The year was 2007. Asus had already released the first Eee PC mini-laptop with a 7 inch display and a custom Linux distribution in Taiwan, and now it was available for purchase in the United States. Living in New York City at the time, I was able to run down to the (now defunct) J&R Electronics shop and pick one up for $400.

It was the little laptop that gave birth to the netbook era, and after tens of thousands of people watched my (objectively pretty horrible) unboxing video, I realized I wasn’t the only person intrigued by these small, inexpensive laptops. After sharing some thoughts on my personal website for a little while, I eventually launched the blog that became Liliputing, and I’ve been writing about mobile tech and related topics ever since… even though netbooks have arguably come and gone.

Asus Eee PC 701

Last week The Verge’s Nilay Patel was apparently feeling a bit nostalgic, as he published an article remembering (and possibly questioning the impact of) the Eee PC line of mini-laptops.

As someone who’s been covering this space for over a decade, I’m not sure if netbooks actually died off or if they simply evolved. A question I still have is whether they paved the way for the ubiquitous thin and light laptops that we see today or if that was a trend that would have occurred with or without the netbook.

But it’s still kind of fascinating to me that at a time when miniaturization usually came with a premium price tag (the Toshiba Libretto wasn’t cheap), and the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project was trying to change that with some innovative new hardware, Asus decided to take some cheap off-the-shelf parts, cram them together into a computer that was just (barely) good enough for basic tasks, and sell it as an entirely new class of computer.

And it worked. For a while. And then most major PC makers left the space, only to occasionally try their hand with related-but-different products like low-end tablets or Chromebooks.

These days some folks look at mini-laptops like the GPD Pocket and One Mix line of devices and call them netbooks. But I think their high price tags put them in an entirely different category. For me, “netbook” meant small, cheap, and (barely) good enough (although I suppose the fact that the maker of the One Mix line of devices chose to call the company “One Netbook” suggests that not everyone goes by my definition).

Anyway, here’s a roundup of recent tech news (and op-eds, I guess) from around the web.

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23 replies on “Lilbits: Remembering the Eee PC, meeting the Fitbit Luxe, and saying goodbye to FTP in Firefox”

  1. I wrote my entire PhD thesis using an ASUS 701 with Xandros. At home I would use it with a borrowed external monitor, a full sized keyboard and mouse, and use ssh + screen to log in to the machines in my university, where I run my code and edit Latex text files, all in the terminal. It was a great little machine. Then I had the HP Mini 2140 and some random 11 inch netbook, which I used for many years, but the ASUS 701 really stole my heart 🙂

  2. I’ve been messing about with my old eee904ha lately. I loved it in the day, it was my only “laptop” for a while. Made music on it, even. But now, with Windows XP, it’s unusable. So the other day I installed MXLinux on it and it’s working beautifully. Now I just need to learn Linux!

  3. I used my Acer Aspire One (Atom N270) until a few years ago, when I “upgraded” to an Asus Transformer (Atom Z3740) as my small form-factor computer. I got a lot of use out of the old guy, mostly running a lot of Diablo II and HOMM3, as well as being my assistant while DM’ing D&D. That being said, there were so many things that were infuriating about it, like opening a PDF or going to a website with more than a minimal amount of dynamic content or media elements. The Transformer eventually turned into my hobby project and is now running full 64-bit Arch, and I also have a seriously-neglected GPD Win. It turns out that smaller isn’t always better.

    I don’t know if I started reading Liliputing during the netbook craze or the tablet craze, but it’s been a source of information that has informed my decision matrix for years. Keep up the great work, Brad!

  4. I bought an Asus Eee 1000h pretty much entirely based on Lilliputing’s coverage. I was living in Taiwan at the time, and I remember going to the tech marketplace in nearby Taichung to pick one up. It was a great little computer! I had Windows on it for a couple years before putting Linux Mint on it. I still have the little guy, but unfortunately it has slowed down quite a bit and can’t really keep up with the functionality I need today.
    In any case, thanks for all the great coverage over the years!

  5. I still have a couple of EeePC’s around, because electronics hoarding(wink). A 1201N(Atom + Nvidia Ion), and 1215p(Atom w/ Intel GPU + Nvidia Ion 2nd gen). With their 4GB ram, and ssds, they’re fine, everything still works(because I store them with the battery out). What strikes me as the worst problem, even over the rubbery keyboard, is the hair-dryer noise always coming out of them, even when just doing nearly nothing(because of their gpus). They will most likely serve out their remaining days, pealed out of their cases, and put into desktop service so that NOISE can be ended. I do think though, that the Netbook and Ultrabook evolved almost at the same time. You can even look at the other Asus models evolving at the same time, and 2-in-1’s started to rear their ugly heads.

  6. Prior to the Eee PC, I had been obsessed with little computers, but couldn’t justify the price tag so I made do with what was available. I wrote much of my master’s thesis sitting in a coffee shop with a Compaq Aero PDA connected to a keyboard. When I was a local news reporter, I picked up used HP Jornada and NEC MobilePro devices from eBay for taking notes on the go. And then I spent some time trying to replace Windows CE with Linux to make them slightly more useful.

    When the Eee PC 701 came along, it seemed like exactly what I was looking for… until I picked up HP MiniBook with a bigger screen and better keyboard a little while later and eventually replaced it with the Asus Eee PC 1000H that I used to cover the Consumer Electronics Show in 2009.

    Within a few years, I had mostly moved on to thin and light laptops with 13.3 inch, higher-resolution displays that were more comfortable to use for viewing multiple apps or windows at the same time, but which weighed as little or less than the Eee PC 1000H.

    But again, who knows if any of that would have come about without the Eee PC? Or maybe it would have and the Eee PC was just an offshoot of trends that were already moving toward thin and light laptops for both the premium and the budget space?

    1. I do think the netbooks of that era played an important role because, bigger companies usually stick to devices with greater contribution margin and usually higher prices and only follow the trend after the early success (or hype) of the Asus, MSI and the like. Besides the low price, I also miss how easy was to upgrade the RAM, HDD/SDD or even the battery. I remember at least Asus offering two versions of batteries.
      Thanks for bringing such lovely memories and I realize that I’ve been following you from probably the beginning of Liliputing. I really like your reviews and your style, congratulations and keep up your great job.

        1. Hey Brad, this is just an idea that sprang mostly due this post, I hope you don’t mind and just erase my comment if it’s out of line, and I don’t have anything against the content you share right now, but what about if you redefine your focus on some of the traits that have changed, like size, weight and price and add a section to repairability / upgradeability? because you already cover Linux compatibility. I think you are doing a great job, but I would like to see like a quarterly status of available computers that met those criteria, Like I said just ignore my comment if it feels misplaced. Ohh by the way, I really love too.

  7. I still have the 1005HA I got for $400. Used it for short bursts – but blew my mind on the value it provided for the money. I spend many hours trying to optimize it for better performance and display. And trying to add a HDMI for HTPC. But in the end – there was a proliferation of cheap tables and this fell on the side. But I still have it in pretty much brand new condition. One of these days – I’ll try to replace the HDD with an SSD just for kicks. But its glory days are over.

  8. I never used an Asus Eee PC netbook before. I saw a guy using one at the airport to check his email, and it looked difficult to use. The only netbook I ever had was a Dell Mini 9 that came with Ubuntu. At first, I really enjoyed using it and learning Linux. I especially liked it because it did NOT come with Windows Vista. But after a while, the 8.9 inch screen was barely big enough. The small cramped keyboard with non standard keys was difficult to use. I think the Eee PC would have been even more difficult to use. But I really liked the idea of a small inexpensive netbook idea. I think the 10.1 inch netbook would have been the perfect size. Back then, most normal laptops cost $1000, were big and weighed at least 5 lbs. So, a sub 3 lb netbook for less than half the price sounded great. But nowadays, most sub 14 inch laptops (besides the budget 11.6 inch models) come with “premium flagship” price tags.

  9. To be honest, netbooks were DESTINED to fail upon release. Just think the iPhone 2G already launched, then in some months the more useable iPhone 3G, and iPhone 3GS year and half after that. You knew what sort of things were on the way.

    The iPad 2 was basically the netbook-killer as it wasnt much more expensive, but the User Experience was miles ahead. Android tablets during the 4.0-4.1 days were compelling, but interest from OEMs (and Google) waned pretty quickly after that.

    And before you know it, people replaced all their Personal Computing needs with a “phablet” which was popularized/invented by Samsung. So even medium/small tablets became a niche.

    Cheap laptops suck mostly due to the failure of AMD, the greed by Intel, and the incompetence by Microsoft. ARM devices rule the space in both low-cost and low-power markets. It’s weird but x86 is becoming a niche for Laptop market and Desktop market, but even that’s not safe in the long term future.

  10. Still have my 900HA and it’s still working just fine. My dad used the shit out of his and finally retired it a few months ago after his second battery stopped holding a charge. Not too shabby for a $350 computer bought in 2008!

  11. Still have my EeePC 701G (manually upgraded to WinXP) – still works as far as I know but haven’t fired it up in good while. Used it for a number of projects over the years but always found the wonky 800×480 display to be the biggest drawback.
    I subsequently picked up a 10″ HP Mini 2140 w/ HD display (manually upgraded to Win7) which I still occasionally use. W/ extended battery, good small form-factor for travel if you just need something for light computing tasks. Swapping in an SSD provided a nice performance boost.

  12. I loved my 1000HA. It remains the only computer I have ever bought new. It was surprisingly usable for a very long time, so long as I didn’t try to take it on modern web sites. It was great with Linux and the keyboard was small, yes, but a lot more solid feeling than most consumer grade machines. Upgrading the RAM and hard drive was dead simple. Overall one of the better tech purchases I’ve ever made.

    1. I just realized that’s true of my 901 as well, only PC I’ve ever bought new, excepting a DIY desktop that’s been upgraded through the years.
      Great PC, I loved the small keyboard. Got me through an engineering program, even did some real-time image processing on it, worked well enough if you were working close to the bare metal.

  13. Also, say goodbye to “view image” and “view video”, because mozilla actively hates you as much as google thinks you’re worthless cattle.

    1. lol what? both are still there
      View Image > Open Image in New Tab
      View Video > Open Video in New Tab
      Whether, default to new tab vs previous current tab is different topic.
      Cattle become worthless when it starts parroting others without doing research ;).

      1. Oh right, I’m worthless for getting ridiculed every single damn day over still using firefox despite the continuous strings of mistakes it makes that screw up how people were doing things and you have to take increasingly aggressive measures to change it back, and new users, as if there are any, won’t realize it can be done.
        Have a look at nightly. Compact mode is gone from the customization menu. You’re only going to think to look in about:config to bring it back if that annoyed you. Why would they get rid of it if not so they didn’t have to keep maintaining it? It’s on a dropdown menu with three items! And it’s even more desirable, because the new theme takes up even more vertical space on all densities. Then there’s the expanding URL bar, which also eliminated the ability to just click on the url and have the cursor appear where you clicked, now I have to click three times. It was an about:config option, but now that’s gone and you have to use userchrome.css just to make it stay the same size, which updates will regularly break.
        And I say mozilla hates its users based on the sheer arrogance of its developers when they designate features as bugs and talk about removing them or making them harder to use (like with user.js) in bugzilla. They frame things in terms of manipulating user behavior.
        But I have to keep using it, or there will be one less web rendering engine in a world starved for choice (and the blink options still aren’t as good). Not that they’re really competing with google.

        1. so here’s the deal: Mozilla/Firefox still wants to compete with Google/Chrome/Chromium-based when that ship has long sailed. There’s a famous quote that says the definition of insanity is..

          I’m a big advocate of the Unix philosophy and to KISS. I don’t care much of Firefox UI design or lack thereof. Firefox tries to have everything built in but does none of it well or even better than the others. That’s the issue. Having everything and more baked in, needlessly complicates the code, and introduces more bugs while Mozilla/Firefox doesn’t have close to enough resources as Google/Microsoft to deal with issues/support. It also gives the user the illusion of choice – well I can do this, this and this now. All the things you want, I DO NOT want. So who’s right and more importantly who has real choice?

          Instead Mozilla should just provide a blank canvas and focus on the backend. I use Firefox Dev on my work machine and it’s average.

  14. Well I still remember and miss those early 7 and 9 inch linux netbooks… I had one and I followed up with the Asus U20A and after with an HP Chromebook 11 G4?.
    In a sense I believe those early netbooks (or were they lilibooks 🙂 paved the way to democratise thin&light laptops – in a manner that kind of killed them. Or if we are positive they were replaced by Chromebooks and Stream PCs. Tablet and Phablets got a bit of the market also and as did 2-in-1s…

    Right now I wondering if should replace my old 10″ Android tablet and old 11″ chromebook with something like the Duet, but I can’t seem to find a decent deal (probably because of COVID price increases).

  15. Well, they arr still exist.
    Asus Vivobook R214 – small, cheap, light. With bad performance.
    Though nowadays most netbooks are Chinese and start as little as $250. There are plenty of them in retailer networks.
    I once had Asus Eee PC 1000h, used it from 2008 to 2014, and my sis is still using it at her warehouse.
    BTW, I bought Dell 3147 in 2014 and use it even today. Wanna change it though because it have problems with modern sites done by bad JS developers…

  16. Eee PC era is when I started reading this blog. So I suppose I’ve been here pretty much since the beginning.

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