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Initial thoughts on using a netbook

This is the second part of a series detailing my experiences with netbooks.  All products mentioned were purchased at retail by the author. Part 1 is available here, with details on why this particular model was chosen.

The first thing you notice right out of the box is how small the Eee PC 901 is. Take a standard 8.5"x11" piece of paper, fold it in half, and that's approximately how big it is.

The keyboard takes up most of the netbook's width, going almost right to the edge. The 8.9" screen has a little bit more of a bezel. At a resolution of 1024x600, I find myself constantly scrolling down for most applications I'm writing. 1024x800 would be great, but the 1.3 megapixel camera at the top takes up too much room.

You will have to adjust your typing style to suit the smaller keyboard, which has keys that are 17% smaller than regular keys. Instead of using the pads of your fingers at an angle on a full size keyboard, you have to type downwards using the tips of your fingers. It can be quite an adjustment, but no harder than learning to type on a Blackberry.

There are two drives recognized by Windows. The first is a 4GB boot drive, courtesy of a single 32Gb NAND flash chip soldered to the motherboard. It is enough for Windows XP Home, but install Microsoft .Net 3.5 and you'll start to fill it up fast.

Most programs and data will be installed on the second SSD, a mini PCIe 8GB SSD drive made by Phison. Writes are very slow at 15 MB/s, but read speeds are surprisingly fast at 40 MB/s. It actually feels faster than my laptop at times, no doubt due to the near instantaneous access times afforded by using flash storage.
There are third-party mini PCIe SSD upgrades available, up to a capacity of 64GB. Some users have also reported being able to install a 1.8" SSD for much greater speed, but ASUS chooses not to go that route due to cost, weight, and power consumption.

Most of the weight is in the rear, where the large six cell battery is located. Total weight is 2.5 pounds, or just over a kilogram. It feels a little bit more than I expected, and it does make my jacket sag when I put it in the pocket. But that's okay with me, since large battery capacity is one of the reasons I picked this model.

I've been able to write on it for more than the eight hours advertised by ASUS. That, for me, was worth the price of admission to the netbook club.

Coming up: More on portable usage, plus future technologies in netbooks.

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A few notes...
By kingpotnoodle on 2/26/2009 9:28:09 AM , Rating: 2
The 4GB boot drive is not soldered to the motherboard (unless Asus have changed this since mine) it is on a PCI-E SSD module which is only accessible by completely dismantling the unit (voids warranty), these can also be upgraded if you can find the right module.

The 1.8" drive addition was only really suited to early models which shipped with a Zif socket soldered, although it is possible to solder your own Socket to the contacts on later motherboard revisions.

Installing one of the after-market SSDs such as those made by RunCore is something I recommend, I have installed the 32GB model and achieve speeds 2-3 times better than the 8GB factory supplied module. I have installed Windows XP onto this drive and found that it is very responsive. I have also put in a 2GB 667MHz Corsair RAM module.

Personally I love my 901, but I would love it even more with a 1280x800 or similar screen, and all models really should have integrated 3G modem IMHO. Also the sooner Asus get a better chipset in the better, either GN40, ION or even using the Z series atoms and Poulsbo would be better than 945, it's performance per watt is terrible.

"Let's face it, we're not changing the world. We're building a product that helps people buy more crap - and watch porn." -- Seagate CEO Bill Watkins
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