Eee PC 2g Surf Notes

Introduction & Summary

This short aide-memoire relates to my work in Jan 2009 with an Eee PC 2g Surf Netbook. The 2g surf seems to be a crippled version of the Eee PC 701. Specifically, the on-board flash storage (the flash "hard drive") has been reduced to 2GB and soldered to the motherboard to make it unexpandable. For someone who just wants to browse web pages, write a few emails and maybe a letter or two, then the 2g surf is ok, but for any serious work the 2GB internal storage limit is crippling. Actually, I'm amazed that Xandros packed as much as they did into 2GB.

Problem #1: Can't read Word 97 Documents

Liz approached me because she could no longer read Word 97 documents which someone had sent her. When she tried to open the document it would spawn countless File Manger windows. This turned out to be a simple problem. Liz was double clicking on the document in File Manager. But somehow the file association for .doc files had been set to File Manager. So the original double click would lauch a new File Manager process along with a command for the new File Manager process to open the .doc document. But when the new File Manager process attempts to open the .doc document it finds the file association set to File Manager: so it launches another File Manager process. Endless loop. The only way to interupt this endless loop was to power down the computer. I fixed the problem by setting the file associations correctly (i.e. by restoring OpenOffice 2.0 as the default application for doc, rtf, etc).

Problem #2: Can't mount USB Flash Drive

Liz approached me a second time with a more difficult problem: she couldn't read her USB flash drive. Liz keeps all her documents on a USB flash drive because the 2g Surf has very little internal storage. Not being able to mount the USB flash drive was a serious problem. Remi discovered that the /media directory was missing. When Xandros mounts the USB flash drive it attempts to create a mount point in /media. No /media, no mounting the USB flash drive. Remi used the terminal application (accessed through File Manger or CTRL-ALT-t) to create a /media directory. The 2g surf worked great - for about 30 minutes. Then the /media directory disappeared. We (BGLUG) couldn't figure out why the /media directory disappeared. The disappearing behaviour was reproducible, and might be related to accessing the internet. But we didn't spend time tracking down the bug. We decided it was easier to reset the 2g surf to factory defaults.

Resetting the 2g surf to Factory Defaults

The 2g surf's internal flash drive (/dev/sda) is divided into several partitions. The /home/user directory is kept on its own partition. As far as I can tell, the 2g surf's "Restore to Factory Defaults" feature simply wipes out the /home/user filesystem and restores the original user files from /etc/skel. So make sure that everything in /home/user is backed up to an external drive before resetting the 2g surf. To use the Restore to Factory Defaults feature, press Alt-F9 as the 2g surf boots. But two BIOS features can interfere with the Restore to Factory Defaults feature. So first go into the BIOS configuration and disable Fast Boot and the other boot option beside Fast Boot.

Wacky /etc/fstab behaviour

Every time you reboot the 2g surf it erases the /etc/fstab file and creates a new one. This means that you can't make any custom entries in /etc/fstab. The original intention was that user modifications to /etc/fstab would be preserved but there is a bug in the program (I think it is called devfs2fstab) which incorrectly parses the old fstab file and results in the elimination of user changes.

Booting from External Drives

The 2g Surf bios includes a setting to boot from external drives, but the Fast Boot option overrides the boot drive bios setting. So when the 2g surf boots and you see the EeePC screen press the Esc key a few times. This will force the BIOS to reveal the Boot Device screen.

Eeebuntu on the 2g Surf

Short answer: don't bother. For the longer answer, read on.

Eeebuntu standard requires at least 5GB of storage. Obviously Eeebuntu standard cannot be installed to internal storage, but I managed to install it on the 2g surf using an 8GB USB flash drive (/dev/sdb). After installation Eeebuntu booted and worked ok, but the OS and applications load very slowly from the USB flash drive. I gave the 8GB USB flash drive to Liz as an emergency OS - if her 2g Surf's Xandros OS misbehaves then she can boot from the USB flash drive and have a working, albeit slow, computer.

Next I installed Eeebuntu Minimal to the internal 2GB drive and it just fit. Before installing Eeebuntu to the internal drive, make sure that you have a backup image of the entire internal flash drive. Eeebuntu minimal just fit on the internal flash. But there wasn't enough space left on the filesystem to even execute an apt-get upgrade command (couldn't cache the deb files). And minimal doesn't include some necessities like OpenOffice and FSpot. This is when I realized what a good job Xandros had done packing Firefox, OpenOffice, FSpot and Skype onto the 2g Surf. So I restored the original drive image from my server and returned the 2g Surf to Liz with its original Xandos OS restored to factory defaults.