Thursday, September 04, 2008

The Subnotebook Saga

For any readers who share my interest in two pound laptops, here is how the situation now looks:

1. The Acer Aspire One is still, so far as I can tell, the best option, with the size of the eee 901 and the keyboard quality of the eee1000 and the MSI Wind. I don't have much use for a subnotebook until my next trip, which is about a month and a half off, so will try to resist the temptation to get one now, on the theory that there might be an improvement in price or features over the next month.

2. Assuming that nothing changes, I will get the version with XP, 120GB hard drive, and a three cell battery. The much longer running time of the six cell battery which will be available "real soon now" (and is apparently already available on at least one Canadian model) doesn't make up for the increased weight and size. Eventually I'll probably get a spare 3 cell battery; so far they do not seem to be available.

3. Having gotten it, I will set it up to dual boot with some version of Linux. Ubuntu has software called wubi that is supposed to let you install Ubuntu on the same partition as Windows, set to dual boot, which sounds like the simplest solution. It's claimed that the latest version of Ubuntu works almost perfectly with the Aspire One.

4. On the other hand ... . As best I can tell, a full install of Ubuntu won't boot much faster than XP does. I'm playing with the idea of downloading a disk image of the install disk for the Linux version of the Aspire and installing it on a flash card, to go into the computer. It seems to me that it ought to then be possible to have a triple booting machine--Linpus for fast boot, Ubuntu for a full Linux OS, XP for anything that requires XP to run. Anyone who knows more about this than I do is welcome to correct any errors I'm making.

5. The current availability situation is interesting. The Linux/flash disk version of the machine is available at its list price of about $330 from a variety of sellers. The XP/hd version lists for about $350. Microcenter and Best Buy sell it for that price--or would if they were not perpetually out of stock. Sellers who actually have them to sell set the price anywhere from about $380 to $500 or so. Given that I'm in no hurry, I expect I will wait and see if I can get it at list sometime in the next month or so.

6. Today Dell released its subnotebook. Amazingly enough, they managed to copy the single worst feature of the Asus eee subnotes--a keyboard with a small right shift key next to the up arrow key. Try to use the right shift and you are two lines above where you thought you were. They also provide fewer features at a higher price than the Acer. Presumably they are counting on the advantage of a very familiar brand name--although I gather Acer is pretty well known as well.

The one advantage of the Dell Inspiron 9 over the Acer Aspire One is that the bits one wants to get at for upgrades--memory slots, hd, and the like--are all readily getatable. With the Aspire, you have to practically disassemble the whole computer to simply expand the memory.

Web shopping as a recreational activity. And I haven't even mentioned the Google Android Dream.


Anonymous said...

There is also something called andlinux. Your primary OS is XP, but you can get Linux running at the same time from a file. Like that Ubuntu process you talked about; no dual booting, but you can run both at the same time. I use this to make web pages under Linux, and immediately test those pages for the unwashed masses who use IE (the fools). A more difficult version to install is called coLinux which lets you dual-boot, and access the Linux partition and programs when running Windows.
The major problem I have with your saga is what precisely do you want the machine for? If it's just writing, surfing and updating this blog get the Linux version with the flash card and stop over-analyzing things.
Also, no self-respecting libertarian runs a proprietary, freedom-sucking, NSA back-door enabled, OS like Windows for God's sake! Dual or triple booting is a pain in the ass. If you have a program you HAVE to run with a specific OS, use that one exclusively.
Ubuntu, as you have discovered is a resource hog and Windows wanna-be. Use Slackware if you want to have the true benefits of Linux. Will these toy computers you're looking at be supported by Slackware today? I doubt it, but check it out!
If you are in Canada, you can probably get the best pricing on toy computers at

Anonymous said...

I waited for the Dell to come out yesterday to make sure the Acer was what I really wanted. The thing I don't understand about the Dell's is that they all have SSDs. Solid State Drives are great and all, but oh so small. The biggest you can get (for quite a bit more money) is 16gb. I know these things aren't supposed to be used for data storage or DVD ripping or what have you, but 16 gb, come on!

So, like you, i'm currently trying to locate an Acer Aspire One. Good luck and let the best man win. :)

Oh also, this is a handy website all about netbooks. They provide a spreadsheet of every available netbook with stats.

Anonymous said...

Windows is best run within a virtual machine. Linux host with XP running through VMware Player. VMware Player can only play VMs, so it would need to be built using one of their more fully featured products like VMware Server.

Don't run Vista in a VM, though. Unuseable.

David Friedman said...

Anonymous want to know why I want both. The short answer is that I would like to be able to run World of Warcraft, even if slowly--to check in-game mail, say hello to my wife and children when I'm on one continent and they are on another, and the like. And I am entertained by the idea of running something that fancy on such a tiny machine.

Beyond that, XP makes it more likely that if there is something else I want to run--download an update for my GPS, say--I'll be able to do it.

So far as the ideological argument, I disagree. There is nothing unlibertarian about proprietary operating systems--I do most of my computing on OSX. Open source is an interesting idea, and one reason to have Linux is to get more familiarity with how it is working in practice, but I don't feel any ideological commitment to it.

Roland Dobbins said...

So, just buy a real computer - i.e., a MacBook Air - and be done with it.


Anonymous said...

Anon sees Ubuntu as a resource hog and Windows wannabe.

I, as a Ubuntu user on a relative slow (1,6Ghz Celeron) Acer notebook, prefer to compare my system to my previous MacBook (2x2Ghz Dual Core). In daily use, I experience my current computer to be as fast or faster than the Mac was - which sometimes stopped working with a "busy" pointer for dozens of seconds, what Ubuntu never does. The software set-up is also much more like OS-X than like Windows - Ubuntu uses GNOME, which is much closer to Aqua than others, although I don't use awn and screenlets and such serious OS-X-wannabe apps. I prefer the pure, highly usable gnomish desktop as it is - nothing wannabe, following the human interface guidelines.

I had to work a bit for my system, as with in most cases of GNU/Linux, some problems occurred - some of the features which are standard on proprietary systems were and still missing. The DEL key did not work 'out of the box'. It took fifteen minutes to find a solution. Suspend still fails. I am working on it, supplying to-be-useful bug reports to to-be-more-clever-than-me folks on forums. As Depeche Mode sang: just a question of time...

Andrew said...

Linux system boot times depend more on what you run with the system, not the distribution you are running.

If you want the system to boot faster, disable any daemons and anything else in the startup directory that you don't need. Don't run Gnome or KDE, use a bare-bones window manager (i still use twm, the same primitive window manager that i used on the first x window system i used in 1994).