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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?)

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The next generation March 4, 2008

Posted by reverseengineer in Asus, Developments, Hardware.
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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?)

Shine February 28, 2008

Posted by reverseengineer in Accessories.
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I thought long and hard about using a screen protector on my Eeep.

On one hand, the laptop really doesn’t need one. Aside from the fact that the screen isn’t under much risk from wayward fingernails and flying objects (because it’s not that much of a target anyway – it’s so small), the build quality is good enough that the screen is safe from the keys when the lid is closed.

On the other hand, it don’t hurt. And they’re relatively cheap. And it makes the screen pretty, depending on your preference of either matte or glossy. I’m a glossy person. I like the screen to reflect light like the glass surface of a lake in bright sunshine. Glare doesn’t bother me at all, and seeing my reflection on the screen doesn bug me in the least. I like shine. Besides, it makes the Eeep look more expensive than it actually is.

Macbooks can be bought either matte or glossy, and I hear glossy outsells matte screens hands down. If you’re not doing professional graphic design where color fidelity was critical, and glare isn’t an issue, gloss is ok. Some guys even prefer screens that double as privacy filters, where the viewing angle is cut to the area directly in front of the user – a bit paranoiac, if you ask me; even if you could see from the side, it’s so small I doubt if you could make anything out anyway.

I got one from a member of EeePH who was selling PDAir Screen Protectors on the side (among other things) for about P300 (around $8). They were of the glossy kind, which I was happy about. She brought a bunch at the Meet & Greet last Saturday and offered to attach my newly-bought protector for free, a process that is agony if you have an unsteady hand, a dusty environment or are impatient. The screen protector’s greatest enemies are misalignment, dog hair, dust and bubbles.

Tempting, but I’d go apeshit if the protector didn’t go on perfectly. So I opted to take mine home and attach it myself, since I’m a control freak about these things. Also, I wanted the screen to be flawless – I have a spray bottle of excellent (and precious) Apple-endorsed LCD cleaning fluid at home that I wanted to use first. My only fear was that I have four rambunctious dogs at home, and flying dog hair 24-7 is a fact of life.

When I got home I banned them outside and locked myself in the room and shut all the windows. I let the air settle for a bit and then cleaned and polished the Eeep’s screen before starting. It went perfect – until a small bubble inexplicably appeared about an inch right below the webcam. No amount of lifting and re-laying could get it to disappear, and no amount of card massaging could get it to move to the edge so the air could be squeezed out.

I was royally pissed. I had to stop at one point because I might wear the adhesive out pulling it on and off. I think some speck of dust must’ve gotten stuck to the sticky underside of the protector and would not budge. Oh well. I guess I’d best live with it. Either that or get another protector.

It was better then what some of our Eeepers went through at the Meet & Greet where they had the ingenious idea of getting together and buying a larger, more readily available protector at a nearby store and cutting it to size and splitting the cost among four of them. It was a great deal until they realized that the adhesive was only laid out on the edges of the larger film, and they had to figure out how to make it stick. Ugh.

Mine turned out nice, despite the bubble. Nice …and shiny. The screen was a bit smudgier than before, but it was ok. I figure after a couple of weeks my frustration with the bubble would fade and I wouldn’t be distracted as much.

What I don’t think I’ll go around actively seeking is a silicon keyboard protector. Now that would be overkill.

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.

250gb SSDs by yearend! February 24, 2008

Posted by reverseengineer in Developments, Hardware.
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CNet‘s Nanotech blog reports that Samsung might be able to release 250gb solid state drives by year’s end, due to multi-level cell (MLC) technology which increases capacity by writing more bits to several levels more in each memory cell.

According to Nanotech, Samsung will definitely be releasing a 128gb SSD with MLC by 3Q08 at the very least.

Samsung predicts a 35 to 45% drop in SSD pricing year-to-year, which is good news because at current rates getting hi-cap SSDs isn’t feasible for consumer-level users (like the good folk at EEEPH). Choosing the 64gb SSD’ed Macbook Air adds US$900 to its price, so that puts the 64gb SSD at about the cost of a little over two 4G Eeeps.

The article also puts to rest a couple of misconceptions about SSDs.

That they have short life spans:

A flash device that is rated at 100,000 write cycles, for example, can write 100,000 times “to every single (memory) cell within the device,” (Michael Yang, flash marketing manager at Samsung) said. In other words, the device doesn’t write to the same cell over and over again but spreads out the writes over many different cells. This is achieved through “wear leveling,” which is carried out by the SSD’s controller, he said. This would make it virtually impossible to wear out a flash chip. Yang said a pattern could be perpetually repeated in which a 64GB SSD is completely filled with data, erased, filled again, then erased again every hour of every day for years, and the user still wouldn’t reach the theoretical write limit. He added that if a failure ever does occur, it will not occur in the flash chip itself but in the controller.”

That they are not that much faster than traditional hard disk drives:

HDDs do 120 to 150 IOPS (input/output operations per second). SSDs (do) 10,000 to 30,000 IOPS.”

Read the good news from Nanotech here.

Our first Meet & Greet February 23, 2008

Posted by reverseengineer in Events.
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Our little local users group of EeePC fanatics had a little get-together this afternoon at Bo’s Coffee, a little cafe at Robinson’s Galleria. The profusion of ‘little’ is perfect since we had little computers all over the place.

A couple of dozen of us, mostly all complete strangers to one another, spent the afternoon and evening comparing notes, exchanging tips, showing off and generally getting to know each other. We only knew everyone from the faceless camaraderie of the postings in the user group forum at eeeph.com and the handles we went by.

It takes a great impetus to get our duffs off our beds on a precious weekend afternoon and haul them half across town through heavy traffic to meet people we didn’t know from Adam. Such is the effect of the Eeep, I guess, and the need to meet like-minded folk. It was a wildly varied lot, with young ones and the young once, some loaquacious, agreeable louts and the rare textbook mousy geek. There were students, businessmen, writers, housewives, geeks – all kinds.

We caused quite a stir in the mall, with 24 tiny Asus laptops crowding the little coffee tables of Bo’s Coffee. Where else can you see four computers all comfortably perched, with ample room for coffee cups, on a small circular surface that usually had room enough for only one regular-sized laptop? Heads turned the whole afternoon. Even the baristas were all questions, and refused to believe that the computers each cost less than a mid-range cellphone. Surely we kid!

We spent five hours there, yakking away about everything, and leeching off the free mall wifi. Some industrious members took the opportunity to sell wares – leather cases, SD cards, USB sticks, RAM, external DVD drives, screen protectors, speakers, car chargers – which we all gleefully perused and cheerfully bought at great discounts in honor of our first Meet & Greet. There was even a small raffle with great prizes courtesy of some members (and for once I won something nice, thank you very much.)

People showed off their gear, their hardware and software modifications – our forum adminstrator and founder had an Eeep with OS X on it, but he couldn’t make it; traffic was so bad at his neck of the woods he had to regretfully head back home. Some guys took out their tools and tinkered with things right there – a couple even exchanged keyboards and batteries, ending up with a white Eeep with a black keyboard and batt, and vice versa.

It was really nice meeting everyone and putting faces to names. Good times!

Tracking the pad February 20, 2008

Posted by reverseengineer in Hardware.
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A big concern of mine with the Eeep is the smallness of the trackpad.

If the screen and keyboard are small already, the pad is miniscule, literally a postage stamp. I was wondering how I’d take to it when I took the Eeep out of its box.

Not very well, as it turns out.

I have trouble double-tapping because the danged cursor seems to move ever so slightly on the second tap. Or at least that’s what I want to believe. I know it’s really because I can’t hit the same approximate spot a second time because the target is too small, my aim is poor and the software is unforgiving, hence tap two is interpreted as just moving the cursor.

So I use the short, chromed plastic button instead, and it’s a bit of an effort to click down on. I also tend to forget its actually two buttons in one; each end is its own person, and I often mistakenly zig when I mean to zag.

I like the scroll area on the right edge, but it’s small consolation for the smallness of the useable area on the pad itself. I have to slide gingerly on the surface, because if I rest my big index finger’s full weight on it, the tip annexes too much real estate.

It’s an uneasy truce for now, but that’s par for the course. Truth be told, I hate trackpads per se. We’ve been enemies way before the Eeep was even a gleam in Asus’ eye.

I’m more of a mouse man, and I carry a small black wireless one and use it as often as I can. On days when I just grab the Eeep itself, I’ll have to deal with the pad. And don’t get me started on the red nub that Thinkpads use; I have a T43 and I’ve never once used it. If there’s an input device I hate more than a trackpad, it’s that red nub. It’s the joystick when it was still a fetus. I’d rather use a trackball, honestly.

Then again, the trackpad size is a consequence of the form factor. It’s the nature of the beast. What were we expecting (I hear some you say)? You want a big screen, a big keyboard, a big trackpad? Then what are you doing using an EeePC?

The answer is because the Eeep is still an excellent computer despite its – ahem – shortcomings. But it could have been better thought out. There’s no helping the keyboard, but the screen could have been a bit larger, price considerations aside. So with the trackpad.

Asus could have at least given the pad another half-inch, and that half-inch could have made a big difference – the palmrest could have given up that much space. And if you dispose of the raised bezel around the trackpad, a full inch more could have been possible.

Oh, well. Hindsight is 20-20.

Here’s looking forward to future revisions.

Cool new Linux-only 3D transitions for OpenOffice Impress February 18, 2008

Posted by reverseengineer in Apps, Developments.
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Microsoft Office Powerpoint is so (poorly) used these days. Presentations are either boring because of their unimaginative-ness, or horrifying from over-imaginative excess. Smart and sparing are probably two words a presenter must embrace. And maybe restraint too, for the creative folk among us.

The software is so much a part of office life that it has become an actual verb – “Could you powerpoint your report for the meeting tomorrow? Thanks.” And a noun – “Great report. Could you email me that powerpoint?”

I personally use Apple’s Keynote when I can – for three basic reasons: it’s easy to use; it works flawlessly and efficiently; and it’s got killer transitions.

Only one thing ruins it for me: it only works on Macs, and when people ask for a copy of the presentation itself, I have to decline, not unless I have the luxury of exporting it to Powerpoint and then tweaking the translation kinks out – which means I need to use Powerpoint anyway and defeats the purpose of using something other than Powerpoint to begin with.

But on a standard EeePC, your options tend to be limited to OpenOffice‘s Impress, the presentation component of the free productivity suite that comes in the box with it. If I’m going to insist on using the Eeep for everyday use (which includes work things), I’ll have to live with OOo and its version of Powerpoint.

While it does the job, Impress is largely just adequate. It’s no Powerpoint or Keynote, and using it in the trenches sometimes makes you uneasy, especially when it’s an important client and landing the account hinges on your presentation.

Things might get better for us Eeepers and other Open Office users though.

Some folk doing work for the Google Summer of Code 2007 have created ten new 3D Open-GL-rendered transitions for Impress that should be coming out in the new OpenOffice.org 2.4 due March. The transitions include flipping tiles, turning cubes, helixes and circles, among others.

Here’s the odd part. Apparently, the transitions will only be available for the Linux version, and they will not be for Windows, nor will they be exportable to the Windows version of OOo 2.4. The feature might be included in other versions as an extension package, or come built-in on other editions.

As of now you can try it out with a torrentable Linux-only experimental snapshot binary, but be forewarned that in its current state of development the requirements might be a bit hefty yet.

More on it from OpenOffice.org Ninja, including screencaps and video.

EeePC Torture Test February 17, 2008

Posted by reverseengineer in Hardware, Video.
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Frenchman ray2fr vainly tries to destroy his EeePC in this almost 9-minute video posted on dailymotion.com.

Apparently the only damage he was able to achieve was to temporarily sink in the power key a bit in one of the times he let it fall open-faced onto the carpet from the table, which a little pressure fixed right up.

This ray2fr is one sick puppy.

(This firmly earns a spot in my top ten hardest-to-watch videos of the year, so far. Brrrr.)

Assault on batteries February 17, 2008

Posted by reverseengineer in Hardware.
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I’ve written about the Eeep battery before, if you guys remember. After nearly two months, mine still does 3.5 hours on average power-saving settings. Ok, but lots of room for improvement.

I don’t know about you guys, but me, I’m starting not to believe there really exists in real life a creature such as the mythical 6-cell 7800mAh extended battery for the Asus EEEPC.

Have you even seen one?

It’s all over the blogs, the hardware and tech sites, in catalogs – but have you ever really seen one in the bright sunlight? Or at least in the pale white incandescent light of the average mall computer store? No?

Never mind the stores – have you seen a picture of one on any webpage anywhere on the net outside of the Asus site? Have any of the pre-orders been delivered? As far as I can tell, no one in the user forums has actually said he’s gotten one of these things. I have friends who’ve been around the region who’ve searched in vain.

It’s been rumored, lusted after, announced, trumpeted, praised, vilified and pre-sold all over the place for weeks, but no one can claim to have touched one for real, much less actually use one. I’ve searched on the net for user experiences, actual real-world pictures, reviews. Zip. Nada. Or maybe I just don’t get around much?

I realize I’m not even quite sure what it looks like. Does it look exactly like the old 4-cell, the way the net pics seem to show? Or is it bigger, thicker, more barrel-chested and lumpy that the old one? Will it, by virtue of the two extra cells, prop up the butt of the EEEPC higher like a prom queen in stilettos and make it more topple-prone than it is now? Will make the form factor of the laptop uglier, more bulbous rather than trim and fit?

I’m a little obssessed with it because I think it’s the final piece that would finally round out and complete my Eeep Experience. While the 4-cell battery life is adequate, it doesn’t sit well with me being forced into relying on just one battery. (God forbid I had a MacBook Air.) I’d get an extra 4-cell if I had no choice, but we’ve been promised the extended one a long time ago, and I can’t bring myself to get an old one, now that the 6-cell is (supposedly) imminent.

If I got stuck in a place with no juice, I’d be so self-conscious of my power limitations that I’d spend half the battery time worrying about it and not accomplish anything.

If you’ve actually seen one, or have seen a review, kindly holler.