Microsoft Windows XP on the Asus Eee PC: first impressions

Now that I have a new portable optical drive, there’s no excuse for not installing Microsoft Windows XP on the Asus Eee PC. While I could have gone the route of using nLite to create a lighter, custom XP install to save on storage use, I opted not to do so for this go-around. Why? The simple reason is that most consumers won’t have the knowledge, time or patience to run through that process. That means the results and impressions I’m seeing would likely get better with a custom approach, so consider this a “worst case” scenario in general. One tweak that’s surely affecting my impressions for the better: I have a 1 GB SODIMM memory module in the Eee.Xpasuseeepc

  • Storage capacity: XP Professional SP2 takes up about 2.5 GB of the 4 GB on-board flash memory. I didn’t have XP Home handy, but if you did, you’d probably reclaim a little more space. Still, having 1.5 GB of free space isn’t that constraining to me. My mail and docs are all stored on-line, so I only need room to install applications. Considering this device is mostly used as a portable office, I don’t anticipate using up the free space with applications. In a worst-case scenario, I could use one of the USB 2.0 ports for additional storage or for portable application installation.
  • Boot up, standby, and resume: here’s where SSD really shines. Without any BIOS or registry optimizations, the XP boots up around 35 seconds after pressing the power button. When I again press the power button, which is configured to put the Eee in standby mode, the machine is idle in about 3 seconds. Pressing the power button again to wake it up: under 5 seconds.
  • Overall system responsiveness: although the CPU is running at 630 MHz, it feels much snappier to me. Previously we could compare or provide impressions between two similar systems and know what to generally expect by looking at the CPU clock cycle. That goes out the window when comparing two systems that utilize different means of storage, i.e.: magnetic hard drive vs. SSD. Put another way: the Eee PC at 630 MHz appears much more responsive and faster overall than say my old Samsung Q1 running XP at the full 900 MHz CPU speed. I’m not finding myself waiting for apps to respond; everything is crisp and smooth.
  • Battery life: the jury is still out here because I’m having an issue with the ACPI driver; the driver from Asus isn’t quite up to snuff from what I’ve read on the EeeUser forums. My fave battery monitor, Notebook Hardware Control, can’t determine the drain on the battery as a result. I’ll have to search for another option, but it’s likely that no app will help me here until I get the ACPI driver sorted out. Running the CPU at roughly 66% of full speed will certainly help the battery life, but I can’t determine how much as of yet.
  • Connectivity: one of the first things I did after installing XP and the bazillion updates to it was to get my USB727 EV-DO USB modem installed. Of course, there were no issues since the device is supported on XP. The Verizon software is managing my WiFi connections as well as my EV-DO, which is showing download speeds around 1250 kbps in my current location. Uploads are a solid 550 kbps.
  • Other functions: everything seems to be working just fine; I’ve installed Skype and the integrated webcam fires right up as expected. The trackpad still has the vertical scrolling functionality and all of the keyboard functions appear to be fine as well. It’s not that I expected an issue here, but you certainly don’t want to lose functionality when going from Linux to Windows on a piece of hardware. One key function that is lost is the handy Asus utility that lets you move windows that are off the screen. With the out-of-the-box build, you simply hold down the Alt key when your cursor is in a window. You can then move that window at will; you don’t need to drag the window by the title bar, which comes in handy on the 800 x 480 screen. In XP, you lose that ability; the only way to deal with windows partially off the screen is to use a tray app that switches the res to 800 x 600 in a panning mode.

Although I’ve barely used the Eee PC with XP, I can already see that this is a good combo for me and my work habits. The custom build of Xandros Linux worked well for me and given that I can factory restore the device quickly, I like having both options. The benefits of XP? Fewer issues with device drivers for one; my new EV-DO card doesn’t yet have a Linux driver, but works fine in XP. More third-party and mainstream application support is available in XP also. Not a huge deal for me, but to others, that’s a must.For $399, the device runs XP (and Linux) far better than I would have imagined. Right now, this is a great productivity setup for me: I’ve got connectivity practically everywhere in a relatively inexpensive device. More thoughts to come, but that’s a brief summary of my first impressions. Drop your questions in the comments and I’ll try to address them…Update: I just realized the trackpad offers horizontal scrolling support as well under XP thanks to the Synaptics driver, which is a real time-saver with the 800 x 480 screen. To recap: you get both vertical and horizontal scrolling support on the small trackpad.