Windows 7 Netbooks: First Look

So we’re doing a bunch of work targeted at netbooks and I ordered a couple for testing and to get a feel for how they are or can be used. First impressions are important and between the manufacturers and Microsoft they have a long way to go before they’ll be as sexy as a Macbook.

Toshiba Mini and Asus Eee PC

Toshiba Mini and Asus Eee PC

Unpacking

I ordered an ASUS Eee PC T91MT (link is T91 before Multi-touh was added) and a Toshiba Mini NB205-N230. Straight from the box, Asus has a much sexier packaging, but is less eco-friendly (the Netbook sits in a plastic shell). It was charged, however, which meant I could use it right away (well, see notes about start up below). The Toshiba was not. Come on folks, Apple did this ten years ago (or thereabouts) when they shipped the first iPod. People want to use your product out-of-the-box. Ship it charged.

The Eee PC also came with a nice soft case. Granted it was $200 more, so they can do that, but it was a nice touch. Better than the silly white disposable fabric packaging covered in warnings from Toshiba.

The Eee PC is a 9″ screen with a tablet format (the screen swivels around and lays down so that it works like a tablet. This was compelling enough to get, but they just released a multitouch version (T91MT) which I figured would make it feel like using my Macbook. Almost. The scroll and rotate are nice, when they work and it was nice just to have those gestures there.

Start up

Both of these ship with Windows 7 which is really too much of a resource hog for these little machines. The Eee PC has Windows 7 Home Ultimate and it is slow, slow, slow. The Toshiba Mini has Windows 7 Starter Kit which performs a little better (also, it has a faster processor 1.66GGhz N280 vs. 1.33 GHz Z520 on the Eee PC). Starter Kit, from what I can tell, is the stripped bare version of Windows that Microsoft made for Netbooks to compete with Linux. Then they try very hard to get you to upgrade to Home edition for a mere $90. Really? I just paid $300 for a computer and you want me to pay a 30% premium? Take a lesson from the extended warranty dealers — people will pay about 10% over the purchase price at checkout for added value but not more.

Initializing...

Please Wait to use your new computer...

Apparently Microsoft has decided to ship their OEMs a disk image that can be dropped onto any computer and does the device discovery and installation on “first run.” Sure it makes it easier to install Windows on these machines (because they all have the same image), but it means to use a brand new machine with Windows 7 installed, the machine has to go through a lengthy (and not very sexy) installation period. On the Eee PC this took nearly 45 minutes between first power on and when I could use any software. Most of the time was watching the really silly animation shown at right (I don’t know if this is Microsoft software or Asus software, probably the latter).

The Toshiba Mini fared better. About 15 minutes from plugging in and turning on to using it. During this time I saw the screen shift between Windows 2000-style dialog layouts to Aero-style several times and a few rendering errors in the process. This didn’t really give me a lot of faith in the product.

A later post gives some of my impressions of using the two netbooks (once I’ve spent more time on the Toshiba Mini). I will repeat that so far I am not impressed with Windows 7 on a 1.33Ghz machine. It’s just not fast enough.

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