WannabEees: Eee PC vs Elonex One vs OLPC vs EasyNote XS vs MSI Wind and more

There's a growing range of alternatives to the hugely popular Eee PC. Come and see whether any of these cheap, portable laptops stand up to the Asus original

Bored with making MacBooks for Steve Jobs, one day Asus decided to create its own stylish laptop and flog it on the cheap. The result was the Eee PC -- a Linux-based ultraportable notebook that wowed consumers, shocked rival manufacturers and is slowly but surely revolutionising an industry.

But Asus is no longer alone. Since the Eee's launch, many of its rivals have begun to create similar alternatives -- each designed to pilfer a piece of the budget ultraportable pie. Some are trying to beat the Eee on price, some on specs, but they're all tiny and they're all camped out in the bargain basement. They're all real products, and a few are already available, so we've included links to our full reviews for those.

Asus Eee PC 701, £220
The Eee has racked up hundreds of thousands of sales in a relatively short space of time. It's portable, attractive, versatile and has completely flipped the laptop world on its head with a stupidly low price point.

In exchange for a touch over £200, the Eee provides a Pentium M 900MHz CPU, 512MB of RAM, Wi-Fi, a 7-inch 800x480-pixel display, and enough Linux software to keep you busy for weeks. It's awesome value.

Okay, the hype overshadowed the fact that it's rather slow, sometimes unreliable and nearly impossible to type on if you had grown-up fingers, but these are minor details. In the long run it'll be recognised as one of the decade's most important pieces of tech design. Its rivals -- including the Eee PC 901 -- will have a very hard time topping it.

Read the full Asus Eee PC 701 review here, then click through for more wannabEees. -Rory Reid

Elonex One (aka GeCube Genie), £99
Let's kick things off with the Elonex One, which many geeks will also know as the GeCube Genie Jr. It's designed for school children, but will no doubt attract a much wider demographic thanks to its ludicrously low price.

The One is an attractive little unit that weighs in at 900g. Elonex says it's designed to be kid-proof in that it's shock resistant, has no moving parts and is very reliable. The main components are housed behind the 7-inch 800x480-pixel display. You get a 300MHz LNX Code 8 Mobile CPU -- no, we've never heard of it either -- 128MB of DDR2 memory and 1GB of flash memory. An enhanced version of the laptop, called the One Plus, ships with 256MB of RAM and 2GB of storage.

What else do you get for fewer than 10,000 pennies? Well, 802.11b/g Wi-Fi is standard, as is wired 10/100 Ethernet, two USB2.0 ports, built-in speakers, and the keyboard's removable so you can use the One like a tablet PC. The display isn't touch-sensitive, so you'll have to use a 'mouse emulator' -- aka nipple -- round the back. The whole thing runs on the Linux Linos 2.6.21 operating system, which comes with a variety of productivity, media and education software.

The One is never going to be the fastest computer in the world, and we're sceptical that it'll be without its problems, but you really can't go wrong for £99. It's available in pink, green, silver, white or black, and will be released in July 2008. Pre-order yours from the Elonex Web site now for a £10 deposit.

Packard Bell EasyNote XS (aka VIA Nanobook), £399
Originally the Everex Cloudbook, this petite laptop now goes by many different names: 'EasyNote XS', 'VIA Nanobook', and courtesy of some potty-mouthed Cravers: 'horrible pile of turd'. That last bit is very unfair -- the XS is pretty accomplished.

It's tiny: just 230x171x29mm and it weighs 950g. It uses a 7-inch display with an 800x480-pixel native resolution, a 1.2GHz VIA C7-M CPU, 1GB of RAM and a 30GB 2.5-inch hard drive, which puts the 1GB or 2GB models in the Eee or Elonex One to shame.

It's disappointing, then, that it costs a relatively hefty £399. The fact it uses Windows is no excuse -- the Dell Vostro uses Vista and costs £200 less. Still, it's the only 7-inch uber-portable that comes with a decent amount of storage right off the shelf. If you can put up with the frankly unusable mouse thumbpad, it's worth glancing in the EasyNote XS's general direction.

Read our full Packard Bell EasyNote XS review here.

MSI Wind, £225
If there's one laptop that could seriously end the Eee's reign, it's the MSI Wind. We believe it could be the perfect blend of portability and usability, due to the fact it's slightly larger than an Eee PC, with a bigger keyboard and a choice of screen sizes.

Eight- and 10-inch versions are available, as are Silverthorne CPUs ranging from 1GHz to 1.5GHz. You even get a choice of hard drive types: there are solid-state models for anyone prone to dropping things, and 2.5-inch models for anyone who wants to store lots of multimedia files.

Best of all, the entry-level Wind is set to cost just €299 (£225), or €699 (£530) for the high-end model. Like all good uber-portables, it's available in a variety of colours including blue, silver and pink.

Read more about it here

Update: Check out our MSI Wind hands-on with photos , watch our hands-on video , read our full MSI Wind review here and discuss it in our MSI Wind forum.

Dell Vostro 1400, £233
You're probably wondering what the hell the Dell Vostro is doing in this list. It's big, comparatively heavy and it's, er, a Dell. But let's not lose focus here, people. It costs a measly £233 -- less than you pay for an Eee PC -- and it'll spank the backside off the rest of these wannabEees in performance terms.

The Vostro range is available in a variety of form factors, the smallest of which has a 14-inch display and a chassis weighing 2.5kg. Okay, so it isn't especially portable, but it does have the advantage of a full-size keyboard and a screen you don't need ophthalmic surgery to read.

The basic package includes a 1.86GHz Celeron M CPU, 1GB of DDR2 memory, a 120GB hard drive, Intel GMA X3100 graphics, a 1,280x800-pixel display and the luxury of all luxuries: an 8x DVD rewriter!

802.11b/g Wi-Fi comes as standard, and you can customise it to hell and back to eke even more performance out of it. That's probably just as well, since it uses Windows Vista Home Premium edition. 'Downgrading' to Windows XP Professional will set you back an extra £30, which is pretty outrageous. You can read more about this laptop in our Dell Vostro preview .

Update: Dell also offers a 15.4-inch Vostro 1000 series laptop for £210 plus the cost of shipping, which is based on AMD processors.

Asus Eee PC 900, £300
The Eee PC 900 is the bigger, badder version of the original Eee PC 701. Announced officially at CeBIT 2008, this comes with an 8.9-inch widescreen display, an 1,024x600-pixel resolution, and up to 12GB of solid-state memory.

The chassis is very similar to that of the previous Eee PC 701, which we reviewed here , so it's still highly portable and the keyboard is still a tiny bit... tiny.

Still, mustn't grumble. The Eee PC 900 is an attractive proposition. It might be a tad expensive compared to the MSI Wind, but we're sure Asus will stay competitive. Watch for a release later this year, or read more here .

Update: A previous version of this article said the native resolution of the Eee PC 900 was 800x480 pixels. The correct resolution is set to be 1,024x600 pixels.

Update: Read our full Asus Eee PC 900 review

OLPC XO-1 (aka One Laptop Per Child)
Finally, we should mention the XO-1, formerly the '$100 laptop', which is designed as part of a charitable project for children in developing nations. As the concept has been kicking around for a few years, it's arguably the inspiration for the Eee. It's not currently on sale to the public, but last year's Give One Get One programme meant for £200, you could keep one and they'd send the other to a starving-but-surprisingly-IT-capable child. Hopefully the offer will be back soon.

The OLPC is undoubtedly one of the weirdest-looking contraptions known to man. It has a rotating 7-inch 1,200x900-pixel screen, runs off an AMD Geode LX-700 CPU, 256MB of super-slow 133MHz RAM, and has 1GB of flash memory, which you can add to via an SD card slot under the screen.

Its quirky ear-like aerials work in conjunction with its 802.11s wireless card to create a mesh network, which means you can piggyback off another XO-1 to share its Internet connection if you're not quite within range. We couldn't get this to work in the congested streets of London, but it'll do better in countries where wireless interference is virtually non-existent and terrain is flat.

You might find the X-O1's Linux user interface tricky to master, but that wasn't much of a problem to us, since we wouldn't be seen dead with one in public anyway -- convenient carry handle or no convenient carry handle.

Read the full OLPC XO-1 review here.

 

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