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XCore's EduBook, a Netbook That Runs on AA Batteries

timothy posted more than 4 years ago | from the when-simplicity-is-key dept.

Portables 217

I'm typing this on a netbook with no hard drive, not using a chip from Intel or AMD, and powered by AA batteries. Eight rechargeable AAs, to be precise, in a bank of cells right where a Li-Ion battery would sit in a conventional laptop. The batteries charge in place, too (regulation prevents overcharging) meaning that the power cord is a simple three-prong-to-cloverleaf cord, no wall-wart required. It's the EduBook from Xcore (see that page for some photos of the internals, too), and it's a cool concept. Despite some warts, it's one of the most interesting things I ran into on the CES show floor last month (Xcore's Michael Barnes kindly supplied the laptop, straight from the display case). Read on for my review.
Yes, it runs Linux.
Before diving in to anything else, note that this is a laptop built for running Linux; the one I'm using is running Ubuntu 9.4 (Jaunty), and others that I played with briefly on the show floor were running instead Barry Kauer's lightweight (around 100MB by default) Puppy Linux. Though Puppy's quite a nice OS, I stuck with Ubuntu on the EduBook, because that's what I'm most used to.

Why 9.4, now nearly a year out of date? Because a few bits of stock Ubuntu caused hiccups, which Barnes blames on packaging goofs by Ubuntu. Xcore has tweaked the default drivers to get working two important subsystems -- networking and sound. (Puppy Linux apparently works on these fronts just as supplied.) Until I know that an upgrade won't result in a disconnected and mute machine, I'm sticking with what works. (Other distributions, including Ubuntu derivative Linux Mint, are reported to work well, too.)

Purpose, Philosophy, and Ingredients
The EduBook is what you might get if you gave the OLPC team a simpler mandate in their quest to provide laptops suitable for educational use: it's small, cheap to produce (currently, the retail price for this 512MB RAM/8GB SD version is about $200, depending on order size), fairly sturdy, modular, and upgradable — after a fashion. And like the OLPC project's XO, it's intended as an educational tool, and for distribution in places around the world where computers have long been too expensive to be common. To that end, the company's shipped machines (besides "quite a few" to the US, Canada and Mexico), to South America, Asia, the Middle East, and six countries in Africa (Nigeria, South Africa, Ghana, Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Uganda).

Modularity means the EduBook can be readily assembled inside or outside of an importing country, which can make a huge difference in the local price of a computer because of the vagaries of import duties and other taxes. Some countries charge higher import duties for importing un-assembled computer parts, though often the opposite is true. According to Barnes, "Indonesia now allows people to import computers with no tax. Thailand does as well. However, in both countries, they will apply taxes on the components if you bring them in as components. Both countries have programs where you can build in tax free zones and export but if you import the parts to assemble and sell locally, it is cheaper to buy it already assembled."

The machine's guts are made for flexibility. Unlike the all-in-one approach of Intel's Centrino line (incorporating wireless as part of a motherboard+processor package), the EduBook uses a x586 system-on-chip core (block diagram) to provide processor, video and 512MB of main memory, but farms out wireless and storage; for wireless hardware, there's essentially a USB slot and a niche carved out of the motherboard. That way, the latest and greatest wireless interface (or the cheapest and most readily available) can be added at assembly time, keeping the three external USB ports free. Any USB wireless device small enough to fit will do -- it just has to work with the OS. (The company also runs a development and support site for working with the quirks of running a slightly offbeat processor.)

The EduBook is upgradeable, but not user upgradeable. Instead, the parts are modular enough that new chip generations, larger SD cards, or improved wireless modules can be readily swapped in by the maker (or by local manufacturers) while preserving all the user-facing parts (screen, keyboard, ports).

For storage, there's another (internal) slot for an SD card — an 8GB card in my sample — presented to the system as an IDE device. No conventional hard drive (though it is possible to order one in place of the SD card) means that the EduBook lags even typical low-end netbooks for raw storage capacity, and SD cards aren't the speed demons that SSDs are. But this isn't a machine built for carrying a road-warrior's movie collection or sticking into a data-center rack, and XCore86 have snipped out probably the most common failure point for laptops. (And SD cards are easier to source and simpler to replace than hard drives.) In practice, and considering that the system-on-a-chip processor is also aimed at frugality rather than speed, it's hard to fault.

The outside of the case is typical (but tough-seeming) netbook: the only port on the back is the AC inlet to power the laptop and charge the batteries; on the right side of the chassis are two USB ports; on the left, one more USB port, along with ethernet, a VGA out (which I didn't test), microphone and headphone jacks, and a 10/100 ethernet port.

Facing the user is a perfectly nice, perfectly standard, 1024x600 LED-backlit display. A Pixel Qi daylight-readable one would be nice; maybe one will show up in a future iteration.

Fit, finish, feel
The input devices on a laptop with 9" screen are small, of necessity — but for me, even a small keyboard beats a touchscreen or thumbboard. The keyboard is of the "nearly full size" variety. The touch-pad, also constrained by reality (about 2.5" x 1.5") is smooth and responsive — perhaps too responsive. My hands aren't big, but I've still had some curse-inducing frustration and backspacing at typing on this.

One problem I have with touchpads generally (and most laptops are saddled with them) is that an inadvertent tap of the thumb while typing can lead to an accidental cursor jump or text swipe -- and suddenly you're typing in the middle of the wrong paragraph or wiping out a chunk of what's already been written, and scrambling for Ctrl-Z. On the EduBook, this happens far more frequently than I'd like, though it's teaching me slowly to keep my thumbs hovering a bit higher. In use, and knowing that this is a machine built for other than high-end multimedia use, the twitchy keyboard and pointer are my biggest complaints. Another nitpick: the trackpad's buttons work, but they're chintzy, and ever-so-slightly misaligned, catching the skin on my thumb slightly when I move from left button to right.

The case seems strong — a little brick-like, even, at slightly more than an inch thick. The bottom of the case (not metal, but heavy-duty plastic) features two large areas of corrugation for an additional bit of rigidity. I am skeptical of Barnes's claim that it compares well with the durability of the OLPC XO, but that's a very high bar: the sturdy case and solid-state storage sure make it seem more drop-safe than my 10" Asus Eee or most other laptops I've owned over the last 18 years.

What's missing
Going in, I knew this was a small laptop built for getting online and as a tool for school kids, rather than a high-end machine (in which case I'd have a different set of complaints). Taking the EduBook on its own terms, though, I'd like to see a few things:

- Better Battery life indicator. Though the reader can gather from an LED at the front edge of the case whether the machine is charged, charging, or drastically low on charge, it would be nice to have a better-integrated on-screen indicator for remaining battery life.
- An external SD card slot. After first dismissing such a slot as a novelty, owning two laptops with built-in SD slots has spoiled me for the convenience. And on a storage-lean device like the EduBook, its absence is notable. An external SD slot would make this machine a lot more flexible.
- An easier system to change the batteries. The bank of AAs lives behind a small door secured by a pair of small Phillips-head screws. It's a small thing, but one reason I like AA batteries as a power source is that if you really needed to, it would be cheap to buy a few hours' worth of power, or to keep a spare set of Eneloops or other charge-retaining rechargeables around. (No heavier than the wall-wart you don't have to carry.) On the other hand, the batteries aren't soldered in place, and carrying a mini-Phillips driver around is no great burden. And, since this is a device intended for schools and children, the company has no intention to make the batteries or other internals easier to get at. Having accidentally tried to recharge some alkaline batteries recently (in a wall-charger, not the EduBook), I concede this has some merit.
- Working Suspend/Resume. The great bugaboo of Linux laptops raises its head here, too; shutting the lid or selecting Suspend from the Gnome menu triggers the error message that "Suspend is not available on this computer." A shame, when power savings are part of the overall appeal.

Performance, and the Takeaway
The 2000ma batteries in my sample gave me between 3 and 3.5 hours unplugged; that's about an hour less than the best performance I get from my Eee laptop's 4-cell battery, but still a respectable netbook battery life (though falling behind the new generation of all-day machines). Charging (until the light on the case indicated a full charge) took between 4 and 6 hours.

Wireless performance was quite good at Seattle coffee shops and in hotel rooms in Las Vegas and Portland, but I've hit an odd hitch: it's finicky on the (Apple-based) network at my home — I can see a fairly strong signal, but sometimes can't connect. (Gremlins?) An ethernet port on the side means I'm not totally out of luck.

The practical outcome of using a processor that's proudly taking up the rear of the performance curve is that startup takes over a minute (I timed 1:05 from hitting the power button to the Ubuntu login prompt, and another 45 seconds to a Gnome desktop). The low-power chip means that it doesn't do Flash either (no Facebook Scrabble for you!), but using the EduBook for most Internet tasks, typing notes, creating scripts or other light programming, and even using The GIMP is acceptably, usably quick. But note: applications work fairly well once they've started, but that startup can be a bit painful; more than a minute for OpenOffice, for instance. A faster chip would be nice (and bumps to the processor speed are expected), but as a connection to the Internet with a real keyboard and a decent screen, capable of running standard versions of word processors, programming languages, graphics packages and more, it strikes me as less obviously innovative but more flexible than OLPC's machines. It's impressive to me that an x586 can run Ubuntu and Gnome as well as it does; though there are lots of promising developments in the world of non-X86 chips, too, right now X86 is still the target architecture for the bulk of Linux distros, including ones built for education.

All of this means that the EduBook is slow, but useful, not just in its intended classroom application, but as a knockabout netbook generally.

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Woah. (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31078872)

tl;dr

Re:Woah. (-1, Offtopic)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 4 years ago | (#31078984)

tl;broop

FTFY.

Wow. (2, Funny)

Cryacin (657549) | more than 4 years ago | (#31079222)

I think we'll reach a new Slashdot low today where people won't even read the summary!

Re:Wow. (1, Troll)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 4 years ago | (#31079810)

We already passed that point when moderators stopped reading the comments.

Re:Woah. (2, Insightful)

JWSmythe (446288) | more than 4 years ago | (#31079056)

    That's gotta be one of the longest press releases (written to be an review) that I've seen in a long time.

    I wonder what it costs to have your ad run on the front of Slashdot as a story these days.

Re:Woah. (5, Insightful)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | more than 4 years ago | (#31079150)

That's the most brazen Slashvertisement I've ever seen. The editors(writers, whatever) could have at least tried to obfuscate it into an article and offload the interested onto the actual website.

I'm still trying to decide whether to be disappointed that the editors no longer care, or happy that they're being more honest about blatantly slashvertising.

Re:Woah. (2, Insightful)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 4 years ago | (#31079760)

I'm not sure it's a "slashvertisement" as much as it is a "press release from a company that seems practically tailor made to appeal to slashdot".

Runs linux? Check. Oddball underdog processor? Check. Not in general availability yet? Check. A few interesting wrinkles on the popular-but-now-somewhat-dated netbook concept? Check.

Re:Woah. (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#31079478)

For me it is an unusually interesting slashvertisement so I think it belongs on the front page.

uhhhhh....... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31078896)

for the times you run out of power and can find AA batteries but not an outlet?

DUMB.

Re:uhhhhh....... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31079006)

no, for the cheap

DUMBASS

Re:uhhhhh....... (1)

travisb828 (1002754) | more than 4 years ago | (#31079370)

The name of the product is the Gecko EduBook. It is targeted for classroom use. If you are going to pass out 20 of these things to a classroom of students you are not going to have power cords running all over the place. You can buy AA batteries in bulk, and they are super cheep. It will cost around $1.79 to replace batteries in one of these things.

Re:uhhhhh....... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31079746)

...cheep...

What are you? A fuckin' canary?

Re:uhhhhh....... (2, Insightful)

vtcodger (957785) | more than 4 years ago | (#31079918)

***for the times you run out of power and can find AA batteries but not an outlet?***

More for the times you left the charger in Dayton, or the charger pins don't match the wall plug, or the $#@(*& charger just won't work for no very obvious reason. You really can get AA cells just about anywhere.

Re:uhhhhh....... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31080092)

you can also easily break or rust off the battery connectors swapping them in and out all the time.

Re:uhhhhh....... (4, Insightful)

Urza9814 (883915) | more than 4 years ago | (#31080406)

This reminds me of the time when I was in Nuremberg and the batteries for my camera died.

I ran into some random shop and managed to get a new pack of AAs without even needing to speak the language (I speak _some_ German, but I have no clue how to say 'AA batteries')

So, say you're in some random city outside and the batteries die. Where do you plan on plugging in? Sure, a laptop is a bit different than a camera, but still. You can't plug in everywhere. You _can_ usually find batteries everywhere. What if you're taking a 12 hour flight? Sure is nice to have extra batteries to switch out in such a case (I carry a spare for my laptop in such occasions). Or if you're on a train? Or even a coffeehouse without public outlets or where the public outlets are all in use or far away.

Let's see, this week alone I've been in the following situations where I would _like_ to be able to charge my laptop but no outlet was available:
Running a table for a student organization on my campus. There are no outlets where they place the tables, and I can't exactly just move. And hell, in the summer we do those things outside.
Attending a meeting. Yes, there are outlets in the room. Two of them. No, there weren't any open chairs near the outlets.
Hosting a meeting. For some reason they didn't think to install a power outlet anywhere near the VGA input for the projector...
Just sitting outside doing work.

And this is on a college campus, where everyone has laptops with them damn near all the time. What about third world countries, which is what this laptop is really _designed_ for? You really expect children in a third world country to have access to a power outlet absolutely everywhere that they go?

opinion (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31078910)

more ghey than an ipad

Hurray for LandFills! (0, Flamebait)

0100010001010011 (652467) | more than 4 years ago | (#31078916)

AAs are a horrible way to power a laptop. Why not power a car with them? The energy density sucks.

The only 'convenient' thing about them is when you can't get power, you could possibly get new ones at any store. Then what when that set goes dead? Trash? People in developing countries have little regard for the environment.* So

And what type of AAs are they going to be? NiMH? NiCad?

I can get 999+ pictures out of my SLR on one LiOn charge. When I power it with an external grip using 8 AAs (which take up 4x the space) I may get 1/3 of that.

I know you guys hate Apple for it, but there's a reason they're getting 8 hours out of a 17" laptop. It's because they threw away all the 'packaging' crap that comes with normal batteries and only packaged the 'energy storing' part.

*I don't know if this is because of their nature or because the structure isn't setup. When I went to Rural india there was TRASH everywhere. AAs in the gutters. Because there wasn't anywhere to throw stuff away. That and every single thing was individually packaged. Shampoo came in a 5Rs 'sampler' sized package. Everything. So there was litter everywhere.

Re:Hurray for LandFills! (5, Informative)

shutdown -p now (807394) | more than 4 years ago | (#31078928)

If you RTFA, the thing gives you an option of using AAs, or Li-ion, as you see fit.

Re:Hurray for LandFills! (3, Funny)

0100010001010011 (652467) | more than 4 years ago | (#31078966)

If you RTFA

If I do that how the hell am I supposed to formulate a semi written out thought and get it submitted so it doesn't just look like I'm yelling out FIRST POST, without paying for it of course.

Re:Hurray for LandFills! (3, Insightful)

shutdown -p now (807394) | more than 4 years ago | (#31079026)

Ah, but if you RTFA, then you can make witty retorts to FIRST POSTS which get modded up in a shower of karma. Without paying, either.

Re:Hurray for LandFills! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31079270)

So the entire review is similar to an E3 announcement from Microsoft that 'We would like to announce that a gaming console we have kept totally secret so far uses AA batteries in its controller!"?

Re:Hurray for LandFills! (5, Funny)

toastar (573882) | more than 4 years ago | (#31079022)

I know you guys hate Apple for it, but there's a reason they're getting 8 hours out of a 17" laptop. It's because they threw away all the 'packaging' crap that comes with normal batteries and only packaged the 'energy storing' part.

So when it explodes you get more bang for your buck.

Re:Hurray for LandFills! (4, Informative)

ducomputergeek (595742) | more than 4 years ago | (#31079106)

I have an older consumer digital camera made by sony that had rechargeable batteries that were AA's. Worked extremely well as long as I owned the camera. The nice thing was in a pinch, say a long day of pictures or forgetting to recharge the batteries, I could run into any store and grab a pack of AA and keep on going. Granted, only got about 3 hours of shooting time on 2AA's, but it was handy.

I imagine this would be the same way, some kind of rechargeable that are in the same form factor as AA and then you can pop in AA's in a pinch.

Re:Hurray for LandFills! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31080326)

Happier if the LEFT OUT internal charger and gave it easy-open battery door. I have a battery charger for AA batteries, why would I want to carry one around all the time? I very much like the idea of ditching all these special-form batteries and their special chargers. I have a bunch of chargers for old laptops sitting in my junkbox. How many of those end up in landfill when people dump their laptop? A lot. This reminds me of Chinese who specified all phones use SAME charger very smart.

Re:Hurray for LandFills! (5, Insightful)

schon (31600) | more than 4 years ago | (#31079308)

AAs are a horrible way to power a laptop. Why not power a car with them?

Last time I checked, a laptop wasn't an automobile.

And by your logic, AA batteries are a "horrible" way to power *anything*.

AAs are a horrible way to power a TV remote. Why not power a car with them?

AAs are a horrible way to power a phone. Why not power a car with them?

AAs are a horrible way to power a portable device. Why not power a car with them?

See how stupid it sounds?

Re:Hurray for LandFills! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31079378)

I agree that AA's suck as a battery choice, but they do also come in Lithium.

I've been using these in my old hp 3.1 megapixel camera, these last longer than any other AA I've used, it may help you the next time you have to use AA's.

http://www.energizer.com/products/hightech-batteries/lithium/pages/lithium-batteries.aspx [energizer.com]

Re:Hurray for LandFills! (5, Funny)

Korin43 (881732) | more than 4 years ago | (#31079576)

You're right, batteries are a terrible idea! We should be powering our laptops with gasoline engines!

Re:Hurray for LandFills! (1)

rickb928 (945187) | more than 4 years ago | (#31079598)

I have a 4-cell charger that will charge 2200MaH Ni-MH cells in 15 minutes. Special cells, but damn, I can recharge a spare set in about a half hour. Not unreasonably priced back then. These were the IC3 cells. I can't find them any more, apparently Ray-O-Vac discontinued them in favor of hybrid cells, not the same thing...

Waiting for Recall (0, Troll)

u19925 (613350) | more than 4 years ago | (#31078920)

Direct AC connection? 110-240V? I don't know about you guys, but I ain't gonna put that damn thing on my lap. This is a laptop. I have spilled coffee, juice, other drinks on my laptops. I don't want 240V shock on my private parts. I let my young kids to use laptop too and certainly wouldn't allow this one to them.

Re:Waiting for Recall (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31078954)

Ah, you're that person companies have to write stupid shit like: "Don't get in the bath with this laptop", for indemnity, and because you're retarded.

Re:Waiting for Recall (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31079320)

I'd mod you to the moon of I had the points. I'm the guy at work who has to write that shit.

"Can you help me? I spilled Coke all over my laptop."
"Did your Coke scare the magic smoke away?"

Re:Waiting for Recall (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31079800)

I am the guy who wrote original comment. I don't need to call support ever. I repair all my electronics myself even when under warranty. For your information, I hold degrees from MIT and Caltech and have been using (and building) computers perhaps before you were born. I have used punch cards too for your information. Have been using PCs (required for my work) for 20+ years and have never used anti-virus software.

Yes, I have a right to spill coffee and juice on my laptop and if it isn't safe for it, I don't want to touch it.

Re:Waiting for Recall (1)

publiclurker (952615) | more than 4 years ago | (#31079868)

I hope you realize that trying to cover from an idiotic remark by bragging about irrelevant degrees pretty much consigns you to ridicule.

Re:Waiting for Recall (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31079978)

Then again, I'd be upset in his situation, too. The guy replying to him is a tool and a troll, not Insightful.

Accidents happen. Not wanting 240V applied across your testis isn't unreasonable.

Nyarlathotep? (1)

Xaedalus (1192463) | more than 4 years ago | (#31079884)

Is that you???

Re:Waiting for Recall (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31079964)

I know the feeling. I hold degrees from Columbia and Yale, and love spilling drinks on electronics all willy-nilly. Sometimes I'll touch the terminals on a few fully-charged caps just for the hell of it.

A few of my EE buds kept insisting it was a bad idea, but I looked them all straight in the eye and said, "The hell I won't! I hold degrees from Columbia and Yale!" That shuts 'em up, right-quick. Damn EE's.

Re:Waiting for Recall (1)

biryokumaru (822262) | more than 4 years ago | (#31079682)

Like these [webenglishteacher.com] ?

Re:Waiting for Recall (1)

sakdoctor (1087155) | more than 4 years ago | (#31079946)

My favourite of all time was on a flexible keyboard:

It cannot be putted into the oven and putted on the fire to roast

Good job I have a large oven, otherwise I probably couldn't even fit turkeys or my keyboard in it.

Re:Waiting for Recall (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 4 years ago | (#31079008)

Did the first couple of spills do any damage?

Are you really that thirsty that you can't avoid dumping liquid on expensive electronics?

Re:Waiting for Recall (1)

PPH (736903) | more than 4 years ago | (#31079112)

No 12 Vdc power input? How do I run this in my car? Now I've got to buy an inverter.

Re:Waiting for Recall (3, Interesting)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#31079458)

Hack it and install a DC power socket. Its only a cheap device after all. How about installing a three pin regulator while you are at it?

Re:Waiting for Recall (3, Insightful)

Tetsujin (103070) | more than 4 years ago | (#31079188)

Direct AC connection? 110-240V? I don't know about you guys, but I ain't gonna put that damn thing on my lap. This is a laptop. I have spilled coffee, juice, other drinks on my laptops. I don't want 240V shock on my private parts. I let my young kids to use laptop too and certainly wouldn't allow this one to them.

Most likely the AC-DC power converter is sealed up. Take a look at a "wall wart" power supply sometime - do you see anywhere for liquid to leak in? Even my EEE's AC adaptor, which isn't sealed, also doesn't feature any openings into which liquid could readily flow.

And then, what do you think this combination of liquid and voltage is going to do, exactly? Is the voltage going to follow the liquid's electrical path out of the abundantly ground-planed environment of the power supply and computer, and follow a path up your arms, through your heart, and then back down to the computer to get to a ground path?

I'm not feeling too scared, really.

Re:Waiting for Recall (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31080006)

I am not sure about it being sealed. When outside, the adapters are sealed because there is plenty of ventilation to cool it. When inside a computer, it may not be sealed. I have opened hundreds of devices and haven't found one having sealed power AC to DC converter inside.

Re:Waiting for Recall (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31080200)

Recently, I received shock from my iron even though it had a ground pin (I was not ironing, so I was trying to test, if it was hot enough). When I opened it, I found that the ground wire was broken and live wire was touching the metallic case. This was just at the place where it was receiving 3 pin input. So even if the AC to DC converter is sealed, you may not be safe.

Re:Waiting for Recall (5, Funny)

Serenissima (1210562) | more than 4 years ago | (#31079276)

Well, if your kids do use this, spill a drink on it, and get shocked... Just tell them they're grounded!

Re:Waiting for Recall (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31079432)

You sound pretty current with the what's-what in parenting, but what if they resist?

Re:Waiting for Recall (4, Funny)

Adriax (746043) | more than 4 years ago | (#31080018)

You show them what little capacitance for suffering their antics you have, and induct them into a local orphanage.

Re:Waiting for Recall (5, Funny)

djdavetrouble (442175) | more than 4 years ago | (#31079486)

How dare they conduct themselves in that fashion!

Re:Waiting for Recall (5, Funny)

Sponge Bath (413667) | more than 4 years ago | (#31079550)

It's the current fad.

Re:Waiting for Recall (4, Funny)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | more than 4 years ago | (#31079708)

An Ohmage to Thomas Edison, if I relay correctly.

Re:Waiting for Recall (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31079688)

OK. You ARE grounded.

Have to know... (1)

SuperKendall (25149) | more than 4 years ago | (#31079950)

DId you JUST change your signature to what it says now, or is that entirely coincidence...

Very interesting except... (1)

creimer (824291) | more than 4 years ago | (#31078952)

Should I be scared that the default country for the order form is Thailand?

Re:Very interesting except... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31079098)

and that 8 AAs is dreadful. No thanks. I'll keep my Macbook Air, you guys can keep your 3rd world rubbish.

It runs XP (5, Informative)

shutdown -p now (807394) | more than 4 years ago | (#31078974)

One thing that review did gloss over, but which is right there in TFA, among the first things listed.

"It can support Microsoft Windows XP." [norhtec.com]

So Linux is one of the options for this thing (they actually list a bunch of distros that work, apart from the one they specifically designed for the thing), not the only option.

Given the cries of how OLPC had sold out when they said they're going to support XP, I thought it would be kinda relevant...

I got one of these! (5, Informative)

hatten (1640681) | more than 4 years ago | (#31078976)

I got one of these, and I were very surprised that it was covered here! I certainly don't think the case is very sturdy, a few millimetres plastic was easy to crack, and I've done that. I've got some evil pixels on the screen too after dropping it once. I got mine with ubuntu, but I managed to thrash X and have not taken my time to fix it, I use it on daily basis exclusively with vim, but being the CLI junky I am I almost like it more that way than with a gui. I carry it around for all my lessons in school and I'm very happy that I bought it. A little weird thing with it is that the usb ports are upside down, no clue if that's a feature or something stupid =p A big downside for me was that it is i586, something I didn't think off when buying it, meaning that distros such as Arch Linux won't run on it natively.

Re:I got one of these! (1)

Haxzaw (1502841) | more than 4 years ago | (#31080296)

Informative? I would have modded it funny, but after rereading it, I think you are serious. Exclusive vim use? Like it more than GUI? Use it for school lessons, with vim? OK, I'm sorry, I'm being a bit to rough on vim.

Using CLI at school? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31080342)

Sir! Ill make a bet you will not get laid this semester! ;-)

SD slot??? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31078990)

SD slot??? WHY??? How about just a USB reader and a USB port on the machine?

Then you can use SD, CF, microSD, xD, miniSD, MMS,...

I wonder about those batteries, mind. 2000mAh from four? They're making 3200mAh now.

Mind you, compare this against a Psion 3a.

Re:SD slot??? (1)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | more than 4 years ago | (#31079042)

As an embedded solution, an SD PHY would allow for the addition of Wifi pretty easily.

Re:SD slot??? (4, Insightful)

Tetsujin (103070) | more than 4 years ago | (#31079548)

SD slot??? WHY??? How about just a USB reader and a USB port on the machine?

Then you can use SD, CF, microSD, xD, miniSD, MMS,...

If you look at the pictures: the SD slot is internal. It's one of the options for primary storage. I can only hope the thing has a very good SD card interface... The reason they included this slot is to provide a cheap way to configure the machine with solid-state storage. SD cards can't compete with good-quality SSDs, but it's very cheap to add an SD slot to a machine, the SD cards themselves are cheap and easy to find, and it doesn't take much physical space inside the machine.

I own a EEE 901 - personally I find the built-in card reader quite convenient. IMO it beats dragging around a USB accessory, at least in cases where I'm just dealing with one memory card format. (It's actually very rare these days that I have to deal with anything other than SD - though I do sometimes travel with a USB card reader just in case.) I like that even if I forget to bring a card reader with me, my 901 can read SD cards for me... Other netbooks are even more handy in this regard, as they feature multiformat readers...

I honestly wouldn't want to run a machine like this on AA's, and I'm not sure that having that capability is worth the trouble - but I do kind of like that they threw that feature in there. I can imagine a couple years down the road having trouble finding a replacement battery for my 901 (well, Asus uses the same battery pack in other models, so maybe I've got a while before that would be a problem) It's kind of nice that this machine uses "off-the-rack" li-po batteries instead of proprietary packs, and the AA fallback option is interesting... Reminds me of my old TRS-80 model 100, actually. :) I've seen tons of old laptops at flea markets - rendered not only obsolete but fairly useless as well as a result of the batteries having gone. Meanwhile, I was using my model 100 to type up reports in the late 1990s. The idea of a machine like this being genericized to the point where replacement batteries can be found anywhere is really appealing - even if the machine is very weak by today's standards.

Overall, I'd say the machine is pretty much junk. XD But it's fun junk, like the way the original EEE 7 and 9 inch models were fun junk. When they mention an internal USB slot it makes me think that they've got hobbyists in mind as much as anything... Netbook hackers just love an internal USB slot. :) ...Though it does seem that you need that slot for wi-fi, so maybe not?

Re:SD slot??? (1)

tverbeek (457094) | more than 4 years ago | (#31080150)

"Reminds me of my old TRS-80 model 100, actually. :) "

I was just going to say that it sounded from the summary that someone had finally reinvented the "Model T" (as it was affectionately known). These probably won't have the mechanical longevity of those, however.

Performance compared to Atom? (1)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | more than 4 years ago | (#31079000)

Form factor is almost irrelevant here. What matters is the following:

1) Can XCore continue to improve the SOC with higher clockspeeds and features?
2) Can the XCore86 CPU compete performance-wise with Atom?
3) For almost $200, how do they intend to compete against existing UMPCs from makers like Asus?

This EduBook is cute, but the question remains whether this SOC can truly compete against the Atom+US15W in the marketplace. Getting a free device because you're some hotshot Slashdot editor isn't quite the same thing as comparison shopping for the right solution.

Re:Performance compared to Atom? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31079176)

Xcore86 is the same as a Vortex86 which use to be manufactured by SiS but now is done by DMP. It is slow....

$199 too high! (4, Insightful)

jbridges (70118) | more than 4 years ago | (#31079002)

You can buy a Lenovo S10 with 1GB of ram, 1.6Ghz CPU and 160GB harddrive for $249, and that includes WinXP.

The AA batteries sounds interesting, but since all the netbooks come with a battery, and they are cheap enough to buy an entire new netbook with new battery when anything breaks or wears out.

If this unit was $150 or less, it's slow CPU and AA battery power might make sense. But at $199 it's not worth it.

Re:$199 too high! (2, Informative)

Weezul (52464) | more than 4 years ago | (#31079288)

Two big reasons you're wrong. First, that $50 discount might be essential for many poorer kids, even in the U.S. Second, that $50 puts downward price pressure upon other netbooks.

Re:$199 too high! (3, Interesting)

jbridges (70118) | more than 4 years ago | (#31080412)

Except four things:

The $199 price does not include WinXP. The $250 Lenovo S10 price does.
The $199 price does not include 1GB of ram (only 512mb). The $250 Lenovo S10 price does.
The $199 price does not include 160GB harddrive (only small flash drive). The $250 Lenovo S10 price does.
The $199 price does not include batteries (AA or otherwise). The $250 Lenovo S10 price does.

What does the $199 unit cost with a copy of WinXP Home, 1GB of RAM, a 160GB harddrive, and a supply of AA batteries?
A lot closer to $250 than you imply.

(and you have the much slower CPU in the AA battery unit)

Re:$199 too high! (3, Informative)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#31079392)

The price is determined by what they can get for it, which is determined in part by the price of the Lenovo. If they don't sell enough the price will come down.

Re:$199 too high! (1)

westlake (615356) | more than 4 years ago | (#31080266)

The price is determined by what they can get for it, which is determined in part by the price of the Lenovo. If they don't sell enough the price will come down.

But not by much.

You have to meet the costs of production and distribution. You have to show a profit. Your distributors have to show a profit.

WalMart shed all its Linux inventory.

When product doesn't sell, it may just be because no one wants to buy. Even at the deep discount price.

Re:$199 too high! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31079428)

and this apparently doesn't do Flash (even though its x86) - thought I wager that might just be Timothy being retarded.

Re:$199 too high! (1)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | more than 4 years ago | (#31079604)

You'd be surprised at how many people will go out and by a Laptop simply because its $199. They don't care what it runs, how fast it runs, or even battery life. They want a computer they can carry around that they can plug in somewhere, and use it to type up stuff while they watch TV.

And a $199 desktop, while probably more powerful, is too clunky to carry around, especially when you add the monitor on top of that.

Re:$199 too high! (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31080052)

This is about damn time. Using standard rechargeable AA would be awesome. Right now, each laptop, netbook, and mobi has unique and expensive to replace battpacks, cords, and warts that have to be specially ordered instead of purchased off the shelf. You could replace AAs easily and inexpensively. Hopefully this will start a new open power revolution.

Re:$199 too high! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31080124)

Buy an entire new netbook for $249 instead of eight rechargeable AA cells at $2 each? You must be made of money.

Charging AAs (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31079082)

AAs are typically charged in series by in-device chargers. That is significantly worse than single-cell chargers because small differences in the capacity of the single cells result in over-charging which kills the batteries. Li-Ion batteries on the other hand are always charged individually because they are actually dangerous when overcharged.
There isn't a good reason to use AAs for a device which goes through one charge in a matter of days, especially when an unsophisticated charger is used. What we really need is a standard Li-Ion rechargeable battery format.

Re:Charging AAs (1)

luther349 (645380) | more than 4 years ago | (#31079376)

it has the option for other battery types. but this is geared to education and long term cost matters. but i agree AA is not the way to cut battery cost not due to any other reason other then life span. AA rechargeable last around a year. li ions last 5 to 10 years if cared for. the the cost of replacing the AA batters 5 times before the li models needs replacement is around the same cost.

Re:Charging AAs (1)

luther349 (645380) | more than 4 years ago | (#31079450)

for those that cant add pack of 4 from walmart 5$ you would need 2 packs so you do 8x5=40$ per 5 years on AA battery. avg cost on li ions over 5 years 40$ for a new oem 3 cell witch all this laptop probably would need. but the other things do look good. having the prosser removable and replaceable make upgrading this system very cost efficient.or even repairing it in the case of prosser failer.

I have a very similar machine from 1983 (3, Interesting)

laing (303349) | more than 4 years ago | (#31079104)

Somewhere in the bottom of one of my closets is a TRS-80 model 100. It also ran off 4 AA batteries. It sported a LCD display which could do 8 lines of 40 characters each and was likely the last computer that Bill Gates actually wrote any software for.

See here [wikipedia.org] for more info.

Re:I have a very similar machine from 1983 (1)

wcbsd (1331357) | more than 4 years ago | (#31079236)

*Sigh*

I learned to program on a Sinclair ZX81 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zx81), which weighed about a pound and could run on 9VDC (though the only battery-powered versions were homebrew). It's amazing that we've come this far...

Did anyone else love that the icon for discontinued products on XCore's site is a rotary phone?

Re:I have a very similar machine from 1983 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31079410)

TRS-80 m100 (and the improved 102) are boss.

Used one to take notes for a few years before the glut of horrid little netbooks - 20 hours of battery life, plus built in MS basic and it can function as a simple serial terminal too. If you have a parallel port printer still, you can even use a motherboard parallel port adapter to print.

Nevermind it has the best @#$! keyboard ever put on a laptop. Period. If a bit loud. It also doesn't mind being dropped.

Re:I have a very similar machine from 1983 (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 4 years ago | (#31079498)

I also had a model 100. Its important to note that the FOUR AA batteries literally lasted weeks. Perhaps 50 hours of continuous use? I know I went thru a set of batteries every month or so. Also the ancient static ram drew enough current in sleep mode to drain the batteries in about one year.

This thing drains its EIGHT AA batteries in the traditional laptop 3 hours or whatever. Lame.

My palmIII ran for weeks on two AAA, my ipod touch runs about one day per charge.

Re:I have a very similar machine from 1983 (1)

noidentity (188756) | more than 4 years ago | (#31079668)

Yes, but your Model 100 doesn't run Linux.

(I have a 102, and it was a great machine to learn machine language on, and hardware interfacing... I still have it a few feet away, for hardware interfacing and stuff)

Re:I have a very similar machine from 1983 (2, Interesting)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 4 years ago | (#31079740)

Yes, 4 AA cells can do wonders with an 8 x 40 coarse pitch B&W LCD screen with a refresh rate that barely kept up with it's 300 baud modem (maybe it was a 1200, mine is buried somewhere in the junk pile) and everything essentially in ROM.

You do realize that your watch is more powerful than that computer?

Re:I have a very similar machine from 1983 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31079504)

Sigh. EduBook uses twice as many batteries for only 4 to 6 hours. With the Model 100 you got at least a week out of alkalines.

Yes, sure the EduBook does a lot more, but the headline got me excited that maybe were were finally going to exceed or at least equal the power usage of the late, great 100. (Note to youngsters - read the wiki link above. This thing came out only two years after the best portable was a 12 kilo suitcase. It had a real keyboard, ran on AA's, and did telnet as VT-52. I used mine into the early 90s. It's one of the best pieces of kit ever made. Play with one if you get a chance.)

I have one too! (1)

joe_n_bloe (244407) | more than 4 years ago | (#31079518)

I loved it. I'm sure it still works. I also have the acoustic (300 baud) coupler for the built-in modem.

Also, there's the Newton.

Some day maybe 2 week battery life will be back.

Re:I have one too! (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#31079614)

I loved it. I'm sure it still works. I also have the acoustic (300 baud) coupler for the built-in modem.

For a moment there I thought you were talking about the edubook.

Did they name it the XCore Edubook (2, Funny)

Ukab the Great (87152) | more than 4 years ago | (#31079366)

because critics would have lambasted the "XCore E8"?

Is that really a good idea? (1)

SendBot (29932) | more than 4 years ago | (#31079492)

From TFA: "There is no bulky power adapter. The power supply is built inside the Gecko so that all you need to carry is a power cord."

I've had enough ATX power supplies and laptop power adapters go bad... one of the latter even threw sparks and smoke. Never damaged the actual computer, and they were all easy to replace.

The power adapter for my netbook is smallish, but bigger than I'd want embedded inside my netbook. And what about RF noise? What about safety? Sounds crazy, but I've had a waterfall (from a leaky roof) open right up on me while using a computer before. Once I even used a faulty laptop that shocked me when using it, annoying but not deadly.

Re:Is that really a good idea? (1)

luther349 (645380) | more than 4 years ago | (#31079672)

agreed. bad laptop power supply's can generate alot of heat. even good ones do. this is why they put them on the on the outside of the system.

Re:Is that really a good idea? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31080264)

I fully agree with you that power supply inside the laptop is not safe. Even when outside, I usually place my adapters on surface which don't burn and conduct electricity. Better be safe than sorry.

kinda expensive (1)

obarthelemy (160321) | more than 4 years ago | (#31079584)

I did RTFS, and even went to their site
- $200 is a lot, there's netbooks for $250
- the datasheet lists an external SD slot, the summary says there aren't any ?
- available with up to 1 gig RAM
- optional "real" batteries instead of 8xAA
- Vista certainly not supported, otherwise they would say so.

Oh boy. This IS the future. (3, Insightful)

Fantastic Lad (198284) | more than 4 years ago | (#31079600)

Soon on Slashdot, we will not longer be discussing laptop computers because they are going to be as ubiquitous and cheap (as in 'Toys R Us' cheap) as the humble pocket calculator.

My Dad's first calculator cost $300 and it took a full pack of AA's and it had glow-y red numbers inside tiny light bulbs or vacuum tubes or something. And it came with a power cord. And it was the most exciting thing in the world! If there had been an internet back then, there would have been feverish discussion and hardware hacks and all kinds of 'boy' chatter regarding it and other devices competing for the same market.

But nobody talks about pocket calculators much these days. We've solved them. They're done. They work perfectly, and most of the time the build-quality is somewhere between "Fischer Price" and "Dollar Store G.I. Joe reject".

This is the second computer on a chip I've seen this week. ARM had an even smaller system which out-powered the one in this article by many orders of magnitude, all destined for the same market.

Yeah, it's kind of cool that portable computers are about to be Capital-S SOLVED; that we'll have long battery lives combined with high computing power in a small form-factor, all for $29.95 (or less). Great. Computers are going to be no more exciting than a new binder, pencil case and protractor set. -And probably about as durable, because stuff that lasts doesn't make money. Welcome to the Industrial Age.

Sigh.

So stop and look around. These are the last of the, "Good old days". Breathe it in, folks. It's never going to be the same again.

Of course, I'm sure we'll all find something new to get geeky about. Maybe radio-control cars will come back into vogue. Who knows?

-FL

Re:Oh boy. This IS the future. (3, Interesting)

mrfrostee (30198) | more than 4 years ago | (#31079888)

My Dad's first calculator cost $300 and it took a full pack of AA's and it had glow-y red numbers inside tiny light bulbs or vacuum tubes or something.

Those were Nixie Tubes http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nixie_tube [wikipedia.org]

And it was the most exciting thing in the world! If there had been an internet back then, there would have been feverish discussion and hardware hacks and all kinds of 'boy' chatter regarding it and other devices competing for the same market.

We mostly talked in person back then, but it was just as exciting.

But nobody talks about pocket calculators much these days. We've solved them. They're done. They work perfectly...

Why can't I find one as good at being a calculator as my nearly 30 year old HP-15c?

What's missing? (1)

countertrolling (1585477) | more than 4 years ago | (#31079616)

An IBM mouse nub thingy... The only way to fly.

Re:What's missing? (3, Informative)

Jeremy Erwin (2054) | more than 4 years ago | (#31080220)

It's ok, you can call it a clit mouse [xkcd.com] if you want.

Costs more than an EeePC, and isn't as fast (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31079704)

I purchased an Asus 900 model for $180 over six months ago that runs an intel atom at 1.6 GHz and has 1GB of RAM with a 4GB SSD, all for less than this slower model that has a higher cost and runs a smaller subset of the available software. Can somebody explain how this machine is worth the money?

Drivers open source? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31079712)

Does anyone know if the drivers for the GPU and other stuff are open source? I would hate to buy one and not being able to upgrade to the newest Ubuntu version due to some closed blobs.

website is so bad (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31079780)

u have to wonder how good the product is
they put like, 2 nanoseconds of thought into the web page - you have to wonder if the same lazy, screw the user attitude is in their engineering dept
and i'm not just talking lack of glitzy useless flashcrap either;

Not interesting. (1)

saccade.com (771661) | more than 4 years ago | (#31079844)

Wireless (WiFi) should be built in. Otherwise you're guaranteed a configuration headache to use a feature that should work right out of the box. Built-in camera is pretty much expected on these machines too. And, quite frankly, I'll stick with the "proprietary" battery packs that give another 2-4 hours of run-time, thanks.

Re:Not interesting. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31080004)

Everywhere you go, someone complains about something. It's either "proprietary battery this" or "stupid AA's that"... what the hell. Can't please everyone, I guess.

Big Deal! (1)

Cornwallis (1188489) | more than 4 years ago | (#31080224)

My Bluetooth-enabled Tandy Model 101 runs on four AA batteries.

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