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Asus Eeepc 701

2007.10.31, updated 2007.11.28

UPDATE:  I've added a subsection with tips on how to (safely) customize the EeePC environment.  Also, check out the Ars review.

I got my hands on an Asus EeePC 701 on Halloween.  The EeePC is an extremely small Linux-based laptop that, I believe, will completely upset the laptop market.  Why?  For several reasons:  It's very small yet full-featured, uses Linux instead of Windows, has no hard drive and seems quite durable.  In short, this is a perfect student machine.  It's also a perfect PC for a new computer user.  It would also be ideal for children, and likely for people giving presentations on the road.  The interface is very easy to use, the screen is crisp, the system is just a normal PC, so is compatible with an endless array of software and hardware.

With the tailored interface, getting started for a new user is a complete snap.  Nothing confusing, nothing too out of the ordinary.  As the system is only a 900MHz Celeron with 512MB RAM and 1.3GB of available storage, it's not going to replace your main PC.  However, the system has been designed from scratch to work for this hardware, so it also doesn't feel slow to use.

The tailored interface and small size shifts people's expectations.  This doesn't look like a geeky Linux box.  Nor does it look like a traditional laptop.  Rather, it's something different.  This machine is very well suited to someone who wants something small to take with them, to keep them connected and to let them keep working on their  documents.

Between Google Docs (linked prominently on the main page) and OpenOffice (available under the "Work" tab) you can work on your documents on and off-line.  The display, while only 800x480, is beautiful on the 7" screen.  The pixel density seems much higher than traditional laptops, and fonts are crisp and clear.

Google Docs performs perfectly, there is no lag.  OpenOffice.org, once open, also runs quite well.  The bundled browser, Firefox, works well with Flash 9 and Adobe PDF Reader.  YouTube videos work reasonably well but tax the Celeron CPU and studder a bit.  Other videos (even a 1.3GB file played from an SD card) play well using the bundled SMPlayer.   Frozen Bubble 2.x works well but the music is jerky, Penguin Racer (TuxRacer) also works well, though the framerate is fairly low. Still, it uses OpenGL, sp DRI is configured well out-of-the-box.

Because this is stock Firefox, a fair amount of the 480 vertical pixels are taken up by the address bar and menus on many sites.  Popping in to full-screen mode (F11) makes a big difference with respect to the usability of the web on the Eee PC.  As a frequent user of the Nokia Internet Tablet line, with it's 4" 800x480 display, this is something I'm quite used to doing.

The laptop was purchased for $399CDN, with prices likely to drop in the coming months.  The Eee PC doesn't feel luxurious to use, neither does it feel particularly cheap.  It's just a small, sturdy little laptop.  One of my favourite features is that it is completely silent under light to medium load.  Not quiet, silent.  As someone who is quite picky about these things, this is a real boon.

The laptop also "Just Works."  As a Linux laptop, this is a pleasant change.  Plugging in an external display, you can easily set it up to display to both internal and external at 1280x1024, plug in a keyboard and mouse and the Eee PC starts to feel exactly like that ultra-portable, inexpensive Linux box us Linux geeks have been after for so long.  I have verified that USB and VGA work very well.  The Linux kernel is a modified 2.6.21.

It's no surprise to learn that WiFi, sound, special buttons and the webcam all work flawlessly too.

The default software selection is good but sparse.  OpenOffice.org, Firefox, Thunderbird and Skype are installed.  In addition, you will find Adobe PDF Reader, sticky notes, calculator, PIM in the form of Kontact, a Planetarium, typing games, paint programs and a host of media programs.  The default media player is a re-branded Amarok.  My Mac-formatted first-gen iPod Nano was detected correctly, but I had problems seeing it from Amarok.  (No big surprise there, though Ubuntu gets a bit further than that.)  My 8GB Nokia N800 was detected with no problems.  I was given the option of viewing with the bundled music player, file manager or image viewer.  Amarok saw and played MP3s fine.  My only real complaint with the EeePC software is that it doesn't automatically pick up WiFi networks as well as an Ubuntu machine does these days.  It's too bad that the version of Xandros installed doesn't use NetworkManager.  With luck, Asus/Xandros will address this in a software patch.

Of course, compared to a standard laptop, the EeePC makes some compromises:  The screen is 7", the resolution is quite low, there is virtually no storage space, though the SD slot and three USB ports help on this front.  This, to speak nothing of the lack of optical drive and other niceties.  However, none of this matters when you take the Eee PC for what it is:  A small, capable box for $400 with a good battery (3-4hrs) that anyone could use.  While they clearly focused on keeping costs down, Asus has handily included an ethernet port in addition to WiFi, the aforementioned VGA port, three USB ports and SD slot.  This allows for just enough expandability. 

If someone asked me for a recommendation for a small, light laptop to compliment an existing system, I'd have no problems recommending the EeePC.  Having said this, when push comes to shove and I sit down to do real work, like web development and other coding tasks, I always do so on my MacBook.

If you were going away on a business trip, the EeePC would be a no-brainer.   For presentations, it would be fantastic.  As it includes Adobe Reader, PDF presentations are fine.  The included OpenOffice.org Presentations works well for most tasks.  If you absolutely needed PowerPoint, the EeePC could be loaded with Windows XP, Asus even provides Windows drivers on the included recovery DVD.  If you wanted to stick with Linux but only need to run a few Windows apps, CrossOver Office could be purchased and the Windows version of Office etc. could be installed on Asus' Linux OS. 

The EeePC has pretty much replaced the N800 pictured above.  It's small enough that I can carry it anywhere.  Grabbing it by the battery even provides a convenient way to tote the machine.  I can throw it in my backpack and not even notice the 2lbs.  I have found the screen to be very readable.  It has an LED backlight, which I find to be far easier on my eyes after hours of use than any other laptop I've used.  Since buying the EeePC, I've pretty much stopped using the MacBook as a laptop.  It's almost always plugged into an external keyboard, mouse and video now.

The EeePC, with Thunderbird and the Lightning extension (for calendaring) gives me a very portable way to see my on-line schedules and address books.  I also find the EeePC a good machine to write with.  The keyboard is a bit cramped but I found it very easy to adjust to.  (Certainly easier than some of the bizarre layouts found on some of the newer Toshiba laptops.)

After a month of use, I would have no problems recommending this laptop to students, new users, children, people that travel frequently or those interested in getting to know Linux.  The EeePC is a great value and an innovative little machine.


(Or, why you'd want this even if you have a laptop)

  • Silent (under low load)
  • Custom, easy to use interface
  • VERY light
  • 3 USB, SD, VGA out
  • WiFi and ethernet
  • Small power adapter
  • Small screen
  • Webcam
  • Decent keyboard, considering the size
  • It's not running Windows XP, so no virus problems
  • Built-in Webcam
  • Skype
  • Decent built-in software
  • Good built-quality and design, easy to carry

Possible Lowlights

(or, why it won't replace all laptops for everyone.)

  • Small screen, small resolution
  • No optical drive
  • No Windows XP, no Windows software (Only a problem for some)
  • WiFi doesn't connect automatically between boots (NetworkManager would fix this)
  • Keys are a bit small
  • Not a lot of software in the Asus repository (Though the standard Xandros repos seem to work)
  • more customized apps would be good.  (Screen waste in some apps)
  • The laptop does get a bit warm
  • A little cheap looking (but it is!)
  • Not as cheap as initially suggested ($400 != $199)
  • Barely adequate for YouTube