Netbooks were the first ultrabooks, the first Macbook Airs. ASUS invented the new category of diminutive computer back in the mid-2000s. Its first model was too small -- 7" 800x480 screen and just 4GB disk space -- and ran a customized version of Linux with a severe bug: CAPSLOCK would turn on permanently until it was rebooted. (I have that first EEE 701 model, and it cost me $400; naturally, I put on a better version of Linux.)
Microsoft grew jealous of this fast-growing category, and so made Windows XP available cheaply, and arranged with Intel to limit the hardware specs, such as limiting the display resolution, the maximum amount of RAM to 1GB, and limiting the size of largest hard drive.
The price fell to $250 and savvy users added Linux to XP, creating ultra-cheap dual-booting portable work units. This class of computer flourished on campuses (due to the low cost) and among business travellers (due to their portability).
As regular notebook computers got thinner and Apple released the Air, the popularity of netbooks fell. Today, however, a few netbook models are still available from places like Staples.
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In early 2009, I bought a better netbook than the ASUS model that was beginning to frustrate me with its too small keyboard and display whose resolution was too low. I ended up with the rare LG X110 for $460. (It is rare, because LG no longer makes computers.) The specs seem low-end today, and are as follows:
- Display: 1024x600
- RAM: 1GB (not expandable)
- Hard drive: 160GB
- Ports: 3 x USB 2.0, 1 x VGA, 1 x SD, mic, headphones, ethernet 10/100
- Wireless: WiFi b/g, Bluetooth
- Webcam: 1.3 megapixel
- CPU: 1.6GHz single-core Atom
- Graphics: Intel GMA 950 (built-in GPU and shared memory)
- Weight: 2.6 pounds
It looked nice with its piano black finish; at conferences, people would come up to me to ask about it. The only really poor spec were the speakers, which were just about unusable. I stopped using it after two years, however, when I bought an Acer TimelineX for about the same price, but with specs that blew away the netbook: high-res screen with HDMI, 8GB RAM, 1GB nVidia graphics, 750GB hard drive, quad-core CPU, etc. Just the keyboard is poor.
But I missed the keyboard of the X110. LG managed to put into the diminutive computer the finest keyboard my fingers have ever had the pleasure to tickle on a portable computer -- as good as the $110 Logitech keyboard I use with my desktop computer. That LG let me type fast!
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After putting in an Intel 500GB solid state drive into the Acer TimelineX, I wondered if an SSD would give the LG X110 a needed speed boost. The hard drive always seems to be working too hard on that netbook, and maybe by replacing the drive, the netbook would again be usable to today's expectations.
I followed my instructions from How I Installed my new SSD: I mirrored the contents of the old drive onto the 500GB SSD, and then installed the SSD into the netbook. But it would not boot. The BIOS boot screen appeared, the screen went black, and the BIOS boot screen reappeared -- over and over again.
I took the computer to our local geek store, Mike's Computers, but the guys there couldn't think why it wouldn't work. I wondered if the dual-boot was a problem, but didn't have the patience to get rid of Grub (not an easy process), the utility that allows dual-booting for Linux and Windows.
Then I remembered: netbook owners were deliberately short-changed in the area of hardware specs, and Intel limited the largest size of hard drive that could be used. I used the Windows XP install CD to repartition the 500GB SSD to just 160GB, and then installed XP. It worked! And the aging netbook became a speed demon!
I went online and ordered a $100 120GB SSD from FutureShop and 20 minutes later picked it up from the store. I used the LG's backup CDs to install XP on the SSD. This took these steps:
- Install XP Home Basic (CD provided by LG with the computer)
- Add drivers specific to the X110 (provided on a second CD by LG)
- Download updated drivers (still available from LG, much to my surprise!)
- Download and install the XP Service Pack 3 from Microsoft
TIP: During the XP installation, the setup program ran into a snag. It claimed it could not find the files it needed on the CD, and asked for a path the find the files. The path is a screwup; the solve the problem, erase all of the path in front of the part that reads \I386 and replace it with d:, like this:
Because this error cropped up many times, I copied the path to the clipboard (Ctrl+C) and then pasted it (Ctrl+V) each time it appeared.
I always found XP's candy-style interface awful, and switched to classic interface. Installing more software on the computer (like CCleaner and Atlantis word processor), I was struck that XP isn't all that different from Windows 7 in its capabilities.
(Search "X110" on this blog for other articles I wrote about this netbook computer.)