Friday, March 6, 2009

LabVIEW on a Netbook...It's Not That Bad!

In my last blog post, I mentioned I had an extra motive for writing the Bulk Controls and Indicators VI. I wanted to write a moderately-sized VI with my new Acer Aspire One netbook. I got the fully-loaded one: Windows XP, 160GB HDD, 6-cell battery (6+ hours!), and it was only $330 on (mine is the blue one, just like the picture). I've always loved small laptops (my previous was a Toshiba Satellite U205), and I originally bought this netbook for my wife. But she said it was too small, so she's getting my Toshiba and I'm taking the Acer. The reason for the new laptop, by the way, was that my wife's original Dell Inspiron b130 suffered catastrophic mechanical failure in the form of the screen becoming detached from the base.

I really, really love this thing. Its only drawback is inherent to its design...the maximum screen resolution for the 8.9" model I got is 1024x600. (There was another drawback regarding a slow network connection, but this link helped me solve it). As soon as I got it, I installed LabVIEW to try writing some VIs. I was worried at first about performance, but this laptop is really snappy...a non-initial launch of LabVIEW only takes 9 seconds (with Load Palettes at Launch enabled), and Quick Drop is instantaneous (that's been my editor benchmark of choice since 8.6 released). My next worry after performance was LabVIEW's usability on a small screen. Here's what I noticed:
  • The Getting Started Window doesn't fit on the screen (I hope somebody's Eyes are reading this). I wasn't too surprised by this, since our minimum screen resolution that we usually assume when designing UIs in LabVIEW R&D is 1024x768. Thankfully, the 'X' in the corner was still visible, so it wasn't too much of an inconvenience.
  • Apparently when you create a New VI, the size of the VI created is proportional to the screen size. I never really noticed this before until comparing the size of a new VI on the netbook to the size of a new VI on my 22" widescreen on my dev machine at work... :)
  • This isn't really peculiar to netbooks, but I quickly reminded myself how sloooow I am at programming LabVIEW with a touchpad. I'm planning on getting a nice wireless mouse, but for writing this VI, I used the free Acer mouse they sent me with the netbook.
  • Whenever you ctrl-drag in empty space to create diagram space, it's much more difficult to only drag in one direction (usually left-right for me), I guess because the lower resolution of the screen makes for larger relative mouse moves? I've filed a suggestion in the past that a ctrl-drag have a few pixels of slop on either side for growing only in one direction, but we haven't seen it yet...
So all in all, a pleasant experience. I don't think I'd be able to develop 8 hours a day on such a small screen. But for demonstrating something in LabVIEW during a discussion at work or NI Week, or for knocking out a quick VI for the NI Forums, LAVA, or my blog, I think it will be perfect.


  1. Sorry, Darren, the minimum requirements for LabVIEW are 1024x768 so some of our dialogs aren't going to fit on your Netbook screen. But if you want to add in a screen-resolution check to the Getting Started window and make an alternate, smaller version, you know where the source code is. :-) I've covered the architecture pretty extensively on my blog so you should have no trouble getting started with the VIs!

  2. VIPM minimum is 800x600. Go for it!