back to article Asus Eee PC 901 Linux Edition

It's ten quid cheaper but packs in more features. Hot on the heels of Asus Eee PC 900 comes the 901, sporting not only a smart new design but also Intel's Atom processor. So is it the machine the 900 should have been? No question: the answer's yes. With the 901, Asus has released a sub-notebook that isn't simply a version of the …

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ext3

Is it me or would ext3, being a journalling filesystem, "wear out" the SSD quicker. Wouldn't ext2 be a safer choice?

I'm in no way an expert so feel free to contradict me.

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Anonymous Coward

Good Review

The atom processor probably performs better if the target code is optimized for it.

The atom is meant to be good with hyperthreading, I wonder if the kernel was set up for that.

The ext3 file system on home is an interesting one, and probably not a bad move, ext2 is quite temperamental on laptops if they are subject to a sudden drop in power. And it would seem that Asus are giving the nod to the erase write cycles not being too much of an issue with journaling.

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Real-life battery life ?

The one interesting question is the real-life battery life - how much can you expect if you're just sitting in meetings or reading an occasional email ? Is the thing going to eat *no* power when waiting for the user to move the mouse ?

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Re: Real-life battery life

Although they don't mention it in this review, the Reg usually estimate the "real-life" to be around double their test. That would give 8 hours which is just plain rediculous!

...in a good way!

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Go

Nice

Nice but £119 too much.

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Linux

Kernel Hyperthread

There was some talk that hyperthreading was disabled in early versions of the Xandros OS which Asus let slip for the 901. Dont know if it was fixed for the release version - but worth checking out.

A real-world test with the 900 on the same sized battery as the 901 would be interesting - especially since the 4400 appears heavier then the 5800 version - and hence probably older technology.

The 900 and UK battery sizes produces a bad mouth feeling for Asus - and hopefully it can be resolved with the 901. However the price would need to drop consdierably to make it special again. Indeed the 'eee' monikor which a year ago would make you think of a cheap mini-laptop-pc (R) is now so dilouted (eeebox, eeetv, eee.... ) that it seems Asus are possibly loosing their sense of direction and market share.

Overall a great product - I like my 900 and already had good use from it - the 901 will be the logical upgrade - in 6 months. By which time there will probably be another version...

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Alien

Gigabyte M912?

How about the comparison with it?

http://www.reghardware.co.uk/2008/06/04/gigabyte_unveils_sub_tablet/

Mind you there's no indication when it will actually hit the stores...

Maybe they've all been abducted by aliens

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Lol701

I kinda regret buying a 4g 701, as the EEE community distro's uniformly suck, and I can't fit a real distro on there comfortably.

I may upgrade to the 901, though Dell's offering looks nice.

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Gates Horns

Sorry Asus

Waiting for the Acer Aspire One.. Unless you want to slash £100 off the retail price...

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Coat

Will be interesting to see the Aspire One review

On top of, as said, a 'real life' idea of battery life. 8 hours does indeed sound ridiculous but also brilliant!

As for using the spare £120 buying the Aspire One to happily get a bigger battery - are such things easy to find, i.e. will they be in production - if so why not ship with the laptops from the start?

...or is this a case of breaking open the battery whatsit yourself?

Getting my coat, as feeling noobyish

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Needs integrated 3G

Would be perfect for the train, if it had integrated 3G. Come on Asus, must do better.

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Unionfs

I hope its implemented better than the 701. In the 701 the 4Gb is split in half - 50% is the read-only system partition and 50% is the user partition. This would be fine except that patches get applied to the user parition, not the read only system partition. So (for example) if Openoffice was upgraded from 2.0 to 2.4, you could kiss goodbye to 200Mb. The original OOo would still be sitting their on the system partition, just masked out by the new one in the user partition.

This is a horrible arrangement for two reasons. The first is obvious - 4Gb is not a lot and to see it disappear everytime you patch is depressing. The second is more insidious - there is an active disincentive for applying patches or for Asus releasing them. This means the machine is slowly over time going to be further and further behind the curve with bugs and possibly security issues going unfixed.

I really hate unionfs in the 701 and I hope they did a better job in the 901. In truth, I wish they just forgot about it altogether. Ship a system restore CD and / or instructions to restore from a flash card and be done with it.

I think that as soon as Ubuntu ships its mobile edition, that it will be curtains for the Asus Linux for me. I really like the app launcher - I just hate unionfs.

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I don't want no stinkin' SD card.

I already have the 701 and would like to upgrade, but it would make far more sense to not bundle the 16GB card and sell it for £50 less.

It would be easy to ship a utility to re-partition the space at a later time.

I suspect this has rather more to do with hiding the differential cost of the Windows version than any practical consideration as that comes with only an 8GB card.

These 16GB cards will cost about 5p in a year or so's time anyway and many people already have a whole drawer full of cards of various capacities.

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Linux

Aspire One vs Eee

The one thing that worries me about the One compared with the Eee is the community support. The Eee is based on Xandros, which means that lots of Debian packages work on it. But the One uses Linpus, of which I've never heard. The interface doesn't look as usable as the Eee's. In particular, the Eee's interface can be used entirely from the keyboard (which is good, given the size of the trackpad!) but it doesn't look like the One's will allow this as easily.

OK, so these are basically appliances, but one of the nice things about Linux is being to set it up exactly how you want. And I guess that a lot of the market for these devices is geeks. So, if the One isn't as 'hackable' as the Eee it could well be a strike against it.

For example, on my Eee 701, I've installed Opera instead of Firefox, and use LyX instead of OpenOffice. And I've installed various games and utilities, too. I don't fiddle with it a lot, but I did do a lot of fiddling initially so that it's an appliance that does what I want.

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Acer vs Asus

Am I the only one who would be surprised if the Acer one comes in at $200?

If it does the price of the 901 is sure to drop.

So the thing to do (for me anyway) is to enjoy the 701 for a while longer and see what happens

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Alert

$200? You really meant £200?

I don't think there's a chance in hell that Acer will halve the price of the Aspire One before it's even launched. :D

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Very good review

I am now drawn to going for the 901 over the One, despite the price tag. The only draw back is the battery. If the one really gives 7 hours + with 6-cell I will be hard put not to get it, since battery life is my number one concern.

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Unhappy

Ubuntu [debian, whatever] compatability....

Will be the one thing that drives my purchasing choice on the Laptot front methinks.

If someone can say that the very pretty Acer One thingy, with it's pretty case and Atom guts, will run Ubuntu without a hitch, then stuff the rent, water bill and leccy, I'll be trying to get one of those.

Otherwise, it would be 901 FTW and I'd have to forgoe the booze for, say, a week to pony up the extra pennies.

Exciting times for us gadget freaks, I'd wager - things are really starting to pick up :-)

Steven R

Sad face - because that's what all my utility suppliers and the landlord will look like when the cheques bounce!

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Linux

UnionFS & SquashFS

The Xandros folks appear to be unaware of SquashFS.

If you're going to use a union file system, the right way to do it for both space and performance reasons is to use SquashFS for the base file system. This compressed file system *improves* I/O because the CPU cost of compression/decompression is negligible compared to IO device bandwidth limits. Doubly so on slow flash like the eee.

Once the SquashFS image is created it can be written to a partition exactly the right size, and all the rest of the disk can be dedicated to user data and system updates using a writeable filesystem like ext3 or jffs2. ext3 is probably a better choice, even on flash, for volumes above a gig because of jffs2's long mount delays.

SquashFS is read only; to be much use in a conventional desktop you need to overlay it with a writeable FS either using a tree of symlinks or (more usefully) with UnionFS.

The LTSP thin client images at work are 453MB worth of files which fit in a 500MB ext3 partition. The SquashFS boot image created from those files is 173MB. You should expect similar results for the eeePc.

If you're going to be using a recovery/readonly and union setup, SquashFS is a no-brainer. It's bewildering that they chose ext3 instead.

I'll be rearranging my Ubuntu eeePC 701 firewall/router/accesspoint/server to use a SquashFs+UnionFS+ext3 combo shortly, and I expect to see a major space saving as well as significant performance improvements. (By the way, with Ubuntu installed and a 1TB USB HDD plugged in the eee is a *great* access point/firewall/router/server, and dead silent too. Be prepared for a little work to get wifi going though.).

@Simon Riley:

Flash lifetimes are so long that if you write to the volume _continuously_ for years you probably still won't wear it out. Add wear leveling into the mix and other parts of the machine are vastly more likely to fail first.

If you were really worried you could change the ext3 commit interval (see "man mount", ext3 section; edit the options section of /etc/fstab to alter) and the dirty writeback interval (see /etc/sysctl.conf) so it didn't write as frequently. However, this opens you up to slightly more risk of data corruption on a crash or sudden power loss, and really won't gain you much. It's a powersaving measure on a laptop with a spinning disk but won't make much if any difference on the flash-based eee.

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Happy with my 701, but this...

Serrio, I currently have a 701 4GB/1GB but with 16GB extra SD, running native Ubuntu 7.10. It comfortably runs desktop apps, I even run an Oracle XE database and webserver in the background so I can do Perl development on the move. I am running ext2 internally for the O/S and ext3 and swap(!) on the external SD. With 8GB cards at 15 quid off eBay, so what if they only last 6 months! I think though with the extra guts and screen size the 901 has, I think it could soon be upgrade time!

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Heart

@AC

Umm yes.....£200 (mistyped on a full size keyboard)

I would still be surprised if the Acer One comes in as advertised/reviewed at £200.

Of course price is not necessarily directly related to cost. So I'm guessing that to some extent these devices are being priced in comparison with those titchy Sony Vaios that normally cost ~£800 - against which even £329 is a real bargin. However right now, small and convenient though they may be, they are not sexy enough for that.

So I expect the prices to come down over the next six months as this segment heats up with more competition.

spegru ................ currently enjoying my 701 on a £10 month 3G dongle (Huawei e220) at Schipol airport

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@Craig Ringer - SquashFS

There's one thing you've missed - with the existing FS arrangement on the Eee, one can easily do what I have: log in without unionfs (so that you're just using the system partition in read-write mode) and do a true uninstall of the dross you don't need, and do a true install of stuff you do need. That means I have a 2G Eee with a full TeX installation, and still full free space on the user partition.

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Go

Integrated 3G

I agree this would be nice, but eee supports the huawei E220 modem flawlessly. If you have some clue about what 3G setup you need, the wizard will have you up and running in less than a minute.

My 701 + E220 works so well for El Reggin on my commute, that finding reasons to upgrade to 901 is hard. Integrated 3G and a bigger screen would perhaps be reason enough though.

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Unhappy

Nice but...

Way too pricey.

Acer is still above it on my list.

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Linux

Good review

I own a 701 and am looking to upgrade for work. Want the extra HDD so I can dual boot. (Sadly I need Xp for work otherwise I would happily stick with the little penguin.)

The 1000 is the one I am wanting as a 40GB is perfect for a dual boot system) but after the 900 was so bad (battery supplied etc) I was looking elsewhere.

This renews my faith, I just hope the 1000 is a bigger 901 and not a bigger 900.

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@Craig Ringer

Really thorough answer - thanks very much!

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Black Helicopters

Processor comparison

Why didn't El Reg run the Gimp test on a 900 too? I don't understand, did Asus put some kind of condition on the review? If a 630 MHz Celeron M is so close to the 1.6 GHz Atom, you would think a 900 MHz Celeron M would blow it out of the water.

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(Written by Reg staff)

@steogede

We didn't try the 900 because we haven't got one, and since the 900's future is decidedly bleak, we can't imagine Asus letting anyone borrow one now that the 901's imminent.

The 901 is better than the 900 for a range of reasons even if its CPU isn't actually that much more powerful - despite the higher megahertz rating.

There'll be more on all this when we test the Windows XP version of the 901, which should make better use of the Atom's HyperThreading capability.

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W
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From what I've seen...

1st. Acer Aspire One +3G - it has the features I'm after at the right price. but I won't wait forever.

2nd. Dell Mini Inspiron/E PC - as long as it keeps the price down.

3rd. Asus EEE 901 - hack a ton off and wedge in 3G and I can begin to consider it a competitor to the Acer.

For, me anyway. But they're all shaping up to be sensible propositions.

Regardless, things are looking up after the nonsense of the Belina s.book, EEE900 and Elonex thing. Although the Elonex girl was nice.

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openSUSE

@ Serrio: openSUSE installs on the 701.

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Alert

lost the plot

the price point is completely wrong, it's now having to mix it with low end vista laptops etc.

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I'd get one...

Looks like it will be fun. My concerns are basically hardware/driver related. Hopefully I might be able to run a stock debian on it without any major renovation.

I don't know if we'll have or want to recompile stuff for this new chip to minimize the certain performance drop. It'll mean new compilers. I'm not sure in-order execution is really the way to go for an x86 though in all fairness.

... but I guess it saves die area and power consumption. This is the fundamental reason why a lowly in-order pentium III or celeron will spank the atom at benchmarks (cache-misses will hurt) but... I expect it should be quite usable, when you think about old 486's running linux with x...

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b

1024x768 please!

i want to run this:

http://www.rane.com/scratch.html

...and it only runs at 1024x768, so come on asus, gimme the resolution!

btw, the 901 is a great looking box.

tracking this space here:

http://www.eupeople.net/forum/viewtopic.php?t=487

(all welcome!)

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Happy

ubuntu eee

It will be interesting to see how other distros work on this machine like http://www.ubuntu-eee.com/

Any news when it hits the stores?

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Mandriva

As for other distros - my 4G has Mandriva 2008 spring installed happily and all works well.

they have also pledged to support other eees

c

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