Retail therapy ftw. After the beer-meets-Macbook incident I figured a laptop which was cheaper, smaller and more portable that I could use in the pub would be a good idea. Enter the Asus EeePC 901, a tiny Intel Atom-powered laptop with 20G of SSD (no moving disk!), wireless, bluetooth, and a ridiculously long battery life. I picked mine up abroad after getting cold feet on my order from purelygadgets.co.uk, adding an extra gig of RAM.
The unit itself is lovely, very pleased – bit weird having no ambient sound, total silence since there’s no disk! The keyboard isn’t too small, certainly large enough for what I want to use it for (namely, coding when out and about when I can’t drag the MacBook with me). It came without the RAM fitted but ten minutes with a screwdriver sorted that out. Unlike reports on other UK models it seems to have the ZIF connector inside indicating I can add a 5mm 1.8″ ZIF hard disk (the sort which go in 5th-generation iPods) without too much hassle however I’m not sure if the secondary (16GB) SSD and the ZIF drive can coexist. There’s also solder points for a SIM card slot and what looks to be space for a GPS. No wonder folks are saying this is the most hackable EeePC yet!
It comes with a fork of Xandros Linux with all the “dangerous” bits removed, slimming it down to create a slim kiosk-like system with Firefox, StarOffice, Skype, Google Apps and stuff. Unfortunately the dangerous bits are the very bits I want, so using the preinstalled OS is out of the question really.
Digging around, the Eee User Wiki provided lots of information about distributions of Linux which may work: trouble is the 901 is so new it’s not had much chance to be “in the wild”. Being a Debian user my first choice was Debian EeeOS but after digging for a while I couldn’t find much information on what might be supported or not, so the next logical step was to look at Ubuntu Eee.
Wow. Very good. My attempts to get my MacBook to write a bootable image to a USB stick failed so I connected up an external USB2 DVD-rewriter and booted from that. Straight into Ubuntu, fresh install (using the primary 4GB SSD as boot, the 16GB SSD as /home) and bob’s yer uncle. No problems at all.
Well, I say “no problems”. Here’s how I solved some of the more interesting issues:
- For most problems including ethernet and wireless, look here.
- I used the NDISwrapper method of getting wireless working. Internal ethernet is still being a pain in the arse but it’s not essential.
- The webcam and bluetooth are switched off by default in the BIOS. Enabling both reveals a Bluetooth icon in Gnome, and you can use the app ‘cheese’ to take photos or video (it’s like Photo Booth on the Mac).
- Install the custom kernel – it makes things a hell of a lot nicer! Info here.
- A friend suggested the shutdown fix – otherwise the damn thing stays alive when hitting shutdown despite blank screen etc.
- Sometimes going into supend fails if I use the fn-1 hotkey. Power button and selecting ‘Suspend’ works though.
- Unrelated to the Eee specifically but when installing Mulberry I had some fonts/labels disappearing. This is due to installing Mulberry in a different place to where it suggests, so $HOME/.mulberry is not found. You need to rsync $mulberrydir/.mulberry to $HOME/.mulberry which fixed it all for me.
(*snogs* to bgeek who pointed me at some of these resources.)
In all of this I did discover it had a fan, while restoring a MySQL database and giving it a hard thrashing. Mmm, a little toasty there.
This weekend is the first real test when I’m away without my MacBook. If that’s fine, I shall consider this a success!