A bit of consumerEeesm

28Nov07

Update: Candace (another ‘American Physics Student in England’) has written a nice Eee review, and Theo also points out the OLPC.

The laptop that carried me through my undergraduate years is slowly dying, and it’s time to start thinking about a replacement.

Picking a new computer is a big deal. As a theorist it’s the only piece of fancy machinery that I have to show for myself.🙂

Anyway, I’m likely to join the many Mac users in academia with a MacBook sometime in the future. I’ll not dwell on the details of my decision, but will instead refer you to Professor Murayama’s very useful page for physicists.

However, I’ve become intrigued by the latest techno-must-have, the $400 Asus Eee PC 701 (official link). Most technocrats would probably classify the Eee as a toy rather than a computer. And indeed, I originally became interested in the machine as a user-friendly e-mail/Skype device for my technophobic mother.

But on further inspection, I’m beginning to wonder if the Eee is the perfect `travel’ computer for the academic on the go.

  • It’s tiny, it sits comfortably on a sheet of legal paper with an inch-long margin to spare and weighs less than a kilo. (I know I’m mixing up units.)
  • It has a small hard drive (2 – 8 GB), but it’s a solid state flash drive. This means you can expect very fast load times and a slightly longer battery life.
  • All the hardware you need: wireless, 3 USB 2.0 ports, a memory card reader, VGA-out, even an option for a built-in webcam.
  • It runs Linux. There’s an `easy’ mode OS that makes it easy for children and grandmothers to use Skype, but also a `full’ distribution of Xandros Linux.

It won’t cut it as a primary computer, but I’m starting to think that it could be a very solid investment as a computer to bring “on the road” to conferences and workshops. First of all, the form factor and light weight make it easier to lug around than a copy of Peskin and Schroeder, with a battery life that will suffice for intracontinental flights.

It has all the software for everyday computing: OpenOffice, Firefox, Skype, and any other package you care to install. The few gigs of hard drive space isn’t enough for Mathematica, but it’s still plenty for reading papers or running lightweight code, even fortran. (You can always SSH into your main computer/university terminal for heavier computing processes.) Throw in a TeX distribution, and you’re writing papers and tweaking your beamer presentation.

The VGA-out is the standard projector interface, so in theory it would be suitable for giving talks. (Though I have reservations about whether the resolution will hold.) The USB ports provide options for an external remote/pointer, while the WiFi is great for uploading last-minute revisions to a conference webpage.

And ultimately, one can leave one’s [expensive, large-screen] primary computer at safely home (within reach of an SSH) and feel comfortable knowing that the tiny PC one is currently using is cheaper than an iPhone. Heck, it’s probably cheaper than the plane ticket to your next conference.

I’ll probably go ahead and invest in a MacBook in the next year or so, but the idea of having an Eee ‘for the road’ is intriguing. (I may purchase one for my mom as a test run.)
A nice, totally unrelated anecdote: while I was an undergrad, this story ran in the school newspaper about a theory postdoc who chased a laptop theif, uttering the now-famous sentences:

I can run faster than you, just drop the laptop [!].

There was no way in hell I was going to let him get away with all my research.

-A. Maloney



3 Responses to “A bit of consumerEeesm”

  1. If you want such a computer, why not help a good cause too?

    10 hours of batter, 2 kilometers wireless, and a screen that works in full direct sunlight.

  2. I got an eee the day it was released and it has definitely restored my sanity: I immediately installed tex, fortran, scilab, etc. and since then I’ve been able to get all sorts of work done on the go. My Macbook was just too cumbersome, and I hardly notice carrying my eee around at all.

    I wrote a review of it after I’d had it a week, here ya go:
    http://epistolary.net/eeereview.html

    Definitely recommended for physicists on the go!

  3. I got an eee the day it was released and it has definitely restored my sanity: I immediately installed tex, fortran, scilab, etc. and since then I’ve been able to get all sorts of work done on the go. My Macbook was just too cumbersome, and I hardly notice carrying my eee around at all.

    I wrote a review of it after I’d had it a week, here ya go:
    http://epistolary.net/eeereview.html

    Definitely recommended for physicists on the go!



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