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Technology: Hacking, Loving, Hating the Asus EEE PC

This week I became the roughly one billionth person to buy one of those diminutive, happy little things called Asus Eee PCs. Mine is the low-end $299 version, and it came in a color I’ve taken to calling Confident Man Green. Naturally my first inclination was to hop on the Intertubes and figure out how I could hack and update this thing with quick-and-easy mods, so it might be ever so much more than I’d hoped. Here’s what I found.

This week I became the roughly one billionth person to buy one of those diminutive, happy little things called Asus Eee PCs. Mine is the low-end $299 version, and it came in a color I’ve taken to calling Confident Man Green.

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Naturally my first inclination was to hop on the Intertubes and figure out how I could hack and update this thing with quick-and-easy mods, so it might be ever so much more than I’d hoped. Here’s what I found.

Basically: that I can’t. The low-end $299 2G Surf model, which ships with 512MB of RAM, an underclocked 900MHz Celeron processor and a 2GB flash hard drive, is cursed with soldered memory and little recourse for the upgrade-hungry. It does, however, have an SD slot, so its 2GB hard drive (1.7GB of which is consumed by the custom Xandros Linux OS) isn’t as claustrophobic as it sounds.

If you were prescient enough to buy one of the other models (the 4G Surf, 4G or 8G), replacing the RAM is relatively easy, using the RAM access port built into the bottom of the machine. You can see how to upgrade the RAM on one of these bad boys here.

So what else can you do to an Eee PC, if you have the time and guts? A lot, as it turns out.

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With some minimal tech know-how, you can install Mac OS X Leopard on it (although, be forewarned, you may lose functionality like WiFi if you don’t tinker with the drivers correctly). You can also put XP on there, which is more kosher, according to Asus. Ubuntu is also an option for Linux fans who aren’t keen on the Eee’s moronically simple interface.

Hardware-wise, there’s even more you can do, though much of it defies reason and frugality. For example, if you’re unimpressed by the Celeron chip, which is underclocked from 900MHz to an effective 600MHz to save battery and keep heat down, you can perform soft overclocks like this one by upping the frontside bus. This is something that will probably tempt a great many Eee users (after they’ve already upped their RAM), because the notion of unused speed trapped inside a computer is a compelling and frustrating one for any bona fide computer enthusiast.

More cool stuff: upgrading the flash hard drive from 2, 4 or 8GB to a whopping 32GB using a simple USB power modification and a stock 32GB flash drive. Or, adding an internal 3G mobile internet card. You can also add a touchscreen with this rather in-depth installation tutorial:

All in all, most of these hacks involve spending money or time that could otherwise have been invested in a more expensive and capable UMPC. But if you’re buying the Eee as a project computer, you could end up with a pretty tricked-out little machine for under $800. I, for one, like my Confident Man Green Eee just the way it is — even if the keyboard can feel infuriating, the OS lags like crazy, and it forgets my WiFi network every time I turn it off. It’s still the happiest little machine $300 can buy, and it edits Word documents and gets GMail. That’s enough for me.

About the author

I've written about innovation, design, and technology for Fast Company since 2007. I was the co-founding editor of FastCoLabs.

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