Tuesday, May 31, 2016
Publication Date: 08/1/2008
ARCHIVE >  June 2008 Issue >  Tech Watch > 
Ultralightweight Revisited: It Gets Even Better

Last month, I waxed eloquent about the Asus Eee PCXP, and what a boon it is to my particular lifestyle and minimal computing power needs. Now that I have had a month to test and use the machine, my opinion of this minuscule less-than-2-pound computer has gone up several more notches.

First of all, I have found that the 4GB "C" drive is no hindrance, at least not to my immediate needs as I see them. Of course, I could not load such power-hungry programs as PhotoShop and MS Word, but it comes already equipped with MS Works, and a minimal word processor within that framework that seems to work just fine with Word document files. Unfortunately, the spreadsheet software in Works doesn't work with existing Excel files, so I bit the bullet and loaded Excel into the "C" drive. It loaded just fine, and didn't take up too much room, so I still have about 1.3GB of unused space on the built-in flash "C" drive.

Cheap Flash Drives
As part of this ongoing "evaluation," I treated myself to a new USB flash drive; I can't resist a bargain, and I saw the new PNY 8GB USB drives selling for $39.95 at B.J.'s Wholesale Club. Why that's less than $5.00 per Gigabyte! But PNY shortchanged me on the lanyard; there wasn't any, so I had to steal one from a lesser (2GB) USB flash drive. B.J.'s is still selling the earlier version of the Asus Eee — the one with 2GB of "C" drive and Linux for the operating system — for $279.95, but it's not listed on the club's website. If you shop at TigerDirect, the website lists the Asus Linux version for $349.99; this is the same 2GB non-Windows model that sells at B.J.'s Wholesale Club, so be careful. The TigerDirect website says: "4GB SSD, Linux"; that 4GB is on a removable SSD chip, not the "C" drive. The only place that I know of that stocks the newer 4GB version is Best Buy. The website lists it in 3 colors: white, black and pink for $399.99.

The computer also includes a webcam, which I confess I have not tried out. I have never owned or used a webcam, see no need for one for my needs, and was thus surprised to discover one on this ultralightweight computer.

The other day, I took the computer on the train to New York and really tested the battery charge life. I managed to get about 3 hours out of the computer before the little red LED started to flash. A quick check of remaining charge revealed that there was 10 percent left, so I copied the file I was working on to a dongle, and closed everything down before I started to lose my work.

One of the neat aspects of this computer is that it draws excited "ooohs" and "aaahs" from nearly everyone when they see it for the first time. But the heavy-duty users quickly discover that it won't do for their memory-gulping needs. It still contains the usual collection of Microsoft games: Solitaire, Hearts, FreeCell, Minesweeper, Pinball, Spider Solitaire and Internet versions of Backgammon, Checkers, Hearts, Reversi, and Spades.

A Little Coaxing
One problem I have found with the machine when using its built-in WiFi: because of the relatively narrow screen, you really have to play with the "Choose a Wireless Network" window to get enough of the "Connect" button onscreen to actually activate it. All it takes is a little edge of the button, but it is a really tight squeeze. The teeny keyboard is becoming less and less of a problem, as I grow accustomed to it, especially when I am editing material as opposed to writing original text, such as this review. And no, I am not using the Asus for all of my work — just in situations that call for it, such as waiting in the doctor's office, hours spent on a train or plane, or working in a hotel room while traveling. No, it's not my computer of choice for the bulk of my work which I do in my home office; I still use a desktop system with a large flat-panel screen for that, since it's a lot easier on the eyes, the typing fingers and better for general productivity.

And I find that I really don't mind carrying such accessories as needed for that hotel room, like my Verizon air card and Novatel adapter, a small USB hub, a small external travel keyboard, and a pocket-size 250GB USB hard disk drive. All of these items, plus the newly acquired 8GB flash drive certainly make the teeny weeny computer that much easier to use for travel and limited accommodations.

There are other compromises that have to be made. Because there is no CD/DVD drive, and because I don't have an external USB CD/DVD drive, installing some software can be a problem. One way I have solved this is to copy the installation CD onto the external HDD or onto a USB dongle, since they have plenty of capacity. Then I can install the software into the flash "C" drive from the external HDD or the dongle. It really does work — at least most of the time.

Putting in Software
Copying already installed software won't work for obvious reasons: the hardware configuration is vastly different from the Asus to the desktop system.

Now I run the computer with a 4GB SD chip in the SD slot and the 8GB USB dongle — that's 12GB in outboard memory, any of which can be used to contain and run software. I have to wonder, though, why Asus has not elected to make that "C" drive upgradeable. Okay, it's a cost and design factor, taking a memory chip and soldering it to the motherboard instead of using a socket. But it seems to me that an internal "C" drive could instead be made with a plug-in SD chip, which could be replaced at a future date by an 8 or 12GB SD chip when they become available. Given the fact of Moore's Law, it won't be too long before we actually see SD chips of that size.

In the meantime, I am thoroughly enjoying the Asus Eee PCXP, and figuring out all the things I can do with it just like a "real" computer. One of my recent conquests was to install the software for my Palm Pilot, along with all of its data files, so I now have the Palm backed up on 3 different machines. It wasn't a big deal; it took up less than 1MB of space in the "C" drive and runs flawlessly. Now I have to find a more compact USB cable to connect the tiny computer to the Palm Pilot when I'm on the road. Somehow, the Palm's bulky old cradle, while still working, is just that — old and bulky.  

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