Gecko: Summary so far

I did state earlier that I would post some conclusions about the Gecko Edubook, so here they are. Of course, these are my personal opinions and others may disagree on some points. I won't pull the punches...

NEGATIVE:

1. Xorg
There is an 'rdc' Xorg driver, however it does not work properly, and I have been forced to set Puppy to use the Xorg 'vesa' or Xvesa drivers (slower). The bug is that if a file is dragged from one location to another in the file manager, the cursor becomes grey-out with a translucent rectangle beside it -- WattOS also exhibits this problem. There are some other non-critical issues with the driver.

2. Power-off
It won't, at least not with Linux. You have to hold down the power button for four seconds every time you want to turn off the computer.
EDIT 2010-02-12: Fixed, see comments.

3. Back plate
In my opinion this is poorly engineered. When they decided to change the back plate from plastic to metal, to fix the overheating problem, it looks like they did it "on the cheap" -- not wanting to redesign the rest of the case. With the laptop flat on the table, with backplate on top -- to insert the backplate, lower it down vertically, the sticky heat-conduction pad presses against the CPU -- but you then have to force the backplate horizontally a few millimetres to make it lock into place. I cringe every time I do this, as it is forcefully trying to drag the CPU and motherboard with it.

4. Battery status
There isn't any. I don't know if this is a hardware design limitation or a fault in the BIOS. For Windows or Linux, the battery level always reports 85%. For a laptop, to not know the state of charge of the battery...
well, the "on" led on the front of the laptop does turn from green to red when the battery is low, so I guess that is something.

5. Speed
This is a negative point if you use an operating system such as Windows XP or WattOS. WattOS' responsiveness may be acceptable to many, but I am accustomed to Puppy, so my expectation is set a bit high. Another Gecko owner has done some benchmark tests: http://www.flickr.com/photos/46578721@N08/sets/72157623079189553/

6. BIOS
This seems to be still a work-in-progress. I had to upgrade my Flash BIOS as the kernel 'apm' module was crashing. Only a MSDOS/Windows utility is provided to upgrade the BIOS. Note that the kernel APM module does not provide any noticeable functionality, even when I got it to load (for example, broken battery status noted above). (Normally, you would have to have Windows XP installed to run the Flash BIOS upgrade utility, however I have included FreeDOS in my Puppy Linux installation, to support this utility)

7. Multimedia
Trying to play a video at youtube.com, it doesn't work, SeaMonkey reports an "illegal instruction" for both v9 and v10 Adobe Flash players. WattOS on the otherhand is able to play youtube.com online videos, but they are hardly watchable as so jerky. I tried the Swfdec Flash player browser plugin in Puppy -- no crash but CPU usage goes to the max and it never gets beyond a black rectangle where the video should be. I downloaded a video from youtube.com and played it locally, and tested with Gnome-Mplayer and Gxine and got poor results -- badly chopped, or missing video or missing sound. However, others have reported reasonable performance playing videos locally -- I'm not sure but I think they were using XP.

8. Value for money
If the above issues were fixed, then I would bring it up to being a good buy. But, I paid about 270 - 280 Australian Dollars (about 247 USD) including shipping. I saw an Acer netbook advertised this week in a chain store here in Perth for 338 AUD (after 50 AUD cash back from the manufacturer). The Acer is beautifully made, 10.1inch screen, 150GB hard drive, webcam, 1.6GHz CPU, 1GB RAM (and Windows XP). Of course, that's a sale price, and you would normally be looking at about 380 AUD. Draw your own conclusions.

EDIT 2010-02-12: added...
9 Power lead
The units received by me in Australia did not have an Australia plug on the power lead, and I have to use an international plug adapter.

POSITIVE:

1. Audio, video, networking
Apart from the issue of having to use the slower 'vesa' or 'Xvesa' drivers (and you probably won't notice it being any slower for normal computing tasks), the sound, ethernet and wireless all work.

2. Speed
With Windows XP and WattOS, performance is too sluggish. With Puppy, very snappy. The responsiveness is quite satisfactory for general-purpose (non-multimedia) tasks.

3. Batteries, passive cooling
The use of AA ni-mh batteries is a big plus point, as is the fanless cooling. But, moving back to the negative side, don't use the Gecko on a bed, as it must have ventilation underneath.

4. Screen
The screen is nice and bright, a positive experience.

5. In-built power supply
Nice not to have an extra power brick to lug around.

6. Hacking
The Gecko definitely has the feel of a machine that you can hack on. I think the modular construction adds to this impression. I have been looking at that back plate and thinking how I could modify it...

MY GECKO SAGA:

Other posts to my blog, in date order:

Gecko Edubook
Xcore86 CPU in Gecko Edubook
Gecko orders
Gecko review
The Gecko's have arrived
Gecko complaints
Gecko Flash BIOS saga
Gecko: success booting FreeDOS
Gecko: DMP X-Linux
Gecko: Adobe Flash player crashes
Puppy "4.3.2" running on Gecko
EDIT 2010-02-13: Added...
Pup "432" now shuts down on Gecko
"432" on Gecko: Update

If anyone wants to post a reply, to clarify any point, add another point positive or negative, or if you disagree with any of my points, please do...


Posted on 13 Feb 2010, 8:37


Comments:

Posted on 9 Feb 2010, 19:33 by Anonymous Coward
Addendum
Seems that passive cooling might not be so effective, my Edubook has a tendency to overheat. It could be that I've just received an early iteration of the processor that powers it, and that future revisions would not suffer from this problem.

It might be interesting to note that the Xcore86 is a rebadge of the MSTI PMX-1000 from DMP, a consumer grade version of the Vortex86MX, itself descended from the SiS-55x, which in turn has its origins from the MP6 processor from the now defunct Rise Technology. Rise was a Taiwanese company backed by Acer et al who aspired to come up with an x86 processor, presumably for the local and regional markets.

A certain Chris Norrie has claimed here that he was chief designer of the MP6 and has hidden an interesting easter egg in the CPUID instruction. Barry, could you investigate?

Another interesting point is the hardware information returned by SiSoft Sandra. The video adapter reports itself as an RDC R3306. A quick Google search reveals that the part is found in other netbooks, with specs similar to the Vortex86MX. There is even a presentation, found here:
http://www.advantech.com/wpc2009/Slide/Embedded%20Core%20Services/30-2_X86-based_IAD_platform_with_embedded_BIOS_R2_20091030.pdf


Posted on 9 Feb 2010, 20:05 by BarryK
Overheating
Anonymous Coward,
I have been wondering about that. The back plate sure does get hot, especially when the power supply is plugged in. I was thinking a little while ago that it is hardly a "laptop", as your lap would start to feel uncomfortably hot after awhile.



Posted on 9 Feb 2010, 21:23 by Anonymous Coward
Value-for-money
Barry,
I have had some thoughts about its price point, having paid just about the same amount of money for my own unit, and have seen similar offers in the UK as you have in Australia. Various benchmarks suggest that the Intel Atom typically outperforms the PMX-1000 by about 4-5 times. I imagine that if for only about 18% (50AUD of 280AUD) more you can get an order of magnitude increase in performance, the Edubook isn't particularly good bang-for-buck.

Note also that despite being the cheapest netbook one can get, it's difficult to get it to playback videos or run javascript-heavy websites, though the latter can be mitigated by installing Midori, a lightweight browser.

That said, its power consumption is half that of a typical Atom netbook, and it's cheap and hence quite replaceable, which would suit in areas where power is scarce or thefts are common respectively.


Posted on 10 Feb 2010, 3:03 by adi
More search
I regret that Gecko is too hot for working in bed. What to buy for puppy in order to be cool enough to put on a tissue? Of course a fanless computer and with ssd to be silent too. Perhaps a new tablet pc with touchscreen?


Posted on 10 Feb 2010, 5:53 by inged
Price and Video
About price, I have been seeing lately in the US those Atom netbooks with 9" or 10" screen and 160GB for about $220 to $250, in specials. So my thinking is that older netbook Atoms will be around that price while the newer Atom-based will be over $300. Now, that it seems that AMD will bring a new processor for netbooks, and considering that ARM based netbooks are expected for prices topping $200, the actual Gecko price and performance is a disadvantage in the near future.

About Video, being an owner of Fujitsu mini-laptops with the Crusoe processor (2003 era, said to be similar to Pentium III 600MHz), video performance is an issue depending on the application. I have played divx videos and flash videos full screen with the right software (VLC is one of them, deselecting the CPU features it doesn't have, like MMX support for Crusoe), either in Puppy or Windows. Although the processor performance will go to almost 100% in some cases. Still, I never could make it playing videos in youtube, always jerky. I assume that the Adobe codec never considered processors like Crusoe, so I suspect that the Gecko will behave similarly. So the browsing experience will be awful with flash animations. Sadly, that means that those laptops are not for the internet era!

My 2 cents.


Posted on 10 Feb 2010, 8:22 by BarryK
Linux does shutdown
Stay tuned, we have some progress here!

Pakt (Paul) has just received his Gecko, purchased from Q-bit. This came with Ubuntu installed, a version provided by DMP, and it does shut down. Pakt was able to find where this file is hosted by DMP and also found that they have Puppy 421 -- which also shuts down!

This is good news. I'm downloading these files right now and hopefully I'll be able to upgrade my Puppy 4.3.2 to also shutdown.



Posted on 10 Feb 2010, 15:29 by inged
qbit
In case you didn't notice, you can download the 'Q-bit OS' from the main page (http://qbitonline.com/), about 190MB, and as you can suspect is Puppy Linux, 4.0 Dingo, as it says when boots up, with OpenOffice and other software. Dunno if that one is for the Gecko. At least they have a nice price for the netbook.

Also, there was a tread about them sometime ago
http://www.murga-linux.com/puppy/viewtopic.php?t=38835


Posted on 10 Feb 2010, 17:45 by daftdog
Computing in bed...
A bit off topic : I have used one of these http://www.officeworks.com.au/retail/products/Technology/Computer-Accessories/Notebook-Accessories/Notebook-Stands/AULAPDG;jsessionid=%28J2EE5996400%29ID0746143052DB11453281905849364109End;saplb_*=%28J2EE5996400%295996452with great success for 2 years. Keeps the laptop cool and on a nice angle for typing. Packs easy next to the laptop for travelling. Don't know how the Gecko would fit on it though. If you want one give me a yell and I'll buy you one (at my expense of course).


Posted on 10 Feb 2010, 18:50 by mavrothal
what to use in bed
Adi
the only laptop to use in bed or on bare skin (indoors or out doors, day or night :) is the OLPC XO that has the CPU behind the screen and does not overheat anyway. Is fanless with raw NAND and more powerful than Gecko, but certainly not an Acer.
You can get one on eBay for ~130 USD.
Running puppy on it is a work in progress though.


Posted on 11 Feb 2010, 16:28 by Adi
Heat
Thank you for your nice advices. I saw a fan basement for laptops at supermarket and I'll buy one. My old dell cpt laptop is very hot during sesions straight in the middle of the bottom (perhaps memeory modules or cpu), even when I run puppy from usb stick with the hard disk eliminated. So I cannot be lazy usigng my laptop so I must use a numeric keyboard from my mobile phone in bad.


Posted on 11 Feb 2010, 22:55 by Raffy
Industrial to Consumer Products
Am sure that DMP and the Xcore86 team will appreciate your comments. After all, DMP's strength used to be in industrial PCs, and Gecko is opening up its consumer segment.


Posted on 12 Feb 2010, 19:14 by pakt
Gecko quality control??
Raffy, apropos the Xcore86 team appreciating comments, I purchased a second Gecko, this time from Norhtec.

When I opened the box, I saw that the bottom plate was screwed down with one of the side hooks not in place so that a gaping crack was left on that side.

Unfortunately, the tension from the middle bottom screw caused the plastic rib (that the screw fastens to) to break at one end.

I am currently in correspondence with Norhtec president Michael Barnes where I described this obvious quality control problem to him and included a photo clearly showing the gaping crack and the metal hook out of place.

However, so far after about nine exchanges of email, he still categorically denies that this is a quality control problem.

I'm not alone with what is apparently lack of quality control. From Barry's blog, his comments on the arrival of his Geckos:
(http://bkhome.org/blog/?viewDetailed=01380)

"When I opened the packaging, I saw that the metal back-plate was not properly attached -- which someone else also reported."

And from from Michael Barnes' last email to me this morning, regarding my damaged Gecko:

"Please contact the shipper. Despite you wanting this to be QC, we would never ship something like this. If you got a glass bowl in the mail from a shipper, you would assume shipping damage -- even if the box is sealed. Please report this to the shipper first. We will then work to take care of the problem."

Here is a closeup of the Edubook from Norhtec just when I had unpacked it:





Posted on 12 Feb 2010, 19:20 by pakt
Gecko defect
I'll make another attempt to embed the image



Posted on 12 Feb 2010, 19:24 by pakt
Gecko saga continues...
Just received a final email from Michael Barnes:

"I certainly can see how it happened in shipping. The contents of a box can easily be jarred if dropped. I am saying that these units are not packed like this. Please contact the shipping company and we will take care of you. If you continue to insist that we packed a unit like you received it, then we will just continue to argue. There is no way nor reason our people would do that and I come to the factory almost every day. We ship a thousand units a month so I know more about the sort of things that can happen in shipping than you can imagine."


Posted on 12 Feb 2010, 19:37 by BarryK
Re: quality control
My assessment is that is how it was packed. No way could that occur in shipping. Michael Barnes is wrong. In my case, for both units that I received, the back plate was screwed down with the prong on the CPU-side not inserted into the casing -- but on the outside. In my very carefully considered opinion it is impossible for this to happen in shipping. Or rather, close enough to impossible to be extremely unlikely.

It is quite difficult to install the back plate properly, and it is my opinion that the person who assembled at Norhtec simply didn't bother to insert the prong on the CPU-side, just screwed it down.

On the topic of quality control, I noticed on both units, the batteries were inserted "in a hurry". A couple of them were not properly pushed in and only making nominal contact with their socket contacts. I had to push them in to their proper place.



Posted on 12 Feb 2010, 20:26 by pakt
Gecko batteries
Yes, I noticed the same thing with the batteries in my unit. They are quite difficult to seat and require a bit of force to put in place.

I didn't mention the badly inserted batteries to Michael Barnes as I thought it would take attention away from the main problem


Posted on 12 Feb 2010, 20:32 by pakt
Image of damaged Gecko
New attempt to embed image...



Posted on 12 Feb 2010, 21:40 by pakt's gecko
zygo
pakt,
readers could click the url for your image http://www.2shared.com/file/11325408/f97f784d/Gecko_defect_detail.jpg



Posted on 12 Feb 2010, 22:04 by pakt
Re: Embedded image
Thanks zygo

Why keep it simple when you can make it hard LOL


Posted on 12 Feb 2010, 22:42 by Raffy
Common Problem
We have a common problem, guys. The free unit I received (thanks to Michael and DMP) had a backplate raised just like Pakt's unit, and when I removed the screws, one flew into the chassis.

It's possible that these units are being inspected/opened somewhere in the shipping chain, and the backplate gets handled poorly.

I've alerted the sales guys about the problem, and hope that they would get the design engineers to fix the backplate issue (as well as the tiny screws).


Posted on 13 Feb 2010, 15:33 by pakt
Gecko shipping chain...
"It's possible that these units are being inspected/opened somewhere in the shipping chain, and the backplate gets handled poorly."

Raffy, Michael Barnes and I discussed this possibility, but Norhtec shipping puts two plastic straps (with the Norhtec logo on them) around each box.

The box I received (through DHL) still had the plastic straps intact and the box itself was also undamaged.

IMHO, the facts speak for themselves.


Posted on 13 Feb 2010, 22:33 by shankargopal
Edubook for rough use
Barry and all, thanks for your thoughts on the Edubook. I'm a human rights activist (incidentally also in India) and this looked quite attractive at first since most of my work is in areas where there's often no easily accessible electricity etc., so batteries would be great. In India as well due to poor sales all the non-HDD netbooks are off the market, whereas an SSD netbook is pretty much a requirement when you are on buses and trains most of the time. At the moment we use a donated Eee 701 4G (one of the last to be sold here) but its battery life is dying, and the screen is so small that it interferes with work (though we use it all the time anyway and I must say I quite like the Eee). I think it is reaching the end of its life, so if I can afford it (unlikely at this point) the Edubook seems an option.

In light of that a few quick questions re Edubook and Puppy:

1. When you say it's responsive with Puppy, do you find it fully usable, or are there still delays here and there?

2. Are there any difficulties with changing the internal SD cards etc.? Some websites had mentioned that this is difficult.

Perhaps this would better be a forum post...


Posted on 13 Feb 2010, 24:06 by Michael C. Barnes
packing
The photos of the unit being referenced is not showing up. I have said that I would be willing to help resolve any problem but I am not willing to accept that our factory packed a unit where the bottom metal plate bent as badly as I saw in the photos.

If we had installed the plate so that the latch was not properly positned, then it would have been difficult to put the screws in place due to the stress. Also, there is no reason that having the latch not in place would cause the back to bend up. What would make that happen is someone prying open or trying to pry open the bottom case.

When I saw the photo, I originally suggested we ship a new bottom plate. to that I heard that there ws internal damaged caused by stress twisting the inside bracket. This also seemed that some external force was applied to the outside corner of the case or why would the inside be stressed. The screws are only about 2 mm long so how would they fit on if the case were so distorted when they were put into place.

I showed the photos to my factory staff and they said there was no way this could have left the factory this way.

I said to contact the shipper because we pay insurance on each unit and if we have to swap out the units, the shipper will pick up the charge.

I still stand by the statement that our staff did not ship a unit with the back bent before they put it in the box and if as a part of taking care of a customer I have to accept that the unit was shipped in that condition, then that is impossible.




Posted on 14 Feb 2010, 5:23 by somebody
Michael
Michael (Michael C. Barnes), Given all the problems I would be suspecting about temperature changes due to the shipping process could cause the back plate problem. Check yourself, send a package under the same shipping conditions to verify this. You can analyze the problem, so you know where is the source.


Posted on 14 Feb 2010, 12:29 by Michael C. Barnes
packing
The photos of the unit being referenced is not showing up. I have said that I would be willing to help resolve any problem but I am not willing to accept that our factory packed a unit where the bottom metal plate bent as badly as I saw in the photos.

If we had installed the plate so that the latch was not properly positned, then it would have been difficult to put the screws in place due to the stress. Also, there is no reason that having the latch not in place would cause the back to bend up. What would make that happen is someone prying open or trying to pry open the bottom case.

When I saw the photo, I originally suggested we ship a new bottom plate. to that I heard that there ws internal damaged caused by stress twisting the inside bracket. This also seemed that some external force was applied to the outside corner of the case or why would the inside be stressed. The screws are only about 2 mm long so how would they fit on if the case were so distorted when they were put into place.

I showed the photos to my factory staff and they said there was no way this could have left the factory this way.

I said to contact the shipper because we pay insurance on each unit and if we have to swap out the units, the shipper will pick up the charge.






Posted on 14 Feb 2010, 21:21 by Raffy
Temperature change
Now, that makes sense. Temperature change can indeed affect the backplate as it is not so rigid. See this unit sent to me (thanks to the xcore86 guys) - this one came from Taiwan.