January is my favorite month of the year. Why? Because I get to calculate how much my tax refund is going to be and dream of all the new tech gadgets I can blow it on.
For the past few months, I have had my eyes on only one thing: a new laptop. I admit, I am one of those people that see the new netbooks and immediately contemplate ditching my huge laptop. Size alone is compelling enough for me.
The regular 15” laptops are a hassle because you have to worry about carrying it (usually in a huge bag), worry about where you will find a power outlet (which sometimes you have to fight for), and don’t even try traveling with the thing. All these problems seem to be solved by a netbook. Small, lightweight, no need for a bag, battery that can last the time that I need to use it. Perfect, right? Well, about 2 weeks ago I took the plunge and got the netbook that I have been eyeing.
Taking the unit out of the box, I salivated over the portable ease I was going to be momentarily enjoying. Email, Internet and a couple of PDFs per day. Who needs those huge gargantuan monstrosities of a laptop that everyone is used to? This is the future. The ultra-portable netbook. But wait: you have to compromise.
My netbook doesn’t run Windows. It runs a locked down distribution of Linux. Turns out this model only has a 4 gigabyte hard drive and it doesn’t have enough free space to even run the standard updates. A normal person would probably turn back at this point but I was dead set on making this work for me. There was no way I’m going back to the big laptop.
I started off by doubling the memory. Netbooks usually come with the bare amount of memory to run a modern operating system—about 1 gigabyte. Since the netbook utilizes standard laptop memory, it was easy to find some I could add. Adding the memory made the machine a little bit faster, but I was still limited in how much information could be stored. Problem #1 solved.
What did I do to solve the miniscule hard drive problem? I scoured the Internet looking for any kind of hacks like a good technician should. We are always on a mission to get the maximum functionality out of even the most basic hardware. I found out that you could actually use a standard Flash Memory card, just like those used in cameras in lieu of a hard drive. I have an extra one that I purchased for a camera, so I used that in order to upgrade the netbook from 4 gigabytes to 8 gigabytes. Problem #2 solved.
While searching for solutions to my limited storage space problem, I came across people replacing the original locked-down operating system that the netbook originally came with to a more open, easier-to-use popular version of Linux called Ubuntu. There was even a specialized version made just for this particular netbook (http://www.eeebuntu.org/). 3 hours later and now I have completed the operating system facelift and transferred all my settings (browser favorites, documents, passwords, etc) over to the newly updated netbook. Problem #3 solved.
When I actually begin to start using it, the size of the screen really started to show its limitations. Web sites were difficult to read. Typing became a chore on the small keyboard. Spreadsheets were almost impossible to use without spending most of my time scrolling around looking for the right cells to edit. Setting up podcasts to automatically download (who doesn’t enjoy a good episode of Play Value?) quickly filled up the remaining portion of the hard drive. After all this time invested, I really tried to love my new netbook.
Bottom line: after a larger hard drive upgrade, memory upgrade and a total operating system makeover (now doubling the cost of the unit), I am typing this on my previous laptop. The netbook I craved and tried so hard to get working is back at the original retailer. Looks like my dream of ultra-portable computing is going to have to wait just a little bit more.