Sunday, December 02, 2007

Technology post, the third: review of the Asus Eee PC

In the tradition of 2007 summer films, we have a third-quel to the technology posts.

Last Wednesday I received from Newegg my Christmas present to myself: a black Asus Eee PC 4G. This 2lbs laptop is relatively cheap (about $475 when you include shipping and an 8GB storage card), and the reasons why aren't much of a mystery. First, instead of Windows, it comes preinstalled with a customized version (by Asus) of a customized version (Edge) of a customized version (Xandros) of a customized version (Debian) of Linux.

Second, even though the laptop is small, the screen is smaller. Although it looks as though the hardware could have fit at least a 9" screen, it is actually 7", with the thick bezel holding a pair of nothing-special stereo speakers..

Finally, savings are to be had via the absence of a "real" (magnetic) hard drive; instead, everything runs off of an internal, 4GB, solid state disk--hence the need to purchase a large SD card to store documents and music.

Unfortunately, in all the time I've had this machine, I haven't made much actual use of it. Instead, I have been suffering a long string of headaches directly attributable to attempting to install Windows XP Home on it. I've given up--as far as I can tell, my XP Home disk is corrupt. So I am back on Linux.

I dislike Linux intensely, but so far it has served me well. I belong to a class of people who are computer-proficient enough to desire advanced functionality and customization from their computers, but not enough to add an icon to the Launch menu (the "Start" menu of KDE, a customization of a... nevermind). Don't get me wrong: both Windows and Linux are sins against the anthropic principle of computing. A typical Windows installation has a nasty habit of rotting like bad fruit unless you give it constant coddling and massaging--fragmented hard drives, malware, registry errors, background apps, ugh. But at least the problems are at the tail-end of the experience.

In Linux, merely setting up and arranging the interface requires so much arcane knowledge that by the time I was able to install the GIMP (a graphics program), I was also clipping my cat's nails using voodoo magic and a stuffed doll.

Happily, most of the setup process is now complete, and I have been using the Eee PC with about as much ease as I would a Windows system. A gigantic plus of this situation is that Linux does not suffer from PC rot. If I stay with Linux, I will never have to clean the registry, defrag the hard drive, run spyware removers or pop-up blockers or anti-virus software. It doesn't slow down, it doesn't take forever to boot, and it doesn't crash--so long as I don't put a typo into the command line.

Another nice quality about the Eee is how quiet and peaceful it is relative to the desktops I'm used to working with. There is a subtly harrowing atmosphere caused by the buzz of speakers, a CRT monitor, and of course the fans and clicking hard drives of a desktop computer. With the Eee I can work with a machine with scarcely more pyrotechnics than a book. It really helps with the stress.

There are numerous features that I am missing out on because of Linux. It won't natively run my school's grading software (I'm still working out the arcane magic of remote desktop). It won't run at the processor's rated speed (It's an Intel Celeron M 90nm rated at 900MHz but clocked at 630MHz). It won't run many games at all. And as a Linux "n00b" I am constantly working under the burden of unfamiliarity and ignorance about the mysterious inner workings of this OS.

But for what I paid, this is a great machine.

1 comment:

Chahk said...

"Finally, savings are to be had via the absence of a "real" (magnetic) hard drive; instead, everything runs off of an internal, 4GB, solid state disk"

Are you kidding me? SSD is one of the most expensive storage solutions on the market currently. A 40 Gig 1.8" hard drive would probably run you just as much, if not less, than the 4 Gig SSD that came with your 4G EEE PC. Asus went with SSD not to cut costs, but rather to save on power consumption and weight.