Asus Eee PC: Road Warrior or Road Kill?

By Mike on 3:51 pm

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There's been a lot of talk about low cost laptops lately. The OLPC foundation started the whole thing when they endeavored to make a $100 laptop for use by children in developing countries. Of course, other companies began to wonder if it made sense to produce ultra-cheap laptops for the consumer market. In comes Asus with the Eee PC.

Asus came out with the Eee PC in the last month or so, and it starts at $299 US. All models come with a 7 inch screen with 800x480 resolution, an Intel GMA900 graphics processor, and an Intel Celeron-M ULV-353 running at 630mhz. For connectivity, all models come with 10/100mbit ethernet, 802.11g wifi, Realtek audio processor, memory card reader, three USB 2.0 ports, two PCIe based expansion ports, and the usual headphone, VGA, and microphone connectors. The system weighs in at 2.03 pounds, measures 225 × 165 × 21~35 mm, and comes in Pure White, Lush Green, Sky Blue, Blush Pink, or Galaxy Black. The operating system is Xandros Linux running the KDE desktop, but Windows XP can be installed as well.
The base model, the 2G Surf, comes with a 2gb solid state (flash based) hard drive and 256mb DDR2-400 memory. The 4g Surf comes with a 4gb SSD drive and 512mb memory, costing $350 US. The Eee PC 4G comes with 4gb SSD and 512mb of DDR2-667 while the 8G comes with an 8gb SSD drive and 1gb DDR2-667. The top models cost $400 and $500 respectively.
The two higher end models feature upgradeable memory while the lower end ones do not. The two low end models come with a four cell 4400mAh Li-ion battery while the higher end ones have four cell, 5200mAh Li-ion batteries. Asus claims battery life is 2h 45min and 3h 30min for each pack respectively.

Processor and Graphics:
Lets rip this thing to shreds. First of all, I find the Eee PC to be grossly over priced for what it is, but I'll get back to that later. The screen itself is only 7 inches at a resolution of 800x480, which is not much more than DVD video resolution of 720x480. This is the WVGA resolution which is antiquated these days. The typical XGA resolution (1024x768) that's been used in PCs for the last 10 years has 1.5x the resolution. Even the older SVGA at 800x600 would still be pretty cheap. Furthermore, a lot of modern programs require at least a resolution of 800x600 to run. All models feature an Intel GMA900 integrated graphics chip. This is fairly basic. It has an output resolution of 1600x1280 over the VGA port so it can be plugged into a monitor and displayed at a more reasonable resolution for desktop use.
Next is the processor. It's been under-clocked from 900mhz down to 630mhz. The processor is quite slow for today and might not be able to run a large number of modern applications available for XP (should the user install it). Older programs and games should work though.

The base model EeePC only has 2gb of flash memory acting as it's hard drive. This is far too little memory considering that both XP and Xandros eat up at least 1gb, leaving very little for the user to install software on. Cheap mechanical drives would have added more to the weight and power consumption but would add a lot more storage space. A 20gb 1.8'' mechanical drive is not much more than a 4gb SSD drive. You can get up to 8gb which is still too small for today. Even 40gb can be limiting these days. It's also worth noting that the exact life span of SSDs is not exactly known, but we do know they wear out faster than mechanical drives.
Another flaw is the fact that the Eee PC doesn't include any sort of CD/DVD drive. Fortunately it does read flash cards but to install any software, you'll need to buy an external DVD/CD drive. This adds to the end user's cost when it would be easier to include one.

Battery Life:
Considering Asus has included many energy saving features such as down-clocking the processor and using solid state drives, battery life for the Eee PC is surprisingly short. 2h and 45min maximum life is not a lot. When my laptop was new, it was getting six hours on a 4400mAh battery. Even two years of heavy use only has it down to 5hr. That's on a computer that's far superior to the Eee PC in ever aspect except size and weight.

Operating System:
Like any PC, the Eee PC allows you to run either Linux (preinstalled) or Windows. The Eee PC comes with Xandros. Based on what I've seen, it appears very Windows like. However, like all Linux distributions, it's an OS intended for power users. Those who are not very computer literate will be quickly overwhelmed by the terminal interface. They'll want to install Windows XP instead. XP is sold separately. The Eee PC does not meet the hardware requirements for any version of Windows Vista and therefore can't run it.

At only two pounds, the Eee PC is about as portable as you can get without resorting to a smart phone (like the Blackberry or iPhone) or pocket PC. However, lack of an optical drive and limited hard drive space make force you to carry around external units to compensate. This is a huge limit to portability if you have to resort to that.

The Eee PC ranges from $299 to $500 US. In the case of going from the 4G to the 8G, you're spending $100 for 512mb more memory and an additional 4gb HDD space. Solid state drives are a poor choice if someone is looking to make a cheap system. Dollar per gigabyte, mechanical drives, even 1.8'' ones used in the iPod and similar devices, are far cheaper.
I have a 2005 iBook G4 that includes a 1.33ghz PowerPC G4 processor, 1gb or DDR, a 40gb HDD, 12'' 1024x768 screen, CDRW/DVD combo, 6hr max battery life, and OS X Leopard. These systems regularly sell on eBay used for around $500. This means you can get a far more powerful laptop used for the same price as the top end Eee PC. The EeePC is grossly overpriced for the antiquated hardware it uses.

Things aren't looking good for the Eee PC. It's antiquated and overpriced. Who's this for. Well, people who like to do a lot of work on the go will like the Eee PC since it's smaller than a sheet of paper and very light weight. It should be plenty for drafting up letters, surfing the internet, instant messaging, and the like. I can see university and college students liking it. The Eee PC is an interesting experiment in ultra portable systems and it is an improvement over PDAs and smart phones. However, if you're willing to trade a little portability, you can still find very portable used laptops for around the same price. In fact, you can even get a new one. Dell right now has some laptops on sale for $499 that are AMD Sempron 3600 based. Though not as portable, they're the same price and offer you a whole lot more.

Unless you need must have the absolutely smallest system available, the Eee PC is simply too overpriced and archaic. Asus however does plan to address some of the limitation. One example is increasing the screen resolution to 1024x600, which should make it compatible with all Windows applications that meet the other system requirements. Another new development is the Everex Cloudbook which is another ultra low cost Linux based option which includes a VIA CPU and 30gb of HDD space.

2 comments for this post


"Unless you need ultra portability, the Eee PC is simply not worth it."

That IS the whole point. Ultra portability. You pay extra for the incredibly small size.

Throughout your entire blog it becomes glaringly obvious that you just don't "get it." It's not meant to be a laptop replacement. This much is VERY obvious when you judge it based off of it's Out of Box experience. The screen size and resolution is JUST FINE with the installed OS.

You keep trying to compare it to a full featured laptop, but it's just not designed to compete with those or even assume the role of a full featured laptop.

The fact that we CAN install XP on it, and play some games, etc is a BONUS.

bah. I've wasted enough of my time, I'm not going to try changing your mind.

Posted on 13 January 2008 at 06:57  

You can always change my mind. I don't deal in absolutes. In fact, I've been meaning to update this article since Asus has made changes to the design including bumping the resolution to 1024x600. The main issue there is the fact that an many programs under XP require a resolution of at least 800x600.
Check out the new Everex Cloudbook by the way. A very nice Eee PC competitor that was just introduced at CES 2008.

As an aside, I've been getting some spam and got a rude comment last night from an anonymous user. I'm restricting comments to registered users, like all other technology sites do.

Posted on 13 January 2008 at 19:59