Asus Eee PC 4G sub-sub-notebook
The ultimate laptop?
2007's Top Products Asus' diminutive Eee PC 4G 701 micro-laptop is here. It's garnered an amazing welcome from computer users looking not for the acme of performance but for a highly portable wireless notebook with a decent battery life. Will they be disappointed?
First, for anyone's who's missed the Eee PC hoopla, Asus' little laptop is like a standard 13.3in notebook that's been shrunk to two-thirds of its usual size. It's not the first of its kind – Sony's been offering a variety of these tiny machines for years, Toshiba once made headlines with its oh-so-small Libretto and we're old enough to remember Olivetti's much missed Quaderno.
Asus' Eee PC 701: smart, stylish and very portable
What the Eee PC brings to the sub-sub-notebook category are a few modern refinements: Linux, Wi-Fi and solid-state storage. Our review unit has 4GB of Flash, of which around 2.9GB was consumed by the OS, bundled apps and sample files leaving just over a gigabyte for new stuff.
The machine starts straight into Asus' own front-end: a set of icons grouped into categories, each category on a different tabbed pane. The bundled software is comprehensive, and includes Skype; Firefox; Thunderbird; KDE Mail, used for PIM data rather than email; OpenOffice; Acrobat Reader; the Pidgin multi-network instant messaging app; photo, music and video managers; a media player; and an array of utilities, including a file browser.
Not that you should need one. Asus' GUI is clearly intended to be the be-all and end-all of your Eee PC experience. The above-mentioned apps are presented as generic icons – eg. Web rather than Firefox – and are mixed with others that simply trigger links to specific websites, such as Wikipedia and Google Docs. The Internet Radio icon takes you to MediaU.net, for instance.
All-in-one inclusive GUI for novices
The Eee PC may run Linux for cost reasons – it's cheaper to install than Windows – but that doesn't mean this machine's aimed at fans of the open-source OS. Indeed, File Manager hides away almost all of the OS' internal workings – though it's not hard to find them if you know what you're about.
Re. DRAM not Flash
The Eee PC's SSD is Flash. The write lifespan issue is overplayed. The drive's likely to last the usable lifetime of the machine.
In any case, it's easy enough with, say, Windows to write temporary files, virtual memory and such to a cheap 4GB SDHC memory card, which is what I've done. That way you (largely) limit writing to the SSD to software installations.
DRAM SSD not flash
A lot of people have commented that the SSD might not be suitable for other OSs as it has limited write life. I was under the impression that this applied to flash based storage rather than the DRAM based storage which most SSD hard disk replacements are. I'm assuming that's the case with the EEE PC - anyone know any different?
@Swap + Flash Usage
"I expect they've simply removed the restore partition that takes up quite a bit of the flash on the 4GB version (it's not really needed anyway, as you can restore the OS from a USB key or external DVD drive anyway)."
It does not have a separate restore partition. The base system which doubles up as the restore partition is mounted read-only, and is merged with the partition holding the user generated files using the magic of UnionFS. Why is it that MS with its self-proclaimed "innovative" prowess haven't come up with something as useful as UnionFS?
nlite XP, USB... and maybe even malware free?
Phil - Can you post that 'config' somewhere? (I have not seen nlite before)
Could the version you created could be run from the SD slot??
And if all writes could be directed to a USB key, then the SD carrying the OS can be write-protected... and therefor safe from modification by malware???
It's not going to take much bulk pricing at Asus, with a bit more harsh commercial realism at MIT, for this little gem to match the price of Negroponte's Dream.
Difficult decision, eh? A small but proper computer, running real operating systems and real applications, or one step up from a V-Tech "My first laptop" toy?