Asus Eee PC problems -- and a solution

Multiple problems with a netbook cause one reader to lose faith in the machine -- but Asus comes through in the end

Dear Gripe Line,

A few months ago, I bought an Asus Eee 900 Linux-based PC for my 12-year-old son to take to school. It immediately boosted his "geek cred" enormously and even made him popular with the girls. (It's apparently a good time to be a young geek. We were never popular with the girls when I was in the 7th grade.) But from the outset, we had problems with the machine.

First, it wouldn't log on to my home Wi-Fi network. The version of Linux on this machine could not handle the WPA encryption we had on our network. Searching the Asus support forums confirmed this. After much fiddling around with it, it seemed the easiest solution was to turn off our network security so taht he could do his homework -- not an ideal solution.

A few weeks later, he dropped the machine, causing a horizontal line of pixels to go white. He insists it was only a slight drop. But who knows? I told him to be more careful and that he would have to live with the glitch on what is already a very small screen.

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But a week later, the machine stopped working entirely. It wouldn't start up at all. It would begin its boot sequence, abort, and then try to start over. The screen would go alternately light and dark, but it would never load the OS. Again I went online and quickly found people experiencing the same problem. I tried everything within reason -- though I did not buy an external DVD drive and reload the OS that way, as some in the forums suggested.

Enough was enough. This machine was under warranty, so I contacted Asus support and waited 20 minutes on hold for an RMA number. After a day of waiting for the number to arrive, I called back to find out they'd e-mailed the RMA to the wrong address. After I got a new RMA, I sent the machine in and waited. They promise a two-week turnaround. Fortunately, this was not a business machine, or that would not have worked for us. As it was, my son got an incomplete on one assignment that was lost in the machine. This cost him the A he'd been working toward, and he was rather angry about it.

About 10 days later, the machine came back. It worked perfectly. Asus even replaced the screen, free of charge, even though I didn't ask them to. This end result boosted my now-shaky opinion of Asus considerably.

Since then, we've had no problems, though I expect we will. This machine doesn't seem quite ready for prime time. The user forums are full of other problems we haven't experienced yet. But for $300, it turned out to be a pretty good investment. In fact, for my disorganized, geek tween, this inexpensive netbook turned out to be the very thing that he needed to go from a below-average student to getting -- almost, if not for that total hardware failure -- straight As.