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Tuesday·12·October·2010

Still happy with the ASUS EeePC 701 //at 16:02 //by abe

from the Good-Hardware dept.

Recently Eric asked on the LUG Vorarlberg mailing list about netbook experience. I wrote a lengthy reply summarizing my experiences with the ASUS EeePC 701. And I thought this is something I probably should share with more people than only one LUG:

I ordered an ASUS EeePC 701 (4G) with US keyboard layout at digitec in Spring 2008, got it approximately one month later and posted a first resumé after one month in my blog.

I’m still very happy with the EeePC 701, despite two commonly mentioned drawbacks (the small screen resolution and the small SSD – which I both don’t see as real problems) and some other minor issues.

What matters

  • Very robust and compact case. And thanks to a small fan being the only moving part inside, the EeePC 701 is also very robust against mobile use.
  • Very pleasing always-in-my-daypack size (despite the 7" screen it’s the typical 9" netbook size) and easily held with one hand.
  • Black. No glossy display. Neither clear varnish nor piano laquer. Short: No bath room tile. Textured surface, small scratches don’t stick out and don’t matter.
  • Debian (previously Lenny, now Sid) runs fine on it, even the webcam works out-of-the-box.
  • Despite all those neat features, it was fscking cheap at that time. And it was available without Windows.

Nice to have

  • There’s power on the USB sockets even if the EeePC is turned off but the power supply is plugged in.
  • The speakers are impressingly good and loud for their size. (But my demands with regards to audio are probably not too high, so audiophiles shouldn’t run to ebay because of this. ;-)
  • It has three external USB sockets.

What doesn’t matter

  • The small 7" 800×480 screen: I like small fonts and do most things inside a terminal anyway. And even with 800×480, those terminals are still much bigger than 80×25 characters. Only some applications and webpages have no heart for small screens.
  • The small disk size: Quite a lot of programs fit on 4 GB of disk space. Additionally I use tmpfs a lot. And music and video files are either on a external 500 GB Western Digital 2.5" “My Passport” disk (which I need quite seldomly) or much more come via sshfs and IPv6 from my home server anyway. :-)
  • The small keyboard: I just don’t have any problems with the size or layout (right shift right of the cursor up key, etc.) of the keyboard. Well, maybe except that any standard sized keyboard feels extremely large after having used the EeePC exclusively for some weeks. ;-)
  • The to 630 MHz underclocked 900 MHz Intel Celeron: It’s enough for most of the things I do with the EeePC. Also the original 512 MB RAM are somehow ok, but for using tmpfs, but no swap space at all, 1 GB or 2 GB are surely the better choice.
  • A battery runtime of 2.5h to 3h is fine for me.

What’s not so nice

  • The “n” key needs to be pressed slighty stronger than other keys, otherwise no “n” appears. So if one of my texts in average misses more “n” than other letters, I typed it on the EeePC. ;-)
  • Home, End, Page-Up, and Page-Down need the Fn key. This means that these keys can only be used with two hands (or one very big hand and I have quite small hands). This is usually no problem and you get used to it. It’s just annoying if you hold the EeePC with one hand and try to type with the other.
  • What looks like a single mouse button is a seesaw and therefore two mouse buttons below one button. This makes it quite hard to press both at the same time, e.g. for emulating a middle mouse button press. It usually works in about half of all cases I tried it. My solution was to bind some key combination to emulate a middle mouse button in my window manager, ratpoison:
    bind y ratclick 2
    And that mouse button bar already fell off two times.
  • The battery reports only in 10% steps, and reporting in percentage instead of mAh is an ACPI standard violation because reporting in percentage is only allowed for non-rechargable batteries. It also doesn’t report any charging and discharging rates. But in the meanwhile nearly all battery meter can cope with these hardware bugs. This was quite a problem in the early days.
  • Now, after approximately 1.5 years, the battery slowly fritzes: When charging there are often only seconds between 10% and 40%. Rigorously using up all power of the battery helped a little bit. Looks like some kind of memory effect althought the battery is labeled Li-Ion and not Ni-MH and Li-Ion batteries are said to have no memory effect.
  • The SD card reader only works fine if you once completed the setup of the original firmware or set the corresponding BIOS switch appropriately. No idea why.

Similar models

Technically, most of this also counts for the EeePC 900SD (not 901) which only differs in screen, resolution and disk size as well as CPU, but not on the the case. So same size, same robustness, same battery, same mainboard, bigger screen, resolution, disk and faster CPU. (The 901 has a different CPU, a different battery, and a different, glossy and partially chromed case.) See Wikipedia for the technical specifications of all EeePC models.

ASUS’ only big FAILure

Stopping to sell most EeePCs with Linux and cowardly teaming up with Microsoft after having shown big courage to come out with a Linux only netbook. Well, you probably already know, but it’s better without Windows

So basically you no more get these really neat netbooks from ASUS anymore and you get nearly no netbooks with Linux from ASUS in the stores anymore. It’s a shame.

Would I buy it again?

Sure.

Well, maybe I would also buy the 900SD, 900AX (replacing the harddisk with an SSD) or 702 (8G) instead of the 701, but basically they’re very similar. See Wikipedia for the differences between these EeePC models. And of course I still prefer the versions without Windows.

But despite the low price, the EeePC 701 is surprisingly robust and still works as on the first day (ok, except battery, the mouse button bar and the “n” key ;-), so I recently bought a second power supply (only white ones were available *grrrr*) and ordered a bigger third party battery plus an adapter to load the battery directly from the (second) power supply without EeePC inbetween.

What desktop do I use on the EeePC?

None.

I use ratpoison as window manager, uxterm, urxvt, and yeahconsole as terminal emulators (running zsh with grml based .zshrc even as root’s login shell :-), wicd-curses as network manager and xmobar (previously dzen2) with i3status as text-only panel. Installed editors are GNU Emacs 23, GNU Zile and nvi. (No vim. :-)

And of course a netbook wouldn’t be a netbook if it wouldn’t have a lot of network applications installed. For me the most important ones are: ssh, scp, autossh, sshfs, miredo, conkeror, git, hg, and rsync.

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