Saturday, May 31, 2008

Cool laptop at bargain price

When I was checking the Best Deals on recently, I ran across a steal on a product I had first seen a few weeks ago, the ASUS Eee PC 4G. Asus is a major Taiwanese producer of computers and computer parts, though it has little name recognition in the U.S. This little laptop will probably not compete heavily with or replace most standard laptops on the market today. First, it is tiny, with a 7" screen and weighs just over 2 pounds. The small size also means a small keyboard, which may not appeal to those with big hands. The laptop is also not the fastest thing around, with a 900 MHz processor which is actually underclocked to around 630 MHz. It comes with 512 MB of RAM, which can be easily upgraded. Also, because of its small size, it doesn't include an optical (CD/DVD) drive, though it has plenty of USB ports, making it easy to use a USB drive with the machine. This laptop comes with a fairly tiny hard drive by modern standards, but this may be where this laptop gets most interesting. Its 4 GB hard drive is solid state, which means it has no moving parts, unlike a traditional hard drive. A solid state drive has several advantages over its traditional cousin. First, it is less likely to "crash" or fail since it has no moving parts, making the laptop much more resilient to shocks. Also, the drive can operate faster, since it is not limited by how fast its parts can spin. It can better withstand temperature changes and operates virtually silently. Undoubtedly, solid state drives are the hard drives of the future. The problem of hard drive space can be solved by buying an inexpensive (around $35) 8GB secure digital (SD) memory card, which can plug in the SD slot included in the PC.

If this laptop doesn't replace a standard, modern laptop or a desktop, what good is it? Two things: price and portability. First, it is now priced under $400, which is pretty insane for any new computer, desktop or laptop. As I mentioned above, 2 GB of RAM and 8GB of solid state memory can be added to this machine for about $70 total, making it quite versatile. Second, you can't beat this machine's portability. It comes with Windows XP, a familiar operating system to almost any PC user, and includes both ethernet and built-in Wi-Fi internet access, making it the ultimate, portable internet machine. It is the perfect laptop for taking on vacation or on business travel, since it allows the user to check email and perform nearly every function one would use on a regular laptop or desktop.

It is understandable that ASUS would drop its price on this laptop, since it recently released a replacement, the Eee PC 12G. The newer machine, for about $150 more, solves many of the problems and limitations of its predecessor. It has a bigger screen (8.9" vs. 7") with higher resolution (1024x600 vs. 800x480), bigger solid state drive (12GB vs. 4GB), double the RAM (1GB vs. 512 MB) and a faster processor (fully 900 MHz vs. underclocked at 630MHz). The new laptop still comes with the built-in SD slot, meaning you can add 8 GB of solid state memory for around $35, or 16GB for around $65. Though not noticeably heavier than its predecessor, the 12G price tag puts it in line with bargain-priced, larger laptops. Still, this laptop is definitely worth a second look as a portable, nearly do-it-all, light-weight second computer.

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