Mini-Note Computer Evaluations

by Rusty Meyners.  


Mini-Note Computer Evaluations
The chart below shows six models of mini-notebook computer, two of which can currently be considered excellent choices for the purposes of deploying to EISD High School students on a 1:1 basis, as well as for classroom sets on any campus; while a third promises the same, though not available for our hands-on evaluation for another week or two. These are the eeePC 901 and the eeePC 1000, with the HP 2140 being anxiously awaited for our inspection. In fact the HP 2140 promises to be a superior machine in many but not all ways. The eeePC advantages lie largely in their intuitive and comprehensive operating system and software that has already been proven in our student trials. The HP has an unmatched overall quality of appearance and build, not the least of which is the best keyboard of any tested, though other questions remain unanswered as of yet – and it should also be noted that a glossy screen is gorgeous until you get near a window or go outside and glare makes it unusable. The Acer Aspire deserves an Honorable Mention, being an extremely good consumer value (Wal-Mart just did a “rollback” from $350 to $300) for individuals and families; however, for our purposes, it is found lacking (only slightly) on the “rugged” factor. The original eeePC 701 is still a very viable educational tool that only suffers from a modest hard drive, stingy screen and wimpy battery, though it’s as tough as a hockey puck. The HP 2133 is only included here because we have one on hand to evaluate its’ form-factor, since the more interesting 2140 that is not yet available shares the same case and keyboard. From a Tech perspective, the eeePC is considered on many levels to be the easiest to support, largely due to its’ solid state hard drive; however it is expected that HP will provide excellent support resources and critical peripheral items such as stand-alone battery chargers that could be vital. 
Approx. Price**
HP 2140
A-?, B+?
160gb Std.
HP 2133
160gb Std.
eeePC 1000
40gb SSD
eeePC 901
20gb SSD
eeePC 701
4gb SSD
Acer Aspire One(see_update)
8gb SSD


**w/o shipping

* – other options available


Update 4/07/09:

Still haven’t gotten hands on an HP 2140. HP is known to be one of the few planning enterprise-grade support for netbooks which their pricing reflects.

eeePC continues to release new models with emphasis moving a little more towards products designed for XP with the newest minor improvements in graphics, processing and battery efficiency. It is reported that they will be streamlining their netbook product line over the coming months.

Acer is still in the race with quite impressive sales that keeps competitors from resting easy. They still stick to a very basic model with few additional options, the $300 now fetching a 10" screen, 1gig RAM and a large standard hard-drive with XP Home. Acer currently has a demo progrmam for schools, offering a 30-day free trial with a $200 price for keeping it (only one at that price). Further update (4/13/09): Just rec’d demo of updated version and immediately note that the Aspire One now has a "quality feel" previously missing. It already had one of the best keyboard layouts and now seems to have a more solid action, while the chassis, lid and hinges are somewhat more rugged as well; so what previously was a "consumer recommended" unit now "makes the grade" for an enterprise deployment.

Other brands & models such as the Dell Mini and the MSI Wind should not be ignored. The Dell suffers from an atrocious keyboard layout that a motivated user will overcome for an otherwise great experience; and Dell is also offering netbook prices on 13" full-featured laptops. The MSI Wind hardware compares well with the best eeePC models if you don’t mind XP without a solid-state hard-drive option or want to install your own Linux anyway.

Buzz is starting to build about the arrival of ARM processors into the personal computing market with devices that will blend the best of "cel"phone technology with netbooks to achieve even more efficiency, portability and economy; while the phones themselves continue to put more and more PC functionality in your pocket.

Linux seems to be losing ground in the netbook market for various reasons; but the ARM processor may alter the trend as well as Microsoft’s Windows 7 business model (keep prices high).


Features and Challenges Considered for a Mini-Note Computer Deployment
1.       Durability/Reliability
“Smaller” (or more compact), to an extent, seems to equal “tougher” in the case of mini-notes. Solid state drives are immune to accidental damage, leaving cooling fans as only moving part. Fewer moving parts equals less internal breakdown. Attention to construction and “feel” of LCD lid and hinges, as well as “feel” of keyboard.
2.       Simplicity/Functionality
Preferably a mini-note computer should be ready to work out of the box with little or no preparation or user training. This means the included operating system should be easy to navigate with basic & necessary programs already included. Our mini-note infrastructure will ideally support curricular activities for anyone who can connect to the internet with a web-browser, regardless of brand or OS.
3.       Value
Emphasis on the best of all other factors for the least investment. Consideration of needs to be met over the unit’s usefull lifetime of four to five years (plus).
4.       Speed/Efficiency
Undue delays & stalls must be minimized due to shorter class periods and student inclination to take advantage of this excuse. Mini-note computers are not particularly fast or powerful but are efficient with the right combination of processor, RAM & operating system. Battery & power requirements will be an extremely significant factor in this project
5.       Processor – Recommended Intel Atom
5.1.    Intel Atom – also known as N270
Most efficient in current mini-note class both in terms of processing speed/power. Particularly noted for power consumption efficiency resulting in cooler operation and in turn quieter operation due to less fan noise.
5.2.    Intel Celeron
Original mini-note standard processor with reasonable power and fair efficiency with somewhat warm operation and reasonable noise level.
5.3.    VIA Processor
Underpowered, least efficient, hottest running.
6.       RAM – 512mb minimum, 1gb preferred
7.       Hard Drive
Solid-State hard drives are preferred for durability and power efficiency. Most models that have these are also available with a large standard hard drive and Windows XP Home at no extra price and in some cases a solid-state drive is much more expensive.
8.       Operating System – Recommended Linux, probably eeePC/Xandros but with Ubuntu as an alternative
8.1.    XP Home
Usually too slow on mini-notebook computers, at least when booting up or starting new programs. Not very expensive to license for mini-notes due to Microsoft’s aggressive interest in not being left out of the mini-note market.
8.2.    XP Pro
Not enough known about performance on mini-notes, though seemingly reasonable when customized. Very expensive to license for this class of computer – not part of the Microsoft approach to this market.
8.3.    Vista
Not known for speed or efficiency on any platform, much less mini-notes. Not part of Microsoft marketing approach for this platform, therefore expensive to license.
8.4.    Linux
8.4.1.Xandros – eeePC custom edition
Simple, intuitive, well rounded variety of programs out of the box. Vast community of user support due to immense popularity of eeePC mini-notes. Highly and easily customizable and adaptable.
8.4.2.Ubuntu – universal , free, not brand specific
Valuable alternative to out-of-the-box operating systems. Highly customizable and adaptable to most hardware with exception of wireless adapters on some brands. Vast community of user support due to unique global standing of Ubuntu Linux business-model/philosophy.
8.4.3.Linpus – Acer Aspire One custom edition
Reasonably simple and intuitive with good selection of programs. Smaller, but vigorous community of support.
8.4.4.Suse – HP/Novell Enterprise Edition
Not proven by our own experiences, but thought to meet and possibly exceed most of our requirements in many ways. Has enterprise features including extensive Microsoft interoperability that other Linux systems may lack. It should be noted that integration of mini-notes into our infrastructure is expected to largely ignore “enterprise” features with a largely web-based “cloud-computing” approach.
9.       Battery/Power –three-cell or six-cell batteries come as standard equipment
Three-cell batteries tend to operate a mini-note computer for 2 to 3.5 hours when new and take around twice that long to charge. Six-cell batteries are good for around 5.5 to 7 hours operation and need to charge overnight. Some models come with a 3-cell standard and have an available 6-cell but the price is almost prohibitive; whereas, buying a model that has a 6-cell as standard equipment is much more cost-effective. Power is expected to be the most challenging “infrastructure” issue in this project, as no matter how good the original battery is, students will soon enough need ample opportunities to “plug-in” for a charge or operation. In some models, a 6-cell battery contributes to a less convenient overall size and shape of computer.
10.   Screen
These range from 7” to 10” with resolution being a more important issue for younger eyes. The 7” screen has a resolution slightly lower than practical because normal web pages and even programs often do not fit and sometimes even scrolling cannot compensate. Nine inch screens have a resolution that is quite practical and 10” screens use the same resolution with the luxury of viewing it only slightly bigger. Glossy screens look awesome until you get near a window or go outside, at which time the glare can make them unusable.
11.   Keyboard
As a rule, the bigger the screen, the larger the keyboard making the choice between 9” inch and 10” screen actually a choice between the bigger keyboard which is probably a more important consideration. Keyboards in this class max out at approximately 93% of “full-size”, with smaller sizes featuring altered placement of vital keys such as the Right-Shift.        


Netbook Update Here

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