Asus Eee PC: Why is it SO Hot?: Page 2

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At first glance you might think the Eee PC is a toy. (And perhaps that’s part of its appeal.) But its small plastic shell packs a respectable amount of function. Take a regular laptop and shrink it by about 30 percent and you get an Asus. Its specs:

• Processor: 900MHz Intel Mobile CPU (but the Eee’s BIOS allows it to only run at 600Mhz, so this processor is a tortoise).

• Memory: 512MB RAM. In other words, just enough.

• Hard Drive: 4GB solid state hard drive, but less than 1.5GB is actually available. (You can spend about $50 and put in a 4GB SD card to double the minimal storage space.) The cool thing about the solid state drive: it can withstand impacts and bumps better than a disc-based drive.

• Size: 8.8 x 6.5 x 0.9 inches. Small enough to fit in the most crowded backpack.

• Screen: 7 inches. Forget wide Web pages – you’ll be scrolling right and left. But great for email and basic surfing.

• Keyboard: Undersized, Chiclet-size keys. Kind of a pain to do a lot of typing.

• Connectivity: Standard Wi-fi connectivity. But – big news – future versions will be equipped with WiMax, which (if you can find a WiMax hotspot) has longer range than Wi-Fi.

The Asus comes pre-loaded with Linux, though you can run Windows XP if you want to install it yourself; Vista isn’t advisable due to the specs. (Asus’s Debby Lee tells me that a Windows pre-loaded version will be released, but she’s not sure when.) Also preloaded are a smorgasbord of Linux apps, including OpenOffice, Firefox, a media player and an IM client.

It has acceptable little speakers and – who says this box is bare bones? – a Webcam. Like the new MacBook Air, the Eee PC has no optical drive, so there’s no way to install software from a disc or burn a CD. On the plus side, it has three USB ports. The company says the battery runs over three hours, but early reports suggest it doesn’t jog quite that long.

Bottom line: Between the small keyboard and the merely adequate processor, this is no hotrod. Definitely not. Clearly, the technical specs aren’t what’s driving the Asus craze.

So Why Is the Eee PC So Popular?

Certainly the low price gives the Eee PC a springboard to cult status, but it’s the notebook’s canny “dual market” strategy that really gives it hit status.

In a brilliant strategic move, the Asus competes in two markets at once. It pulls buyers from both the laptop market, which is growing, and the ultra-mobile PC market, which is growing by leaps and bounds.

In the laptop market, the Eee PC’s cheap price is profoundly eye catching. In the ultra-mobile PC (UMPC) market, its larger screen is a major plus (many ultra-mobiles have tiny screens). The typical UMPC buyer wants to have their cake and eat it, too: they want a small unit, but they don’t really want to compromise on capability. The Asus is a great compromise.

Additionally, the Linux crowd hails this small unit. In fact, the Linux geeks are popping their Torvalds at this little box. The Linux revolution has arrived – finally. After years of waiting, a successful mass market Linux device (other than a PDA) is attracting mass buyers.

Plus – and this may be the biggest reason of all – the Eee PC simply has “buzz.” Despite what actual value it offers, the Asus has captured the imagination of techies across the universe. Its buzz factor is (kind of) like the iPhone’s. In reality, the iPhone is simply an overpriced cell phone – but people couldn’t wait to blow $600 on it. Look around the Internet and you’ll see a similar voodoo vibe about the Asus.

Unlike Apple, though, Asus will never have to fork over a rebate to customers who bought as soon as the doors opened, then suffered buyer’s remorse when the price inevitably fell. Instead, the Eee PC fans will keep scooping up these small units as fast as the company can make them. Until, of course, competitors flood the market, and a $75 unit finally hits the streets. That will be next year’s must-have ultra-portable.

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