Asus Eee PC X101

Asus hasn’t started shipping the Eee PC X101 netbook in the US yet, but our friends at Eee in Italy got their hands on one the $200 mini-notebook powered by a 1.33 GHz Intel Atom N435 processor and MeeGo Linux operating system. They’ve posted a detailed reivew, along with a few videos that include English subtitles.

Here’s the short version: The hardware is pretty much what you’d expect from a cheap netbook, with a somewhat cramped keyboard, a 3 cell battery that’s good for a little under four hours of run time, and a matte display. The unit featured in the review also provides easy access to the RAM, solid state disk, and other internal components which should make the netbook easy to upgrade. It’s possible some models might not include an access panel.

But the reviewer was underwhelmed by the MeeGo Linux experience. While the computer was reasonably responsive, has a decent web browser, and can run software, but the app store doesn’t offer much in the way of third party applications.

Of course, it’s possible that once we start to see more MeeGo netbooks hit the streets developers will add applications to the Intel AppUp Center (which is what the Asus app store is based on). On the other hand, there’s nothing preventing you from picking up a cheap Eee PC X101 and installing your own favorite operating system on it. Ubuntu Linux is a popular choice among netbook users, and folks have been installing versions of Ubuntu on Asus netbooks since the first Eee PC was launched way back in 2007.

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13 replies on “Asus Eee PC X101 MeeGo netbook reviewed”

  1. I think it’s going to be a real challenge to add a lot of applications to MeeGo Linux.  One of Linux’s problems when used as a desktop application is all of the RMS-inspired “all software must be free” dogma [1].  

    This makes it very difficult to make a commercial application for Linux, because any attempt to do so results in a lot of “you should make your program free” fallback from all of the anonymous freetards on the ‘net (I remember Softmaker being flamed by commenters on one Linux web pages for making their for-pay office suite available)

    Quite bluntly, I don’t think the Linux version of this netbook is going to last very long.  Every time a Linux-based netbook has come out, it has fairly quickly been replaced by a Windows netbook. [2]

    There just are not enough desktop users willing to fork out money for Linux.  Indeed, ASUS is hedging their bets by also having the X101H that fully supports Windows 7.

    – Sam

    [1] Having met RMS, I have a great deal of respect for him.  He is a very kind person and I respect him for his level of passion for Free (libre) software.  I also am really glad GNU/Linux is a reality today; it makes an industry strength server available for anyone willing to download and learn to use it.  UNIX would have been killed by Windows NT if it wasn’t for the free UNIX variants.

    [2] I do, however, thank Linux for being so cheap that it forced Microsoft to come out with low-cost versions of Windows XP and Windows 7 starter.

    1. This is one “freetard” that’s lovin’ it and proud to be called one! Just bought a new Lenovo S10-3, wiped Win 7 off it and installed Ubuntu that just ran straight ouf of the box – wi-fi, webcam, bluetooth and all.

      You’re likely right about one thing – Meego is not going to make it big time. There are too many Linux distros out there that can take its place and use the tens of thousands of freetard software available under these systems from the “app stores” that had already been in existence for quite a number of years.

      Even kids at 10 and 11 years of age are installing Linux distros into their PCs, notebooks and netbooks on their own without any help e.g. Deepin Linux from China and, of course, Ubuntu which is still being used 3 years after they started, in preference to Windows. New teenage converts to Linux (Ubuntu, Mint, Kubuntu, etc.) are using Windows less and less, one reason being that Win 7 is taking longer to boot, running slower, with programs crashing more often, so they boot into Ubuntu 90% of the time unless they want to play Windows games. How do I know? I’m a teacher and the students use only Ubuntu on the notebooks and netbooks I loan them.

      Meego was a the mistake when its developers tried to go it alone banking on a household name big player like Intel to get the majority to jump onto their bandwagon, instead of just putting out a distro based, e.g. on Debian, and then tweak everything to optimize it for netbook use. Ubuntu Unity, as it matures, stands a good chance of displacing Meego as the Linux distro of choice for netbooks and even gobble up a nice chunk of the tablet market.

      1. I think I should clarify what I mean by the word “freetard”.  I define a “freetard” as someone who either:

        1) Believes that all software should be free 

        2) Believes Free Software is always superior to proprietary software and reacts to legitimate criticisms of Free Software either with denial or with belligerence. 

        I don’t like “type 2” freetards because they are not being honest with themselves.  I really don’t like “type 1” freetards because they are telling me that time I invest developing software has no monetary value and that I should not be paid for my hard work.  

        Yes, it’s rude to use the word “freetard”.  But, then again, it’s rude for someone to tell me “your hard work developing software should have a monetary value of $0.00”.

        Here is an example of type 1 freetards flaming a software company for trying to sell an office suite for Linux:

        You mentioned that there is a huge repository of software available for Debian-based distributions (Ubuntu, etc.)  All of that software has one feature in common: It is free software, and neither “dpkg” nor “apt-get” have a command line switch for sending money to developers who did the hard work making all of that software.

        As a consequence, the software is of variable quality.  There is no guarantee that a given software package is still being updated or maintained.  Without them getting paid, there is no real motivation for them to continue working on a piece of software.

        In terms of young people getting turned on by Linux, and the year of the Linux desktop coming soon (I know you didn’t say “year of the Linux desktop”, but it had the same tone), I have heard promises of the year of the Linux desktop ever since it first came out.  It’s been two decades, and Linux has, at best, a 1% to 2% desktop market share.  

        The Linux community really should look at this and figure out just what it is that makes people use Windows instead.  Until the Linux community is honest with themselves and takes responsibility for Linux’ issues, Linux will continue to be a marginal player in the desktop market.

  2. When the reviewer shows the MeeGo system profiler at about time index 4:30 in the first video, I note that 63% of the 7.3 GB of storage is in use, leaving only 2.7 GB for more applications, media and other user files, etc.  I don’t know how much “content” he loaded on the machine before shooting the review, but if it’s not much (and I didn’t see any mention of, say, ripped DVDs in the videos), then that (nominal) 8 GB is already pretty full out of the box.  Brad, when you get your (U.S.) review copy, could you make a note of what the initial free capacity is?

    Also, it looked like he had to pry off a screw plug (time index 2:56) to open the large door covering the RAM, SSD, and WiFi modules; that’s where I’d expect to find a “warranty void if removed” seal if, as threatened, Asus is going to hinder user upgrades.  Can you check this, and the documentation, for roadblocks like this?  Finally, the product webpage (quoted in the video, time index 3:09) still says it’s a 2.5″ SATA SSD, which is manifestly not the case; when you get your hands on one, can you ID exactly what the module actually is (unless you can tell at sight from the video — I’m not that savvy) in case a user who needs more than 2.7 GB decides to install a bigger one?

    BTW, on the subject of Linux laptops, not only the Starling 10″ netbook but also the Lemur 13.3″ “almost-ultrabook” have now disappeared from the System76 website.  I did get an email from them confirming that the Starling wouldn’t be back; I didn’t ask about the Lemur.  So, X101 plus 2 GB RAM for $210, or maybe plus bigger SSD for more $$, vs. ZaReason Teo Pro plus 2 GB RAM for twice as much.  Even if I’m going to ditch MeeGo and go the DIY Ubuntu route (vs. pre-installed from the ZaReason factory), I think I’ll go with the X101 anyway for its light weight and low cost — unless somebody out there can tell me, from personal experience, of a specific inexpensive netbook I can buy on which some specific standard Linux distro like Ubuntu “just works,” without fscking around with kernel parameters and driver backports and other voodoo?

    1. >I did get an email from them confirming that the Starling wouldn’t be backa specific inexpensive netbook I can buy on which some specific standard Linux distro like Ubuntu “just works”<

      Everything works out of the box with models of the Lenovo S10-3 that use the Atheros WiFi card. Newer S10-3 computers with the Broadcom WiFi card will need a "click and say 'I agree'" while connected to the Internet via a LAN cable in Ubuntu 10.04; in a RHEL6 clone, one will need to download and compile a kernel module to get the Broadcom WiFi to work.

      I have gotten reports that other N455 based netbooks are pretty much the same–everything works, with the possible exception of needing to fiddle some to get WiFi working.

      I had issues booting a 10.10 64-bit Ubuntu kernel on my netbook; it never worked. Also, with RHEL6, upgrading the kernel can cause the system to freeze while in initrd at bootup.

    2. On the drive space…

      Asus Eee PC’s typically have a restoration partition, instead of providing a backup recovery disc.  So part of the drive space is used to store the backup image file for the restore.

      1. I seem to recall reading (can’t find where at the moment) that, because of the tiny SSD, the X101 would forgo the restoration partition.  Instead, upon the first “virgin” bootup, the machine offers you a chance to create a restore volume on a thumbdrive; you can use this to reinstall factory software later.  My understanding is that this only happens on the initial bootup because the image that’s copied to the thumbdrive is then deleted to free up space.

        On the other hand, the main partition shows up as 7.3 GB in the video; if those are 1024^3 gigabytes, that translates to 7.8 GB of the 1000^3 type, which rounds to 8, so the quoted 7.3 GB _could_ be a single partition for the whole drive. On the other hand, it might also mean that 0.7 GB (8.0 – 7.3) or so is used for a restore partition, swap partition, etc.  Brad-san, another thing to check when you get your review copy…

        BTW, on the subject of the Lenovo S10-3 that’s recommended as a machine that “just works” with a standard Ubuntu install, I note that it appears to have disappeared from the company’s website.  If that’s out of production, does anybody have a second choice?

        1. >on the subject of the Lenovo S10-3 that’s recommended as a machine that “just works” with a standard Ubuntu install, I note that it appears to have disappeared from the company’s website<

          It's no longer on Lenovo's web site, but it's readily available either new or used at Amazon or from any of a myriad number of resellers on Ebay.

          – Sam

        2. If that’s the case, it makes it pretty appealing to me. Having a backup on a thumb drive was something I was wondering about (be it on the first boot or by some program in MeeGo itself.)

          This plus a cheap 250GB HDD could be nice to play with Meego and a couple other Linux distros. I just don’t know what I’d honestly do with the 8GB SSD left over except to keep it as a 2nd MeeGo backup. 8GB even with cloud computing is awful small.

        3. X101 can’t use a regular 2.5″ hard drive, it’s configured with a Mini PCIe form factor SSD.  Though it’s not yet known if it’s a Flash_Con, like Asus early Eee PC’s used, or the newer mSATA standard but likely the later.

          Only the X101H comes pre-configured with a hard drive but model is a little thicker and needs to be disassembled to reach the drive.

          However, they do sell Mini PCIe form factor SSDs.  So you could still upgrade to a larger capacity drive, which for a 50mm size card should presently max out at 64GB until they increase the capacity density.

        4. Thanks for the heads up. I guess they didn’t shoehorn a 2.5 in there.
          All the same, at this point, I’m tempted to get a different netbook. For just a little more coin, you can get something with better battery life, better processor, bigger HDD (though slower), BT, and can just throw MeeGo on after the fact. Seems like all you’ll miss is the (nice) small form factor and the Asus branded Intel AppUp store.
          Such a shame because I’d really like to try this out but there are too many negatives for the small price difference IMO.

  3. It’s just like the early Eee PCs with the crippled Xandros OS.  I don’t know why they don’t just pre-install Ubuntu, Mint, Mandriva, OpenSuse, Fedora or Debian.  At least these distros have decent support and a host of decent applications.  I use Ubuntu on the desktop and with the exception of two programs (Reaper for audio production with my 8 in/out audio card and Karafun for portable karaoke on my laptop) I would never need to use windows again.

    1. Let’s see… Learning curve is greater than Windows and OSX (Linux requires a generally higher knowledge base)… Support is limited to whoever is maintaining the distro at any particular time and since they’re not a company then they can’t be held liable when things go wrong… Driver support is limited if open drivers aren’t available, and that can make updates take longer… Not every hardware company supports linux drivers and that limits manufacturers what parts they could use… Not all distros are optimized for low performing hardware…

      And all that is before we even factor the influence Intel and MS have on the market, which doesn’t leave many companies many choices unless they are willing to take a risk or need a OS for a product that most OS won’t run on.

      So there’s a combination of reasons… But nothing is stopping you from wiping the drive and installing your favorite distro on it instead…

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