Life on the EEEdge: Daily life with Asus' tiny laptop

6 annoying things (and 3 great ones) about Asus' ultraportable

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4) The webcam and internal microphone are weak. Going again by the 80/20 rule (repeat: 80% of the time you use only 20% of the machine's capabilities), things like the Eee's built-in webcam and internal microphone -- the latter of which can be used for Skype-powered Internet telephony -- are simply nice bonuses as long as they work properly.

Unfortunately, that's an open question. The webcam's maximum resolution is just 640 by 480 pixels, about one-quarter of state-of-the-art models from Logitech. And while Asus claims the webcam can grab up to 30 frames per second, don't expect anything approaching that in real life unless you're hooked up to a Verizon FiOS connection or you have access to the same industrial-strength lighting they use on Hollywood sets.

The hum of the Eee's fan motor drowns out the sound or voices you might hope to capture via the internal microphone, a not-uncommon problem with these smaller devices. In contrast, the Eee's stereo speakers, mounted to each side of the screen, sound pretty good. Still, for Skype or any other audio-input application, a USB headset or external microphone is advisable.

5) The Eee is, for now, underpowered. For the most part, the Eee's use of components that stopped being state of the art around the time the dot-com bubble burst hasn't hurt its nimbleness. Many familiar applications -- such as Firefox, Adobe Acrobat Reader and OpenOffice -- loaded and ran much faster than they do on a Windows XP PC.

The Eee runs so well that I wasn't even jonesing to replace the 512MB So-DIMM memory chip with something more capacious. (The original Eee 701, a.k.a. the 4G, can be easily upgraded to a 1GB PC2-5300 by opening a slot at the bottom of the machine, but other models may use RAM that is soldered on, making it harder to remove.)

Unwilling to miss the key Christmas season, Asus was forced to ship the Eee with an incomplete BIOS, and it's got several problems: The USB ports don't run at full USB 2.0 speed; Skype videoconferencing doesn't work, and the BIOS doesn't support the motherboard's 100-MHz front-side bus. That effectively restricts the 900-MHz Intel Celeron processor to running at just 600 MHz.

Asus has released a BIOS update that supposedly fixes those problems. But early testers say the update also causes the Eee to freeze and crash. As of early December, the new BIOS remains unfixed and unreleased.

6) I couldn't set up my printer. Device support has long been one of Linux's knottiest problems. In light of that, things could have been worse: I had no problem connecting external monitors, SD cards or USB storage drives -- none of which were certified by Asus -- to the Eee.

But I wasted an entire day trying to get my Eee to print to my Brother HL-2070N laser printer. It was unclear whether I ran into a network problem or a driver issue; maybe I was doing something wrong at the third-party Common Unix and Printing System (CUPS) Web site.

Neither the printed manual nor Asus' support site had any info. Even the super-helpful Eee online user community had no suggestions.

In the end, I decided that because I hated typing anything substantial on the Eee, it's doubtful I would need to print from it. And if I did, I could use a flash drive, Google Docs or e-mail to transport the document to a more print-friendly computer.

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