June 30, 2009

Running SL on extreme hardware

A couple of years ago I was a strong vocalist for regular PC's, defending their "horsepower" and versatility as superior to any laptop or notebook. Until I embraced the liberty a laptop gives you. For a while I smiled at the people with small and lightweight notebooks, loving my IBM ThinkPad with its nVidia graphics card and fast processor. However the laptop did not like being transported twice a day on the bicycle much, and also my upcoming vacation made me wonder if there is something ... well... lightweight.

A lot of people suggested I should get an iPhone. However Apple chose the least desirable provider in my country, and the monthly rates were more than I wanted (and in fact could) afford. I toyed for a while with an iPod touch which has wireless LAN built in, until my friend Rika Watanabe suggested the Asus Eee PC for the first time.

It still took me a couple of months more, during which I pondered and investigated, but finally I was back at Rika's suggestion and looked into the Asus Eee PC range again. There is quite a lot of models, with and without harddrive, and with various processor types and configurations. In terms of durability and battery life, soon the Asus Eee PC 901 range presented itself as best solution. The lack of a regular harddrive and the Intel Atom processor both guarantee a pretty long battery runtime (about 8 hours). It runs a regular Windows XP Home, and USB ports, Bluetooth and Draft-n WLAN make it literally connect to everything.

New devices are still rather expensive, but I checked on eBay where there was ample supply of the various machines. I settled for a price range I was willing to pay and started to bid, and finally ended up with a model with 1GB memory and 12GB solid state disk for approx 280 US$.

What I need to maintain my digital existence is mostly only a browser to access the various Google services where Peter Stindberg "lives": Google Mail, Google Talk, Google Docs and Google Reader, along with Flickr and Plurk. On top of that I installed Open Office, Notepad++, two text-only SL viewers (OMVviewer ligh and SLLiteChat). And then the question was - does Second Life itself run?

Again following Rika's suggestion I installed the pre-Windlight CoolViewer by Boy Lane, which is based on Second Life 1.19. Tuning all the graphics settings down as far as possible, I get a whopping 3 frames per second. That is not thrilling, however I can walk around, access objects, work with my inventory, script, pay people, deliver notecards and interact socially.

I must say I am impressed. I never cared much for the LOOK of my computers, but the Eee PC looks elegant, is lean and incredibly small (the photo shows it next to a regular cellphone). It runs SL better than I had expected, and it is definitely more than a last resort backup. The browser functionality is of course not affected by the comparably slow processor - even YoutTube videos work acceptable.

If you look at a portable apartment for your digital life, looking at a netbook in general and the Eee PC in particular would be a good idea.

Update: in 800x600 fullscreen mode I get 5-7fps which definitely gives a halfway "fluent" feel.
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