It's hard to believe, but this is the 25th Eee PC we've reviewed since the original model kicked off the netbook revolution way back at the end of 2007. Yes, 25. During that span we've seen Asus replace Linux with Windows, move to larger screens, and vastly improve its designs and bundled software. But in the age of the iPad, none of that is enough to get consumers excited about mini-notebooks. What the Eee PC 1015PN ($429) brings to the party is serious eye candy. Although it looks identical to the dual-core Atom packin' 1015PEM ($379) we recently reviewed, this is the first 10-inch netbook to feature Nvida Ion graphics. The result is one of the most capable machines yet in this class. However, two drawbacks will cause some shoppers to think twice before forking over the extra 50 bucks.
The 1015PN looks identical to the 1015PEM, sporting a soft-touch, matte black finish on the lid and palm rest. It's also available in blue, red, and white. Our model picked up more fingerprint smudges than we'd like, but the overall feel is nice and sturdy. The 1015PN is also travel-friendly, weighing 2.8 pounds and measuring 10.3 x 7.1 x 0.9 to 1.4 inches.
The right side of the netbook houses the memory card slot, mic and headphone jacks, two USB ports, Kensington lock slot, and Ethernet jack. On the left side of the 1015PN you'll find an HDMI port, a third USB port, a VGA port, and the AC jack.
The area between the 10.1-inch display and the palm rest is glossy plastic, as is the screen's bezel. Other design accents include a backlit power button and sliding door for the webcam (to ensure privacy).
We suspected that cramming a dual-core processor and Nvidia Ion graphics into such a svelte chassis might make it run warm, and the 1015PN proved us right. After playing a 15-minute Hulu video at full screen, the touchpad measured 94 degrees and the area between the G and H keys was 96 degrees. The bottom part of the machine was the most uncomfortable, reaching 104 degrees. By comparison, the Ion-less 1015PEM registered 79, 91, and 89 degrees in all of the same locations.
Display and Audio
The 10.1-inch display on the 1015PN sports a matte finish that allows for wide viewing angles, and it provided a bright picture when surfing the web. You get the same number of pixels as the 1015PEM (1024 x 600) so you'll have to use the HDMI port to enjoy high-def video.
When listening to The Postal Service's "Brand New Colony" on Pandora, the two speakers on the front edge of the laptop produced decent volume. However, they sounded harsh at the max setting.
Keyboard and Touchpad
We have mixed feelings about the typing experience on the Eee PC 1015PN. On the plus side, the chiclet-style layout has nicely spaced keys, and the keys themselves provide a good amount of travel without any flex. However, the keys themselves are on the small size, especially the shrunken right Shift key. We also wish Asus would finally invert the function keys so you could do things such as adjust the volume and brightness without having to execute a combo.
The roomy 3 x 1.5-inch touchpad has the same soft-touch treatment as the rest of the palm rest, yet it offered a smooth navigation experience. Our only complaint is that two-finger scrolling stuttered a bit. Although we'd prefer two discrete mouse buttons, the single long touch button gets the job done--so long as you don't press it too close to the middle.
Like the Eee PC 1015PEM, the 1015PN features a 1.5-GHz Atom N550 processor and 1GB of RAM, but the Nvidia Ion graphics helps overall performance. While the 1015PEM notched 1,729 in PCMark Vantage (a Windows productivity benchmark), this netbook earned a higher score of 1,963. That showing is also well above the average.
In Geekbench, another performance benchmark, the 1015PN scored 1,077. That beats the average netbook (897) but trails the 11.6-inch Acer Aspire One 721 (1,455), which features a 1.7-GHz AMD Athlon II Neo processor. The 10-inch Acer Aspire One 521 has the same CPU, but we haven't reviewed that netbook.
The 1015PN booted to Windows 7 Starter in 64 seconds, which is the same as the netbook average, but the 23.5 MBps transfer rate turned in by the 5,400-rpm 250 GB hard drive was above average. Converting a 114MB MPEG-4 file to AVI using the Oxelon program took 3 minutes and 55 seconds, considerably faster than the typical mini notebook (5:56).
Despite the fact that the 1015PN outperforms most other 10-inch machines, we never forgot that we were using a netbook. For instance, there was some lag when launching apps and searching for items within the Start menu.
In addition to Intel's integrated GMA 3150 graphics, the 1015PN comes packs an Nvidia Ion GPU. But what does that really give you? HD video playback on a big-screen monitor or TV via the netbook's HDMI port, the ability to play mainstream games at a decent clip, and support for a small but growing number of graphics-accelerated applications.
In 3DMark06, the 1015PN turned in a relatively strong score of 1,497, which is about 10 times better than the version of this netbook with only Intel graphics. You can even play titles such as World of Warcraft, so long as you keep the resolution low. This machine managed a decent 24 fps at 1024 x 600. Still, the AMD-powered Aspire One 721 mustered 30 fps in the same test. Although it's more expensive, the 12-inch Eee PC 1215N beats all of these machines with a 3DMark06 score of 2,692 and 48 fps in WoW.
To evaluate HD video playback, we connected the 1015PN to a 34-inch HDTV and played the 1080p version of the Tron: Legacy and Toy Story 3 trailers. With the exception of some minor hitching, the light bike scene rendered smoothly on the big screen, and we could easily make out every wrinkle in Jeff Bridge's face. We measured a smooth 29 frames per second using FRAPS when playing the latter trailer.
What, No Optimus?
The two biggest weaknesses of the 1015PN are actually related. Asus decided not to equip this netbook with Nvidia's Optimus technology, which allows notebooks to automatically switch between Intel's integrated graphics and Nvidia's Ion GPU. Instead, you're forced to use the included Asus GraphicsSwitch to manually change modes, which requires a reboot. As it turns out, Optimus requires Windows 7 Premium, but the 1015PN runs Windows 7 Starter, which is cheaper for the manufacturer. So not only do you not get automatic graphics switching, you can't change your desktop wallpaper, enjoy Aero effects, or extend your desktop to an external display (you can only mirror it).
You could upgrade to Windows 7 Home Premium for $89.95, which would ostensibly make Optimus technology available to you (assuming you could find the driver.) But at that point you'd probably be better off buying the $499 Asus Eee PC 1215PN.
Battery Life and Wireless
In integrated graphics mode, the 1015PN's six-cell battery lasted 5 hours and 51 minutes in the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous surfing over Wi-Fi). That's nearly an hour longer than what this netbook turned in with Nvidia Ion graphics enabled (5:03), but about a half hour less than the category average (6:20). Oddly enough, the nearly identical 1015PEM lasted much longer on a charge (8:07), which has only integrated graphics.
The Broadcom 802.11n radio inside the 1015PN delivered below average throughput in our tests, turning in a data rate of 22.5 from 15 feet and just 14.7 Mbps from 50 feet. The average netbook gets 24.7 and 18.3 Mbps, respectively. You won't want to stay too far from that router.
Software and Warranty
As with most of their netbooks, ASUS bundles the Eee Dock with the 1015PN, which offers a range of utilities. We like many of the entertainment apps, including the ASUS @Vibe music and games entertainment portal (pictured), 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.
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.
ASUS also includes the Boingo Hotspot finder, which automatically detects Wi-Fi hotspots maintained by the service and pops up alerts whenever you're within range. 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.
Thanks to Nvidia's Ion graphics, the $429 Eee PC 1015PN is one of the most powerful 10-inch netbooks yet. We also like the large touchpad and matte display. But there's also something not quite right about a machine that can handle 1080p video but won't let you change the wallpaper. We know why Asus decided not to grace the Eee PC 1015PN with Windows 7 Premium, and therefore Optimus graphics switching; it would have ballooned the price closer to the Eee PC 1215N, which, for $499 more, gives you Win 7 Premium, Optimus, 2GB of RAM, and a larger 12.1-inch display.
For our money, we'd rather get the 1215N. Yes, it's an extra half pound in your bag, but you don't have to reboot to stretch the battery life. If you're keen on a 10-incher and can live with less endurance, take a good look at the Acer Aspire One 521. That netbook packs a faster Athlon II processor and comparable graphics muscle for nearly $100 less than the Eee PC reviewed here. Still, if you crave a better balance of performance and endurance, and you don't mind paying for it--in more ways than one--the 1015PN is certainly worth considering.