Little Laptops

The waters are getting muddier for the little laptops as more and more companies start getting into the business. We’re still evaluating the Asus eeePC here in the district, and hope to have some decisions made about them within the next month or two. In the meantime, the competition is starting to heat up. Here’s a quick roundup. I should preface these remarks by saying that I’ve only ever used the Asus model.

eeePCs and a Dell Latitude The original $100 laptop, though they never really hit that price. For $200, you can pay for and deliver a laptop to a child in a third world country. Late last year, you could buy one for yourself if you also donated one. That’s how lots of people in North America got theirs. With .25 GB of RAM and 1 GB of flash space, there’s not a lot of power to work with. The display, however, offers up to 1200×900 resolution, which is pretty high for a subnotebook. There’s also a built in webcam, microphone, and speakers. All of the software is open source, including the Fedora Linux operating system.

Asus eeePC
This is the device we’ve been playing with. We paid $367 for the 4GB Surf model, with .5 GB of RAM and 4 GB of flash space. The various flavors of the eeePC have .5 GB to 2 GB of RAM and 2 – 8 GB of flash space. Display resolution is probably the biggest drawback, at 800×400. At 0.92 kg, it’s about 50% lighter than the XO. The operating system is the Xandros distribution of Linux, but a Windows version is also available.

Classmate PC
Intel’s offering in the subnotebook market is the Classmate PC. It has .25 GB of RAM and 2 GB of flash space, making it a comparable to a high-end XO or a low-end eeePC. Screen resolution is 800×480 (similar to the Asus), and weight is about the same as the XO. Theoretically, it’ll run Windows, but most of them are running a customized Linux distribution. If you go to Argentina, you can buy one for about $500 US. Other than that, they seem to be pretty hard to come by.

Ink MC
This is a larger machine, closer to the size of a standard laptop. It has an 8.6″ screen (compared to the 7-7.5″ screens on the others), with a resolution of 800×600. The 1 GB Flash storage contains a read-only installation of OS and applications. While this makes customization impossible, it also ensures that malware and viruses can’t be installed. The computer has .25 GB of RAM, and is supposed to sell for less than $300, though I can’t find any place where you can actually buy one. All of the software is open source.

Elonex One
This one is about the same size and weight as the eeePC. There’s a lot less power in the standard model, though, with only .13 GB of RAM and 1 GB of flash storage. The upgraded version doubles both of these and throws in bluetooth. The operating system is the Linos version of Linux, with open source applications added. US price is about $200, but you may have to go to the UK to get one.

So why are we playing with the eeePC to the exclusion of the others? For one thing, it’s the only one we can buy in the US. I’ve heard people talking about the Classmate and the XO, but other than the XO “get one, give one” promotion last year, I don’t know how to buy either of these. At $367, the eeePC is one of the more expensive models, but it also has a twice the memory and 2-4 times the storage space of the others. It’s lightweight, portable, inexpensive, and powerful enough.

Now, what can it replace? How can we get some of these and save money at the same time? We’re still working on that part.


Author: John Schinker

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