Restore an Eee PC 701 back to factory Xandros from a USB stick with no ASUS Support DVD

My recently aquired (used) asus eee pc 701 came with XP installed and no support CD/DVD. I wanted to get rid of XP and have a play with the stock linux O/S instead: I expected this to be an easy gimmie, but it was not, and ate up an evenings worth of my time googling around for solutions so I’m going to lay out the shortcuts here to hopefully save someone else the pain.

As mentioned, the eeepc I acquired had XP installed (nlited) and no recovery DVD, so no option of using the built in rescue partition to restore the EEEPC back to the factory state. (Apparently you can hit F9 normally and it takes to to a ‘restore me from hidden partiton’ type GRUB menu). I figured this wouldn’t be a problem, I’d just go to the Asus support site and grab the image. Its linux, right, should be able to get the firmware images easily from the manufacturer, right?

Wrong.

I ransacked the official eeepc.asus.com support site looking for what I needed: at the other end of the search I can honestly say I found zero useful material or info there. (Don’t even bother visiting it, you’re better off going straight to google for this). The support/download section had BIOS updates and the like, but nothing to help with a reinstall. Even searching the forums for what I imagined to be blatantly obvious issues (eg: where do I download the restore cd?) came up with bupkis.

I concluded, to my chagrin, Asus has decided to withhold the support software (a linux distro?) for whatever reason, and the forums were evidently being policed according to this policy, removing any useful information pertaining to it. I expected to find at least a link to an outside site, as google was telling me about various helpful torrents: not finding even a whisper of this on the official support forums smells like seafood.

After a bit of googling and torrent searching I found a few ISO images which purported to be eeepc 701 flavored including a copy of Ubuntu, but I couldn’t get them to run from USB key: syslinux made the drive bootable but either the kernel options were wrong and linux would not boot, or I could get it to boot by plugging in manual options (specifying location of initrd etc) but only made it partway into a boot before falling over and restarting. (I didn’t bother noting or chasing down those errors as I didn’t particularly fancy my mission this evening to be going down the road of fixing boot issues in roll-your-own livecds booting from USB sticks). I realise I’ll probably have to suss this out properly for installing Ubuntu and other flavors down the road, but for now I just wanted the stock Xandros system restore.

I eventually found some downloads which solved the problem.

Heres the process in WinXP:

  1. The first thing you need is the EeePC 901 ASUS Linux USB Flash Utility available from eeefiles.com (Link updated! http://www.netbookfiles.com/574/eee-pc-8g-xp-asus-usb-flash-utility-version-v1131/ ). I guess this is the version which comes on the support DVD, but I don’t have that and it wasn’t available from the official site, so… (By the way, thanks a lot Asus, making me resort to downloading from a third party site instead of a trusted source).
  2. The next file you’ll need is the Xandros Eee Pc 701 Edition ISO. Get it from the eeepc 701 community project on sourceforge.
  3. Once you’ve downloaded both of the above its all pretty much downhill!
  4. Now either burn the ISO to a physical disk, or mount the image using a program like daemontools.
  5. Plug in your 2GB+ USB stick
  6. Run the USB Flash utility, select the detected USB drive,wait for it to format. If prompted, remove and re-insert the stick after the format. It will ask for the linux disk (either insert the physical copy you burned or mount the ISO into a drive).
  7. Linux will copy (it takes a few minutes) and at the end you should have a bootable restore on the USB drive.
  8. Power on the eeepc, hit F2 for BIOS options, go to “Advanced” and set the “OS Installation” to “Start”. F10 to Save and exit.
  9. Put the USB drive in your eeepc, reboot, hit escape on POST to get to the boot menu, and you’re off.
  10. Xandros will install (took about ten minutes on mine). Remember to go back into the BIOS and set “OS Installation” to “Finished” once its finished.

That really shouldn’t have taken me a whole evening of googling to get done =

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