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Old 05-18-2008, 02:04 AM   #1
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Thumbs up Docking the Asus EEE for use as a desktop machine

Last week I picked up an Asus EEE while I was in Shanghai. The price in US dollars was $428. maybe not a spectacular buy given western pricing, but with VAT here in China prices are a shade higher than in the west. I found it very convenient to carry in a backpack while traveling, but I was wondering how far I could take it as a desktop replacement machine. Here is my adventure.

I use the EEE in the simple mode of Xandros Linux. It lets me do everything I want to do, and the tabbed interface is easy on the eye and does almost everything I need to do. For those functions that do not have icons in the user interface, I have created favorites in the file manager. It is easy therefore, to start the FBReader and a few other applications. I tried the full desktop and it is nice, but I like running lean with the simple interface. If you think you need Windows, take a look at the rich selection of open-source apps you can download for Linux.

I tested a soft rubber keyboard. It seemed to work pretty smoothly with the new Asus EEE running from a USB port. The keys were mushy, but this keyboard has the advantage of being rollable and will go into a backpack without taking up too much space. Why don't I use the EEE's keyboard? Because I keep making mistakes with it. The keys are too small for me, but for occasional use they are OK and much better than those found on a UMPC.

I am quite pleased with the rollup keyboard aside from a tendency to hit the caps lock key accidentally. I think I miss the space bar sometimes too. Can I adapt to these? It is quite portable so I will try.

I attached a USB mouse as well. Now this tiny computer has more of the comforts of a big machine.

I attached a small external USB hard drive. I am fairly sure any small drive that is powered from USB will work on the EEE. I notice I am getting a feel for the keyboard now too and making fewer mistakes. With this combination the EEE will be very comfortable for writing.

I attached an external LCD monitor to the VGA port. Under the "settings" tab there is an icon for "Desktop Mode". You can select up to 1024x768 for the external monitor. There is a function button combination on the keyboard that will allow you to select 1/ Internal LCD, 2/ External monitor, or 3/ both. The EEE's 800x480 resolution is displayed when choosing #1 or #3. This results in a poor font display on the external monitor. But by selecting #2 the EEE switches the display mode to a better-looking 800x600 with nice fonts. The ability to use an external screen has been well thought out to provide extended functionality.

The EEE is quick and responsive-- more so than my 2GHz AMD desktop machine running XP. This is quite a surprise to me. This little machine runs it's Celeron processor at 630MHz. For a writer or a web surfer, this machine is quite enough. The limitations on storage are moot, as you can attach an external hard drive. Plus the SDHC slot in the EEE will hold a 32G SD card, if you can afford it. For my everyday needs I carry an iPod-sized 15G external hard drive that comfortably holds all my working files.

A better test was to connect my 500G NTFS USB drive. I was able to read anything and play a video (of Jessica Alba) from the drive. It came up full screen and played smoothly. So to complete the test I connected my sound system to the EEE. Now I can listen to music while I finish writing this post.

I opened an MP3 -- Gene Ammons on Hittin' the Jug. Pretty Cool, with lots of base. One small thing. It does stall momentarily on the MP3 if I am doing something in the browser, like writing this email. It happens especially during saves and sends and scrolls.

The next day: I went out and bought a better USB keyboard and another USB mouse, as yesterday's mouse was borrowed. The keyboard is an improvement over the rubber one. Now the keyboard and mouse have a normal feel and my typing is at its limited best. I created a docking station of sorts by adding a USB hub so I can have my two hard drives, the keyboard and mouse all connected and only have to plug one USB plug into the EEE when I "dock" it.

Conclusion? The EEE makes a pretty good desktop machine if your needs are simple. I can watch movies, listen to internet radio and MP3s, read ebooks, write articles and email, surf the web, use office applications, have a huge amount of hard drive storage, and use WiFi or ethernet. Best of all when I undock it I can have all my important storage and a decent eBook reader with me wherever I go. Now what will I do with all my other computers?
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Old 05-18-2008, 10:28 AM   #2
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I keep hearing that people say they make mistakes on the Eee keyboard, but it is hard to understand. Is it laid out differently or just smaller? Is it a big difference?

I've tried a "fabric" rollup keyboard myself, and it's nice for portability, but not even as nice as a typical laptop keyboard. And of most concern for me is that I felt that my hands were taking a beating from the hard surface below it. But maybe a nicer one with some simulated key action as an impact cushion would eliminate my complaints.

The Eee laptops are really compelling, espcially with Linux. I'd love to get one myself. Plus it sounds like the quality is great and the fan base highly motivated. Everyone keeps complaining about the newer models with higher price and better features, because they say you could get a full laptop for that price. But they are missing the point - you usually pay more to get a smaller form factor. The other regular laptops may have a bigger screen and even more function, but the most important thing is lost in a bigger size.

Or is everyone jumping on the Eee only because of the price? You know that would be a really great poll for Eee fans - are you attracted primarily because of the price or the size? And... if the price stayed the same, but the size was bigger, would you have still been interested?

I'd be interested to hear more after you've been using it longer. For some reason, this particular device line is incredibly fascinating to me!
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Old 05-18-2008, 10:56 AM   #3
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The first thing I did to my EEE was adding a wireless, optical, travel mouse, because I hate the clicker of the trackpad. Then I multiplied the memory with a 4gb SDHC card; and others will follow as prices come down. SDHCs are recognized directly in the SD slot without any kind or reader. Next, I'll just have a bigger USB keyboard lying on the table where I usually speed type(try). The keyboard on the device itself is not so bad, akward at first, but usable in 'outside' situations.

What I like best about it is that I do not have to deal with MicroMou Fenętre.

Last edited by yvanleterrible; 05-18-2008 at 10:59 AM.
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Old 05-18-2008, 11:24 AM   #4
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Thumbs up

Well Bob, I have watched the Damn Small Linux people for a few years putting DSL on a thumb drive and booting it on tiny tiny desktop machines. I have always meant to pick up or build something like that. I love the idea of a lot of computing power in a very small space.

Remember when we had XT PCs? Before the AT PCs? Maybe you are not that old. In the mid 80s there was a credit card sized board that had all the components necessary to be the mainboard of a compete XT. Wipe your chin!

Over the years I have bought various machines that were smaller than average. Lexmark had a small monochrome laptop that didn't work very well. Then there was the Atari Portfolio. The ThinkN|C was small by desktop standards of its time.

Now I am writing this on a little wafer of a laptop that sits partially folded so I can see the external LCD behind it. I am typing on an external keyboard and using an external mouse. But the really cool thing is that I can disconnect all of those devices and still have the complete functionality of the PC at the cost of a little inconvenience (cramped screen, futsy keyboard). But it is a glorious Linux toy -- by far the easiest Linux implementation I have ever used. All of the old difficulties of former distributions have disappeared. The file manager does more than its Windows counterpart. Everything Just Works.

I like the DSL distribution because they (like Knoppix before them) had gotten the hardware detection right. But it had always struck me that if there were a popular machine that would serve as a standard base for Linux, much more could be done with it because the need to adapt to varied architectures would be obviated.

Now the EEE is cheap enough that everyone can afford it. They will learn that it is not CPU speed that makes a computer snappy. They will learn that an alternative OS can deliver the performance of Goliath. They will discover a machine that can go in the glove box of the car or in a jacket pocket or a pouch of a back pack. And it is more usable than a UMPC or a PDA.

What was your question? Oh yes. Do we like them because they are smaller or because they are cheaper? For me the prime factor was size. If I wanted to spend less money for a laptop, and size was immaterial, I could buy a refurb. But now that I have it, I realize the Linux is a real treat. I hadn't expected that it would be so much fun. I hadn't expected to find it so responsive.

The clincher: I have been struggling to get Skype to work well lately on my desktop XP machine. I connected the other day from the EEE to my daughter's Macbook a continent away. I was expecting to forego the video to get acceptable audio performance, but she popped right up in a window in front of me and said, "Start your video Dad!" So I did. The video chat is the best I have experienced from China. How would you like to have that in your backpack?
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Old 05-18-2008, 11:41 AM   #5
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Cool

And as for your other question about the keyboard Bob. It is a matter of getting used to it. I used to write stories and articles using an Atari Portfolio pocket machine. The EEE's keyboard is much more usable than that.

The EEE's keys are smaller by about one fourth. I seem to hit the wrong keys or adjacent keys more often than usual. I also seem to miss the space bar. I adjusted the repeat delay of the keyboard and that helped eliminate the inadvertent key repeats I was getting.

The glidepad pointing device is hard for me. I get a shaky mouse pointer. But it is the same with other laptops. So I, like others, opt for the external mouse.

But I would travel with this machine and depend on it for writing in a hotel room. I am a little clumsy and the EEE is a little cramped. But a marriage often hinges on a little sacrifice.

Yvan, can you tell us more about your wireless travel mouse? Is it Bluetooth? Do you use a USB Bluetooth? Was it easy?
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Old 05-18-2008, 11:46 AM   #6
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The best feature of the EEE is its size and as far as I know, no one has yet given a real way of gauging its true size in a picture. So I'm posting a picture of it with my PRS500 on top. It's about the size of an iLiad but three times as thick.

Last edited by yvanleterrible; 07-29-2010 at 12:39 AM.
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Old 05-18-2008, 02:10 PM   #7
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Very interesting stuff! And what a great pic Yvan! It's gives me a whole new perspective on things (and a whole new level of lust!)

Btw, I've heard Windows called a lot of things, but MicroMou Fenętre is a first for me.
But... what's the "Mou"? Google translation doesn't help me any!
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Old 05-18-2008, 07:50 PM   #8
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Very interesting stuff! And what a great pic Yvan! It's gives me a whole new perspective on things (and a whole new level of lust!)

Btw, I've heard Windows called a lot of things, but MicroMou Fenętre is a first for me.
But... what's the "Mou"? Google translation doesn't help me any!
Mou means soft and fenętres means Windows. Nothing serious. Kidding as usual.
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Old 05-18-2008, 07:59 PM   #9
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Yvan, can you tell us more about your wireless travel mouse? Is it Bluetooth? Do you use a USB Bluetooth? Was it easy?
As you can see in the picture, that mouse is smaller than others. It has a mating transmitter plugged in a USB port. When unplugged from the computer, the transmitter is inserted in a docking bay directly inside the mouse. When it parks it instantly shuts the mouse down. To release it you just press the grey button on top and as it comes out it powers up the mouse. I bought it at Circuit City, it's made in China.

So far with the EEE I haven't had to install any drivers apart from a printer. You just plug and playyyy!
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Old 05-19-2008, 10:48 AM   #10
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I've been using laptops w/ docking stations for a long while now (started w/a ThinkPad 755C and a Dock I, which should date things adequately), and find it very convenient to be certain that I've got all my files when I pick up my machine and go, and still be able to access them wherever I might be.

These days USB means that one doesn't even have to purchase a custom dock (at the expense of making do w/ the portable's display and making two connections), just get a USB hub and plug everything into that (I'm currently setting up one at home where a printer, keyboard, scanner and CD-RW are connected --- am debating adding in a combo USB-hub/ethernet network interface so that I get networking and have a port to spare for a mouse as well).

Try it, if the portable meets your needs, you'll probably like it.

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Old 05-19-2008, 02:30 PM   #11
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am debating adding in a combo USB-hub/ethernet network interface so that I get networking and have a port to spare for a mouse as well).
Yep, I have one like this:

http://www.tigerdirect.com/applicati...6624&CatId=604

The above one is the new ExpressCard dock so it has much more bandwith. Although mine doesn't have the video so it was alot less expensive. I think it was $45. I bought it from Dell when I ordered my laptop.

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Old 05-19-2008, 03:43 PM   #12
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Yep, I have one like this:

http://www.tigerdirect.com/applicati...6624&CatId=604

The above one is the new ExpressCard dock so it has much more bandwith. Although mine doesn't have the video so it was alot less expensive. I think it was $45. I bought it from Dell when I ordered my laptop.

BOb
So, if I get it right, you just hook up a USB wire from the laptop to that device and that's all?
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Old 05-19-2008, 03:45 PM   #13
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So, if I get it right, you just hook up a USB wire from the laptop to that device and that's all?
Yes... Well, the one I have to hook up the USB wire from the dock, and the VGA cable from the monitor. But, you can get them with video in the dock too so in that case yes it would be just the single USB cable.

BOb

EDIT: Of course, the dock I have needs drivers for the USB to Ethernet and USB to Serial/Parallel ports. So, if you are getting one for a non-windows machine make sure it has the correct drivers.
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Old 05-19-2008, 03:47 PM   #14
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Cooool!

So that means your display is not USB.
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Old 05-19-2008, 03:50 PM   #15
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Cooool!

So that means your display is not USB.
Correct. But, if you see my edit above, there are non-USB things on the dock, but they each have a driver. Newer/more expensive docs even have video on the doc (not usb, an actual VGA connector).. but as I said, it will need drivers. Other than that it is a USB hub so keyboard/mouse/printer all work without and additional drivers.

BOb
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