New Windows Netbook: User Experience Report

TL;DR/SPOILER: Pretty Pathetic

Yesterday, I ended up helping a friend pick up a new PC at Fry’s. Not super high on my list of things to be doing on a Sunday, but I’m rolling with it. All we needed was a minimal computer to run a browser, so after looking at the laptop and nettop selection, we decide to go for a 10″ EeePC. There was a 12″, but we were told that it was out of stock, and after we decided on the 10″, we were told that was out of stock (and discontinued) as well. These netbooks were running Windows 7 Starter and I asked what the difference was (vs Home, Professional, or whatever), but the sales associate didn’t know. In the end, he brought out an also-discontinued but similar (single-core N455, not dual-core D525 Atom) netbook. At this point, I’m jonesing to get the hell out of dodge, and after another 20 minutes of dicking around, it’s sent to the front desk for checkout/pickup. Overall shopping experience grade: pathetic.

Anyway, I don’t want that to overshadow what’s coming next, so lets just move on (had I known I would have just told my friend to order online via Amazon or something else civilized). Now for the setup… It’s been close to a decade since I’ve unboxed and booted a retail Windows PC, so I was sort of looking forward to see how the experience has improved.

It doesn’t start off too bad. A nice bootup logo, some simple form fields to fill out, and then a Samsung installer that automatically runs to install some system software. We leave for lunch, and when we return, it’s… still… running. All told, it takes just under an hour before I reach the Desktop, after which the laptop (with 1GB of RAM) is almost unusably slow. Sure enough, looking at the Task Manager shows that it has 0 memory free. Interestingly, the Bing Bar is the app using the second most memory. After another hour+ of uninstalling the apps that presumably were just installed in the previous hour (Norton first, and then the Bing Bar, and the Samsung System Tools being some of the worst offenders), I downloaded Google Chrome, and ran the “boot performance” tool (another half-hour), and ended up with a usable laptop with a passable web browsing experience. Overall initial boot/setup experience grade: super pathetic.

Now granted, this is a <$300 device, but I'm honestly surprised at how horrible the first boot experience was. Much worse than I remembered, much less what I was expecting in 2011. How can a manufacturer get away delivering this sort of experience and still be in the business of selling computers? After a decade of using Macs (and occasionally imaging Linux systems on similar class hardware), my mind is just boggled. I wonder if people buying these things don't know any better, or if they fully understand the horror, but simply must endure it (like me in this case, I suppose). It certainly occurred to me more than once during this ordeal that if I had brought my USB stick, it would have been much faster to have wiped the netbook with an Ubuntu installation and be done with it.