ASUS X200CA (Pentium) Review

A great little vehicle to try out a Linux distribution.

The 11.6" ASUS X200CA (late 2013) with the Pentium "Ivy Bridge" processor is a great little performer. Costs were cut to be sure. It's black plastic. The battery is not replaceable. It's a budget notebook rather than an entry level ultrabook. However, for those who want pretty good computing power on the cheap, it's a fine choice. It's actually a great choice for anyone who ants to give Linux a spin without breaking the bank, which is why I got it.

So, it is plastic, but it's also light - just three pounds. The keyboard took only 15 minutes to master coming from the much larger MacBook 13". This is, essentially, a disposable laptop. It's something you use for 2-4 years and then resell or recycle. Battery life is a consistent 3-3.5 hours when fully charged, and with the brightness turned down a bit, and the device is not streaming video. The display is an LED lit 1366x768. Not nearly the best of what's available today, but it does support full 1080p resolution. The speakers are front firing, which is impressive at this price point. But like any laptop, headphones will provide the best possible audio quality.

The screen is also plastic, but seems scratch resistant. The touchscreen is very good - sensitive and responsive. Even if you install a Linux distribution, the touchscreen will still provide some functionality. I love the built in SD card reader. No more tethering my camera to my laptop to process and file photos.

The last thing I need to get used to is the fan and heat vent on the left edge of the keyboard. It is easy to clean, says ASUS (with one of those Staples spray can dusters). The fan is no louder than the Apple MacBook fan. But it's right behind the vent, and it gets warm as soon as you turn on the device.So I'm figuring out how to keep an upright typing position and keep my left fingers away from the vent opening.

On the plus side, the ports are almost kept to a minimum. Aside from a legacy VGA port I will never use, there are two USB 2.0 ports, a USB 3.0 port (colored blue for easy identification), an RJ-45 network cable port, a very useful HDMI video out, and an equally useful SD card slot for easy uploading of pictures from most digital cameras. Users of Google Plus' photo editor and YouTube will especially appreciate that.

This laptop makes the case that like tablets and phones, laptops are gadgets you use for two years and then move on to the next one. A lot of people use their MacBooks for two years, but I've had mine for nearly 5 years and it is built to last. The ASUS has a 64 bit Ivy Bridge processor. That's the latest and one of the best. It could go four years, but you'd have to take extra special care of it. Separate bag. No spills. No food. Go easy. This thing has what you need on the inside, but you need to be gentle with it.

I have oily hands. The keyboard's keys, thankfully, are oil and fingerprint proof. Unfortunately, the rest of the device isn't.. You might want to consider the metal finish version if you don't like fingerprints (the ever so slightly heavier Q200). Fortunately, the laptop looks like new with a few circular wipes of a dry cloth or moist sponge. I do like the textured plastic and the wedge shape of the device. Just have to limit how much I touch that plastic. Stick to the keys and and a mouse (the cool ASUS blue ray optical mouse is a fine accessory for this), and you will minimize the blemeshes on this laptop.

For my Linux distribution, I chose Linix Mint (Cinnamon). I have seen Red Hat Linux on servers. And I have seen early incarnations of Linux on desktops, back when you had to write a developer a check and receive a stack of 3.5" floppy disks in the mail. But this was my first installation of Linix on any personal computer, and I love it. I can move on from Apple and iTunes, and go my own way. That has its pros and cons. Using an open office suite (LibreOffice), browsing the Internet on Google Chrome, and playing games on Steam is fantastic (Chrome has not run well lately in OSX). Editing photos and burning music playlists onto CDs take a little more work (yes, I still make mix CDs). But I am learning as I go, and Linux Mint is one slick operating system that proivides an opimal desktop on which to get things done, and uses minimal resources. I wish I had switched to Linux years ago.

I trust ASUS. They make great monitors, components, and tablets. But clearly going from a MacBook to this is a step down in luxury. Sort of like going from a BMW to a Mazda. But Mazdas are still a lot of fun. If you want to get into Linux computing, this might be your perfect first vehicle to give it a spin.