Tag Archives: Laptop


ASUS eeePC with Evesham Laptop

Ever since Psion pulled out of the PDA market I’ve been on the look-out for a device that gave me the calendar/diary functionality that I had with my Series 5, but allowed me to work on the move without having to lug a laptop around. With the PDA market heading in the direction of portrait orientation touch screens, although I’ve been able to get calendar and diary functionality, there has never been a keyboard equipped device that has really met my needs, such that my Series 5 periodically gets dusted off when I need something small on which to type.

The big issue with carrying on with just the Series 5 however has been the lack of communication options. It has neither Bluetooth or Wi-Fi functionality, so getting the kind of web and e-mail access I can get even from a device like an iPod Touch.

Just before Christmas, ASUS, a Tiwanese technology company better known for producing components rather than whole devices came out with a new sub-notebook called the eeePC – the name coming from their slogan that it is “Easy to learn, Easy to work and Easy to playâ€? with the device. In a slight bit of irony, some are classing the computer into a new category called Netbooks – one of the last Psion products was the Psion Netbook a sub-notebook of similar size to the eeePC that once again pre-empts many of the ideas that the wider market is now exploring many years before they became fashionable.

The eeePC is pretty limited by modern standards, coming with a relatively slow processor, limited RAM, and a solid-state drive that varies between 2Gb and 8Gb depending on the model. Operating system wise it ships with a version of Xandros Linux, but it does include full instructions and the relevant drivers to allow Windows XP to be installed. However the switch to Windows XP would bring a serious nose-dive in terms of the performance of the device. The other compromise in terms of design is the screen, which is a small 7“ screen that displays only 800480 pixels.

The target market for the device is apparently education, certainly indicated by the choice of RM as a distributor in the UK. The units are very much built to a price, are intended to be robust – the only moving part is a small fan to keep it cool – but that doesn’t need to run often. Out of the box the suite of software includes a modern web browser in the form of Firefox, and also an install of OpenOffice an open source office application suite that can quite happily cope with the various standard document formats. Alongside this it has Skype support – including video on the webcam equipped models with the latest software updates – and can hook up to most IM networks. It even has a copy of Kontact to provide PIM functionality. There are a few educational applications, but it is targeted primarily as a small, easy to use device for producing documents and browsing the internet.

Having said that, they are also being sold to consumers, ASUS seeing that such a device might be popular outside education circles. With a retail price of £250 for the mid-range 4Gb model, they have been flying off the shelves, with resellers often warning that availability was difficult.

Evesham, ASUS eeePC and Psion 5mx

After the initial rush though, and with a new higher spec model about to appear, the demand has slowed somewhat, such that I could just walk into our local PCWorld in Reading yesterday and pick one up. They didn’t have the full range of colours however – although Expansys, RM and Clove list anything other than the black or white as delayed or unavailable – so I couldn’t get a black one. However when I asked they did have the blue and green units that seem to be like gold dust everywhere else. More than that when I enquired further, the assistant said that they had 26 of the blue, and similar numbers of the green. Certainly if you’re in the market for an eeePC, especially if you want a coloured model, it might be worth checking out your local PCWorld rather than going for one of the internet retailers.

So what’s it like in use? The keyboard is a little cramped, but has more space than my Series 5. Screen wise some of the websites don’t quite fit in, but generally it’s a nice little machine. I had no trouble hooking it up to my router either via a wire or wirelessly. It even quite happily read the memory card out of my camera in the built in reader. There are some more things to try however. It has an external VGA port, so can apparently drive a full size screen or projector. It also includes three USB ports so it will be interesting to try some USB devices (some of the 3G USB modems apparently do work). It’s nowhere near the size of the Series 5, however as a small, easily portable device for reading e-mails, writing documents and browsing the web on the go it is great, and an absolute bargain for £250.

Got a Flash New Laptop?

Got a Flash New Laptop? Make sure you allow loads more time to get through security when you fly – as the security staff are sure to stop you to check it out in detail. Have a read of Steve Jobs Made Me Miss My Flight for the story of what happened the first time Michael Nygard travelled with his MacBook Air. Hat tip to Scoble for the link.

A Challenge

I got an e-mail from a friend yesterday with a bit of a challenge. They currently have an original 15 inch MacBook Pro and are looking to upgrade. The laptop primarily gets used under Windows, so they are trying to find an equivalent PC rather than have to pay out for a copy of Windows on top of the copy of OS X that will come with the machine. The challenge is set out below:

Men (and woman) of geeky tendencies, I require your assistance.

If I wanted a portable machine with a ~15� screen, at least 1440900 res, with a graphics card comparable to a NVIDIA GeForce 8600M GT, what should I get?

It’ll need to support 3Gb of RAM (maybe 4Gb if I go 64bit), and be capable enough to run many virtual machines, as well as all the latest games with prettiness turned up (UT3, I’m looking at you.). Would be nice it were no heavier than 2.5Kg.

The 2007 edition of the MacBook Pro ticks a lot of boxes, but I’m not sure about paying the OSX tax to get what will in effect be just another XP laptop.

What are Sony, Toshiba, HP, Dell, Alienware etc doing in the lightweight gaming laptop space? Have I missed out a manufacturer who is doing great things? What would you recommend?

All opinions welcome!

My thoughts are that there aren’t many options at the moment since many of the laptops in that form factor come with on board graphics which are not really suitable for gaming.

I also think that you’ll struggle to find a design quite as sleek as the MacBook Pro since Apple are building machines using a custom chassis whereas the majority of the rest build their machines with off-the-shelf parts. Having said that, I’m probably totally biased in that I have an Apple machine as my main box and probably wouldn’t run a MacBook Pro in anything other than OS X!

So, anyone got any suggestions?

US Baggage Screening 1 – Laptop 0

You might remember my posting recently over the effect of the new hand baggage restrictions on those who travel with laptops. Well last week one of my colleagues at work had a good demonstration of this, or more precisely what effect the restrictions have when combined with the US policy of searching checked baggage behind the scenes without having the owner of the bag present, and also the ban on Dell laptops on some airlines.

Because of all the restrictions, my work colleague decided to pack his laptop into his checked baggage rather than carry it. As a laptop is a fairly fragile thing at the best of times, he was careful to pack it in the middle of his suitcase, made sure it was padded on all sides, and also that nothing solid was close that could potentially damage the machine.

However in the course of the journey, US security cut open his suitcase and rummaged through. Did they pack it with the same care as he had done? Of course not – these guys are searching hundreds of bags a day, and need to get the job done as quickly as possible, so they just shoved everything back into the case. The result? One laptop with a busted screen thanks to the repacking carried out at security, which resulted in the top of the laptop getting squashed down and the screen getting cracked.

Travelling with a Computer

Over the past couple of weeks, life for the business traveller has got rather more difficult. Immediately following the major security alert ten days ago, everything including the precious laptops were being checked. Whilst bag thefts have gone up as a result, there is no details of how many laptops have not made it out the other end in one piece.

However things improved a bit with the new regulations. Laptops no longer have to be checked, but the restriction is to a single bag, that dimension wise is about the same as a small laptop. If your laptop is small enough, you can now carry it, but you won’t be able to carry much else.

This of course provoked a good deal of discussion as to what might happen in the longer term. There is evidence that more business travellers are turning to private jets. However for the majority of people who will have to use regular planes, people will have to find ways to reduce what they carry. Certainly I can see smaller laptops becoming more popular for example the Flybook, with maybe a place for the Ultra-mobile PC. However the discussion left me thinking that what you really need is something that is portable, but can cope with being chucked in the hold if the alert level is raised again at short notice. If the baggage handlers are going to fling your suitcase around, even with a solid case rather than the more common soft sided laptop bags, a hard drive is still going to be shocked and jarred around. So effectively you need something solid state.

This led me back to thinking about my Psion 5mx (and I’m not alone), that I replaced with a Dell Axim a while back, and it’s bigger brother, the Series 7 and netBook. Although Psion stopped producing most of the machines a number of years ago, they are still pretty popular in some circles, with machines changing hands for reasonable amounts of money on eBay, and a number of mainstream companies still selling the machines. Indeed in amongst the latest toys, Expansys will still sell you an apparently new netBook. The netBook is sub-laptop size, comes with word processing, spreadsheet, diary, e-mail, basically plenty to keep someone productive whilst travelling. It even has wireless support so it can hook up to a local hotspot whilst travelling. But the key advantage is it is solid state, so nothing fragile to get broken. Of course it’s not a new suggestion – I commented on an article proposing using the Series 7 a few months ago, and it’s pretty easy to find happy customers picking up second hand models online for example here and here. There are also people who still carry around a Psion 5mx despite also carrying more recent devices.

Evesham Laptop with Psion 5mx

Even my little Psion 5mx is a worthwhile option – I’ve certainly used it on planes before. The battery life is fantastic compared to modern PDA’s, and laptops, and although it is small it has a proper keyboard, so I can type documents on it, and then tidy them up on a PC later. Take a look at the picture to see it in comparison to my laptop – which one would you rather carry around?

The simple fact is that modern PDA’s are essentially PC companions. Whilst Psion maintained they were producing PDA’s, the Psion 3 was probably the best PDA they produced – indeed there are people still using them today almost ten years after their heyday, and fifteen years after the first one appeared. The Psion 5 was really too big, and although they tried to redress the balance with the Psion Revo the balance was swinging towards the Palm idea of a PDA, without a keyboard.

In some ways, Psion were aiming slightly differently, and were producing pocket sized personal computers – certainly all the time I used my Psion 5 and 5mx I wasn’t synchronising them with anything else. My Dell spends most of it’s time hooked up to a desktop PC, and working in tandem with Outlook. Although it can play games, browse the internet, read e-mail and so on, it is tedious to actually write even short e-mails on it – I certainly can’t write up documents in the same way as I could on a Psion. Even years after it went out of production, the Psion 5 is still king when it comes to entering data quickly, just take a look at this comparison that lists data entry speeds for the current crop of devices – then scroll down to the speed for the 5mx for the same test…

Anyway, all the talk about the effects of the new regulations inspired me to dig out my trusty old 5mx. The batteries were all dead, but a couple of new Duracells and a standard CR2032 Lithium battery, all of which I could get at the local Tesco rather than a specialist retailer, and it started up fine. The contents of the internal ‘drive’ had gone when the batteries had died, but the add on CF card still contained data. Having put PsiWin onto my PC it also synced my current calendar, contacts and e-mail straight on without problems – even including the notes I have attached to some of the calendar entries. Certainly it seemed just as robust and stable as always. Bear in mind that on the same day I had to reboot the Axim four times after it repeatedly locked up talking to ActiveSync. As I mentioned before, the only thing that is a pain is linking to a mobile phone (no Bluetooth, only line-of-sight infra-red), and no networking. If someone would produce an updated 5mx with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi it would be great. However the current owners of the platform are focusing on phones, and whilst it may be exactly what most people lugging laptops onto aircraft actually need, the commercial wisdom is that nobody wants a pocket sized computer.