Hands-On With the Voodoo Envy’s Instant-On OS

The Voodoo Envy 133 has a lot of striking features. Its got a more than elegant design, its power brick doubles as a wireless connection point and its got facial recognition software. Oh and its 3.4-pounds and thinner than Calista Flockhart. But what makes our mouths water is that it isthe first laptop to land in our hands with Splashtop’s instant-on mode (see our Splashtop FAQ). Voodoo calls its Splashtop instant-on environment the Voodoo IOS and instead of having to wait until Vista boots up – in what can be more than a minute on some laptops – the Envy 133 launches users into an environment where they can surf the Web within 15 seconds (verified by our hands-on experience). We have a lengthy video below of our experience booting up into IOS on a preproduction Envy 133 and a tour of all its Splashtop applications. When you first boot up the system, it will launch a main page with the Voodoo logo on a black background in 5 seconds. This start page has seven buttons on its bottom dock, including a shutdown, launch Windows, browser, music player, photo viewer, Pidgin chat and Skype shortcuts. You have to click on one of those buttons to enter the real IOS environment. In our testing, when we clicked on the browser button, it took an additional 10 seconds to launch the complete IOS mode and the FireFox browser. So within 15 seconds, give or take, you are good to go, though if the computer is on an unfamiliar wireless network you will need to connect. We were wholly impressed with browser. Out of the box it supports flash and when we navigated to Hulu.com we were able to watch The Daily Show with no hiccups. You can keep multiple tabs open in the browser, but even though the “Splashtop browser” looks like a mod of Firefox, we found that you cannot install Firefox add-ons. You also cannot download files from the Web and save them to the hard drive, though you can store them on a USB drive. Perhaps this will be different on the final production model. Even though the browser is unable to see your hard drive, the music player application lets play sound files from a few select folders on your hard drive or from an external device. We were very happy to see that you can keep the music playing and navigate to your browser, chats or photos. The photo gallery works similarly. It pulls pictures from your computer or USB stick and lets you view or zoom in on them. But our favorite Splashtop applications are the communication tools. The chat button launches Pidgin and lets you log into your AIM, Google Talk, MSN, or Yahoo chat clients. I logged into my Google and AIM accounts and was chatting up a storm within seconds. The IMs are put into a single window and separated onto tabs. When you get a new message, a small flag pops up on the chat icon on the dock. Topping off the preloaded offerings is a stripped down version of Skype. Within a minute, you can log into Skype and place a call. The pre-boot environment does not support video calling, but our voice call to a buddy on Skype was almost flawless; there were no pauses or echo. After you are done in the IOS environment, you can shut down (which takes 9 seconds) or boot into Vista (which takes 50 seconds).

Related: Hands-on with the Voodoo Envy’s Wi-Fi Power Brick Unboxing the Voodoo Envy Voodoo Envy 133 Mini-Review: Air Killer?

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  1. greg Says:

    you guys have a huge image that youre resizing with tag in the middle of the article also the video loads really slow

  2. Tony Baker Says:

    Wow, that’s one reflective screen! At the start of the vid, I thought there was a video of her playing on the laptop!

  3. Andrea Says:

    This video just doesn’t work.
    Could you please put a working video: I can’t wait to see that :)

  4. Subb0 Says:

    Yep, the video is stuck at 7% :(

  5. Joanna Stern Says:

    We are working on the video issues right now, will be playing smoothly in a few minutes…

  6. WHEREISVIDEO Says:

    Where is the video? post it on youtube would ya?

  7. Joanna Stern Says:

    We appreciate your patience. Now let’s change the convo. Should more laptops have an instant on mode? Or can you get into Vista fast enough?

  8. bhunter736 Says:

    Of course they should have instant on! We cant even wait for a video to download! ; )

  9. ole Says:

    She says: “You are not even in an OS”.

    Actually, when you are in the IOS you are in an operating system. It is called Linux. IOS or Splashtop is nothing but a stripped down and customized Linux.

  10. Darcnes Says:

    One thing I didn’t notice mention of is whether you’re able to multi-task any of these, can you browse and chat? Can you browse and load windows while you’re browsing? I would be perfectly ok with Vista taking 5x longer to load in the background while I’m clowning around on the net and/or chatting while its happening. Otherwise it falls into more of a novelty, some dell computers I’ve seen offer a 15-20 second bootup to a ‘media center’ OS .. which is neat, but ultimately inconsequential.. obviously being able to browse and(?) chat for 5 minutes something you really want to check would be nice.. but quite a few laptops can already do this within 30-40 seconds in full vista from hibernate. (I’m using an ASUS G2S-B2 for example and can go from black screen to internet right around the 35 second mark .. only because it takes a few seconds to lock in the wifi signal, roughly the same amount of time to go back into hibernate if a little less)

  11. Torsten Says:

    Joanna seems to have trouble explaining what the “IOS mode” or the “instant-on mode” really is. To be clear, it’s just another operating system that happens to boot faster than Windows by making better use of the computer hardware.

    The technology to allow better use of the hardware is called coreboot. See: http://www.coreboot.org Coreboot was sponsored by Sandia National Labs in New Mexico and used to quick-boot their computer clusters used for research. It has been under development since 1999. Coreboot used to be called “LinuxBIOS”, and http://www.linuxbios.org resolves to the Coreboot website.

    Coreboot works by replacing the computer’s BIOS with a Linux kernel. The function of the BIOS is to initialize the hardware. All modern operating systems re-initialize the hardware after the BIOS is done. Instead of initializing the hardware twice, VoodooPC replaced the standard BIOS with Linux.

    The result is a quicker boot. By skipping the BIOS initialization and letting Linux initialize the hardware, and by loading directly from memory, the coreboot technology makes better use of the hardware to speed booting times.

    After the computer is initialized (the first screen comes up), one can choose to boot Vista or the IOS. Vista boots from the hard drive (slow OS with slow hardware). The IOS is also Linux, but boots from flash (quicker OS with quicker hardware).

    In summary, the VoodooPC boots Linux from the BIOS, the give the user a choice of booting to IOS (Linux) or Vista.

    Why Linux in the BIOS?

    The primary reason is the limitation on the amount of available BIOS memory. The BIOS memory is limited to 1 MB (one megabyte). This was considered adequate and even excessive when the original Intel processors were designed in the 1980′s. For the sake of compatibility, all modern Intel-compatible processors have this limitation.

    No one really thought of trying to install a modern operating system kernel in 1MB of memory until the Coreboot program started looking at Linux.

    Because of the source code availability of Linux, and the ability to customize the operating system kernel, they were able to compress everything they needed to boot and initialize a computer in less than 1MB of ram. This means a full-fledged, 32-bit, modern operating system can be booted directly from power-on. There was really little discussion about using anything other than Linux.

    The big programs, like the Mozilla Browser, flash, and skype, are not stored in the BIOS with the Linux kernel. They are loaded from either Read-Only-Memory (ROM) or a flash memory after Linux has completed booting to the first screen. I suspect the reason Joanna can’t save anything is because the “hard drive” is actually either ROM, a flash memory that is full, or a flash memory with write disabled. When the IOS is chosen, it boots to a user interface that looks exactly like the user interface that first appears after boot, giving the perception of only booting the IOS once.

  12. Kung Fu Says:

    Here is a FAQ on splash top:
    http://www.laptopmag.com/advice/faqs/splashtop.aspx

  13. Buh-In Says:

    So you push the power Buh-in? You mean “Button” ?

  14. lotsta Says:

    it’s pronounced “pigeon”…like the bird.

  15. HPFan Says:

    More laptops and desktops should have this function.

    1. How long will the battery last when only IOS – Instant on is used ? Please advise.
    2. Can you quickly send a photo by email as an attachment? i.e gmail, yahoo mail

    Also this splashtop video shows that Windows can be loaded in the background while using Instant On (aka. express gate from ASUS):

    http://www.splashtop.com/blog/index.php/2008/03/20/marks-presentation-at-under-the-radar/

    So it is possible.

  16. anon Says:

    “kinda like Mac OS X…pretty sweet!” lolz. they invented a MacBook. congrats.

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