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Hardware review: Mini laptop / netbook - Asus Eee PC 1000H with Linux

About netbooks / mini-laptops

I have recently bought an Asus Eee PC 1000H. This is a mini laptop (also known as a netbook or sub notebook). Essentially this is a small laptop, but in order to keep the size and cost down and improve portability (eg. battery life) then it has a few limitations.

White Asus Eee PC 1000H

The Asus Eee PC - history in the making

The Asus Eee PC brought about a dramatic change to the netbook industry as the first significant entry into the market about a year ago. The original Eee PC (still available as the EeePC 701) was a bit limited with only a 7 inch screen, tiny keyboard, 4GB solid state disk (flashdrive) and a processor clocked at 600MHz. Since then there has been rapid release of different netbooks by traditional laptop manufacturers and a significant increase in capability.

This is a review of the hardware of the Asus Eee PC 1000H. I will cover the software in a future post. This model is available with either Linux or Windows XP, the version that I'm reviewing came with Linux.

The Asus Eee PC 1000H is a reasonable specification netbook. It is still much less powered compared with a full laptop, but is a good spec for a netbook. It comes with a 10 inch screen, has a 1.6Mhz Atom processor, 160Gb hard disk and 6 hour battery life.

The keyboard

The reason I went for the 10 inch screen was due to the small size of the keyboard on the 9 inch models. The smaller keyboards are impossible for me to touch-type with and was the main reason for purchasing the larger sized mini-laptop. Despite this the keyboard is still very difficult to type on. The keys are quite small, but the most difficult bit is the cursor keys placed where the larger shift key is normally placed.

Eee PC Keyboard - location of shift / cursor keys

This is something I should be able to get used to with some practice, but it certainly makes typing hard initially. Still it's good that they managed to include cursor keys on such a small keyboard.

The trackpad is small but adequate. Rather than have a scroll section on the trackpad the operating system includes gesture based scrolling and zooming.

Screen and external monitors

The 10 inch screen is large and clear. Resolution is 1024 x 600. This is a low resolution by modern screen resolutions, which does result in some application windows being very small. A tailored operating system (such as Linux) can really help by maximising space for the applications, but providing usual task window manager functions.

There is an external VGA port that can be used with an external screen or projector. These can be run at higher resolutions than the native screen. If using a higher resolution in clone mode then it will only show part of the desktop on the built-in screen, but provide the ability to scroll around.

At the moment I haven't had time to test the use of an external monitor much, but I'm sure it is useful as a mobile presentation computer.

Disk and other drive support

I bought the 160Gb hard disk drive version, but this is also available with a smaller solid-state disk drive. There are advantages to having solid state disks (SSD) as it has no moving parts it doesn't suffer the same problems of shock and potentially is faster. I however went for the 160GB drive for it's usefulness in storing lots of photos and video which can be transferred from the camera whilst traveling.

Due to the size netbooks do not include any form of CD or DVD drive. A USB drive can be connected and used for reading, writing and booting from. These can certainly be useful if restoring the operating system or installing a new operating system (various Linux distributions are available).

The netbook also supports USB flash drives (USB memory sticks) and external USB disk drives. These all work fully including the ability to boot from them and run a Live Linux operating system from them.

The Eee PC also includes an SDHC reader. Note that some laptops (including my one year old HP laptop) have readers that only support the original SD/MMC Cards instead of the higher capacity SDHC cards. SDHC is particularly useful for transferring Video from my flash memory HD camcorder.

The SDHC slot can be used as extra storage as though it is an extra "hard disk drive". This can be used for a separate operating system in the same way that external USB disks can.

When inserted the SD / SDHC / MMC card is fully inserted into the netbook and does not protrude. This is means that the netbook can be safely transported with the card still in place.

Networking

The netbook includes built-in wired Ethernet (10mb / 100mb) adapter as well as built-in wireless including support for IEEE 802.11b, IEEE 802.11g, IEEE 802.11n (draft) which includes the high speed wireless networking (although I haven't got any other 802.11n devices to test that functionality). It also has built-in bluetooth.

There is no modem included, but they're pretty much useless for most network purposes these days anyway (except for out-of-band access for routers and unix servers by technical support specialists).

Ports and connectivity

There are 3 x USB (v2) ports, two on one side and one on the other, which should be adequate for most purposes.

There is no firewire or any of the legacy ports (printer / serial).

Sound and Camera

The built-in speakers give clear good quality sound. In fact this is much better than my full size 15" HP laptop.

There are two microphones built into the bottom of the screen area and a 1.3 Mega Pixel camera at the top.

There is a microphone and speaker socket included.

Weight and battery power

The weight and battery capacity appear to be closely related. A significant amount of the weight of the Eee PC is due to the battery unit. Asus claim a battery life of 6 hours, although this is based on Wi-fi and bluetooth being turned off and the web cam being disabled.

In reality under typical usage I get a battery life of about 5 hours or so (not actually timed - just my estimate). This battery life is pretty impressive; in a completely different league to most traditional laptops. Asus have since released a model with 8 hour battery life which is astounding.

The power adapter is quite small due to the low power requirements of the Eee PC. Charging time is longer if the Eee PC is in use when charging. I believe that some of the earlier Eee PCs were powered using a plug-in transformer power supply, but this model has a small brick style power supply.

Performance

You may expect that a machine with such low spec (compared to normal laptops) would be slow, but the performance of the Eee PC is astounding. I believe that much of this is due to the Linux operating system that is installed. Boot time from cold start to login screen / desktop is about 40 seconds and shuts down in much less. Even launching the included Office wordprocessor takes less than 30 seconds.

Build quality and looks

The build quality is excellent. It feels well made and the screen hinge is smooth when moving, but without any sign of slack when in the desired position.

The model that I've got is in the Mac style white. There is also a black version, not easy to find in the 10" models, which is popular with the smaller sized screens. There is also the option of different colours (e.g. red and green), and some with patterns rather than solid colours, but these don't appear to be available in the UK (or at least are very hard to find).

Problems

I have had just one problem with the Eee PC and I've been somewhat baffled by it. When it first arrived I left the Eee PC on charge for most of the day before trying to use it. I then powered it on and after a few seconds it would power itself back of again. Some times this would be before it had finished starting the operating system.

The Eee PC suffered this problem whether it was plugged into the mains power or if it was running on battery. After trying this a few times I gave in and contacted the supplier for an exchange. After contacting them to get an RMA (return merchandise authorization) form I gave the Eee PC one last try to see if it would work. This time it powered up straight away and hasn't had any problems since. I don't know what the cause of the original problem was, but it appears to have rectified itself as it's now been working fine for nearly 2 weeks without any ill effects.

Conclusion

From a hardware perspective there is little to fault it. The keyboard is small and the location of the cursor keys annoying, but that is one of the trade-offs when trying to cram it into such a small space. Also it is quite heavy, but that is the price to be paid for the long battery life. With the pre-installed easy-to-use Linux operating system this netbook ticks all the right boxes. It's an outstanding computer that I'd recommend to anyone. Details of where to buy an Asus EeePC mini-laptop with Linux in the UK (on the High Street or on the web) Software OS review of the Eee PC linux distro Look out for future Eee PC posts on the Penguin Tutor Linux Blog and the Asus Eee PC Linux Netbook Blog.

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