Eee and Me.

Among all the hype for the wafer thin object of desire, the Apple Air, I have maintained perspective. While my Mac-oriented friends swoon and drool, I did the proper geeky thing and focused on the key question “What do you actually get for your money?” The design is superb of course, and that has value in itself, but for USD 1800, you’re effectively getting low-spec hardware and a machine that’s missing a few useful features.

I personally use a DVD RW for backing up files when I don’t have access to a portable hard disk, or when I want a more permanent archive. I also install a lot of software, and alternative OSes, so I use it for that too. And not to mention the DVDs I play on it, so I’d definitely miss having an optical drive. However I do understand that the main reason for axing the optical drive is to keep the unit slim, so I can see why they excluded it. However, putting on a few more USB ports might have been a good idea, so you can plug in an external one along with your mouse.

Slightly more puzzling is the omission of an Ethernet port. Yes I know, wireless is the way of the future. But its not here yet, and its by no means omnipresent, so along with your external DVD drive, you also have to buy a wireless access point — a Mac Airport of course — and now your total budget is around USD 2000.

The rest of the hardware is pretty ordinary, and the sort of spec you’d find on a low-end Dell or Compaq. The notable exception is the solid state hard drive, which I did think was a nice touch, but which is unfortunately the main contributor to the high cost of the machine.

OK, so why would people put up with this sort of abuse. The first reason is of course the fact that they WANT one. The marketing, the design, the desire. The second reason, and often a justification for the first is the fact that its portable. Its not meant to be a main workhorse, its meant to be a casual carry-around (and the Apple philosophy behind this is of course that you have to buy another iMac to sit on your desk with all your main computing needs on it). OK, so its USD 2000 for a cute, carry-around second computer.

Not for me. I just came back from Hong Kong, where I bought an Asus EEE PC for a friend. Obviously it wasn’t going to stay in the box, and I took it out to play with it for a few days before I gave it to them. I have to say it pretty much does all the things that Mac have touted their Air book for, and, at USD 300 it costs around one sixth of the price.

Yes it also suffers from the lack of a DVD, but at that price point, I don’t mind buying one. True its keyboard isn’t fantastic, and neither is its screen, but again this is meant to be a second computer for taking notes in the field, at meetings, on the beach, so you’re not going to be using it much. It doesn’t have a huge amount of storage, but you can easily bump that up with an SD card (I bought an 8Gb one for USD 40) an external HD or USB stick. And the best bit? It runs Linux.

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