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New Lappy

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Well after griping about the quality of the software on Maggie's OLPC laptop a couple of weeks ago, we decided to do something about it. After a little discussion, we chose to ebay the OLPC and replace it with one of the legion of baby laptops that hit the market recently. Given that OLPC's are holding their value rather well, we figured we could probably trade it in for another lappy for a net of less than $100.

So I started looking. And, if you know me, you know I found a deal :)

Actually this one's from Microsoft. If you use any search-engine nowadays, you'll notice the sponsored links at the top, often combined with some icons as to how well they support the search engine's parent company. Well Microsoft is doing this too, but they're combining that with some pretty impressive rebates. And one of the participating companies is ebay, seller of pretty-much everything on the planet.

And the rebates are pretty substantial. I got 30% cash-back on the new lappy.

There's a full description of how to do it here, but suffice it to say it's easy to do and it works. My little live.com cashback page tells me that in 52 days I'll be sent $135 by paypal, dropping the net price of Maggie's new Lappy to $314.

And it looks like the deal works for pretty-much everything that has a "buy it now" price on ebay. I think you need to sign up with live.com, but if you have an old hotmail address laying around somewhere, you're already signed up.

As for the new Lappy (purchased from reseller "multiwavevideo" and highly recommended), it's great. It's an EEE PC 901 with XP. It's about the same size as the old Lappy. It's white, which made me sad because they have cute pink and green ones that Maggie would've loved. It has a similar collection of ports and such to the OLPC, although it adds an ethernet and VGA port. While they have hard drive versions available, we opted for the one with the 12 gig flash drive so the unit would be kid-proof and long-battery-lived like the old Lappy.

My biggest worry was with XP and 12 gig, there'd be pretty-much zero space left for anything else, especially after Windows Update installed 20 updates including new Media Player, .NET, and Silverlight. After uninstalling the built-in apps and installing all the updates, I ended up with 9 gig free (one gig free on the main OS partition and 8 gig on the now-empty app/content partition). I figure between the free space on the app partition and the plummeting cost of SD Cards, it won't be a problem getting a long car-trip's worth of videos and games on this thing.

Only complaint now is that there's not quite enough free space on the main OS partition to hibernate. Anyone know of a free nondestructive re-partitioner I can use on this thing?

The screen's basically a scaled down version of those 1280x800 widescreen laptops. It's a 1024x600 screen that's very sharp. It has a couple of hotkey-activated screen modes that are presumably for apps that demand a 4x3 aspect ratio. Basically 800x600 with the sides cut off or 1024x768 with scrolling. Thus-far the only thing we found that simply will not fit is webkinz.com, which is a Flash-based site that (very rudely) refuses to scroll OR resize to fit a smaller screen. All of the other kid-friendly sites (Disney Pixie Hollow, Yahoo Kids, Homestar Runner, The Code Zone [g]) work just fine.

And, best of all, it runs Flash content like a champ. My biggest complaint about the OLPC was mediocre-to-unusable Flash performance, which made the vast bulk of kid-friendly websites (see above) a poor experience. Suddenly Maggie's enthused to use her Lappy because the kids websites work great.

It's running one of the new Atom processors. Apparently the first generation of EEE's ran celerons which caused some performance complaints. The Atom, though, is way snappier than it has a right to be. Windows thinks it has two processors, but a check on the BIOS settings reveals that the Atom is actually using "hyperthreading" which was a trick the P4's used to wring out a little extra performance by pretending to be two cores. It's not as nice as an according-to-hoyle dual-core machine, but there's only so much you can expect out of a machine that's half-again as large as VHS videotape.

The only thing keeping me from getting one of these myself is the keyboard. I like my big cheap Acer laptop because it has a full size keyboard and is great for touch-typing and taking notes in real-time. The EEE keyboard is doing its best with the space it has, but it's cramped and is really uncomfortable for typing. And while I don't have big freaky sausage-fingers, I found it easy to press neighboring keys while typing. Six year-old hands fit it just fine.

The speakers are microscopic and very quiet. If you wanna watch videos on this thing, get some headphones.

There wasn't a ton of bundled software. Some of it was important, like their little hotkey software that let you toggle clock speed from "slow and run for eight hours" versus "fast and run for two" and the screen-resolution-switcher. One oddity was that it shipped with both MS Works and StarOffice installed. Given the amount of storage on it, I uninstalled both figuring that Google Docs (which works wonderfully) would be a good choice for now. I can always slap OpenOffice on it later.

One other feature it brags about is "20 gig of online storage", which is one of those online services that stores your files on their cloud. Given that everybody and their brother nowadays wants to give you free storage on their cloud, I didn't bother with it.

So, is it for you? It depends. If you're a kid, absolutely. Maggie's been pining away for a Wii for a year now, but a little Lappy that'll play every Flash game it can find (including Pixie Hollow, which is the biggest danged girl-magnet on the planet) is a good substitute.

If you're a grownup, it depends on what you wanna do. If you want something to surf the web from the living room, play Bejeweled on the front porch, and play videos while you're on vacation, then absolutely. If you wanna do real work on it, then you'd better at least plan to buy an external USB keyboard or you're gonna hurt your fingers.
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There's a linux based utility called GParted that you could get on a Linux live disk that might work. Of course I'm not sure how this will work without an optical drive... maybe put it on a USB thumb drive?

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I have the black 701. The key thing for the Eee is to disable everything in Windows that wastes space or pounds the disk: virtual memory, System Restore, Indexing Service. If you're worried about restoring, use something like Deep Freeze to make a bootable USB key that will restore the operating system and keep user data on an SD card.

I'm running SP3 on mine and I have a good three or four gigs available right now; also don't forget to clean out the remnants of old Windows Updates from your Windows directory.

Also, I hope you'll get the munchkin a Wii eventually; you can write it off of your taxes! It runs Flash. [lol]

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