Eee, by gum!

Alex Kidman
7 February, 2008
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Or: Is too much computing power a bad thing?

(Author’s apology: Having lead a Goodies-soaked youth, I always wanted to use that headline. Be happy it wasn’t “Eeecky Thump!”)

So, having discussed the Eee PC over on the Australian Macworld Forums – you should head there after you’ve read this (but not until you do – that would be rude), I cracked yesterday, and went out and purchased one.

I’d been pondering the machine for a while; a cheap ultraportable that’s good for travelling and working in-between meetings? Something I can leave on a table in the house and check intermittently in-between tasks? That’s ideal. I’d given some thought a while back to tracking down a cheap iBook for the same task, but to be honest I’ve never been that happy with the concept of a totally second-hand notebook. There’s just too much that can have happened to an older notebook that I, as a purchaser, might not be aware of.

Standing outside the Macworld conference a few weeks back, I’d commented to a couple of other journalists that I was considering an Eee purchase, but was holding back somewhat, hopeful that the tales of an ultraportable Mac weren’t just idle rumours. Instead, they turned into the MacBook Air.

I’d also considered the iPod Touch for the same task, and even wandered past a small display of them on my way to buy the Eee. Now, I’d be rather annoyed today if I’d purchased the 16GB Touch yesterday, only for the 32GB model to pop its cute little head up today. Actually, that’s a lie; I’d be re-packing the 16GB model up and taking it back to the store for a refund before placing an order for the 32GB system. Remember folks, be good to your packaging, and it will be good to you. Abuse it, and the store will give you a whole lot more grief if you need to make a quick return.

As a complete aside, I find the $629 asking price of the 32GB Touch fascinating. Would it be $599 without the recent upgrade tax?

Anyway, I’m not going to review the Eee here – that’s been done in this month’s issue of the magazine, as well as dissected in the aforementioned forums – but I will comment on one aspect of what the Eee does, and why it’s a huge challenge for every maker of laptops and desktops. Including Apple.

Here’s the secret (are you ready?): The Eee does what I need it to do.

That might not seem like much of a secret, except that the Eee is both dirt cheap (for an ultraportable – the Air somewhat plays in this space, but a better comparative would be one of Sony’s very costly ultraportable Vaio laptops, which cost in the three grand range) and it performs some basic computing tasks very well indeed.

In my case, that’s jotting down story or interview notes, web research and playing back the occasional Weird Al Yankovic track while I work. And it does this off the back of what is frankly obsolete technology; a 900Mhz processor and 512MB of onboard memory. I’m not at all fussed by the relatively low storage space, as keeping simple documents onboard is rather easy – for the record, I’ve upped my Eee storage space with an SDHC card, but only because I had one handy – and it talks nicely to both my Mac and Windows systems.

Where that becomes a big challenge for Apple – beyond the obvious “why isn’t there an ultraportable Mac yet, Steve?” question – is in the fact that today’s computers fulfil many of the tasks users put to them – and still have more grunt left over besides. Certainly, those who want to edit video, crunch huge numbers or calculate the exact number of skin cells they’ve shed over the last thirty years will need extra grunt, but for the average use of the average user, we’re actually well over the hump when it comes to computing power. Outside of machines exploding — which they seem to do all too easily nowadays – you could survive quite comfortably on a very basic machine indeed. For my purposes, that’s a Macbook on which I do most of my basic office tasks, and the Eee for when I’m out and about. Neither is a powerhouse of a machine (and, as I’ve admitted before, my inner technology geek lusts after power, however meaninglessly), but they’re good enough for the job at hand.

Now, I can’t be the only one with modest computing needs. Simply by definition, most of us have average computing needs. In a market like that, something like the Eee can scoop up wads of cash (and is doing so), while something like the Air, while technically brilliant, and very sexy to look at, remains too much power to do simple tasks. In that kind of market, how does Apple (or any other vendor) entice you to part with your cash for a “better” machine?

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