If you want a super-light laptop, you have to pay for it, and you have to use Windows. That’s been the (frustrating) conventional wisdom—at least until late last year, when Taiwanese company Asus rolled out the Eee PC (pronounced as though it were a single long “e”), a 2-pound, 7-inch laptop starting at a mere $300. The tradeoff: It comes with just two to eight gigabytes of flash memory instead of a conventional, larger hard drive, and a simplified Linux operating system that essentially is usable only for email, web browsing, and typing.
But then the hackers got hold of it. Within days of the Eee’s release, forums on a fan site, eeeuser.com, were buzzing with homebrew upgrades to remedy its shortcomings—users discovered ways to solder extra memory inside, attach additional gadgets, and install other operating systems. If you’re willing to do a little tinkering, you’ll find that big things will come from its small package.
H2Whoa!: Some Asus Eee PC hardware and software hacks may void its warranty. Installing an Apple operating system on non-Apple hardware is a violation of the End User License Agreement, which is legally a breach of contract.
Three ways to upgrade your Eee PC
Basic: install more RAM
If your Eee PC comes with a sticker on the bottom panel covering the RAM slot warning that breaking it is a warranty violation, don’t worry: Asus reversed that position shortly after putting the Eee on the market. So open up the panel and replace the existing 512MB stick with up to 2GB of RAM.
- Note: The Eee’s operating system will recognize only 1GB by default.
Intermediate: swap the operating system
- Linux: You can unlock the full version of the OS that comes on the Eee, and switch between it and the default simple mode, just by typing some basic commands and restarting.
- Windows XP: Asus supports installing XP; just load some drivers from the included DVD first.
- Mac: Some users have reportedly installed OS X 10.4 and 10.5 on the Eee PC. See uneasysilence.com for further information.
Advanced: install hidden gardware
If you don’t mind pulling the Eee apart completely, you’ll find spots on the motherboard where you can solder a Bluetooth adapter and extra USB ports. Then simply remove the RAM panel on the bottom of the computer later if, for example, you want to add a hidden thumb drive to upgrade the memory. For more details, head to forum.eeeuser.com.
This story has been updated. It was originally featured in the May 2008 issue of Popular Science magazine.