Reflections on Germany I: Taking the Asus 1000 HE on the road

Go on - HUG ME!As I mentioned prior to my trip to Germany, I had planned on using the new Asus EEE PC 1000 HE (damn, what a long name) to write material, update the website, do some blogging, and basically see what the Atom-powered netbook could do before some ‘danger-danger’ warning popped up prior to a total shutdown due to processor overload.

Translation: using a netbook like a standard desktop when it clearly ain’t.

Rather than go through a mess of dull anecdotes, here are some straight point-by-point facts (although as is necessary in these dumb times, here’s a caveat: these are things that worked for my machine, and I’m responsible for whatever happens in mine, not yours. So always consult various reviews and posts beforehand).

HERE are the specs for the Asus. I chose to stick with a Windows operating system (OS) and eat the licensing fee because as one writer expressed with simple reason, if you’re going to use heavier Windows programs or want to minimize compatibility issues, it’s probably best to stick with the OS spawned by Satan. I’d like to try Linux – really – but I have doubts that a MS emulator would function better than MS (crappy and wonky and annoying as it is).

RAM and Speed Issues:

The 1000 HE ships with a 1GB RAM chip that can be replaced with a 2GB chip, which I did to ensure whatever memory hogging work I was doing would have some leeway.

As outlined in message boards and YouTube videos, all one has to do is remove the battery, pop open the back, remove the old chip, slip in the new 2GB chip, power up, hit F2, and in the BIOS make sure it reads 2GB (or 1.9 or something). Hit F10, and continue to reboot where Windows will show the RAM increase.

I actually missed hitting F2, so the boot up went straight to the desktop (which loads quite fast) and found Windows saw the upgrade, so it’s clear the netbook does accept the memory boost.

Some writers have stated Windows XP Home Edition (branded a dumbed down version of XP Pro) wouldn’t function or recognize anything bigger than 1GB RAM because it’s Windows’ efforts to ensure netbooks, with their obvious power under such a small hood, don’t cut into the laptop market. Others have opined that netbooks have given Windows some extra cash by taking an obsolete operating system – the aging XP – and giving it further use until Windows 7 (successor to monster Vista) debuts around August.

A few posters on tech message boards have gone drastic and erased the hard drive (HD) and installed the beta version of Windows 7 (which only functions until August) and report better speed and quality of use, but the downside are some F keys might not work and driver compatibilities, because wiping the HD means the Asus drivers are gone (although some are apparently available online).

There’s workarounds, but XP Home works fine on the Asus, and unless you know what you’re doing, it’s probably not a good idea to erase the HD on your machine before you see if the software and your unique usage work within XP’s parameters.

Other speed concerns reported in message boards include upgrading to the newer 607 Bios, but some report the Dolby Digital decoding disappears, and once you do the upgrade, you can’t flash back to 605, or an older one, vers. 601. The technophiles report the 601 allows the machine to run a bit faster, and you can flash back to vers. 0605 if desired. I haven’t tried it, and probably won’t because the alleged speed increase seems marginal, and there’s that fear of maybe doing something very bad to the machine that’s traumatic.

However, I still feel the 2GB RAM chip helps when running the software I use for the website.


The Asus comes preloaded with a decent array of software, including Sun’s Star Office package, which reads MS Office files but saves them in its own proprietary format. You can save them in MS formats for Word and Excel, but some of the character features aren’t carried over, so while Sun’s software isn’t a hog, you may wish to install some version of MS Office to avoid corruptions.

I use Dreamweaver 8 for the website, and when cutting and pasting text from Star Office, double-spaces between paragraphs are fudged into four, which mandates annoying edits, so Star Office isn’t the best choice when pasting text into Dreamweaver.

Dreamweaver runs fine on the Asus.


I had Star Office open with a word file, Dreamweaver running with a few templates, and opened Adobe Photoshop 7 to edit small graphics less than a few MB’s and nothing crashed or hung.

The only drawback to using Dreamweaver on the Asus is that if you need to see the extra menus and toolbars where you can click on icons or paste links or graphics into fields above and below your work area, your work area is very, very small, and it’s frustrating. Closing them down helps, but it’s clear Dreamweaver needs more space than a 10" screen if you’re working on pages with long graphics.

Photoshop works fine, but the Asus monitor resolution isn’t as snazzy as a standard desktop, so I wouldn’t rely on the Asus for showing the most vivid colour details; the display is fine, but it’s acceptable for straightforward image editing instead of high-end pre-press work. It’s probably not a problem to create simple animated icons or transition icons with fades or dissolves using GIF files, since they’re no as memory hogging as video files.

FTP programs like Filezilla work smoothly, as does Sony’s Digital Voice Editor for the digital voice recorder I use for some interview. No problems in transferring audio via USB from the recorder to the Asus.

I haven’t tested how long the Asus can record stereo audio through its mini input jack, but I had no problem using Sound Forge 7 to play an MP3 version of an interview and transcribe the audio using Star Office. The two programs are more memory intensive, but Sound Forge didn’t stress the system, flutter, skip, or crash while I played chunks of a 23 min. interview. Theoretically, you might be able to run Sound Forge 9 with its multi-tracking features, but maybe just for projects or file chunks less than 5-10 mins. in length.


The Asus comes with Microsoft’s Media Player 11 which requires registration; given the Asus comes with a licensed copy of XP home, registration isn’t a problem, but those who a few years ago upgraded from Media Player 9 to 11 noticed the codecs that played AVIs and DIVX files were eradicated, and reinstalling them didn’t work. The solution at the time was wiping out vers. 11 and reinstalling 9, followed by the codecs.

I’ve no idea if vers. 11 is more codec friendly, but it’s a beastly hog that needs to check with Windows and load all kinds of image rubbish. The better tools for media are VLC Media Player which plays a huge array of video files, as well as the pre-installed InterVideo Win DVD, which does play DVDs and video folders, whether on the hard drive or thumb/DVD drive connected via USB.

I haven’t attempted a CD or DVD burn using an external drive, but it should work, seeing how you'll need a burner for data storage or backup if you’re not using an external HD.

Lastly, in terms of performance, the Asus does play video files, but larger high res images might stress the processor, or create headaches if the file is wonky. I wasn’t sure if it was digital corruption, codec issues, or processor limitations, but with two AVIs, a white box kept popping up, as though the machine didn’t have enough room to render an image quadrant during memory cycles.

Connections and Ports:

The USB 2.0 ports (3) recognize everything I had, and it was supremely handy to slide an SD flash card from a camera into the built-in slot and transfer images from an aunt’s digital camera to my HD, and copy some pictures I took to her card, so she could port them over to a photo shop and get prints. The bad news (for me) is I use an Olympus camera that only takes proprietary XD cards, so my image dumping necessitates a USB came instead of having the freedom to slide a card into the Asus and move images to and fro.

Those wanting the use of a mouse (*highly* recommended when using Dreamweaver or any image program) won’t have a problem, and the Asus accepts USB and wireless Bluetooth devices .

Popping flash drives in and out never annoyed the Asus, which is nice given the headaches I’ve had using olde USB 1.0 ports that have seizures or take years to move data. (I live in a world that has bits of olde, bits of new, and rubber bands and Elmer’s Glue, so a step forward from 1972 into 2009 is truly grand.)

Battery Power:

To get maximum battery power (or as close to the reported 9 hour life touted by Asus) you have to shut off the wireless internet feature, the wireless Bluetooth, and knock down your anti-virus coverage from everything to just the services you’re using (i.e.: if you’re not messaging or using a peer to peer server, there’s no need to run those anti-viral components).

It’s also a good habit to sketch more complex ideas on paper prior to writing on the Asus, because those moments of puzzlement, contemplation, or futzing around will eat at your battery life.

There’s also a power-saving feature that dims the display a bit, but that might be too dark for those in bright surroundings; the monitor really doesn’t show detail if you’re in a bright outside location, but then that’s probably a given for laptops and netbooks alike.

If doing straightforward text or even text and Dreamweaver editing, you’re likely to get 6.5 to 7 hours of juice – which is pretty damn good. There’s a battery icon that appears in the lower right tray, and dragging the mouse pointer over it will tell you what’s left. A ‘low battery’ alert happens (I think) around the 30 min. mark, and a red cross appears when you’re down to the last 20 or less minutes, but I think I was able to still browse the internet via Ethernet cable when there was about 15 mins. of juice left, so I didn’t encounter any sudden shutdown.

Using Sound Forge and Star Office eats up more juice than just writing a text file, so you’re probably eating up maybe double the power if not 2.5 when zipping through audio when transcribing.

Playing a 90 min. AVI video file eats up about 2.5-3 hours of battery juice, so I’d play video only when you know you’re going to have access to an AC plug soon; getting all giddy and watching films a few hours into a long trip means you’ll drain the battery and have little left.

The same probably goes for using wireless internet, although I never used it because in airports it’s a pay option (in Amsterdam the rate is something like 6 Euros for 15 mins.), although if you have an AC jack – some buses and trains have them – that makes it easier.

Travel Tip: not all planes have AC power plugs for your computer; KLM has them in Business Class, although I heard some Air Canada flights have them in Economy. One writer said it’s a nice feature, but the plugs don’t offer much juice because the wiring adds weight, and I’m sure there’s a power drain at play, unless the plane engines regenerate any AC juice.

When travelling, carry an adapter set that’ll ensure your machine can be plugged into whatever socket is around, although it’s smart to double-check your AC power transformer handles North American 60 Hz and European 50 Hz voltage.

Recharging the battery from near-dead takes about 4.5-5 hours. It’ll charge while you’re using the Asus via AC, but I’d avoid doing a full recharge and working using AC power until you go to bed because the AC transformer box gets *very* hot.

I also found plugging the AC into the German socket made an unwanted electrical pop noise… which wasn’t comforting. I don’t know if it was the room, but while the cable and computer were never damaged, that’s a sound you don’t want to hear. Once the cable and transformer’s in the socket, though, there was no weird sound when you plugged the DC jack into the computer, but still...


The use of standard phone jacks for internet connections via modem is probably dead tech, given the Asus only accepts wireless and wired (Ethernet) connections that are digital, so the reported ‘pulse tax’ on German and some other European phone lines isn’t an issue. I was able to plug into a router (called a ‘Fritz’ box in Germany, after the manufacturer) and after a few beats, I had a live internet connection.

I assume plugging an Ethernet cable into a modem might also work, but you’d probably have to have some kind of account with a local carrier, which is probably why the easiest connections methods for travellers are via wireless (and a paid connection, as offered by some hotels and airports), or being able to plug into a pre-existing router that’s already spitting out a live web feed.

I did ask if it was okay to use a laptop on the plane to Hamnurg and bus ride to Berlin, mostly because of messages regarding turning off electronic gear at key times. On the plane you have to turn off the gear during takeoff and landing, and on a bus, cell phones are totally taboo (even though one twit was yapping away on the second floor. I think part of the ban on buses is to get yappers to shut up so other riders have some peace – which I’m totally for).

Size and Weight:

The Asus is small but has some weight, but the heaviness from the battery really comes into play when you’ve been carrying it around for a while in a shoulder bag. Some writers have called it a bit chunky, but the obvious advantage is that amazing battery life without having to buy an external power supply.

The other advantage is the weight stops it from bouncing around if it’s on your lap on folding seat tray. Width-wise, you can plop it on a tray and have a small drink nearby (although the fear of spillage on what’s essentially your office is too great for my nerves).

I wouldn’t use the tray, though, if the plane or bus is kinda bouncy. I was able to type on the bus, but there was so much jiggling from city streets and turns that I felt all that jostling can’t be good for the HD. Why subject it to repeated movement when, like I said, it’s your office for the next 2 weeks?

You can type and write and use the finger pad when it’s on your lap, but one thing typing requires is elbow room. On a seat tray, you’re sitting forward and your arms are stretched out, but on your lap, even at an angle, your elbows need some room, and can get tight if you’re seated next to someone that’s also fiddling with their netbook or laptop. It’s the limitations of the seating, but typing or using the finger pad without a tray is cumbersome under tight seating conditions.

The Asus’ weight did become more noticeable when it was being used on the lap, but I liked the battery’s raised rear because it functions to raise the netbook on flat surfaces and lets you type at an easy angle, and grip the netbook when sliding it into the pouch it came with (although the pouch should *really* come with a tough handle, plus side or some internal pockets for earphones/earbuds, USB sticks and SD cards. That way everything is in one easy to carry bag).

The battery grip is also handy when you have to get up to allow a passenger to slide out. Depending how you set up your power/power down modes, you can have it so closing the netbook turns it off. It remains in a standby mode until you open it up. and you just have to hit the flashing power button (itself a bit too small and slim to press easily). The computer starts up, and goes to a login. If there’s no password, hit enter, and you’re exactly where you left off, with the same programs running.

The Asus also saw whatever peripherals were connected at the power down time, although you may want to unplug a USB mouse when the computer’s in standby mode or turned off, and you’re only using battery power. My USB mouse has a red ‘power on’ light that stayed on when connected to the computer, and I didn’t want it dragging any unnecessary battery juice if I could help it.


The 2008 and prior models had the right shift key in a dumb spot, and that’s been fixed on the 1000 HE model, along with the ‘chicklet’ keyboard design. It took a little less time to get used to the keys, and since I don’t touch type, it wasn’t hard to type and worry about the smaller keys limiting my accuracy.

Some message boards have people concerned about the keyboard’s pliability (or “keyboard flex”), which has more give in the center. A few have opted for sticking a metal sheet or folded aluminium paper under the keyboard, but while that might harden the center area, you’re also doing surgery that probably voids the manufacturer’s warrantee.

Coming from a daily use of an old chunky IBM PS/2 keyboard (the kind that clicks, sounds solid, and will brain the family cat if dropped a foot above its head), I prefer the Asus keyboard to those awful smooshie keyboards most people use. I did have to return the first Asus I bought because of a faulty “G” key that didn’t have the gentle nudge point that tells you what you typed was registered by the computer, so you might want to do some minor typing exercises to make sure you have no dud keys.

Mine went bad after minor use during the first 2 hours when I was installing software rather than typing, so check the keyboard beforehand to ensure you don’t get an annoying surprise halfway across the Atlantic. Can’t imagine staying composed if I kept getting multiple G’s on the plane, far away from home and the purchase point back in Toronto.

Crashing the Computer:

Yes, that happened less than 70 mins. before arriving in Toronto. I had forgotten I was running Star Office and Dreamweaver, and 15 mins. into watching a film using VLC, uh, everything froze. Then came a ‘different’ kind of blue screen of death which mentioned a massive memory dump. It wouldn’t turn off, and the computer stayed inert, although I could go into the Bios during boot-up by pressing F2.

The machine then failed to see the HD, and no Bios adjustments helped. When I got home I inserted a bent paperclip into the reset button on the computer’s rear, turned it on, and it started fresh, although I still have to ‘find’ a ‘missing’ audio driver.

At least the data wasn’t toasted, but while it *is* possible to crash the Asus, it sure can handle some solid programs while on the road. Probably smart to have some backup plans at hand (particularly on an external HD, since you can boot from a USB drive), but the machine comes with another reset feature that will reinstall every factory software it came with from a partitioned drive area. The machine also comes with a CD that has drivers and such in case of a disaster.

This is a great travel machine with awesome portability and cuteness. You want to hug it for being able to do so much. My giddiness stems from years of using desktop machines and older machines, so I’ve been through Windows 386, installing from floppies, driver issues, and multiple reboots just to get a computer to see a component clearly sticking out from its ass.

Moreover, disaster recovery is something every traveller should carry when on the road. Whether it’s backing up files on multiple sources – thumbs and/or external drives – and carrying installation software in case of some unwanted horror, it’s worth compiling a ‘first aid kit,’ so when you’re on the road and something very bad happens, you have some tools to recover and continue.

Cost: $439 in several stores around College and Spadina (mine was purchased at Filtech), although bear in mind that price is already discounted for cash sales. Add the price of 2GB RAM, and you have a snazzy little machine.

My eventual follow-up review will deal with CD burning, wireless internet and using Skype, since the 1000 HE has a camera and mics that supposedly minimize echo & crosstalk.



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