Portable computing - small and cheap

Ifound out about this mini-computer when Stephen Fry wrote a piece praising it in the Guardian newspaper: here, for once, was something which was exactly what I wanted, filling the gap between my Palm PDA and my Mac iBook.

I'd been using the Palm for checking email and a little web surfing at times when the main computers were off, but of course the very small screen is limiting: and the drain on the battery (and hence shortening its life) is a consideration.

The new computer is the Asus 'eee': in the photo I have placed a CD next to it to show the scale (though in fact it doesn't have an optical drive: it doesn't have a Star Trek themed Desktop either, of course - I put that on for my own amusement). Closed, it's 9 by 6 inches. The screen is 7 inches diagonal, 6 inches across, with a resolution of 800 x 480. It runs on Linux, with an 'Easy Mode' desktop and icons added by Asus. It has WiFi and 3 USB ports, and instead of a conventional hard disk uses a SSD - Solid State Disk (in effect Flash memory - my model is 4GB and apparently an 8GB model is now available). This means that it will take more vibration in use than a normal hard disk, and there is no strain involved in starting it up as often as you like. The keyboard is fiddly but quite usable.

The programs include Thunderbird for email and FireFox for browsing - this is a normal version of FireFox, not a cut-down one, so the only limitation is the small screen resolution and size. For email and a bit of web browsing it's fine, and the small size makes it very portable; I've been able to connect to free WiFi in the foyers of the Royal Festival Hall and the National Film Theatre on London's South Bank. I also wrote up the weblog entries for the last two ballet visits in the intervals and on the train home, just doing the formatting and actual posting on the Mac.

Up to now, mini sized computers such as the Sony Vaio cost £1000-£1500: this comes at the remarkably low price of around £230 (I got mine for £220). This is extraordinary value for money: I wouldn't recommend it as a main computer (except perhaps for a child to learn on) but for easy mobility it's unbeatable... so far: I wonder whether we shall now see a rash of small laptops from other manufacturers.

There is a forum for Asus eee users here and a 'Wiki' here - much of it aimed at hackers: people have been putting Ubuntu and Windows XP on it, and several people have added touchscreens!

The Stephen Fry article referred to above can be read here (registration required).

Posted: Mon - March 17, 2008 at 07:29 AM by Roger Wilmut          



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Published On: Mar 11, 2016 05:00 PM