Breathing New Life into an EEE PC 4G Surf

ASUS eeePC with Evesham LaptopBack in the mists of 2008, before the rise of the Apple iPhone and iPad, it looked like the future of portable computing belonged to the netbook. Asus were the first into the market with their EeePC, and back then I picked up one of their 4G Surf models. Of course things have changed a lot now, and although there are still a number of manufacturers producing computers in the segment the market has been hit hard by the move to tablet computers.

Back then I quite liked the little computer, the battery life was pretty lousy, and the 800×480 display causes many websites to bring up a horizontal scroll bar. It also lacks any sort of 3G connectivity so it’s very much tied to needing readily accessible wi-fi. What has really stymied it though has been the general lack of support with the software.

The original had an install of Xandros Linux, although you could swap that for Windows XP if you wanted, however a critical factor in the OS alongside the restricted screen resolution was the tiny 4Gb solid state drive. Alongside being mindful of the limited lifespan of such drives in terms of write cycles, the space on the drive is severely limited for most installs. That tended to leave you relying on Asus to keep the OS updated, which they haven’t. Sticking with the official software you’d now be rather behind the latest versions of the OS, which is why there have been a number of attempts to provide a replacement OS.

I’ve had a couple of attempts trying some of the new distributions, but ultimately I’ve not really found them up to scratch, in particular you’d find that whilst some of the software worked on the restricted screen, at other times critical dialogs would have buttons off the edges of the screen. However with all of them there was a general feeling of sluggishness, basically the OS was expecting a faster processor than the old Celeron that powers the little Asus.

However having been playing around with the machine again this holiday I’ve come across another option – Peppermint – a Linux distro based on Ubuntu. One of it’s key features though is it’s designed to be small and resource light, ideal therefore for small comparatively underpowered computers like the EEE PC. It’s worth saying that installation on a small SSD such as the one in the EEE PC is not without it’s problems – the install dialogs are slightly too tall for the screen which is a pain, and also it won’t install straight off the USB drive. To get it to install you have to boot into Peppermint from the USB drive, use alt-F2 to run a command, and type the following:

gksu gedit /usr/lib/ubiquity/plugins/ubi-prepare.py

Then on line 310, change “min_disk_size = size * 2” to “min_disk_size = size * 1.4

EEE PC 4G Running PeppermintThen you need to run the installer using the icon on the desktop. After that though it all works.

You are obviously still limited by the screen resolution, however there are big improvements through the fact that Peppermint uses Chrome as it’s browser rather than the increasingly bloated Firefox. Out of the box the distro is trying to be a network connected OS so it provides links to Google Docs and Google Calendar rather than trying to squeeze office software on. It’s pretty straightforward to install Skype, which makes the little EEE PC a nice little device to use for video Skype calls. However across the board the little Asus feels more swift at doing what is asked of it rather than the sluggish performance I was seeing with other installs.

In fact I was so impressed that I tried the 64-bit version of Peppermint out on another old PC, my Evesham Laptop that has long since been gathering dust under my desk. Sadly although the OS works beautifully on the Evesham, it can’t cope with the dodgy power problems the rather badly assembled Evesham has suffered from – basically the PC gets increasingly hot until a loose connection around the power supply cuts out and the machine shuts down. Something for a hardware engineer to sort out at some point I suspect.

Anyway if you’ve got an old EEEPC around and want a fun little project to resurrect it, I can certainly recommend giving Peppermint OS a go. Whilst it’s not going to be rivalling a modern machine once it’s done, it does give you a perfectly usable little computer at the end.

12 thoughts on “Breathing New Life into an EEE PC 4G Surf”

  1. I have been testing Peppermint2 from a live usb stick and Mint 10 Live from sd card on my eee 4g surf. I noticed that the Fn 8 and Fn 9 don’t affect volume as expected. Is this a function of “live” or do you have the same issue when installed?
    Have you noticed any other limitations?

  2. ok I sorted that out… had to hit Fn then F8 etc. Anyway, just tried unsuccessfully to install Peppermint. Other than the above line 130 change, do I need to change anything in the bios ie advanced/os install or fast boot?

  3. I completed the install of Peppermint on my Asus eee 4G Surf following the above directions but want to bypass the grub menu.
    Sometimes the unit starts right up into the OS as I have set autolgin but at other times it first stops at the grub menu.
    When that happens I can sometimes just hit enter and it goes to OS. Other times, it brings the grub menu back up and I have to do a hard restart which sometimes solves the problem but other times I have to repeat the hard restart.
    I can’t determine a pattern. Happens whether on battery or direct power.

  4. Thanks for your reply and original post with special settings Richard. How did you ever arrive at those settings??
    I still haven’t figured out why the EEE 4G Surf unit brings up the grub menu and only intermittently.
    I have tried with and without battery, quick boot and quiet boot on and off and nothing seems to affect the (in)frequency.
    I changed the timeout from 10 to seconds as well but no change.

  5. I’ve been trying this with the Peppermint 3 release, but the ubi-prepare.py file does not contain the min_disk_size line.

    Also the installer window is taller than the screen height, so the buttons cannot be seen.

    Any ideas please?

    1. Hi Chris,

      I’ve not as yet tried putting Peppermint 3 onto my EEE PC so I’m afraid I can’t offer any advice. You might like to try the main Peppermint site, see if they can be of any help.

      With regards to the button problem I’ve had it on other installs – generally if all else fails I end up running the same install on a copy of Peppermint I have in a virtual machine, and then tabbing around the buttons. Bit of a clunky way around but it generally works.

      1. Ok, rather late on the reply but got here looking for the same answer.

        he’re what I found :

        sudo gedit /usr/lib/ubiquity/ubiquity/misc.py

        Line 796 (very near the bottom) will read:-

        min_disk_size = size * 2 # fudge factor.

        Change that to read:-

        min_disk_size = size * 1.4 # fudge factor.

        SAVE the file.

        Now run the installer

        Ubiquity will now only require a 3.1GB drive 🙂

        Grabbed from
        http://linuxforums.org.uk/index.php?topic=10372.0

  6. how do i add Adobe flash so i can view vidoes online… I down load it but can’t execute it. It asks for “Launch Application” – so is it and how do I do it?

  7. I have spent most of the day trying and failing to install various versions of Peppermint on an old Eee PC 3g. I would select the option to boot the OS but it would simply hang towards the end of the boot sequence. (When I tried Peppermint 4 which actually had a progress bar, it made it to 99% before apparently freezing.) Anyone else have this problem?

  8. I discovered that there is a lightweight version of windows 7 (called Tiny7) made by eXperience that takes up 2.6 gigs of space on the eeePC. you need to go to the asus website and download graphics drivers for XP (run them in compatiility mode).

    Finnally i installed the offline installer of chrom (normak doesnt work) and then install .net framewrok 4.5 AFTERWARDS, if you install .net framework before chrome wont install.

    i was unable to find a link to tiny7 that doesn’t use torrents so google it.
    good luck

    p.s tiny7 runs like a dream on it, you could plug it into nother display and (maybe) use it as a PC but multitasking would be dodgy.

    good luck
    ~Caleb
    (kay-leb)

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