Saturday, August 28, 2010

Asus eeePC 1005HA-GG

REACT! 
I bought this little netbook a couple of months ago (it was February I think). Now I can safely write my opinion about it and my experiences with it.

I bought it from Plaisio, a Greek store for 350euros. I could buy it form eshop, another online Greek store for 300euros but Plaisio sold it with a USB prepaid (Vodafone on Demand) broadband stick from Vodafone which costs 50euros on it's own. I wouldn't buy the USB stick otherwise but Plaisio had an additional offer for buying their combo: free broadband internet until July. In any case I trust Plaisio more than eshop.

The first impression was great. It had Windows XP Home Greek preinstalled and a version of Linux which I didn't really fancy so I only checked their main features and never used them again. After uninstalling Panda Antivirus (I replaced it with Avira Antivir) and the MS Office trials (I installed OpenOffice instead) I saw how few tools Asus had placed in the netbook. That was great, for the first time I had a laptop in my hands that didn't suffer from useless programs. The only laptop related programs were to control the CPU frequency, LCD resolution and LCD orientation as well as a program for auto updating these few tools. The touchpad responds nicely and supports double-touch for zooming in and out. It has no visible limits but I quickly got used to it. Secondly the loudspeakers are worst than the one on my mobile phone (Nokia E71). You can't even get the sound over 50% without completely destroying the sound (and perhaps you ears). The screen on the other hand is fantastic. Its native resolution is 1024x600 at 10.1 inches but you can go up to 1024x768 (scaled or panned) if you applications require it. The screen surface is matte so you won't have any problems using it in the sunny outdoors. The keyboard is fine. It covers the whole width of the netbook width and the only problem you will probably encounter is that it has tiny cross (the arrow keys), especially the up and down arrows which occupy the space of one normal key together.

In the next days I repartitioned the drive to reclaim the space used by Linux (which I didn't use) and to consolidate the pointlessly numerous partitions. I used an Ubuntu live USB and everything went absolutely fine. I could finally copy my Music which filled a 70GB partition.

Over the days I installed many different programs some of which were quite stressful for it's 1.60GHz Atom CPU and the 1GB of RAM. For example Freenet and NetBeans. "Coincidentally" both are Java applications. But still the netbook ran quite fast for my taste. The only thing that made it crawl was the Antivirus. I tried some other antiviruses too, like Comodo, but still the laptop was much slow so I disabled Avira's permanent protection... which lead to a big big adventure.......

One of the many small programs I tried is CleanMem which empties the cache memory among other things. CleanMem runs on specified intervals (usually every 30 minutes) using a Scheduled Task. At some point, for some reason, I opened the Scheduled Tasks and, apart from CleanMem's task I saw another task named A which after viewing it's properties, I saw that it was scheduled to run every first of the month. That task would run an executable in the system32 directory named cmmmon32.exe (which has one more "m" than cmmon32.exe an actual Windows application. I scanned the file with Avira and yeaaap it was a virus. I moved it somewhere else and then did a full system scan which found nothing more. I scanned the pc with many tools which reported nothing suspicious. Except for SpyDLLRemover which reported a rootkit process! The only way for SpyDLLRemover to detect this process was by brute-forcing openprocess over all possible process ids. I tried many, if not all, rootkit removers by many different companies but none could find anything. What could I do?

I did a factory restore. I tried to do it from the hidden partition but it seems that my repartitioning had somehow messed it up so I ended up borrowing an external DVD drive from a friend and using the DVD that accompanied the netbook (Imagine: Sony didn't bother to give a DVD along with my other laptop which costs 1000euros, Asus gave one with a 300euros netbook which doesn't even have a DVD drive, just in case you need it). So after the restoration process (which BTW used Norton Ghost) I did the mistake to run one or two programs before running SpyDllRemover which, as you imagined, found the rootkit process again. I was tired and angry. Was the image infected? The most probable explanation is that SpyDLLRemover was giving a false positive. But why would a process id "respond" to a openprocess call when there is not such process??? I don't see how this method could give false positives. I did that factory restore again, while sleeping on my bed next to the netbook, but the result was the same.

Anyway at that point a happened to have a Ubuntu Live CD looking at me so I installed Ubuntu erasing the whole drive in the process. Almost all devices worked out of the box with Ubuntu, the camera, the SD reader, the touchpad etc. The only problems was that I couldn't get any sound from my microphone and that I had no 3D acceleration since Intel is perhaps the only company that hasn't made any Linux drivers for their GMA graphic adapters. Also I had some minor problems with some big windows that couldn't fit in the 600 vertical pixels of my screen (1024x600).
More or less most things worked well on Ubuntu so in less than a day I had them heavily customized and had installed many programs.

At that point I had to take a 3 hours trip to Athens during which I decided to listen to some music. I connected my headphones and made a playlist full of Blind Guardian. After 45 minutes the girls sitting in front of me turned around and smiled at me while trying to say something. I quickly removed my earphones in order to hear what she wanted to tell me but before she spoke I already knew... Music was both playing through the earphones and the terrible netbook speakers, for 45 minutes, at 80% volume, in a public transportation bus, in the morning. "Could you please turn the volume down a bit?" she said, smiling. It's a miracle that I no one broke the netbook on my head.

After that incident (but mostly not because of it) I decided to try to install XP again. That time XP Proffesional English which I get for free from MSDNAA. So I did, and the first thing I run was a clean copy of SpyDLLRemover which found no rootkits at last. Then I installed Avira and then the drivers provided by Asus. After installing the drivers SpyDLLRemover started reporting again that rootkit. So after performing 4 formats and reinstallations in 3 days, loosing many hours of sleep in the process, I now know that some drivers created that bogus process which almost surely isn't a rootkit.

I also know that the virus I initially found had nothing to do with the "rootkit". I run the virus on a VirtualBox with XP and sniffed the internet traffic it generated. It contacted some random image hosting sites and forums (some of which in Russia) asking for some PNGs (that probably conveyed some steganographic data?) but all sites replied with a file not found error. So I guess that virus was not even up to date. I then found out that I got it from a torrent that I downloaded and which for some reason I forgot to check manually before running it.

Now I still use that last XP installation whithout problems. Well in fact I got two blue screens after upgrading the Realtek sound card drivers (I apparently used the drivers for 1005HA while I have 1005HA-GG) but I rolled back and everything is fine again.

Generally 1005HA-GG is a great companion and that's the first time I use that word for a computer. The best thing is it's battery. With 4400mAh, it lasts many hours. For example before some days I spent 2 and a half hours watching Cosmos and I still had 60% of the battery left. You can easily get over 7 hours with low brightness if you don't run CPU intensive applications. Also the CPU is not that weak. I can play Descent 1 and 2 perfectly. I can play Diablo 2 with only minor temporary lagging in overcrowded areas. And the slight overclocking from 1.6GHz to 1.68GHz that you can do with the press of two buttons is great for some cases. I also run Freenet, Vidalia (TOR), Google Desktop, Firefox (with more than 10 tabs open), Foobar2000, Pidgin and Skype at the same time and I see no serious slow down. The only thing that really makes the netbook crawl is the Antivirus. It's OK when you run only one program. But running it along with Google Desktop means that it will constantly scan files in the background.

[Months-long-break]

The previous post was written some months ago but I forgot to post it. I had neglected to post anything at all because of other activities. Here are some more info about the netbook.

At some point the fan probably sucked a hair or something and now makes a strange noise sometimes. I ignored the problem since it didn't affect the netbook but after one or two months the netbook started powering of randomly. No matter how much I try to recreate the problem, by overheating the CPU, I cannot make it power down. I run the CPU at 100% of its capacity and it didn't power down for hours, while it has powered down unexpectedly while I was just looking at my desktop without anything running. :-|

I phoned ASUS technical support and informed them of the problem, they gave me a link with an online form to fill and they would send someone to pick the netbook up from my house, for free. They only warned me (probably because I told them that it doesn't always happen when it gets hot) that if the problem doesn't show up I would have to pay the expenses to get the netbook back. So I tried to make sure that the netbook was actually showing the problem easily.

Well... the netbook is still on after two days, with the camera on to make some use of the CPU. Perhaps it's the air-condition in the room that keeps the netbook cool, if it's a cooling problem anyway. But that time when it did close unexpectedly while doing nothing, I was in the very same room, with the air-condition on!

So until I am sure I won't have to pay for, there is no netbook for me. I know drag my Vaio along with me, which after all that time on the mains power it mostly works like a desktop with a UPS, the battery lasts about 10minutes... :-D I get nervous even when moving it from room to room.

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