Three cool things to try with your old netbook

Back when netbooks were introduced, I was very excited about these cheap little laptops. The first ones ran Linux, and they had amazing battery life. I ended up getting two Asus Eee-PC models, and I stil have them. But now, with tablets and ultrabook boasting far better specs, mine are used less and less. That’s why I decided to see what I could use them for if I replaced general-purpose desktop OS Ubuntu Linux with software geared towards a single purpose. Below are three things I tried, and I was suprised by how useful they made my Eee-PC 901.

Netbook vs. DVD player

The first thing I tried was setting up the 901 as a dedicated media player. Most portable DVD players come with very poor 7 inch screens, while netbooks often have pretty good 9 or 10 inch ones. OpenELEC is a very small linux distibution that boots straight into XBMC. It plays nearly every video format, although you’ll need better than average hardware to play HD video. But still, it’s far more convenient to just put some movies on an SD card or a USB stick instead of lugging around a bunch of DVDs.

What you’ll need
OpenELEC. I used the “generic” build, and it worked right out of the box.

What I liked
OpenELEC installed and booted very quickly, and played every SD file I threw against it.

Problems?
On my Asus, wifi did not work. You mileage may vary, and you could try a USB adapter.

Netbook vs. Chromebook

Chrome OS may not (yet?) be a big success for Google, but it’s great for just surfing the web. I Love Chrome, and on a lightweight machine, Chrome OS is probably the fastest way to run Google’s web browser. Added bonus is that Chrome OS can run off of an SD card, so you can use it alongside another OS (installed on the netbook’s harddrive or SSD).

What you’ll need
Chrome OS builds by Hexxeh

What I liked
I actually tried this a long time ago, when Chrome OS was brand new. Back then, I liked the browsing speed and clean user interface.

Problems?
Both the “Vanilla” and “Lime” builds that Hexxeh provides didn’t boot on my hardware. I ran into a kernel panic, but again, your mileage may vary. Also, there are other builds out there for you to try.

Netbook vs tablet

When I tried it today, I was amazed by how well Android Ice Cream Sandwich runs on the 901. Like the options above, it took only seconds to install, and despite the lack of a touch screen, it’s very easy to operate. Google Maps, YouTube, the stock browser, it all worked. I’m going to stick with Android on my Eee-PC for now. It’s very snappy, and I love being able to use familiar apps.

What you’ll need
Android 4.0 for x86. There’s even a special build for Eee-PCs.

What I liked
Very snappy, and as far as I can tell from playing with it for a couple of hours, equally stable.

Problems?
Using a keyboard with Android can take a little getting used to. I haven’t fully figured out which physical keys function as the home/back/switch softkeys in Android. Also, you’ll need the Shutdown app (free) to fully power down your machine.

Netbooks may not be powerful enough to run the latest desktop software, but if you give them some focus, they’re still tons of fun to play with. I can’t wait to try ConnectBot to SSH into my Raspberry Pi. And using the Android Gmail client with a hardware keyboard makes checking email fun. I may continue to use OpenELEC on my 701, although the 7 Inch screen is a bit of a let-down.

17 Comments

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  3. Very interesting i like the android part worth looking into.

    Comment by Jamie — September 6, 2012 @ 6:41 am

  4. Pretty cool. My netbook just sits collecting dust for the main part with my laptop and desktop going through the majority of use. Still, you just can’t beat the portability and utility those netbooks provide. I’ll be dusting mine off soon :)

    Comment by Neil — November 24, 2012 @ 1:17 pm

  5. To shutdown without app, press power key twice. Toggle screen off/on, left most silver button. Sleep fn-f2.
    alt-esc=home
    esc=back
    pop up menu key= android three dots
    alt left arrow or alt right arrow toggle between a text prompt and android.
    This has brought a bunch of old Eee’s back to life.

    Comment by joe — December 4, 2012 @ 7:55 pm

  6. Nice. I’m going to give Android a try on my EEE. Thanks for the tip.

    Comment by EireSoft — December 11, 2012 @ 10:05 am

  7. Nice. I’m going to give Android a try on my EEE. Thanks for the tip.

    Comment by kim — December 13, 2012 @ 9:47 pm

  8. Great fun with Netbooks, am using mine as web server with Ubuntu Server on it & tell u one thing I have my PC collection right from 1996 doing one or more stuff like SETi@home etc…. PCs never die nor they r a Dump use human brain to do wonders with them, BTW u have done gr8 job…

    Comment by sheeran Sheerjoy — December 25, 2012 @ 7:02 am

  9. This one rocks – Android 4.0 ICS specially built for EEE-PCs. I am going to try this out with my corrupted Asus eeePC. BTW, Nice tips to think of!

    Comment by Musthafa Ullal — January 18, 2013 @ 2:13 pm

  10. Android 4 is running perfectly on eee901. The only problem is it’s not recognising the non english keyboard. But I can live without it. Nice tip, thx

    Comment by Levi — February 8, 2013 @ 4:36 pm

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  12. The netbook is such a funny little device… who would have known that it would die out so quickly? Not me… I bought one and didn’t see it’s imminent desitny! lol… oh well.

    Comment by Chris — March 28, 2013 @ 3:31 am

  13. Cool ideas. I use my old netbook as a dedicated media device. It sits in a different part of the house than my new laptop and its sole purpose is to provide that room with music and movies.

    Comment by Oliver Giving — March 28, 2013 @ 6:39 pm

  14. I’ve tried run android on eee and it’s works pretty good

    Comment by Peter — April 18, 2013 @ 6:10 pm

  15. I turned my netbook into a rom emulator machine. Nothing like playing punchout while camping on one of these little bad boys.

    Comment by Duane M — May 16, 2013 @ 9:24 pm

  16. Nice! I’m going to try with my old acer laptop. Maybe is too old for these kind of experiments but this is for sure better than have it useless in a bag.

    Comment by Fred — June 24, 2013 @ 11:39 am

  17. Very nice post. Thanks for sharing.
    In my opinion tablets are the future,

    Comment by Peter Demel — July 23, 2013 @ 10:10 am