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Asus low-end laptops to run Xandros
Jul. 19, 2007

In early June, Asustek Computer and Intel announced at Computex Taipei that they would soon be releasing a low-end $199 subnotebook PC, the Asus Eee PC 701. It appears to be on schedule, and when it arrives in customers' hands in late August or early September it will be running a variation of Xandros Desktop Linux.

At a fraction of the cost of most laptops, the Asus Eee PC cuts corners on features. Still, Intel and Asustek are certain that there's a growing market for low-priced subnotebooks. In an IDC analysis of the U.S. consumer PC market, Richard Shim, IDC's research manager for personal computing, said, "We believe the consumer PC market segment is in the midst of a major change that will push notebook penetration further into the mainstream market."

Intel and Asustek aren't the only companies that believe people are ready for a subnotebook that costs less than an iPhone. In addition to the Linux-powered result of the OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) project, there is the also Linux-powered but slightly more pricey Foleo, recently released by Palm.

Like these other members of the new generation of subnotebooks, the real news with the Eee is its size. At 8.6 by 6.5 by 1.3 inches and barely 2 pounds, a user can tuck it into a backpack or purse and hardly notice that it's there.

The Eee PC 701 comes with two interfaces. The first desktop is meant for users who may have never used a computer before. As Jonney Shih, chairman and chief executive of Asustek, said at the system's introduction, the name, besides being a play on Nintendo's popular Wii game system, represented a threefold repetition of the word "easy," as in "easy to learn, easy to play, easy to work."

The other interface is KDE-based. Both Windows XP and KDE users will find it familiar-looking. Linux users will also find such familiar open-source applications as OpenOffice, Firefox and the VOIP (voice over IP) program Skype.

Of course, Eee users will have to get used to seeing the interface and their applications on a 7-inch display. This 800 by 480 pixel display won't be overly snappy either, as its GPU uses UMA (unified memory architecture). This means that the graphics borrow memory from the computer's 512MB of DDR2 (double data rate 2) -400 RAM.

While this may not sound like enough RAM to run Xandros, this Linux operating system is well-known for its ability to run with a bare minimum of RAM. In a review in 2006, we were able to run the latest version, Xandros Desktop 4.0, on a far less powerful system: a 6-year-old Compaq Deskpro EN Desktop with a 500MHz Pentium III processor, 128MB of RAM and a 10GB hard drive.

The heart of this ultraportable notebook is a 900MHz Pentium M processor running on the Intel 910 Mobile chip set. For main storage, the Eee uses 4 to 16GB of solid state flash memory.

While even the maximum storage isn't even a quarter of Dell's Ubuntu-powered Inspiron 1420s with 80GB hard drive, it's much faster. Booting up Xandros on an Eee takes less than 15 seconds. If more storage is needed, the user can connect USB drives to any of the laptop's three USB 2.0 ports.

To talk with the outside world, the Eee includes 10/100 Ethernet, a 56K modem, and 802.11b/g Wi-Fi. In addition, the device has built-in stereo speakers, a microphone and a 300K-pixel video camera. A four-cell, 2s2p (two-in-series, two-in-parallel) 5200mAh battery provides a claimed 3 hours of battery life.

For Xandros, this shows that while the company is turning more of its attention to the server, with its recent acquisition of Scalix, the open-source e-mail and groupware company, and its partnership with NoMachine to bring NoMachine's thin-client server into Xandros' Linux Server 2.0, it's not turning its back on desktop Linux.

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

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