Hardware Articles

BitEXPERIMENTALits: #1 – Android on Old Netbooks

Here at BitFIXit, we are proud to introduce a new series of articles that we would like to call “BitEXPERIMENTALits”, where we try out various different ways to get the most out of a variety of computers and ensure that they remain in good working order for as long as possible.

One such BitEXPERIMENTALit we recently decided to try our hand at, was running Android on a group of three Asus EeePC 901 netbooks, and see how much better they perform in Android than they did when they were originally running Windows. The laptops were donated to us by the local community, and were very basic machines by today’s standards, with a mere single core Intel Atom N270 CPU, just 1GB of RAM and a pair of what could be considered as essentially internal USB storage drives that are very slow, compared to the latest available SSD drives. We have included pictures throughout this article, of one of the Asus EeePC 901 netbooks that we used for installing Android at this weekend’s community clinics.

The Asus EeePC 901 was originally released here in the UK back in 2008, as a revision of the EeePC 900 that was released earlier that year. The netbooks that were donated to us originally came with Windows XP, which is a legacy operating system that many software developers have been moving away from, in favour of recent Windows releases. We attempted to run different GNU/Linux distros on the netbooks to see if they perform better than in Windows, but it turned out that they didn’t perform much better either, even in Lubuntu. Hence, we decided to try our hand at installing and running Android on the netbooks instead.

There are projects that aim to port Android, which is ordinarily commonplace on smartphones and tablets, onto the Asus EeePC 901 netbooks. The Android builds that are and were made available for the netbooks range from recent releases of CyanogenMod/Lineage OS to builds based on legacy releases of Android. Here, we will install a build that is based on Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, but is specifically designed for these netbooks.

In order to install Android on the Asus EeePC 901 netbook, we first downloaded the aforementioned build from the website and created a bootable USB drive containing the build. After booting into the drive, we initiated the installation process by choosing the installation option in the boot menu. We then selected the 8GB internal drive (shown as ‘sdb’), which was the larger of the two internal drives, proceeded to have GRUB installed with the /system directory installed as read-only. After the Android build has been installed, we simply followed the instructions in Android for the initial setup.

After a number of issues with trying to install the Android build onto the Asus EeePC 901 netbook, we eventually managed to install and run the build successfully by using a live Xubuntu session to create ext3 partitions on both internal storage drives. Once we configured the settings and enabled the use of Google Play on the netbook, the laptop is ready to use!

We did a quick play test on the netbook once everything was set up; we were able to connect to the wireless network in the community room smoothly. The animations concerning switching between desktop and app windows were quite jerky, and apps took a long time to fully load; both of these issues seem to indicate performance limitations with the single core Intel Atom N270 CPU and the internal storage.

That concludes this BitEXPERIMENTALit, which turns out to be an interesting way to prolong the lifespan of old PCs and laptops, as long as one knows the limitations of the internal hardware, and we hope to bring you more BitEXPERIMENTALits soon.

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