The Gibbonfest continues. We've just had an Asus Eee in to look at - the £220 laptop that everyone who's seen it is going to buy. It's one of the hottest things in the office this year: the combination of the insanely low price tag, the perfectly functional specification (512MB RAM, 4GB internal flash SSD, wi-fi, real keyboard, VGA display) and its extreme portability makes it an instant hit.
However, we inherited the Eee from another reviewer, who had accidentally nuked the Xandros Linux OS with which it had been supplied. To spare his blushes, I'll let him remain anonymous for the next three words - but it was Rory Reid from cnet.co.uk - and I won't reveal he'd then bodged an XP install to leave things in quite a challenging state.
Since we couldn't find the binaries to reinstall the Asus custom version of Xandros, and had Ubuntu 7.10 CDs sitting around, we thought we'd give the Gibbon another spin.
First problem: although the BIOS spotted the USB external CD-ROM, and would let us select it first in the boot order, it refused to actually boot from it first, choosing instead to revert to the trashed internal flash drive. We tracked this down to an automatic ordering function which couldn't be overwritten; just removing the SSD from the boot list worked fine.
Then... well, there wasn't a then, really. Ubuntu just loaded. Not very fast - took around twenty minutes - and I had to guess some of the options I selected: a problem with 7.10 is that when you install on native resolution VGA (640x480), some of the dialogue boxes have their selection buttons off the bottom of the screen, and there's no way to change that.
It's not hard to do blind - even if you get it wrong it's rarely irreversible.
So there we had it - an Asus Eee running Ubuntu. And running it very well: the default colour scheme and wallpaper is a very good match for the hardware and looks quite swanky. Here's a shot of the beast in full gibber:
The Asus Eee running Ubuntu without a care in the world
The performance is great - Ubuntu is very comfortable with the 900MHz Celeron, and while it does have a CPU cooling fan it's inaudible. You won't have the greatest of times with the VGA resolution or the rather spongy twee little keyboard - but they're very usable.
There are some problems to fix. The wi-fi adaptor isn't working (it's an Atheros I haven't encountered before), there have been a couple of odd battery messages, and selecting power down from the desktop doesn't actually turn the PC off. Haven't even started to look at those yet, but I'm sure they're eminently fixable.
Assuming they are, this is an extremely nice little computer which is an ideal second laptop. If I can't hang onto this one, I'll have to buy one and start pimping it up. The 3G internal card would seem like a good place to start...