Big mods for the small Eee PC

It looks like a toy, but this Linux mini-notebook has inspired a growing community of hardware mod devotees.

Installing another OS can be necessary if one wishes to mod the hardware of the Eee PC, because the original operating system might not recognize new devices that are added to the notebook as unauthorized upgrades.

Surprisingly, JKK and Addison say they did not encounter any major technical problems when they hacked their Eee PCs. The key to a successful mod is meticulous planning, and not rushing into the project, says Addison: "I spent a good few hours just looking, reading and thinking. Even though what I eventually did was a relatively simple mod, I still had to do my homework."

Some of the more hardcore modders in this scene are seeing just how much stuff they can cram into the small housing of the mini-notebook. JKK's next upgrades for his Eee PC include a fingerprint reader and keyboard light.

One member of the community probably currently holds the record for most mods packed into his Eee PC: He added a USB hub, Bluetooth, GPS, flash drive, card reader, an FM transmitter, and an 802.11n upgrade.

Perhaps the easiest way to expand the capabilities of the Eee PC is to put in an internal USB hub. Addison says it is possible to fit a 4-port USB hub into the cavity space around the unit's 7" screen. The addition of such a hub allows for the connecting of other internal components, like Bluetooth and additional flash memory. Addison is considering fitting a TV tuner into his Eee PC by plugging it into an internal USB hub.

Having familiarized themselves intimately with the ultra-portable, members of the Eee mod scene know what they would most like to see in future versions of the Eee PC. The most common request is for a larger screen with higher resolutions. The addition of Bluetooth and removable SSD memory would also be ideal.

"For the most part, I think ASUS hit the nail on the head," says Addison. "My only criticism is the screen. It's not so much size with the screen, but resolution."

ASUS recently announced some of their future plans for their Eee PC line, and they coincide with the mod scene's wish list. Besides plans for models featuring 8" and larger screens, ASUS is considering including some form of mobile broadband such as WiMAX.

In the meanwhile, those comfortable with handling a soldering iron and breaking a warranty can look to the Eee mod scene for ideas, resources and inspiration to add more features to their Eee PCs. "Take your time, read, examine, think and plan exactly what you plan to do before breaking out that soldering iron," advises Addison.

But JKK warns: "You have to understand that your device may end as spare parts. You have to accept that before starting."

Fortunately, the price is less than US$300 -- a risk that many in this community see is worth taking.

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Howard Wen

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