My wEee Asus PC

I've had my Asus Eee PC900 for over a week now, it's currently perched on my lap and I'm tapping away in Google docs rather than Blogger (for a change). A very mixed set of first impressions - dampened slightly by my own bad eyesight which was always going to be a gamble when considering a "laptop" with an 8.9" screen.

The size of this machine really comes as a surprise, even after seeing the various videos on YouTube - it's friggin tiny!!! .. unlike most of the competitors though, the keyboard is big enough to touch type on once you get used to the scaled down positions. Asus have obviously cut many corners in getting the price as low as it is for a machine with the capabilities of the PC900 (no point in going into detail on those, just check the Asus website). As a result there are already noted hardware flaws being discussed and analysed among the user community - these included serious RAM upgrade issues with inconsistency between behaviour of individual machines and various memory modules. The power jack on mine feels very fragile and you have to get it at just the right angle for the system to register that it's charging.

On the music front, it's got a re-badged version of Amarok as the main player, which is great - but its handling of podcasts leaves much to be desired. I loaded up the XML feed for Featureplan.com's Product Management View webinar archive and Amarok couldn't distinguish the image downloads from the audio leaving me with zillions of links to sift through in order to get at the precious MP3s hiding away. Very frustrating, I don't know yet if this issue is common to all versions of Amarok or just the mod'd version on the Eee PC900.


Freemind, I got up and running in no time at all and it's going to be as useful as ever, PDFs all look great at full screen, including rotated and read like a book. One minor grievance, again for someone with bad eyesight is that the "Read Out Loud" function is not available in Adobe Reader, again I don't know if this is an Asus Eee specific thing (perhaps due to the limited hardware) or common to the Linux release - perhaps a passing expert can help me with these techie questions?

An additional slight concern is the level of the audio output which seems quite low even at full volume, I've ordered a new set of noise excluding headphones, so we'll so how I get on listening to a spoken podcast on a noisy bus in rush hour with those. The current volume level from my clip on Philips headphones can't cope with a bunch of noisy schoolkids nearby!

My next challenge is testing multitrack recording - this would be utterly fantastic, if I could pop the Eee in my bag and bring it to rehearsal sessions - hopefully jacking a couple of output busses from the mixing desk into a wee external USB audio controller like the Alesis IO|2. I'm out of my depth though, my use of Linux to date has been working knowledge; enough for any enterprise Java software developer, a bit of Vi here and there, Tomcat, Apache and permissions twiddling etc. so figuring out how to get the necessaries to install one of the available multitrackers for Linux and get it working is scary ground.

Lastly I should mention that video playback seems pretty good - I haven't watched a full movie yet, but I've loaded up an 800mb DivX AVI and both sound and picture seemed perfectly satisfactory - I see easing of long flights ahead! As a curiosity, below is a video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1U7WB_Bd52s) that I recorded on the built in webcam, the mic is pretty crap, the resolution is 320x and there are clear synchronisation issues - it does record at 640x but unfortunately it freaks out and fails- big shame.







I'd stress the little issues like these just can't take away from what Asus have achieved with this machine - a truly mobile and fantastically high spec micro laptop at a sensationally low price; SDD storage, Wifi, Ethernet, 3 USB 2.0 ports, VGA out and SDHC. As a sidekick to my Macbook Pro; whether reading PDFs on the bus, watching ETL video podcasts in the evening or mindmapping my study notes in Freemind; this little machine is simply excellent.

Perhaps a Firewire 800 port on the next version and better behaved multi-touch for the touch pad. Sorting out of the intentionally crippled RAM and underclocked CPU would be great but shedding heat is always a problem on the smaller machines so again, we can't take too much away from Asus. So what's next?
  • Well I've got a 16GB SDHC card on the way to act as my main file storage so that I can keep the little 20GB SSD drive as empty as possible. I also need to get a decent case for it.
  • The little neoprene case that comes with it is great and nicely padded but not sufficient as the sole protection.
  • An external USB audio controller - I actually have a Tascam US-428 but it's huge and defeats the purpose.. well and I've already long term lent it to Darren for tracking his songs ready for the band. Obviously I'll only do this if I can sort out the multitrack software conundrum
I'll come back to this blog entry later as I get more used to this funky, tactile and quirky little machine and we'll see how the new headphones go..

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