Κυριακή, 29 Ιανουαρίου 2012

Remembering: 8 awesome facts about EEEpc 701 and why the Netbook market failed.

Ah my first EEEpc. That little fellow is still around. I don’t need it that much anymore, but it’s still a toy-like netbook that impresses with its mignon appearence and the geeky feel. It pretty much defined the term “netbook” that many netbooks since have betrayed and caused their market to flop. 

I got mine back in 2007, when the models first came to Greece. Up until the time I bought it, I had to use computers assembled with spare parts that my brother arranged for me. Those computers were always a bit sluggish compared to newer systems, but their main problem was the liability. They weren’t very reliable due to the fact that many components were incompatible. The EEEpc came right after my last arranged pc became braindead.

This machine has a lot of rights to brag about being the definition of the device we call today netbook. Here are 8 of them values, that ALL of the netbooks today have forgotten, and they led the Netbook industry to failure.

8. EEEPC 701 said no to hard drives

Durability is an issue to every mobile computer out there. Laptops falling to concrete floor is a reasonable fright for all the users. But, sometimes destruction strucks from unexpected places.

The first and foremost culprit is the hard disk and optical disks. Basically everything that has mechanical moving parts. Bumping the computer while the hard disk is in use, can produce errors, bad sectors or complete fuckup of the disk(s).

The EEEPC 701 just removed it. Depending on your model, you either got 4, 8 or 16 GB of memory in ultrafast SSD. So, no rotating plates and moving headers equals consistent data read/write and no hardware failure due to physical shock. Thus, EEEPC701 could take a lot of abuse. Just throw it in a bag and GTFO.

Today’s netbooks are another story. ALL of them have some sorts of conventional HDD. That means that you won’t operate them in a moving car, nor you can just throw it in a bag without fear of mechanical failing. That’s a reason that nobody wants to clutter their bags with a netbook plus its case. They just got a tablet instead with a fold case that’s almost half in size. That brings us to the next fact

7. The EEEPC 701 had ideal size

I know, many of you will bitch about that low resolution screen, but besides that, the whole thing looked like an oversized DS (but still smaller than any other netbook.

The size of the screen was hindered by the speakers, which is something that they got right in the EEEPC900 without changing the dimensions much. BUT, it was easy to carry, the keyboard was a bit cluttered but usable (well I got used to it really quickly anyway) and the value that it “fits a woman’s bag” is still evident.

Today’s netbooks are bigger. Slimmer maybe but bigger. Being slightly inconvenient compared to the miniature size of EEEPC 701, they just aren’t as portable as that netbook. Plus, as we already stated, they need some extra protection. Which makes them even more cumbersome to carry.

6.The EEEPC was easily recognisable

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Today, the netbooks have that generic minimal design that kind of makes them look the same. Only LG and Lenovo made them a bit different using some extreme design choices such as the circlular touchpad or metal coating, but overall, without a logo at the top side of the lid, nobody woud say that your HP netbook is actually an HP netbook.

The EEPC701 is just recognisable. Just look at it closed and open. The logos exist to say “this is achieved by ASUS mother fuckers” rather than “hey, it’s an HP. In case you didn’t notice”.

And this thing is nowhere near stylish. It’s just blocky and straight as a primitive Autobot. It has an air of “computer geekness” Similar to IBM notebooks before being sold to Lenovo. It also came in many colours so, depending on your preferences (or sex) you could opt in to a colour you like the most.

5. The EEEPC 701 had descent battery life

Mostly because there weren’t any mechanical compartments to eat up energy. The battery primarily supported a bunch of chips talking to eachother, with the main crunchers being the screen and the RAM. It managed to skim about 6 hours on a 4-cell battery. Once the user gets a 6-cell battery, the computer could last about 10 hours of non-stop usage. And that was way before today’s fancy mobile chips.

Today’s netbooks are incredible on that point, but the battery is really buffed up to do so. The newer Atom chips have better power management BUT spinning hard disks and the bigger, brighter screens really suck up the everloving crap from the battery. Most of them end up just being outdated computers after their large battery dies.

4. The EEEPC 701 wasn’t trying to be a full fledged PC.

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If you ever ended up using a EEEPC701 as your primary PC, due to some disaster to your actual primary PC, you are in a seriously fucked up situation.

The computer isn’t powerul. At the time, even some expensive smartphones had better memory and processor than the EEEPC701. It’s not the computer you’d use to do everyday stuff that rely on performance.

That said, you can’t do a lot of multitasking on the EEEPC701. Nor load a lot of tabs on a browser, primarily because of the limited screen space and secondly, the multitude of open pages of the modern web, occupy a lot of memory due to the plugins that are being used.

So, the EEEPC was perfect for chat-on-the-go, some authoring on office suites, light scripting for programmers, running diagnostics for network engineers, a little browsing, a little Skype and light gaming. That’s it.

And that was fine on the EEEPC701. You can have 5 tabs without problem in FireFox, while chatting on Skype but if you wanted to do something else at the same time, adding to the screen clutter you’ll get a slow computer. It was never designed to be the multi-tasking ultra-performance computer we use normally.

The newer netbooks have the extra push to run multiple programs at the same time, but that somehow feels out of place. The screens may be spacious enough for graphical stuff to go on, but the point of ultra portability is gone. The idea of doing many things as simply as possible has moved to other types of computing machines. Smartphones for instance, have opted for Android and iOS that allows users to do simple (or complex stuff) but the screen only shows ONE application at a time. So, only one application takes the spotlight and the majority of the processing power, while other prcesses stay in the background or dormant untill the user calls them up.

At the same time, Tablets, that are have spacious and nice screens, still use the same scheme because it removes the clutter while programs are able to benefit the extra big scren.

So the netbooks are essentially outdated computers that do things they never meant to. They still are good for light computing, diagnostics, authoring and scripting, browsing and chating/voicechatting but they don’t need to be so expensive and elaborate to do that.

3. The EEEPC 701 brought back some older games

Yes, gaming on the EEEPC wasn’t good, like running Elder’s sScrolls or Tomb Raider Anniversary, but it was quite adequate to run older games like Jazz Jackrabbit, Commander Keen, Tomb Raider 2, old Ultima Games, and generally it was able to run a multitude of PC games of the nineties and early 00’s. Which was quite a relief when travelling long distances.

Aside from the native PC games, emulation of 16bit and 8bit systems was quite the feat, considering that the machine wasn’t powerful enough. Some smart tweaks help the games that are too stingy, especially for SNES games, to run smoothly. Rvisiting all those gems on the go, help on the “Easy to play” factor.

The biggest advantage of the EEEPC701 over the gaming section was that, it was so small, you can grasp it by the sides and let your thumbs do the work. It isn’t, like, the most comfortable controller in the world, but assingning keys to the right buttons make it at least efortless and transforsm the EEEPC701 to a huge Game Boy Advance SP.

The newer netbooks don’t even come close to that feature. They are a lot heavier to hold without having your wrists crying for help and getting a hand cramp, which is really painful. So, you’d probably need a controller or at least a table in order to play. And if you don’t want to rely on the keyboard, you need a gamepad. What a nuisance.

2. The EEEPC 701 was easy to hack and fiddle with

By the time the public received the computer, they did their best to hack it both physically and software-wise. The most obvious hack was, well, software overclocking. For the users that use Windows, the overclocking is easy but Linux users got all the nifty little options. Other software hacks include the installation of MAC OS and Android, maximum screen resolution overrides for some games or higher resolutions that the screen doesn’t support or scrolling if the resolution chosen was really high.

Hardware tweaks and hacks include touchscreens and bluetooth, inner SD or SSD drives and some users managed to turn the whole computer into a Tablet or a flashy Picture Frame. There even was a modder who attempted to release a kit to turn the computer into a Tablet effortlessly, but it turned out to be a fraud.

Most of the neat modifications don’t even require soldering. Some jumpers and internal usb’s along with duct tape and a lot of unscrewing does the trick for most of the additions. If you are familiar with the soldering iron though, you can do miracles!

Today’s netbooks have two important factors that made the modders turn away. First, they are expensive. Nobody wants to ruin a 400€ HP netbook just to add Bluetooth. The second reason is that their internals got more sophisticated in order to contain more hardware in less space. That produces a lot of errors while modding that may draw the computer unusable.

1. The EEEPC 701 was plain geeky awesome.

If I’m to play favorites, I’ll do it by saying that the EEEPC 701 was my favorite gadget so far (except my newly purchased Xoom which is something between awesome and unicorns). Anybody who had that netbook, would find it difficult to adapt to another. That happens because other netbooks need more care, aren’t as convinient, are bigger and a tad heavier and despite of trying to be full scaled PC’s (something that they aren’t) they fall short on convenience, ease of use and whatever a netbook is supposed to be and is supposed to do. I can go on and say that netbooks betrayed their ideals for being more flashy and commercially accepted wich didn’t happen because they were alright as they were.

Many of the assets I mentioned (except the price) can be found on today’s tablets. The iPad is easily recognisable and good at games, the Xoom has perfect form factor, the Archos tablets are easy to fiddle with and so on. That’s why the tablet market gains ground day by day even if some of them, and I’m looking at you Apple, may be firmly closed for their own reasons.

So there you have it. My tribute to EEEPC701 is over. Unlockment Achieved for WizFrikiMan for the awesome header image!

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