using a netbook as your daily computer

My new HP 6930p laptop unfortunately has an issue with the display latch (which is a “known issue” with this series) and also is very picky when it comes to accepting the docking station, which is why I called HP customer service last week and made use of the 3yr warranty it came with. Let’s see how HP performs – someone from UPS is supposed to come today and pick it up.

So…..since I actually need to have a working machine in my home office, I pulled out my Asus eeePC 1000HG netbook, removed the battery and connected it to my 22″ TFT and an external mouse & keyboard, a USB hub and a LAN cable.


Reason for blogging this is that I recently wrote about a netbook being a real AfriGadget as it could serve anyone who needs to have a light & flexible computer that’s good enough for most basic tasks. And it is.

Since I was in a hurry last week, I pulled out the WinXP recovery disc and installed WinXP on it – thereby killing my previous WinXP & Ubuntu dual boot setup. But then…I just need it to work out-of-the-box right now and it seemed to be the quickest solution, so I won’t mind about the 160GB harddisk being split into two partitions now – instead of five. Asus Recovery DVD is some piece of sh… it doesn’t provide clean installs of the shipped WinXP Home (I had previoulsy partioned the HDD with PartedMagic – resulting in a Grub error..ah, well..).

So, WindowsXP Home. It could be worse.

Is this Netbook strong enough for a 24/7 job, substituting my computing needs on a 90% desktop, 10% mobile basis? Yes!

The performance of this Intel N270 Atom CPU @ 1,6GHz with 2 GB of RAM and a simple Intel on-board graphics solution is said to be somewhere close to 5yr old Pentium-M processor notebooks. A geekbench I was once did scored something like 935 points (old HP nx8220 15,4″ 1,86 GHz single core laptop = ~ 1200 // new HP 6930p 14,1″ 2,26 Ghz Core2Duo = ~ 3060 points) and it sure isn’t the fastest machine, but it also hasn’t failed to deliver performance for most of my tasks so far.

It’s an interesting question, also since Erik of recently complained about his Acer AAO netbook he had to use while his MacBookPro was in for a repair. The tiny 10,1″ screen on the netbook itself is a joke if you seriously need / want to work on it. However, being connected to an external TFT (and supplying both screens at the same time) and an external keyboard, things are A LOT easier and turn this little toy into a serious machine. The integrated graphics solution is even strong enough for a quick session in UrbanTerror. Sweet! My eeePC 1000HG also comes with an integrated 2G/3G modem, so it is a really mobile machine (provided there is network coverage).

For as long as my new HP laptop is under repair, I will have to stick to this netbook and use it on a daily basis. It will be on and online every day (= about 18h per day), enabling me to see if a netbook is really strong enough to survive all of the given tasks. I will also go on a vacation soon and take the netbook with me. I am already very curious to see how it can perform on the road – I did my AfriGadget presentation on it as well, so I already know what it is capable of.

Another motivation for this experiment is to see how much computing power I actually need most of the time and to make do with what is available. I already like the almost inaudible integrated fan and the fact that it doesn’t become too hot (for some reasons which are probably related to battery charging, it is actually much colder now compared to when it runs on batteries or when the batteries are being recharged – interesting). As for the tiny screen size: most eeePCs come with a button to instantly adjust the screen resolution (a big plus for eee PCs, btw), and a screen resolution of 1024×600 pixels isn’t an issue, actually. What is problematic is the tiny size of the display – an 11″ screen would be much better, but then, again, with a 22″ TFT connected to it (via VGA only though) you can actually work on it without noting a difference.

Netbooks = AfriGadget

Over at AfriGadget, we usually call something an AfriGadget if it is a DIY solution to a problem or situation to which there just isn’t any ready-made solution available.

In places where you just can’t go to the next hardware store and buy a ready-made solution, an AfriGadget is such an attempt for a working alternative.

I would even go as far as saying that Germany, for instance, is a very modular country (with many regulations & technical norms) and consequently offers many ready-made solutions that can just be purchased and instantly used. Spare parts for cars, houses, technical equipment – you name it, there’s a norm on it and a place where you can buy it.

2888960873 91a4e7a7f4Erik of WhiteAfrican recently argued that “If it Works in Africa, It will Work Anywhere”.

You may or may not agree with this provocative thesis, but it also shows that we are still consuming many products in the “developed” countries which were actually made for our consumer behaviour. And these things are also exported to Africa.

Anyone in the diaspora who has ever exported his older laptop for members of the extended family back home also knows that it may probably be broken once he/she returns during the next holiday.

Most conventional laptops are just too fragile to withstand the heat, dust, unstable power supply, malware and other threats the relatively rough life on “the dark continent” has to offer. And battery runtime with an average of max. 2h is often below par.

Netbooks are different.

Netbooks are simple, often light-weight small computers with a simple (but modern) CPU, enough RAM, a harddisk, a small screen (7″-10″), 2-3 USB ports, a sound card, WLAN connection and a card reader. They sometimes even come with an internal Bluetooth adapter so you can connect your mobile or other Bluetooth-enabled equipment to such a little machine. Oh, and it also has a webcam which is neat.

Most importantly though, many current netbooks are quite durable and even survive rough conditions.


Take my netbook, for example. I’ve purchased this used Asus eee PC 901 a month ago – and while I am still struggling with it’s tiny keyboard layout – I just can’t stop thinking that it could or should actually be THE killer device for use in many developing countries.

My netbook doesn’t have a conventional magnetic (rotating) hard disk, but instead comes with (slow) SSD flash memory. Like the one found on USB memory keys. 12 GB for the operating system, programs and some private data. Battery runtime is beyond 5h on this little baby – which means that it’ll even survive the next power failure. And since the tiny CPU inside doesn’t consume too much power, it could also work from the electricity generated via solar panels (a technology that’s already quite popular in many rural areas).

And here’s the bonus: most future netbooks will be sold with an internal UMTS modem, so you just insert your SIM card and go online. From anywhere where there’s network coverage. (I am actually saving on an Asus eee 1000H Go which has a 10,2″ screen, a better keyboard and an internal 3G modem).

The term “netbook” may be a bit irritating though (besides of this legal battle) as we all know that Internet broadband connectivity is still very limited and expensive in many developing countries. Instead, these little computers are much more than just very mobile computers with very good battery runtime: they are sufficient for most needs.

I’d say that at least 90% of your average tasks can be done on such a machine. Surfing the www, checking your e-mails, writing texts, spreadsheets, games – you name it, it does it. The only thing it doesn’t have is an internal DVD player, so your illegal DVDs purchased at that junction downtown probably won’t play – unless of course you connect an external DVD player via USB.

As long as the iPhone or maybe also some new Google Android phones are the only mobiles with a decent web browser (@Nokia: the S60 browser is NOT a decent solution), netbooks may be the perfect alternative platform and substitute the missing alternative.

“If it works in Africa….”….no, if it works anywhere else, it will also work in Africa.

70% of Netbook sales so far have been in Europe – where they are often only used as second computers or desktop alternatives to those who just want to surf the net from their couch.

In many developing countries though, Netbooks could imho be the entry platform and substitute the otherwise missing or broken (older) computer system. Why? Because they are cheaper, more durable, come with their own power supply and are mobile enough to be shared by many different members of a family or local community.

And that’s why I consider netbooks to be real AfriGadgets. A solution to a problem we have in the past often tried to cure with mobile phones and their still ailing browser software.

DVB-T on the eee 901

I recently purchased a refurbished DVB-T (TV) USB stick for use on the Asus eeePC 901. I also have another – much bigger and older – DVB-T stick (Yakumo Quickstick, modified) for use on the other laptop:

old vs. new // 8cm vs. 4cm


The new stick is based on the Siano SMS 1000 chipset which basically are these two (tiny) chips as seen on the pcb above.

Such chips are btw also used on mobile phones that come with an internal DVB-T receiver and are really small (especially if compared to the conventional DVB-T USB sticks which are often even larger than normal memory keys).

Oh, and this Siano 1000 device (sold as “Terratec Piranha” some time ago) is also capable of receiving DMB and DVB-H (not supported in Germany).


Some sources said it *may* not be compatible with GNU/Linux but I am yet to test that with MeTV (my fav app on Ubuntu for TV) and see if that’s really true. I mainly bought it because it was cheap (hey, refurbished! :-) and because of its tiny size. The initial plan was to mod my eeePC and install this thing inside the laptop but it would still require an external antenna (proper DVB-T reception really depends on a decent antenna) so I somehow gave up along the way and am now just using it as an external USB device because it’s already much smaller/shorter than the other DVB-T stick.



This way (with the antenna on the back side of the display) it is still portable enough – although I am still tempted to directly solder the antenna cord to the device, omitting the antenna connectors.

This TV stick currently receives 22 channels of which most are just crap. Maybe that’s why we never invested in a proper TV set?

Frankfurt 101 and the mouse

Bought this mouse for the netbook today – an A4tech X6-60MD in black – which has this retractable USB cord and comes with a somehow smarter “GLASER” diode/sensor which is said to also work on a glass table (most optical mice don’t).

X6-60MD mouse compared to the wireless desktop mouse

Attaching the mouse to the netbook actually adds a lot of convience to the system – the keyboard and tiny (yet brilliant) screen, however, aren’t that comfortable to work on. The keyboard on this 8,9″ netbook has the same size as the one on 7″ netbooks – next step would have been a 10,2″ netbook though which again adds another 0,3 kg. So this combination will have to do fo the moment. Connecting the netbook to a UMTS phone is a matter of seconds, so it really is a perfect NETbook – even on the road.

I’ve btw stayed with WinXP on this netbook (instead of EasyPeasy 1.0 or eeeUbuntu Standard) because of the special function keys that just work perfectly well with WinXP. Resizing the screen resolution to a compressed 1024×768 (instead of the normal 1024×600) is a matter of one key press. This may of course also be possible with a tuned Ubuntu, but again: not as easy as with XP and I just don’t have the time these days to figure it out. Besides, some of my fav. apps only work with XP and not under (the Windows emulator) Wine.

Sooo….blogging from the netbook (I am currently writing this post on the eee 901) is ok, but due to the keyboard not as convenient as it should be. You’ll quickly end up using 3-4 fingers only. :-(


Someone from Asia also needs to explain to me one day why there’s so much plastic involved in the packaging of such gadgets. A simple cardboard box would have done as well! At least this one could be opened easily and didnt require the scissors. Stupid.

Another thing to note about A4tech products is that their drivers are much better than the Logitech software package which bricked my desktop system the other day.

Oh, and it’s really amazing how long the battery lasts on this netbook. @E-Nyce: the wear-out level is down to 93% on this used battery/netbook, which is still ok I think.

Once my 15,4″ notebook (= desktop PC with an external 22″ monitor and external keyboard/mouse) retires (hopefully not too soon), I’ll probably go for a 12,2″ or 13″ notebook from either HP, IBM or Samsung and also make sure that it has a bright enough screen (= not as pale as the one on my 15,4″ notebook).



Took this snapshot earlier this week right here in Frankfurt am Main because it reminded me of Taipeh 101.

I am now officially registered as a resident of Frankfurt/M. It may not be the best city to live in, but it has Germany’s biggest airport and is located in the middle of Germany which means I can reach Hamburg or Bremen (in the North) and Munich or Freiburg (in the South) in 3-4h only. Strategically convenient.