Every now and again I get tired of typing “1.6GHz Intel Atom N270 CPU, 10.2 inch, 1024 x 600 pixel display, Windows XP, 1GB of RAM and 160GB HDD.” And then I stop and think, well at least the Emtec Gdium netbook should be available soon. Emtec’s first foray into the netbook space may look a lot like a typical netbook, but it breaks the mold in a couple of significant ways.

First, it doesn’t have a hard drive, or an internal solid state disk. Instead, the entire operating system runs from a USB flash drive called the G-Key. This allows family members, colleagues, or classmates to share a single computer while saving all of their settings, preferences, and data to individual flash drives.

Second, the Gdium Liberty 1000 doesn’t use an Intel, VIA, or even AMD processor. Instead it uses a 64-bit 900MHz Loongson CPU. The netbook also runs a custom version of Mandriva Linux.

When I caught up with Emtec at CES in January, I was told that running the operating system from a removable flash drive does take a toll on performance, but not a huge hit. But Laptop Magazine’s Joanna Stern got to spend some time with an Emtec Gdium Liberty 1000 netbook, and in a detailed review she says the $350 netbook feels sluggish when compared to similar products in the same price range.

The good news is that the operating system works reasonably well (although installing applications like Skype that aren’t in the repositories is tricky), and the keyboard is nice. But the computer chassis reportedly gets quite warm, the touchpad is small and hard to use, and it takes a while to launch programs or cycle through running applications.

I’m hoping to get a demo unit to check out for myself, but while the Gdium Liberty 1000 certainly breaks the netbook mold, it sounds like it also points out why the mold exists in the first place. Still, it’s good to see a few companies thinking outside of the box. Eventually one of them will hit upon some innovative new idea that could really take off.

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9 replies on “Emtec Gdium Liberty 1000 reviewed, stands out from the crowd”

  1. BoloMKXXVIII: “The same thing can be accomplished…running a standard distro off of a USB key.”

    This was my take also. Couldn’t teachers just hand out the USB drives with the an appropriate small Linux install and all the software needed in the class? The students could then use it on whatever computer they had at home or any inexpensive PC the school could provide.

    I thought the use of the Chinese-made Loongson processor, lack of a hard drive, lack of Windows, etc, was going to allow a lower price than US $350.

    Also, earlier Brad said: “The netbook uses a 900MHz MIPS-based Loongson processor, which means it ain’t going to run Windows anytime soon.” I’m just a beginner with Linux and not much of a processor scholar, but, since the software on the Gdium keys is designed for the Loongson processor, chipset, etc, doesn’t this mean that the keys would not be compatible on other computers?

    If so, students could not use whatever home PCs they already have and would be required to take home their Gdium or buy one for home use. This would defeat the whole idea of the ultra-portability of the Gdium keys, which would be a very compelling argument for the use of other types of Linux USB-drive keys. Maybe someone can straighten me out on this.

    Also, their price for extra keys is significantly greater than the going price for the same size blank keys. Why not just copy your initial key onto cheaper blank keys?

    Other than the above considerations, I think the Gdium is a very nifty idea 🙂

    1. Laptop Mag says that the Gdium Liberty will not be able to run other
      operating systems from USB keys… but I’m guessing this is a BIOS issue
      which could probably be overcome by a clever hacker…

      1. This is interesting, but I’m really more curious about the converse of this, whether or not the G-keys could be, for example, taken home, to the library, or out of town and used on other computers with Windows, other Linux distros, etc. If not, then I think an ordinary Linux install on a USB key could be much cheaper and more versatile.

        Now that USB flash drives are so big and cheap, they should accomodate distros much bigger than Knoppix or Damn Small Linux (usually used for this sort of thing) plus plenty of other apps for student work.

  2. I have been told they have an updated model in the works for “next year” –
    Which might be anytime between October and CES next January.
    No details at all. Sorry.

  3. I give them credit for “stepping outside the box”, but don’t really see much of a benefit to this. The same thing can be accomplished with a conventional netbook and either portableapps or running a standard distro off of a USB key.

  4. It’s an interesting idea…for students. Think about it: why go to the trouble of giving all your kids laptops when you can just give them G-keys? Chances are they all have PCs at home anyway. As long as there’s some way to plug it into that home box, you can have the students all use PCs in every class…without buying them all PCs.

    Other than that, and other places this might be useful(Can’t think of any off the top of my head, but I’m sure each is singularly unique.)…I’m not sure I see quite where the box fits.

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