February 25, 2009

1684 words 8 mins read

ASUS Eee PC 1000, Ubuntu Jaunty and You!

If you follow my twitter feed, then you know over this past weekend I got an ASUS Eee PC 1000. In fact, I spend a good deal of time tweeting about it on Monday when it arrived. I thought I’d spend a little time sharing my impressions of the device and some of the tinkering that I’ve done with it over the last few days (it lasted about an hour before it got reformatted). Please note: Most of this post is in the extended body, so to read it all you need to click the more button. In the past I haven’t used this feature much, but this post is really long.

First the system specifications:

• 10.2” LCD @ 1024×600

• 1.6 Ghz Intel Atom

• 1 GB RAM

• 40 GB SSD (More correctly: 1x 8 GB and 1x 32 GB)

• Comes pre-installed with Xandros Linux (of the Debian family)

• 1.3 Megapixel Webcam

• Stereo Microphones (shows as 1 device, used for noise canceling)

• ~5 Hour battery

• SD Card reader

• 802.11b/g/n Wireless

• 10/100/1000 Ethernet

• Bluetooth

• Multitouch trackpad

• Ports: 3 USB, 1 VGA, 1 power, 1 microphone, 1 headphone, Network

Hardware Review

My first impressions is that this is a nice little package. My unit came in black and I think it looks good; granted it is a glossy surface so it picks up fingerprints. The accent pieces, like the buttons above the keyboard and the mouse buttons, have a brushed steel look (though they are probably plastic), which I think looks really classy. The screen is nice and bright at its brightest setting, though it doesn’t get that dark. The buttons on the mice are a little tough for my preference, but it isn’t really a deal breaker, especially since you can just tap the pad instead (which I have the tendency to tap really hard). Additionally, the important thing is, it is LIGHT, 3 pounds and change with the standard battery.

They keyboard is advertised as 92% full size which I think is a fair description, though some compromises have been made in the name of fitting into the form factor. My only real problem with the keyboard is that directly below the Enter key is the Up arrow — right where I expect the Shift key to be. The Shift key has been moved to the right of the aforementioned Up arrow. Since I have a preference to use that right shift almost exclusively, I hit that Up arrow by mistake A LOT when I first started on the device. But like any keyboard that is slightly different, it takes a little getting use to, then it is all good. In fact, I am typing this entry up on the Eee PC itself and I’m not hitting the Up arrow by mistake nearly as often (and I find myself using the left shift some, which is actually a good thing for me to do).

Overall, I’m pleased with how it is designed.

Semi-update: I got to take a look at Brion’s Dell Mini 9, the shift key/arrow key setup is the same on his machine as it is on my Eee PC. So I’m under the impression that this is actually a fairly common design for netbooks. It makes sense, since most “regular” keyboards have the arrow keys off on their own little island and that wouldn’t fit in such a small form factor.

Xandros

Granted I didn’t leave the default install in place for a very long time, but I did play with it before I killed it. I was pleasantly surprised with what they had setup as the defaults. If you just bought this computer knowing nothing about operating systems, you’d have very little problem with it. Everything ways laid out in a logical fashion and the programs that you’d want installed by default were, including Skype (which seems to be taking over the world). The only real issue I had with the Xandros install was that there was no “mass update” in their Updater software (at least that I saw). If there were 15 updates available (which there were) you had to click update on all 15 of them, which was annoying, but tolerable (though eventually as that list grows longer…). The soft buttons all worked (IE you could turn off wireless by hitting Fn+F2, etc) and had pretty little pop ups explaining what just happened to you. You can also order the netbook with Windows XP, but why would you want to do that to yourself. Unless of course you are masochist and enjoy pain, in which case you might want to just commit to Vista, that would probably be even more painful.

Clonezilla

This is about where the default install ended. Since the netbook lacks an optical drive (and I didn’t know if it would be possible to re-install), I thought it prudent to take an image of the machine as it stood. This was only my second experience with Clonezilla, and the first time in which I would be pushing an image to a network location. I followed their instructions on how to create a USB “live” install, and am pleased to report that even from Windows, it was a piece of cake and worked well. The cloning process itself was equally as pleasant. I opted to take an image of the entire hard drive (the OS is installed on the 8GB SSD leaving all 32 GB of the second SSD for user data) and send it over SSHfs to my network server. The process had enough instructions built in so that I didn’t really have to think about, plus it provided reasonable defaults to use for everything.

Reinstall

My first attempt at re-install was using the Ubuntu 8.10 MID LPIA image. The first thing I noticed about this was the fact that it was not the same netbook remix that was screenshot’d on Ubuntu’s site, the launcher was fairly different. From what I remember, the important hardware did work. I might have stuck with it, with the minor exception that it was a live image with no notation on how to install it. It might sound silly, but I really couldn’t figure out how to install the sucker. The next image I tried was the “official” Ubuntu Netbook Remix 1.0.1 (Designed for LPIA). That really didn’t end so well. The two critical pieces of hardware, Wireless and Ethernet, weren’t supported out of the box. I spent about 30 minutes or so testing out possible solutions and driver downloads, but I didn’t get very far, very fast. In the mean time I was downloading Jaunty.

Jaunty Netbook Remix

Unfortunately at the time of my install (and the time of this writing) the only flavor of Jaunty that is available in netbook remix, is i386. This is sort of silly as most proper netbooks run LPIA, but I can’t really fault them. It is my hope that when Jaunty is released at the end of April, it will be available in LPIA. Of course that will warrant a reinstall, but that doesn’t worry me.

Back to the topic at hand, how does it work? Great!

All the hardware is supported and works to some extent out of the box. The Bluetooth is a bit odd, it broadcasts and shows in the log, but I can’t get it to connect to my WiMo phone; then again I don’t really care about it, so I haven’t bothered to figure it out. The speakers are a bit quiet overall (which is not unusual for Linux) even with the volume boosted to 100%. I followed a tweak (Update: Fixed link — Had wrong thread) to modify the equalizer of pulse audio, but made the small change of also using it to boost the output across all the frequencies. Also, I haven’t figured out how to turn off the wireless, but I’ve only had the ‘book for 36 hours; only so much I can do, etc, etc.

I am very pleased with the software they installed by default, which includes Tomboy Notes which I used to write this entry (while on BART to and from a dentevent). It also had a small gathering of network software like Evolution and Firefox, a bunch of simple games (Sudoku, Solitaire, Chess), and the Open Office suite. Basically it had all the software you’d realistically need to get started without spending an hour in Synaptic looking for it. Obviously, I made my own additions and most of it seemed to work fairly well in the Netbook remix UI. For example in VLC, when you launch a video it automatically takes over the entire “work area” leaving just the menu bar on top (which is the perfect setup for my widescreen videos).

Closing Thoughts

I’m happy with the netbook so far. It is a new toy, so I am infatuated with it. Only time will tell if it is truly as great as I think it is right now. I do believe that it has proved its worth in times like this past evening at the dentevent. I pulled out the ‘book as I got on BART and happily typed away until I got to my stop; I closed the lid (which puts it into suspend) and stuffed it into my bag. On the way home the process was reversed. I really like not having to worry about crashing the hard drive or anything like that. It is also nice to know that it will take serious effort to run the battery down. I’ve run it for about 2 hours this evening so far and it’s at 65% battery, that is with the screen on full brightness most of the time and the wireless fully on (cause I don’t know how to turn it off). The only reason this post is so lengthy is because I had the netbook with me to write. I have a feeling that I’m going to keep this thing close to me and I’m going to be writing a lot more.