Now that Intel's newest dual-core Atom processor is finding its way into netbooks, the category is starting to get interesting again. For only about $20 more than its single-core cousin, the $369 ASUS Eee PC 1015PEM offers more pep in the same attractive package. You also get more than 8 hours of endurance and a large and comfortable touchpad. Despite a couple of drawbacks, this netbook is one of the best money can buy.
The 10.3 x 7.1 x 1.4-inch Eee PC 1015PEM has the slim, tapered look of the other models in the Seashell series, which we still find elegant even though it's familiar. It isn't quite as thin or light as the Eee PC 1018P, which shares some of its other design elements. Instead of an aluminum body, the 1015PEM sports a matte plastic chassis that's soft to the touch. It picks up some fingerprints, but not too many. We like that the color on the lid--which comes in black, blue, red, and white--also extends to the palm rest. The glossy black bezel surrounding the display merges into the upper deck, where the reflective material surrounds matte, chiclet-style keys.
The bottom of the 1015PEM is slightly textured, so it won't so slip from your hand as you carry the netbook around. Once again, ASUS manages to get the battery nearly flush with the system, creating a smooth line that tapers from the back to the front.
The 1015PEM remained pretty cool during our testing while we used it to write this review. After playing a Hulu video at full screen for 15 minutes we measured temperatures in three key areas. The touchpad reached only 79 degrees, the middle of the underside was 89 degrees, and the space between the G and H keys got to 91--all acceptable measurements.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The keyboard on this model is identical to the one found on the Eee PC 1018P. The key feel was pretty solid for a netbook, and we like that there was no flex to the layout. However, the keys are a bit small, and some of them (like the right Shift key) are really shrunken.
The 3.0 x 1.6-inch touchpad is nice and large, and it has the same matte finish as the rest of the palm rest, with a thin chrome strip on the left and right to delineate the touch area. Thankfully, we didn't encounter any of the accuracy problems we experienced with the 1018P.
We like the look of the long silver mouse button bar beneath the touchpad. Even though the left and right buttons aren't discrete, we had no trouble hitting the correct side of this bar.
Display and Audio
Unlike the majority of netbooks, the 10.1-inch, 1024 x 600-pixel display isn't glossy. This made for wide horizontal and vertical viewing angles, and we didn't notice any difference in color-depth or vibrance as we sometimes see with matte screens.
Firing up Flickr's Explore by Interestingness page, we found that colors popped and dark images had plenty of contrast. An HD wildlife clip on the hard drive played smoothly with plenty of detail.
The thin speaker strip just under the 1015PEM's produced a good amount of volume for a system this size. We could easily hear Modest Mouse's "Dashboard" from the other side of a medium-size office. When listening to Superchick's "One Girl Revolution [Battle Mix]" we didn't have to strain to hear the distinctive bass line, and treble didn't come off too tinny in S. J. Tucker's "Cheshire Kitten."
Ports and Webcam
The 1015PEM has the standard assortment of ports for a netbook, most of them on the right side. We appreciate that the USB port on the left is toward the top of the deck so flash drives and dongles never got in the way of our palms as we typed. We also like that all three ports can keep your cell phone, PMP, or other devices charged up, even when the netbook is off or sleeping.
The 0.3-megapixel webcam above the display has a little sliding door to block the lens just in case the local school system decides to spy on you. For such a low-res camera, details were fairly sharp, though colors were somewhat washed out.
The Eee PC 1015PEM is one of the first netbooks to hit shelves with Intel's new dual-core Atom N550 processor inside. Clocking in at 1.5-GHz, the CPU (along with 1GB of RAM) earned the machine a score of 1,729 on PCMark05. This is well above the netbook average (1,424) and even beats the Acer Aspire D255 (1,696), which has the same chip. The score also represents a significant performance improvement (200 to 300 marks) over netbooks with single-core Atom processors like the Toshiba mini NB255 (1,393), ASUS Eee PC 1018P (1,291), and Samsung N150 Plus (1,300).
The 1015PEM scored 1,079 on Geekbench, again above the average netbook (883) but not as powerful as the 12-inch ASUS Eee PC 1215N with Nvidia Ion 2 graphics (1,285). Still, the score puts the 1015PEM at least 100 points ahead of single-core netbooks.
The 250GB, 5,400 rpm hard drive completed the LAPTOP File Transfer Test in 3 minutes and 5 seconds for a transfer rate of 27.5 MBps. That showing is almost 10 MBps faster than the average, and it beats the Aspire One D255 (23.7), mini NB255 (23.2), and even the Eee PC 1215N (27.1). With these speeds, we were surprised that it took the system 1 minute and 16 seconds to boot into Windows 7 Starter Edition, though, 14 seconds longer than average.
Editing video was also faster than average with the 1015PEM. This netbook took just 3 minutes and 56 seconds to transcode our 114MB file from MPEG-4 to AVI, more than 2 minutes faster than other systems this size. Though not as fast as the Eee PC 1215N (3:17), this machine completed the task a few seconds ahead of the dual-core Aspire One D255 (4:10) and well ahead of the single-core N150 Plus (5:44).
We didn't expect much from the integrated Intel GMA 3150 graphics chip, though we had hoped that the more powerful CPU would give graphics performance a small boost. However, the 149 3DMark06 score dispelled that hope pretty quickly. This score is less than the dual-core Aspire One D255 (151) and even under the single-core N150 Plus (156) and the ASUS Eee PC 1018P (154).
Despite claims that Intel's new processor helps with HD video, we didn't experience very good results. When we streamed an episode of House from Hulu, the clip hitched at full screen. Streaming HD video from YouTube not only offered dropped frames but slowed the entire netbook down. Video from the hard drive didn't give us as much trouble.
Wireless and Battery Life
One more weak spot in the 1015PEM's armor is its Wi-Fi throughput. We measured just 22.2 Kbps 15 feet from the router and 15.8 Kbps 50 feet away. This is below average for a netbook (24.2/18.2), though still above the Aspire One D255 (17.99/15.46). However, the mini NB255 (38.4/23.7), N150 Plus (24.4/19.9), and Eee PC 1215N (39.4/23.7) all beat this system handily.
The Eee PC 1015PEM's six-cell battery lasted an impressive 8 hours and 7 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test. This runtime is well above the six-cell battery average (6:35) and almost a half an hour longer than the Eee PC 1018P (7:35). It also beats the Samsung N150 Plus (7:12) and the Toshiba mini NB255 (6:41), though the Aspire One D255 (8:14) lasted slightly longer.
Charging the Eee PC 1015PEM took 2 hours and 10 minutes to reach 80-percent capacity and a total of 3 hours and 12 minutes to reach full charge. During that time, the netbook used an average of 31.2 watts. That equals a LAPTOP Green Efficiency rating of 12.3, which is better than the category average of 15.5 (lower numbers are better).
Software and Warranty
As with most of their netbooks, ASUS bundles the Eee Dock with the 1015PEM, which offers a range of utilities under four groupings: Access, Sharing, Experience, and Tools.
We like many of the entertainment apps, including the ASUS @Vibe music and games entertainment portal, Game Park game trials, and Cyberlink YouCam for recording and uploading videos. With ASUS WebStorage Eee PC users get a whopping 500GB of online storage space free for a year ($39.99 annually thereafter for unlimited use) to store or share files online. Users can also set up automatic backups to their online accounts that will occur incrementally in the background. Syncables keeps data backed up across multiple devices, including mobile phones; however, to use all of Syncables' features users need to purchase a paid version. Eee Live Update automatically keeps these and other programs up to date.
On the upper left-hand side of the keyboard deck is a silver button that activates Express Gate, ASUS' instant-on OS. This environment has options for an instant-messaging client, online games, photos, Skype, and the web. The Splashtop Gaming portal lets you choose from a number of basic titles. The 1015PEM booted to the OS in 8 seconds; after configuring our wireless settings (a 30-second process), the browser launched in about 20 seconds.
The 1015PEM comes with Microsoft Office 2010 Starter installed, which offers paired down versions of Word and Excel for no cost. ASUS also includes the Boingo Hotspot finder, which automatically detects Wi-Fi hotspots maintained by the service. If you choose to subscribe to Boingo, this utility can prove useful. Otherwise, it just gets in the way as it pops up whenever there's a hotspot nearby. For protection from viruses, the system comes with a trial of Trend Micro Internet Security.
ASUS backs this netbook with a standard global one-year limited warranty, free one-way shipping, and 24/7 toll-free tech support. See how ASUS fared in our Tech Support Showdown.
The $369 ASUS Eee PC 1015PEM offers better overall performance than single-core netbooks at a reasonable price. Its good looks, robust software bundle, and long battery life are also points in its favor. The keyboard is a bit cramped, and you don't get smooth 720p video playback (at least online). But for shoppers who want a netbook that's zippy when performing everyday tasks and lasts all day on a charge, the 1015PEM is a very good choice.