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Asus Eee: a $199 lightweight laptop and potential hacker "swiss army knife"


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A few days ago I stumbled upon the Asus Eee laptop project. It's a small, lightweight laptop in the OLPC-vein, and basically has all the built-in stuff you'd want, check out the spex:

  • Display: 7"

Processor: Intel mobile CPU (Intel 910 chipset, 900MHz Dothan Pentium M)

Memory: 512MB RAM

OS: Linux (Asus customized flavor)

Storage: 8GB or 16GB flash hard drive

Webcam: 300K pixel video camera

Battery life: 3 hours using 4-cell battery

Weight: 2lbs

Dimensions: 8.9 in x 6.5 in x 0.82 in - 1.37 in (width x depth x thickness)

Ports: 3 USB ports, 1 VGA out, SD card reader, modem, Ethernet, headphone out, microphone in

It will run a Linux distro called Xandros. The Asus Eee PC701 should be released in August this year, and the price will (eventually) be $199. This will be for the version with the 4 GB flash "harddisk" (although the above specs don't mention 4GB, others do), so I guess a usefull version with 8GB or 16GB -- especially early on -- will be more expensive, between $250 and $300. Google for more info, or check out this review at notebookreview.com: http://www.notebookreview.com/default.asp?newsID=3829

As some of you might remember, I have posted before about cheap, portable "hacking devices", like the Zaurus SL-5500 PDA, the Zipit Wireless IM "toy" that can run Linux, or even smartphones. I never liked laptops because they were just too much for me. Too expensive, too heavy, too much of everything. One of the users on http://www.eeeuser.com/ (an early gathering place for Eee enthousiasts) sums up why the Asus Eee would be perfect for people like me:

"After I dropped $1,400 on my MacBook I discovered something:  It's too freaking big.  Compared to other notebooks, it's relatively compact, and it's the smallest laptop Apple makes, so (being the Apple loyalist I am) I decided I'd just have to "make do" with it. I couldn't. A year later, I can count the number of times I've taken my MacBook outside of my house on one hand.  I just don't like the idea of lugging a full computer around - especially a shiny expensive one."

Here's why I think the Asus Eee will be popular and a great souped-up toy for hackers:

  • [li]It's cheap. You can take it to more places knowing you won't be losing a $1500 device if you lose or break, or if it gets stolen/confiscated.[/li]

[li]It's got all the basics. From audio in/out to webcam, from built-in wifi to 3 USB connectors[/li]

[li]It runs Linux out of the box, and can run Win XP and probably many other *nix variants (like Ubuntu Mobile)[/li]

[li]It's one common platform. People can develop and finetune tools, and they'll work on all laptops. No driver conflicts, no hardware incompatilibilties[/li]

[li]Community. For the same reason stated above, I am sure this machine will get a lively community of hackers, coders and the like.[/li][li]

I am wondering how many of you are interested in this machine and are thinking about getting one. I know I've seen Metatron around one of the ealy forums around the Eee :) I sure am interested in the Eee, although Europe is unfortunately last as far as releasing the Eee goes. :(

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Can you tell which one it is? (I'll give you a hint.It's white.)

I personally think its would be cool for just messing around with while on the road, but you would need to buy a usb cd/dvd drive for it because it does not have one built in. Unless you carry one of those 16gig PNY drives with all your needs on it. First thing to do is replace the OS with one of your choice, but what kind of things are inside that you could get drivers for? Graphics card, NIC card, etc. And does it have wireless or do you need to go USB Wireless as well?

To me its a toy but not realy usefull unless you have al the extra USB hardware to make it more usefull, like wirelss, cd/dvd burner, etc. Maybe for kids in school to type up homework and surf the net for research, but as a total hacking tool or even low cost pc, id rather have one with all the blls and whistles. Even a PDA has wireless capabilities. Any device today that does not have wi-fi built in is kind of a step backwards. Still, it would be a nice toy to play with.

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@digip: Yeah, well, if you would've read my first post you'd know the answers all your questions. Except for Bluetooth and an optical drive, it has everything else you would need. The 8GB version will be sufficient for hacking (you're planning on getting > 6GB kismet logs?).

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It's a cool little laptop. I will be getting one, although I plan on modding it extensively to make it more useful in my day to day life. The first thing that I think needs to be changed is the battery, as its a cheap device they have used a cheap battery and replacing it with a high end NiMH battery, will offer a significant capacity increase.

The second thing is to solder on a pigtail to the internal wireless module, so an external antenna can be used. Thirdly if there is enough room internally, I would want to install a Linksys USBBT100 Bluetooth adapter and a GlobalSat BU-353 GPS receiver both of which are small. I may as well repaint it as I will have it in pieces and it’s easy enough to do at that point.

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@metatron: souped up wifi reception and Bluetooh FTW. It should pick up everything that's interesting from the airwaves then. I'm never on the road for too long without being able to recharge, so a new battery isn't my biggest priority. I will be keeping a close eye on your - and others - findings though, and wait till the best replacement has been decided. GPS is also not a big priority for me, but I'd be very interested in the hack, especially if it's possible to keep it all out of sight.

Sigh... is it August/September yet?

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Yeah -- heard about the Medison Celebrity but it just sounds too good to be true and it looks like a scam. But seeing is believing, so when I read enough reliable sources that actually HAVE one, I'll change my opinion.

I read today that (predicably) the release date for the Eee has been set back to the end of september... The same article also said Asus hadn't decided on the final specs yet, so if THAT isn't even clear, I doubt it will go into full production any time soon.

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