Asus Eee PC Tweak Guide

by Reads (760,416)

by Kevin O’Brien

Easy to disassemble, easy to upgrade, and easy to create warranty headaches is probably the slogan many advanced users will be thinking soon after they get their hands on an Asus Eee PC. During our initial review we realized that this device had so much more potential than what we had first expected.  Not counting the storage limitation, this little machine was as powerful as notebooks four to five times its price. The Xandros Linux environment could be expanded with more traditional programs, and better yet this device could fully support Windows XP out of the box. We also wanted to touch on upgrading the Eee PC, since its stock configuration doesn’t really have as much ram as what you would want for more stressing software.

Some users will probably enjoy the minimalistic Linux environment included on the Eee PC out of the box, and not want to drastically change anything … just add a few programs. Jerry, our site editor, fell into this crowd and found that one program lacking from the Eee PC out of the box was Gimp, a photo editor. You could see mentioning of this program if you tried to open image files, but it was a dead link that would introduce you to a helpful error stating “Could not find the program ‘The’”. Needless to say it got our hopes up, but left us wanting more.

The First Hack: Adding Programs

One simple (simple for some users comfortable with using a text editor) way to add programs such as Gimp is to gain root access to the console, edit a file, and tell it to install the program. Below are the step-by-step instrucions:

Click on the “Work” tab and open the file manager.

Inside the file manager click on the “tools” option in the menu bar, and select the option to open a console window.

In the console window type “sudo bash”, and click enter.


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You now have root access. Type “nano /etc/apt/sources.list”, which will load a simple text editor to edit this file. In the file that loads you will see two lines listing Asus servers that the Eee PC uses to pull in software applications over the web. You will want to add an additional server, by moving the cursor down an additional line (press down till you hit the last filled line, then press end, then hit enter). Then type in “deb http://xnv4.xandros.com/4.0/pkg xandros4.0-xn main contrib non-free”, and save your work. Press ctrl+x, and click “y”.


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With that added, you can now install Gimp (and other applications inside that group). First you will want to refresh your notebooks software list by typing “apt-get update” and press enter inside the same root console. Once that has completed, type “apt-get install gimp”, which will prompt you for a “y” a couple of times.

After that the Eee PC handles the download and installation itself, and you are home free. Gimp is now installed on your system, and you can edit images by right clicking them and selecting Gimp as the program to edit them the same way you choose "Open with" on a Windows computer.

Using this same method you can install countless other programs (even more using other server sources) if you feel the need.

The Second Hack: Adding the Start Icon

Another helpful modification is adding the simple “start” icon to the bottom left side of the screen. This was left out of the Eee PC configuration, and I always found myself accidentally clicking the home button instead. You can add this with another simple hack.

Open the same console through the file manager as listed above, and type “sudo bash” to gain root access.

Now create a folder by typing “mkdir /home/user/.icewm”, and copying a configuration file to it typing “cp /etc/X11/icewm/preferences  /home/user/.icewm/”.


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Now you open a text editor by typing “nano /home/user/.icewm/preferences”. Scroll down (page down works so much faster), and find the line that says “TaskBarShowStartMenu”, and change the “0” next to it to “1”. Now press “ctrl+x”, hit “y” to save, and restart the Eee PC. You will now have a start button at the bottom of your screen after the Eee PC restarts.

Windows XP: A Whole New Ball of Hacks

The next stage of this guide is covering Windows XP on the Eee PC. This requires an external USB DVD drive, an XP installation disc with a valid Windows XP key, and the Asus DVD that came in the box with your Eee PC. Asus included a multi-purpose DVD with the Eee PC designed to handle everything from driver installation in Windows, to recovery of the original Linux operating system. We won’t cover the step-by-step Windows installation in this review, but will explain what needs to be done after your first system boot.

After the first true boot into Windows XP, you will want to install all the drivers and software off the Asus supplied disc. After inserting the disc, it will automatically prompt you to install special ACPI drivers needed to correctly identify the notebooks hardware. After this installs, it will require a restart.

SPECIAL NOTE: I highly suggest you go into the BIOS (press F2 during startup) at this time and change the boot priority so that the system checks the internal drive first, then the external optical device. If you don’t change this in the BIOS, and you let the disc stay in the drive, the system will load the recovery portion of the Asus DVD and restore to the original Linux system on each restart.


Go to the boot menu in the BIOS. (view large image)

Select the external DVD drive during the XP install. (view large image)

Select the internal flash drive after you install XP. (view large image)
 

 

On the next system startup, open the Asus driver utility again if it has not loaded by itself, and select the “InstAll” package. This will install all of the software unique to the Asus EEE PC, correctly configuring all the hardware on the notebook. It will take a while, and expect it to restart your notebook three to four times before it finishes. After this has completed, your system should be up and running completely.

Here is an example of the Eee PC ($399) booting into Windows XP versus a Toshiba Tecra A9 ($1,749) booting into Windows Vista.

For those of you wondering how this system performs inside Windows XP, here are some benchmarks:

PCMark05

PCMark05 measures overall system performance:

Notebook PCMark05 Score
Asus Eee PC 701 4G (900MHz Intel Celeron M ULV) 1,132 PCMarks
Sony VAIO TZ (1.20GHz Intel Core 2 Duo U7600) 2,446 PCMarks
Fujitsu LifeBook P7230 (1.2GHz Intel Core Solo U1400) 1,152 PCMarks
Sony VAIO VGN-G11XN/B (1.33GHz Core Solo U1500) 1,554 PCMarks
Toshiba Portege R500 (1.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo U7600) 1,839 PCMarks

 

wPrime comparison results:

Notebook / CPU wPrime 32M time
Asus Eee PC 701 4G (Intel Celeron M ULV @ 900MHz) 200 seconds
Sony VAIO VGN-G11XN/B (Core Solo U1500 @ 1.33GHz) 125 seconds
Sony VAIO TZ (Core 2 Duo U7600 @ 1.20GHz) 76 seconds
Dell Inspiron 2650 (Pentium 4 Mobile @ 1.6GHz) 231 seconds

 

You can’t complain about those benchmarks for a $399 notebook considering some of those other notebooks cost more than $1,000.


The Eee PC compared to a Sony VAIO TZ, Fujitsu LifeBook P7120, and an office tile. (view large image)

Windows XP Tweak: The Swap File

Since the Eee PC has such a limited amount of internal storage space, I highly recommend disabling the swap file, or severely reducing it. To change the swap file size, click on “Start,” go to “Settings”, and open the Control Panel. In the control panel select the “Performance and Maintenance” and find “System”.  Now go to the “Advanced” tab at the top of the window, and in the “Performance” group click “Settings”. In the next window click the “Advanced” tab, and in the “Virtual memory” section click “Change”. Now select “Custom size” and set the Initial and Maximum sizes to a value such as 200, and click “Set”. You can also select “No paging file” if you have at least 1GB of RAM. Now click ok, it will prompt up you should be finished. Those who opted to completely disable the swap file have one more step.

The swap file isn’t generally removed after you disable it, this must be done manually. To find the swap file, and delete it, you will need to modify some folder settings. From your desktop or Start menu, open up “My Computer”. Now double click on “Local Disc C:” to open that section. From the menu bar select “Tools” and then “Folder Options”. In the window that loads up, click on the “View” tab, and select “Show hidden files and folders”. Next uncheck the option that states “Hide protected operating system files”. This will throw up a warning, click “Yes”. Now click “OK” to save your settings. Now in the window that is open, search for the file named “pagefile”, delete it, and empty your trash bin.  Congratulations you just freed up like 25-30% of your hard drive space!

Suggested Widows Applications (all freeware, all small in size)

Pidgin (chat client for Yahoo, AIM, GoogleTalk, etc) http://www.pidgin.im/

Gimp (Photo Editor) http://www.gimp.org/

Open Office (Free Office Suite compatible with Microsoft Office) http://www.openoffice.org/

Skype (VOIP Software) http://www.skype.com

Upgrades, Simple or Extensive (both warranty voiding)

Those who want to get as much as possible out of their Eee PC will probably take the upgrade path and at least want to increase the amount of RAM. This can be done by simply flipping the Eee PC on its back, removing the battery, and then removing the two screws for the RAM access cover. Now just pop out the RAM, and replace it with either a 1GB or 2GB DDR2 667MHz replacement.


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Now for the extremely adventurous types who want to completely rip apart their Eee PC, or just see what it looks like up close and person inside, this is how to get it apart.

First lets start with removing all the screws on the bottom of the notebook. There are six total, and don’t worry about organizing any screws since every screw on the Eee PC is the same size!


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Now flip the thing back over, and remove the keyboard. The keyboard comes off by compressing three spring loaded tabs with a flat screwdriver, or razor blade. You are aiming for the three little notches circled red in the picture below. You want to start at one of the sides, and kinda pick the keyboard up as you go to get it slightly past the tab.


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Once you get the keyboard unlatched, carefully lift it away from the notebook, and flip it upside down. Next the cable has to be unlatched from the mainboard. Using a screw driver, push the cable latches forward, as shown in the picture below.


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With that out of the way, remove the remaining screws circled in blue.


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Now that those are gone, carefully use a fingernail or other soft object to pry the halves of the case apart. I like to use my two thumb fingernails, instead of a screwdriver since it doesn’t leave marks in the plastic.


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With the two halves apart, you get to see the mainboard in all its glory. With some careful disconnecting of wires we can remove the board entirely, and get a nice view of the back.


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For the careful observers, you will notice that the big mini pci-express slot is labeled “FLASH_CON”, while the wireless card is labeled “MINICARD” … Hmmmm. Perhaps Asus has some updates in store down the road?

Well, since we are this far, why not just rip apart the entire thing, including the screen?


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Conclusion

As you can see this $399 ultra portable computer from Asus has a ton of potential. Either through adding programs and features inside the stock operating system, installing Windows XP, or just upgrading parts inside the system. While the hardware upgrade path can be fulfilling, users are warned along the way with Asus’s “Warranty Void if removed” stickers in all the fun zones. Software on the other hand can be modified in almost any way without concern, and no risk of voiding your warranty. Even people who change their mind (or make a mistake) midway can restore the system to stock state using the supplied Asus DVD.

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