hopefully an improved distro?)

Timber! February 25, 2008

Posted by reverseengineer in Hardware.
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One of the niggles that gets me about the Eeep is its top-heaviness.

When opened up way back, a light push on the top of the screen is enough to make it topple backwards. Opened at a reasonable angle, it just wobbles a bit as if it was slightly drunk. Wide open and it’s bound to fall back on its ass.

It’s a design flaw that would be serious if the Eeep wasn’t as hardy and durable as it already is. Even if it does fall, the only victim might be the espresso you put back there so it wouldn’t be in the way; it certainly won’t hurt the computer. That torture test video certainly proves that. But I wouldn’t want to court disaster.

I don’t know if the slightly raised butt is to blame for the odd-placed center of gravity. I guess Asus was backing on the weight of our hands on the palmrest to anchor it down. But it’s a problem when working with the laptop on soft or less-than-level surfaces, like on the bed where I sometimes write, or literally on my lap.

Maybe they could have moved some of the heavier components to the front edge to even it out. Or made the lid a bit thinner and lighter (I personally think the speakers are the culprit here). Adding some ballast under the palmrest would certainly defeat the purpose of having an ultraportable, light computer.

I used to think it was just over-critical me, but some of the gang at the EEEPH Meet & Greet were grousing a bit about it too. Ah, well. It’s the first version of an ongoing effort. Not too shabby, really. I just like to nitpick. I do that to everything I love. Heh.