Defining characteristics of a liliputer:

  • Low cost (typically under $600)
  • Tiny (10.2 inch or smaller display)
  • Unlike many UMPCs (Ultra Mobile PCs), all liliputers have keyboards
  • Most liliputers feature cheaper, slower components than contemporary laptops. But with the introduction of the Intel Atom and VIA Nano CPUs, this is changing.

Introduction to Liliputing:

Over the past year or so, one of the hottest growing segments in the PC market has been low-cost ultraportable PCs. There’s no common naming convention at the moment. Some people call them netbooks, while others call them mini-notebooks, Ultra Mobile PCs or Ultra Low-Cost PCs. I call them Liliputers, because they’re lillipution.

But where did these low-cost ultraportables come from? And what good are they? Liliputers are designed for two different types of users: People who have never really used computers before, and people who want a second or third computer.

A tiny laptop computer with a low-powered CPU isn’t really going to replace your gaming rig or your home theater PC anytime soon. But if you’ve already got a primary computer that you use for work and just want a light weight one that you can carry around in your bag for checking your email, web surfing, or updating your novel on the go, a Liliputer might fit the bill.You may have heard of the OLPC project. MIT’s Nicholas Negroponte started the One Laptop Per Child program to find a way to bring the cost of computers down and manufacture a “$100 laptop” that could be sold in bulk to governments and educational institutions in developing nations to help bridge the digital divide. The project has been quite successful — but not necessarily in the way Negroponte intended.

While adoption of the OLPC’s XO Laptop has been a bit slower than expectations, and the price has risen well above $100 (but still below $200), Negroponte and his group demonstrated that you could make a low-cost laptop that is capable of performing many of the most common computing tasks. It could be portable, light weight, durable, and low-power, yet still surf the web, handle Office documents, and even let you write your own programs. Intel and Microsoft didn’t like the fact that the OLPC didn’t use an Intel CPU or the Windows operating system, so the two companies developed the Classmate PC which costs a bit more than an XO Laptop, but runs Windows XP.

In 2007, Asustek took the idea and ran with it. The company asked, why develop low-cost computers just for developing markets? The Eee PC 701 was designed as a sub-$400 computer for third world nations and developed markets alike. While Asus overpromised (the original plan was to release a $200 computer), the company delivered on pretty much everything but the price.

The Asus Eee PC 701 4G took outdated components, crammed them into a tiny case, and established a new class of machine: the low-cost ultraportable. Up until later 2007, if you wanted a subnotebook that weighed less than 3 pounds, you’d have to spend at least $1500. By using a pokey 900MHz Intel Celeron processor, an 800 x 480 pixel display and 512MB of RAM, Asus brought the price way down.

Sure, you wouldn’t want to use an Eee PC 701 to do serious video editing or other CPU intensive tasks. But for web browsing, video chatting, or other basic internet-centric applications, it did the trick. Asus also took another cue from the OLPC project and stuck a solid state disk in the Eee PC instead of a hard drive. That means the $400 model had just 4GB of storage space. But because there are no moving parts, the computer is less likely to break and some operations actually run more quickly. And Asus included a custom version of the Xandros Linux operating system, which also helped keep the price down since there was no need to pay Windows licensing fees.

The Asus Eee PC 701 4G was a huge hit for Asus, and the company quickly followed up with additional models, includign the 4G Surf, which costs a few bucks less and comes with a lower capacity battery and the 2G Surf, which has the smaller battery, no webcam, and just 2GB of storage capacity.

The Eee PC also developed a loyal group of enthusiasts who formed communities like EeeUser. If you read through the extraordinarily active EeeUser wiki and forums you’ll find a huge list of suggestions for optimizing, hacking, or changing the operating system on an Eee PC.

With Asus leading the way, a number of other companies jumped in. One of the first to get a lot of press was Everex, a company best known for making a Linux-based laptop that Wal-Mart briefly sold for under $200. The Everex Cloudbook looked good on paper. It was about the same size as the tiny Eee PC 701 and sported a similar screen. But it came with a 30GB hard drive and a VIA C7-M CPU.

It also ran gOS, which is a custom version of Ubuntu Linux. Ubuntu is much more popular than Xandros, and so a lot of people were probably excited to see a computer that came with gOS out of the box. But the Cloudbook was kind of a miss. The comany didn’t bother customizing the operating system for the device’s small screen. Some early adopters got their computers home and couldn’t figure out how to get past the startup screen because the Next buttons didn’t fit on the display.The VIA C7-M CPU is also a bit less powerful than the Intel Celeron CPU. So even though the Everex Cloudbook had a 1.2GHz chip, it takes longer to perform many basic tasks than an Eee PC with a 900MHz Celeron chip underclocked to 630MHz.

During the first few months of 2008, a number of companies announced plans to release new or upgraded versions of tiny computers. Dell, MSI, Gigabyte, HP, and Acer all announced plans to get in on the action.

The first of these companies to get a computer to market was HP. The HP Mini-Note PC is without a doubt, one of the most attractive Liliputers. It has a sturdy aluminum case instead of the cheap plastic of its peers. And it has an astonishingly crisp 1280 x 768 pixel 8.9 inch display. It also packs the same pokey VIA C7-M CPU as the Everex Cloudbook, which means the Mini-Note isn’t going to win any awards for speed.

The HP Mini-Note also ships with Windows Vista or SUSE Enterprise Linux, and costs between $499 and $849, which sort of stretches the definition of low-cost. Still, you’d have been hard pressed to find a computer with these specs in this small a case for twice the price a year or two ago.In an effort to keep up, Asus released the Eee PC 900, which has the same basic specs as the Eee PC 701, but packs additional storage capacity and a larger 8.9 inch 1024 x 600 display. It’s not quite as sharp as the HP Mini-Note display, but honestly, on an 8.9 inch screen, 1280 x 768 pixels might be a little too sharp. You have to squint to read the text on many web pages if you don’t adjust the fonts on Mini-Note.

At Computex 2008, the floodgates opened as dozens of PC makers announced their entries into the market. Acer, Gigabyte, MSI, ECS, Everex, Asus, and many others all announced new products that will be hitting the streets starting in 2008. What sets these devices apart from traditional laptops is that most have 10-inch or smaller displays, relatively cheap components, and cost less than $700. Some have starting prices as low as $300, making them far more affordable than computers of the past.

Here are the specs on a few of the more popular models:

Eee PC 701

  • Processor: Intel Celeron 800 or 900MHz, underclocked to 571MHz or 630MHz
  • RAM: 512MB to 1GB
  • Storage: 2GB, 4GB, or 8GB solid state flash memory
  • Display: 7 inch 800 x 480 pixel screen
  • Expansion: 3 USB ports, 1 VGA output, 1 SDHC card slot
  • Operating System: Xandros Linux or Windows XP
  • Connectivity: Ethernet, 802.11b/g
  • Webcam: 0.3 megapixels
  • Weight: .92kilograms / 2 pounds
  • Dimensions: 225 x 165 x 21-35mm
  • Battery: 4 cell 4400mAh or 5200mAh battery for between 2 and 3 hours of battery life (with a claimed battery life of up to 3.5 hours)
  • Price: $299 to $499
  • Official Product Page
  • Cheap, refurbished units now available on Amazon

Eee PC 901

  • Processor: 1.6GHz Intel Atom processor
  • RAM: 1GB
  • Storage: 12GB or 20GB flash memory
  • Display: 8.9 inch 1024 x 600 pixel screen
  • Expansion:VGA output, 3 USB ports, SDHC card slot
  • Operating System: Windows XP or Xandros Linux
  • Connectivity: Ethernet, 802.11b/g
  • Webcam: 1.3 megapixels
  • Weight: 1.1 kilograms / 2.4 pounds
  • Battery: 6-cell battery
  • Price: $599
  • Official Product Page
  • More information

Eee PC 1000/H

  • Processor: 1.6GHz Intel Atom processor

  • RAM: 1GB
  • Storage: 40GB SSD or or 80GB HDD
  • Display: 10.2 inch 1024 x 600 pixel screen
  • Expansion:VGA output, 3 USB ports, SDHC card slot
  • Operating System: Windows XP or Xandros Linux
  • Connectivity: Ethernet, 802.11b/g
  • Webcam: 1.3 megapixels
  • Weight: 1.33/1.45 kilograms or 2.9/3.2 pounds
  • Battery: 6-cell battery
  • Price: $649/$699
  • Official Product Page – Eee PC 1000
  • Official Product Page – Eee PC 1000H
  • More information – Eee PC 1000
  • More information – Eee PC 1000H

HP Mini-Note

  • Processor: 1GHz – 1.6GHz VIA C7 Mobile Processor
  • RAM: 512MB to 2GB
  • Storage: 4GB solid state flash memory or 120GB/160GB hard drive
  • Display: 8.9 inch 1280 x 768 pixel screen
  • Expansion: VGA output, 2 USB ports, Express Card slot, SD card slot
  • Operating System: Windows Vista Home Basic, Windows Vista Business, or OpenSUSE Linux
  • Connectivity: Ethernet, 802.11b/g, Bluetooth on some models
  • Webcam: VGA
  • Weight: 2.8 pounds
  • Battery: 3 cells or 6 cells
  • Price: $499 through $849
  • Official Product Page
  • More Information

MSI Wind

  • RAM: 1GB
  • Storage: 80GB hard drive
  • Display: 10.2 inch 1024 x 600 pixel screen
  • Expansion: 3 USB ports, VGA output, SD card reader
  • Operating System: Windows XP Home
  • Connectivity: WiFi, Bluetooth
  • Webcam: 1.3 megapixels
  • Battery: 3 cells
  • Weight: 1.2 kilograms / 2.6 pounds
  • Dimensions: 10.23″(L) X7.08″(D) X 0.748″~1.24″(H)
  • Price: $479 – $499
  • Official Product Page
  • More Information

Acer Aspire One

  • CPU: 1.6GHz Intel Atom processor
  • RAM: 512MB, upgradeable to 1.5GB
  • Storage: 4GB or 8GB SSD or 80GB hard drive
  • Display: 8.9 inch 1024 x 600 pixel LED-backlit screen
  • Operating System: Windows XP or Linpus Linux Lite
  • Keyboard: 95% full size
  • Webcam: Yes
  • Ports: 3 USB 2.0, 5-in-1 card reader (SD/MMC/MS/MS Pro/xD), VGA output
  • Communications: Ethernet, 802.11b/g
  • Battery: 3 cell battery with estimated 3 hours battery life, optional 6 cell battery
  • Dimensions: 9.8″ x 6.7″ x 1.14″
  • Weight: 2.17 pounds
  • Price: $379
  • Official Product Page
  • More Information

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12 replies on “What is a Liliputer? A brief introduction to Liliputing”

  1. Wow, this was a great summary of the history of netbooks and liliputing! Man, its been so many months since I fist saw the hp mini on my newspaper and I thought this was an awesome computer that everybody should get. Then all these other companies jumped into the competition and the netbook wars started appearing. Who would have thought that computing would move back a step from smaller, sleeker, and faster to smaller, cheaper, and slower? Well that’s a netbook!

  2. I’m really enjoying the site. I’m interested in recommendations, the keyboard on the HP 2133 is great but I think the Atom processor is a better performer. Which model has a comparable keyboard in size but the faster processor?
    I’ve only seen the eeepc and the little keys wouldn’t work for me with the size of my hands.

    1. HP recently launched the HP Mini 1000, which has pretty much the same
      keyboard, but a faster 1.6GHz Intel Atom CPU. It’s made of cheaper plastic
      and has a lower resolution display, but the Mini 1000 is also cheaper than
      the HP 2133.

  3. A liliputer is a person who monitors everything jkkmobile reports about and write articles that refer to what he has been up to lately !

    1. Microsoft did not develop the classmate, in fact they are a large backer of the OLPC project, and the classmate is available with various linux distros including Intels own distro on it. The reason why OLPC and intel broke ranks is because they had different management policies, not due to linux or microsoft.

    1. Thanks, you’re correct. That’s what I get for typing a bunch of specs for a
      bunch of computers in a very short span of time. The post has been updated.

  4. more importantly, people should check their spelling before they register domain names.

    1. I should check my spelling before I report spelling errors, lol. lilliputian.

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