January 22, 2013

The death of the netbooks?

It's been over four years since I bought my ASUS Eee PC 1000h. I have used it almost daily ever since. Back when I bought it new models from different brands were being released every few months due to the netbooks hype.

In spite of being resource-limited due to its 1.60 GHz Atom CPU and only 1 GB of RAM, I've managed to do pretty much everything with it. Building software is slow and watching HD videos is nearly impossible, even more so when streamed from the internet and played with flash. Its limited memory capacity makes the kernel swap tens of megabytes before the KDE4 desktop is fully loaded. After launching some day-to-day applications there are usually hundreds of MBs in swap.

In spite of all this, I run the KDE4 desktop and have been able to do things such as running up to two Debian virtual machines with several services (apache httpd, mysql server, openldapd, squid, etc.) and a Windows XP one all at the same time, under virtualbox. I could have probably booted another Debian virtual machine but that would have most likely rendered the DE unusable. Oh, and did I say that this is under the "VT-x"-less N270 CPU?

This so-called netbook has proved to be rock-solid. Every component is still fully functional except for its 7-hours lasting battery that didn't stand a full year of day-to-day use. The keyboard is still intact and so is everything else.

Last year I thought I was going to have to seriously consider buying a replacement after seeing what I think are some signs of the end of its life: After a routinely deep cleanup the keyboard stopped working properly, to the point that I couldn't even login because half the keyboard would send the signal of a totally unrelated key. I bought an external, but still small, USB keyboard which I used until after the next deep-cleanup somehow made the built-in keyboard work again.

The second sign came soon after the keyboard issue. The AC adapter was, well, no longer supplying power to the machine. Trying to buy one online proved to be futile. Replacement supplies for ASUS equipment are hard to find here in Mexico and importing them from the US results in the item being twice (or more) as expensive due to import taxes. They are even more expensive when one finally adds up the cost of shipping.

Hopefully, after spending some hours hunting down the failure in the adapter it turned out to be a problem with the wires. Cut wires repaired, the adapter was working again. The unit itself wasn't at fault.

Back to 2013, this netbook is ageing and every time I've looked at potential replacements I've found none that I like. I look for another netbook/ultrabook/laptop/whatever that is rock-solid, with a 10.1" or 11" display, and has a similarly compact but not oh-so-small-that-I-can't-even-type-by-only-using-my-fingertips keyboard.

The only devices that have caught my eye are the ASUS transformers (with the dock). I'm not interested in a device that only has 1 GB of memory and something between 32 to 64 GB of storage, however. I'm limited enough with my eee's 160GB hdd.

For my needs, the pre-installed Android would have to go away and I guess it would be fun to get a transformer to run under a standard Debian linux kernel. Since I'm not interested in doing that kind of kernel work the transformers are out of the question.

Based on this I think I can only partially agree with Russell Coker when he states that
If tablet computers with hardware keyboards replace traditional Netbooks that's not really killing Netbooks but introducing a new version of the same thing.
Tablets with hardware keyboards may, perhaps, be the next generation of the less than 10" netbooks, but to date I've yet to see something with a display smaller than 13" that is an upgrade over the 1000h Eee I own.

4 comments:

  1. "to date I've yet to see something with a display smaller than 13" that is an upgrade over the 1000h"

    I think that an Asus f201e or Acer Aspire One 756 or Acer Travelmate b113e or some similar model with a 11.6 inches display and dual core non-atom cpu would be a hell of an upgrade over the 1000h, are any of them available in mexico?

    I personally own an old (2009) Acer Aspire 1810tz, with core 2 duo, 4gb of ram (and up to 8), over 6 hours of battery life, a 1366x768 11.6 inches display and a keyboard bigger than the 1000h. The following models were possibly even better with up to sandy bridge cpus, but Acer discontinued them for this ultrabook overpriced thing.

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    1. They sell none of them in Mexico. Most stores only have a few netbooks left in stock and they are usually Aspire Ones. I don't even take a quick glance at them since I entirely dislike their keyboard.

      I'm not looking for a big boost in CPU or even memory, but I wouldn't buy one with a Celeron either. 2 GB for an x86 would be fine, or 4 GB for an x86-64.

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  2. You can always upgrade your RAM up to 2GB. And replace the disk. And keyboard.

    While you are satisfied with your 'horsepower,' you can always replace/upgrade other parts, obtainable very affordably from eBay (opt for 'Free shipping' only for best selection of goods directly from China). :)

    Otherwise definitely, tablets with keyboard docks are apparently the future.

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  3. I hope that you figure out a way to keep your netbook up and running, or to find a replacement. I just refurbished an Asus 1015PX for my own use, loading it with Mint 13. The netbook was not for everyone, but those of us willing to work with it using software more suitable to the low-power hardware have found the netbook to be a reliable and highly mobile way to work and play online.

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