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  • ASUS ExpressGate -- beware of ripoff!

    The tone of this message may be somewhat unfriendly, but I want to warn other potential Linux users so they don't make the same mistake I made.

    I have been using Linux for quite a while and often wondered why it's not included by default instead of the clumsy BIOS-es we have to struggle with. Needless to say, after reading the articles on this site and others regarding SplashTop being embedded with the P5Q line of Asus motherboards, I had a strong reason to choose one of them for my new build as opposed to, say, a Gigabyte or MSI with similar specs.

    Initially I aimed for the P5Q-Deluxe model, but it was not in stock at my local retailers and they all said I'd have to wait at least 2-3 weeks; at the same time, the P5Q-Pro was in stock and from what I read on the ASUS website the features were similar enough for my needs (and, importantly, it included the "Express Gate" feature). So I went ahead and got that one, saving a few bucks (not many) at the same time.

    BIG MISTAKE!

    It turns out that only a select few of the ASUS boards actually have SplashTop installed on the motherboard. All the others (the p5q-pro included) do not. Instead they only have a stripped-down castrated version that needs to be installed on the HDD (!), on a NTFS partition under XP/Vista none-the-less (!!!).

    I find this really appaling, especially since there is no warning on the ASUS site or elsewhere until you actually buy the product and read the manual (which doesn't make it clear either). The website only features a tiny hint -- the presence of three letters "SSD" on the "deluxe" models, and the absence thereof on the others -- without any other clear indication that the "Express Gate" version is totally different from the "Express Gate SSD" one.

    This experience has severely shaken my trust in ASUS (whom have received quite a bit of my money during the past decade or so) and I will be much more circumspect of their products from now on. I urge the readers of this site to do the same.

    It would be wonderful if Phoronix could write an article detailing this situation -- after all ASUS can trace at least some of their sales to the articles announcing it's "linux-friendliness". Maybe some bad press will deter them from doing this in the future.

    P.S.: As it stands, this feature does not even work on my MB. I had only Linux installed initially and a black screen with an error message upon boot ("Express Gate is not properly installed or incomplete, please run the Installer in Windows" is what it said for a second before the BIOS started), but now I installed Vista and a) the program from the included DVD which didn't do anything, afterwards b) the latest version from the website which created a bunch of Asus.xxx directories in my C:\ root but still -- no go, the same black screen on boot. Shame on you, ASUS!

  • #2
    Originally posted by mgc8 View Post
    The tone of this message may be somewhat unfriendly, but I want to warn other potential Linux users so they don't make the same mistake I made.

    I have been using Linux for quite a while and often wondered why it's not included by default instead of the clumsy BIOS-es we have to struggle with. Needless to say, after reading the articles on this site and others regarding SplashTop being embedded with the P5Q line of Asus motherboards, I had a strong reason to choose one of them for my new build as opposed to, say, a Gigabyte or MSI with similar specs.

    Initially I aimed for the P5Q-Deluxe model, but it was not in stock at my local retailers and they all said I'd have to wait at least 2-3 weeks; at the same time, the P5Q-Pro was in stock and from what I read on the ASUS website the features were similar enough for my needs (and, importantly, it included the "Express Gate" feature). So I went ahead and got that one, saving a few bucks (not many) at the same time.

    BIG MISTAKE!

    It turns out that only a select few of the ASUS boards actually have SplashTop installed on the motherboard. All the others (the p5q-pro included) do not. Instead they only have a stripped-down castrated version that needs to be installed on the HDD (!), on a NTFS partition under XP/Vista none-the-less (!!!).

    I find this really appaling, especially since there is no warning on the ASUS site or elsewhere until you actually buy the product and read the manual (which doesn't make it clear either). The website only features a tiny hint -- the presence of three letters "SSD" on the "deluxe" models, and the absence thereof on the others -- without any other clear indication that the "Express Gate" version is totally different from the "Express Gate SSD" one.

    This experience has severely shaken my trust in ASUS (whom have received quite a bit of my money during the past decade or so) and I will be much more circumspect of their products from now on. I urge the readers of this site to do the same.

    It would be wonderful if Phoronix could write an article detailing this situation -- after all ASUS can trace at least some of their sales to the articles announcing it's "linux-friendliness". Maybe some bad press will deter them from doing this in the future.

    P.S.: As it stands, this feature does not even work on my MB. I had only Linux installed initially and a black screen with an error message upon boot ("Express Gate is not properly installed or incomplete, please run the Installer in Windows" is what it said for a second before the BIOS started), but now I installed Vista and a) the program from the included DVD which didn't do anything, afterwards b) the latest version from the website which created a bunch of Asus.xxx directories in my C:\ root but still -- no go, the same black screen on boot. Shame on you, ASUS!

    Hmmm, must of been a mistake with the packaging on your box. Other Asus boards clearly label if Expressgate Light is being used (example below). I would be contacting Asus about that.

    http://www.asus.com/products.aspx?l1...39&modelmenu=1

    Comment


    • #3
      Why is this the first time I hear about this?
      They have been around, what, months at least, and this dirty trick comes out now?

      I won't be buying Asus, that's for sure.

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by deanjo View Post
        Hmmm, must of been a mistake with the packaging on your box. Other Asus boards clearly label if Expressgate Light is being used (example below). I would be contacting Asus about that.
        Well, see for yourself:
        http://www.asus.com/products.aspx?l1...69&modelmenu=1

        I have sent a message for the fact that the feature isn't working, other than that there isn't much to do. Even if by some strech of imagination they would refund me, it's not worth my time to take the computer apart and reassemble it, I'd much rather warn others so they don't fall for this as well.

        Interesting how they labeled the thing differently on the other MB, probably some annoyed customers already wrote to them about it... Too bad they forgot about the "old" P5Q boards.

        Originally posted by curaga
        Why is this the first time I hear about this?
        They have been around, what, months at least, and this dirty trick comes out now?
        What can I say, long live marketing (also interesting to note the messages in other threads here about capacitors exploding and their so-called EPU which according to Gigabyte is nothing but a lie... seems like they may have taken their customers for fools a little too much)!

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by mgc8 View Post
          Well, see for yourself:
          http://www.asus.com/products.aspx?l1...69&modelmenu=1

          I have sent a message for the fact that the feature isn't working, other than that there isn't much to do. Even if by some strech of imagination they would refund me, it's not worth my time to take the computer apart and reassemble it, I'd much rather warn others so they don't fall for this as well.

          Interesting how they labeled the thing differently on the other MB, probably some annoyed customers already wrote to them about it... Too bad they forgot about the "old" P5Q boards.
          )!

          I'm not doubting you, I'm just pointing out that this doesn't seem to be the case with all boards. (In fact all of the AMD boards have it clearly listed at least.).

          Comment


          • #6
            This really really sucks!

            I made the same "mistake". I bought the P5Q-Pro. "Mistake" because how could I knew the SSD and AHCI/RAID problems before?
            Express Gate only works in SATA-IDE mode. It does _not_ work in RAID or AHCI mode.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by ficsch View Post
              This really really sucks!
              I made the same "mistake". I bought the P5Q-Pro. "Mistake" because how could I knew the SSD and AHCI/RAID problems before?
              Express Gate only works in SATA-IDE mode. It does _not_ work in RAID or AHCI mode.
              A-ha! Thanks for the information! ASUS hasn't replied yet to my mail, but I guess you got this from them? Indeed, I am running the board in AHCI mode (duh)... Is there any discussion thread somewhere else about these issues?

              Originally posted by deanjo
              I'm not doubting you, I'm just pointing out that this doesn't seem to be the case with all boards. (In fact all of the AMD boards have it clearly listed at least.).
              I think the AMD boards are newer, so their marketing and packaging has been updated after some annoyed customers complained about the "wonderful" feature... they probably forgot about the P5Q's.

              Comment


              • #8
                Well this is really interesting. I would like to get those installed files on hd, maybe they are compressed in a common way and could be extracted

                Maybe they use grub4dos or grub2 with ntfs support and seek for the partition this way:

                a) GRUB4DOS:

                title Splashtop
                find /ASUS.SYS/ce_bz
                kernel /ASUS.SYS/ce_bz

                b) GRUB2

                menuentry "Splashtop" {
                search --set /ASUS.SYS/ce_bz
                linux /ASUS.SYS/ce_bz
                }

                You can expect that the whole system consits only of 2 files - kernel + initrd and the bootloader is maybe embeeded in bios. Basically a 3rd file for rootfs is possible but I would not expect this. If they would use GRUB2 they could configure it with AHCI support too btw. If you get those files you can boot em with any Linux bootloader of course... Interesting would just be the output of

                cat /proc/cmdline

                to get the options for the kernel... The nice thing would be that you could extract the initrd, make your changes and compress it again. That would be harder for the usb solution, althought not impossible as it is only put on a pin header and usb only needs 4 wires to work - anybody who can use a voltmeter should find the right pins to create a simple usb adapter to the pin header.

                Please try to use a paste website and upload /proc/cmdline.

                Edit: Corrected the GRUB4DOS/GRUB2 entries.
                Last edited by Kano; 07-28-2008, 05:06 PM.

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by Kano View Post
                  Well this is really interesting. I would like to get those installed files on hd, maybe they are compressed in a common way and could be extracted
                  Actuall, I think it's easy to get to the files. The ASUS installer creates two directories:
                  1. ASUS.000, containing user-000.dat, user-000.md5 and user-000.date plus the same with -001.
                  This seems to be the file holding user data, it's an (empty) ext2 loop image. The .date and .md5 are self-explaining. Why there are two of them I don't know -- probably two user profiles? Anyway, they are 33MBytes each.

                  2. ASUS.SYS -- this contains the actual SplashTop, it's about 170MBytes. There is a 'help' directory (with a .html and some images), a 'custom' one which seems empty and a 'persist' directory identical to the ASUS.000 above.
                  Then there are a bunch of files (62 to be exact) with the actual software. There is a 'kernel.bin', some other files and a bunch of {bs|va}-xxx.sqx files (Apple archives?! why?) like va-firefox.sqx and bs-apache.sqx, pretty self-explanatory if you ask me.

                  I think you can get the files yourself by downloading the archive from the ASUS website, check this out (search for Express Gate):
                  http://support.asus.com/download/dow...l=P5Q%20Deluxe

                  I think the AHCI limitation is with the BIOS bootloader, and it probably requires a BIOS update to fix... Bummer.

                  If you need any more details, feel free to ask!

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    I extracted the 256 MB image, converted to vmdk, installed grub and tried booting the ce_bz kernel, I got to the menu, but could not start any app. Maybe somebody else finds it out...

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      I just built a system with a P5Q-E and was also surprised to find out that express gate needed to be installed onto the HDD. While it bugged me at first, it isn't the end of the world, and I don't think Asus deserves total bashing over it. Yes, they could be more clear about it in their literature, but they are trying to bring this to lower cost motherboards, which will make it more widespread - this will ultimately be a good thing for both splashtop and Linux.

                      In terms of being "lite", does anybody know what the difference actually is other than installing on HDD vs. SSD? All of the apps I expected to see are there - firefox, skype, pidgin, and some flash-based photo album tool, plus the ability to play mp3's. Are there more apps on the SSD version?

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        I think a large part is the coolness factor of SSD. I can't see the SSD having more stuff on it than a HDD set-up!

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by drosky View Post
                          I just built a system with a P5Q-E and was also surprised to find out that express gate needed to be installed onto the HDD. While it bugged me at first, it isn't the end of the world, and I don't think Asus deserves total bashing over it. Yes, they could be more clear about it in their literature, but they are trying to bring this to lower cost motherboards, which will make it more widespread - this will ultimately be a good thing for both splashtop and Linux.
                          I don't really see it like that. First of all, this feature is being marketed as a "separate OS" that you can boot into no matter the state of your installed OS'es. For me this was very important, as I happen to test all sorts of beta software in both Linux and Win, and from time to time it can render the partitions unbootable. Having some tool that is always there on the MB was a big plus. Of course I can always use a USB stick or a CD, but the main point was the convenience of it all.

                          Secondly, as far as I can see, the "light" version works only from a NTFS partition. This basically means that you need to have WinXp/Vista installed, which is extremely annoying for anyone that doesn't want to have anything to do with those. Sure, you can probably create the partition in Linux and hack around the installer to get the archives on it, but it kindof defeats the purpose.

                          Third, one of the uses I envisioned for the embedded OS was a sort of gateway/movie player without HDD. It would work great in a small enclosure with a slower processor and passive cooling. By playing around with the SplashTop source I am sure I'd be able to get mplayer there if it's not already, and play movies over NFS/Samba/whatever. Again, needing a HDD blows it all off.

                          Let's not forget also the fact that because it is installed on the HDD, you get stupid limitations like the fact that it doesn't support AHCI or RAID. So you basically have to choose between crippling you storage or using it. In my case this basically means that the advertised "ExpressGate" feature is not working. At all.

                          Bottom line is, of course this feature is not the end-all of functionality, but it was an important reason I chose this motherboard over others. When you get down to it, all MB's are basically identical, and differentiate on features like this. I (and surely others) just valued this one above pink PCIe slots... That's why I feel betrayed by ASUS -- all they had to do was clearly label it on the website and packaging, so that it was evident to anyone looking, then I would've made an informed decision. At least it seems they do that on more recent MB's, like the AMD ones.

                          Originally posted by drosky View Post
                          In terms of being "lite", does anybody know what the difference actually is other than installing on HDD vs. SSD? All of the apps I expected to see are there - firefox, skype, pidgin, and some flash-based photo album tool, plus the ability to play mp3's. Are there more apps on the SSD version?
                          I think they are identical in terms of content and applications, actually it may be easier to hack around the HDD version (as has been discussed here). But the SSD factor was crucial, at least in my case.

                          P.S.: How much did they save on the cost anyway? I mean, the chip is basically a 512MB USB stick soldered to he MB, that would be like 10$ off the shelf... Plus, this motherboard (p5q-pro) is by no means "low cost", it's right in the "upper-midrange" segment, so it really was a lame choice in my opinion.

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                          • #14
                            I doubt that it can only work from NTFS as the installer package has got a 256 mb image for USB sticks - partitioned with one FAT partition. I guess you can start it from USB Stick too. Most easy way would be copy it to an usb stick (directly on the device). Inside Vbox I only managed to start the menu - but maybe I forgot something.

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Kano View Post
                              I doubt that it can only work from NTFS as the installer package has got a 256 mb image for USB sticks - partitioned with one FAT partition. I guess you can start it from USB Stick too. Most easy way would be copy it to an usb stick (directly on the device). Inside Vbox I only managed to start the menu - but maybe I forgot something.
                              I think that's the image for the "Full" ExG SSD version; anyway, the point is -- if you install it on a stick, will the BIOS loader see it? I tried a simple "copy to stick, reboot computer" test, but it didn't work. Maybe it needs more coaxing or a BIOS patch...

                              Anyway, if I do that I might as well install Kanotix on a stick and leave it plugged into a USB slot, it would offer a lot more functionality and customisation options methinks

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