Peter G (sinetimore) wrote,
Peter G

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Sine Timore Early Warning System -- The $99 CVS Netbook

Reading the Sunday paper, I don't generally pay much attention to the sales fliers.  There are plenty of other people with disposable income to support the global economy, they can spend.

I'm weeding through the pages, looking for more information about the free-for-all that is the Chicago election, when I see the flier for CVS.  Front of the page, top middle, NEW NETBOOK!  7" Sylvania Netbook Mobile Wireless Device  $159.99  Now $99.99!

I arched my eyebrows.  I recognize the form factor, it's actually very common.  These are not technically netbooks.  They are called "smartbooks".  They are underpowered and have suck ass specs.  I saw K mart selling some as part of its Black Friday sales the year before last.  My guess was a 300Mhz CPU, most likely an ARM, probably system on a chip (read that:  you are stuck with whatever OS is on there), 128M of memory.  That's the typical build for these machines.  You can find them on eBay for an average price of about $120 with S&H (there are ones from China, but they skew the S&H charge to keep it even.  The ones for $120 have free shipping, $60 is $60 S&H, and so on).  Much as I love cheap tech, $120 for something so limited, for what is basically a toy, is too much for me.  If the price was half that, I'd be interested, but not $120.

Oh, and being able to run Linux would help and might even make it worth $100.  They do make them, or they did.  But most of them run WinCE, because people see "Windows" and figure they can do anything they normally do under Windows with it.  Because it is system on a chip, if you are unlucky enough to get 5.0 or 5.5, you're screwed.  They were buggy and slow.  6.0 is an improvement, but still not there (I have yet to see 6.5, and some of these things say the version of WinCE they are running is unregistered and it's up to you to make the machine legal.  Nice).  And this is from a kernel that occupies less than a meg!  So Linux smartbooks, which could coax my wallet out, are hard to find in the wild.

That's because I'm not sure what I could do with it, even with a Linux build.  The ARM achitecture and windowing system means a lot of libraries won't necessarily work, so lots of programs, unless they are HTML5 or Java (maybe Python) won't work.  That kneecaps a lot of potential programs.  I would probably use it as a portable gaming machine, like a glorified Game Boy, but given restrictions (I know for a fact none of my projects will run on it), I don't even think I can do that.

Temptation is strong, though.  I know of two CVS pharmacies I can hit on my way home.  Can I do a reinstall?  Can I do it (doing an ARM compile is varsity level skillz)?  I decide to delve into what the machine is.  Not easy, given that the ad doesn't identify the machine beyond "Sylvania netbook".  Most of my search results turn up the Sylvania G netbook, which was the Stepnote rebranded (I know it as the Everex Cloudbook, the first Linux computer that wasn't actually Linux compatible).  Using a little more Google fu, I got the info I needed.

Conclusion:  run for the hills!

Running WinCE 6.0.  Specs are exactly as I described.  It takes 3 minutes to boot up.  Three goddamn minutes!  No wonder they make some of them as instant on (their idea of "instant on" is the computer goes into suspend mode instead of actually shutting down.  This means it is burning the battery even when you think it's shut down.  7 hours without power before it depletes, 4 hours if running.  And remember, you can't start it at 6 hours and still get a full 4 out of it).  Once again, this is a kernel that takes up less than a meg of memory, with a solid state hard drive and information on the zero page.  Fista isn't that bad!

Pam is 12 years old, 400Mhz x86 CPU, 128M of memory, and running Puppy Linux.  She boots in about a minute and has a full blown word processor, games, and more.  It's a shame when 12 year old tech run rings about the advanced stuff.
Tags: computers, foss, haven't we suffered enough, linux, open source, stupidity, technology is a beautiful thing, wtf
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