Are ‘netbook’ ultra-portable laptops right for your business? NYISI weighed in on the Asus EEE PC netbook for an article published today by The Industry Standard on the adoption of netbooks for business.
We started by purchasing two Asus EEE PC netbooks: one EEE 1000HA, running Windows XP Home, and one EEE 1000, running the EEE’s own version of Linux.
At first glance, the EEE PC is an incredibly exciting product. Like other netbooks, it’s featherweight, energy efficient, and comparable in size to an old-fashioned paper notebook. However, the EEE is bound by the same limitations found in other netbooks, namely fewer features and limited processing power.
Any frequent flyer will love how small and convenient the EEE is when packing a carry-on bag, and the extreme battery life will last through all but the longest flights. The built-in wireless card had above-average reception, picking up significantly more wireless access points that other laptops were able to in informal tests around the office. The keyboard is noticeably smaller than that of a desktop PC, but unlike some other ultra-portables, perhaps even unlike the 7″ & 9″ EEE, it felt almost as natural as a full size keyboard. Perhaps one of the best features of the EEE PC is the first boot experience, since unlike many other retail computers, the EEE wasn’t weighed down out of the factory with junk software trials and other unnecessary programs (although the Yahoo! toolbar didn’t add value). The physical design gives a ‘clean’ feeling out of the box, perhaps a nod to the design of an Apple MacBook in white. However, it’s important to understand the EEE PC’s limitations before buying one.
The honeymoon ends
The screen only supports an extremely low (and non-standard) resolution of 1024×600, making it very difficult to multi-task between windows. On the other hand, some older folks may not mind, if they have difficulty seeing small text at higher resolutions (note that the 7″ and 9″ are likely considerably more cramped). The EEE PC also supports slightly higher output resolutions through its external display port. The weak display hardware, combined with the adequate Intel Atom processor, is enough to run a Youtube video, but even HD Youtube can be a bit sluggish while making a phone call on Skype – so just two relatively common applications at once are enough to exhaust the available resources.
One of the first questions often asked about the EEE is “can it play DVDs?” The answer is no, because the EEE PC lacks an optical disc (CD/DVD) drive. This is both a blessing and a curse, since optical disc media is gradually dying out. Ironically, the EEE PC includes a recovery CD that must be loaded to a USB memory stick in order to work. A DVD player, even as an option, would be a great feature given the popularity of portable standalone DVD players that play DVDs only.
The clean design of the EEE is reflected by inclusion of a cleaning cloth in the packaging, but the cloth proves to be quite necessary because the case bezel readily smudges with fingerprints.
Windows XP Home or Linux?
The Linux version was surprisingly functional right out of the box. The pre-installed applications cover a number of common computing tasks, and nearly every application followed an intuitive and easy to use UI. Web browsing was effortless, and the pre-installed Firefox browser immediately passed the Youtube test. The rich web sites that users have come to expect to work do work, and that’s a great thing. The Linux edition of the EEE 1000 is also equipped with a 40GB solid-state hard drive (SSD). While it’s true that solid-state flash memory is considerably more durable thanks to its lack of moving parts, other benefits usually associated to SSDs like faster data transfer rates, virtually instant seek time, and lower power consumption were less noticeable. The EEE 1000HA running Windows XP with a hard disk drive booted almost as quickly and seemed to last on battery nearly as long as its SSD equipped counterpart. It’s also worth noting that the 1000HA doesn’t include the wireless support of the 1000, lacking both Bluetooth and wireless N.
Right for NYISI?
As an IT shop, NYISI may be one of the most demanding and nitpicking users. The EEE deserves credit for what it is: a ‘netbook’. It’s useful for email, basic web browsing, instant messaging, and even online document services like Google Docs, but NYISI also needs development tools like Eclipse IDE. Eclipse can run adequately on a lot of older hardware, but just doesn’t feel right running slowly, on the cramped screen of the EEE.
Right for anyone?
The EEE is certainly not a toy, nor a high-tech paperweight, however. Recently, NYISI recommended an Asus EEE 1000HA to our client Frank’s Tire Service, a family-owned tire store in the Bronx. Perhaps exactly opposite to NYISI, their technical requirements were virtually non-existent, they had no special software to install and simply wanted a laptop that could fit in a briefcase to get them online. So far, they’ve been very happy with the EEE PC, since it does what they need to do at a reasonable price inside a tiny footprint. The form factor, battery life, and price are right for Frank’s Tire Service – it’s not just enough, it’s a good fit.
Power users beware, but netbook format PCs are a great choice for basic portable computing.