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Try out the EEE PC (No purchase required!)

April 8, 2008 4 comments

It was great to see ASUS put out a free F/OSS SDK for individuals or companies to develop programs for their wonderful EEE PC platform, what surprised me was that not only did they release the tools (plus source and example code etc) but also the ISO images. Although of course, they are bound by the GPL license to release the source code, I didn’t think they would release the binary images as well.

What this means, is that anyone who is interesting in buying an EEE PC whether or not they have prior experience with F/OSS or GNU Linux can have the benefit of literally test driving the default Linux environment. Of course this is only one of the many x86 Operating Systems / distributions that will happily run on this platform but that is besides the point. Of course this guide is not exclusively written for prospective buyers of the EEE PC and I hope it is useful for anyone (e.g. software developer, geeks like me etc) who for some reason, wants or needs the EEE PC environment installed within a virtual machine.

In order to use the vmx and iso images supplied you will need a free bit of software – VMware Player. This is available for Windows and Linux. I should point out that there are better (completely) free virtualisation options available, VMware only provides VMware player for free which will happily ‘play’ premade images or snapshots of any type of virtual machine. QEMU (Windows/Linux) and Microsoft Virtual Machine are good examples.

Now, at this point I was in the process of writing a post detailing how to use the vmx and ISO files, however, because VMware Player is a rather crippled piece of software, there is no direct way (that I can quickly come up with) to get around this lovely error message :

The reason for this is simple, just like the real EEE PC, the Virtual Machine VMware is trying to boot off of its harddrive which is referenced in the vmx image provided by ASUS. Unfortunately what they did not provide was the vmsd file. As a result VMware Player will always fail and since it is only a featured stripped version, there is no way to progress.

UPDATE: You can use the purportedly free beta version of VMWare server to get around this, but by this stage I was fed up of WMware products.

So, what we need to do is start again with a different free piece of software, since I already had Microsoft Virtual PC installed on my computer, I decided to use it for the remainder of this how-to.

Fire up Virtual PC and Select ‘NEW’ from the console.

Go through the New Virtual Machine Wizard, selecting ‘Create a Virtual Machine’ and name it anything you like. I called my profile “EEE PC” and selected Operating System “Other.” This being a Microsoft product, there is no mention of Linux on here :)

You will notice that this only gives you 128Mb of emulated RAM, this of course is too little, but don’t worry for in the next stage we will be able to edit this by selecting “Adjusting the RAM.” Set this to 512Mb.

Next, we need to create a new ‘Virtual’ harddisk in order to emulate our EEE PC. By default, Virtual PC will want to create a 16GB harddisk. Since the 701 EEE PC only has 4GB (and the 700 has 2GB) for the purposes of this experiment, 2GB SHOULD be plenty. I however discovered that the installation fails unless you make the image at least 16,384MB.

Please note that this does not create a 16GB file on your harddrive (although it can.) Instead it will create a small .vhd file which will increase in size and the amount of space inside this virtual harddive is filled, so make sure you have at least a gigabyte of real HDD space remaining. You can save this virtual harddrive anywhere on your computer but it would make sense to put it in the same folder you put the ISO image. Finish this wizard.

Select EEE PC and click ‘Start’ from the console. This is where the fun starts. Now you will see a console or DOS like window appear and try to boot, however it has nothing to boot from yet so click on the CD menu and select ‘Capture ISO Image.’

Selet the ISO image you downloaded from Sourceforge and using the Action Menu, click ‘Reset.’ The virtual machine will now boot from the virtual CD image (the ISO) and allow you to install the EEE PC environment onto your virtual computer. You will be asked to enter ‘yes’ to continue. Follow the instructions. Rather than present you with a GUI or any options, all you will see is the message “Starting to write (it should take approx. 5mins).” Give this some time, do not forget you are emulating a separate computer within Windows so this may take longer than specified.

NOTE: If you see any error messages than it is likely your ISO was corrupted during download. If you continue, you will see ‘error 17′ when trying to start your virtual machine. To check if you have a good ISO image, use a utility that calculates the MD5 hash of a file.

If your installation completed successfully then skip this section.

If not, then we now need to check the downloaded CD image. We do this by comparing the MD5 hash of your downloaded CD image (ISO), using a free utility such as WinMD5Sum (or use the built in command in Linux) and compare it to that of a complete, 100% good copy.

My MD5 hash of the file L701_EN_1.0.6.6.iso is 22056e798c26b16b1521707f9dd73a2c. If yours differs, either it is a different version or it is corrupt therefore useless, you will need to re-download the file from sourceforge. This happened to me first time round when I was downloading the image, the remote server in the sourceforge farm truncated my ISO a few kb short which was a bit frustrating. If you keep having this problem, try using a download manager,

Now, if everything went according to plan, read on.

After the reboot, you should be set! Your virtual machine should boot straight into the ASUS modified Xandros Linux operating system. Enjoy! Please post comments / feedback. If you have any issues getting this working leave a comment and I will do my best to help you. Other people have done the same thing also using Microsoft Virtual PC, as well as QEMU under Linux. I also managed to get this working via QEMU (using QEMU Manager and QEMU Windows Build 0.9.1)

A final note of caution, the speed and responsiveness of Xandros / EEE PC Linux inside an emulator (or more correctly a virtualised environment) should not be seen as an indication of the speed or responsiveness of the same software on real hardware. It might be faster (since emulation / virtualisation can be processor intensive) it might be slower (you may have a fast computer.)

EEE 900 and Desktop Series

March 29, 2008 1 comment

I have been holding off posting more information filtering through from the EEE camp until now. Most people are already aware that the 900 Series will be the second generation of the proven EEE brand from Asus. It uses the same form factor with some key differences in the hardware. Firstly, Asus have added a bigger (8.9″) at 1024×600 resolution TFT screen which is a welcome upgrade from the fairly anemic 700 series. On top of this, the screen will feature a touchscreen panel (previously added by a talented hardware hacker) despite Kevin Lin (VP Sales at ASUS) previously going on record dismissing the rumours that ASUS were looking into a touchscreen version. It is also likely the CPU will be upgraded although nothing concrete has been announced as well as rumours of GPS functionality in the future.

Not only that, but it appears multitouch, a technology highlighted by its wonderful implementation on the Apple iPhone, is also going to feature on the second generation laptop. This is likely to be limited to zooming in/out on photos as well as some page browsing tweaks. Apart from that, the 900 Series of EEE PC will also feature more flash memory (8 and 12Gb models being announced) as well as a hefty pricetag increase. According to ASUS, the RRP is likely to be around $500 when it starts to ship in a couple of months time.

Unfortunately, if what happened with the first generation EEE PCs repeats itself, we are likely to see the price tag of $50-80 more (especially in the UK and Europe.) The issue that concerns me here is that it slips out of the ultracheap ultraportable niche and starts to go head to head with cheap machines produced by the likes of Acer, Fujitsu Siemens and others. Whilst these machines are generally dreadfully underpowered, it is likely to dampen interest in the EEE 900 series which would be a shame.

UPDATE: An excellent video review from CeBIT2008 of the new EEE PC can be seen here.

Briefly I would also like to mention the EEE ‘desktop’ PC which has been rumoured for a while. Engadget are running a story with some leaked pictures purporting to be the EEE desktop, although ASUS have not confirmed such a product range is even in development let alone released any rough specifications. As an early prediction, I do not think these ‘slimline’ desktops will do particularly well. Laptops were a different story, they presented ‘light’ mobile computing without the encumbrances of price and weight. In a market filled with low power desktop PCs, the only thing that could make the EEE desktop systems competitive (and desirable) would be a crazily low price tag (~£100, maybe £160 tops) because otherwise they are simply trying to take a slice of another niche market which already has some hungry wolves circling.

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