To squeeze the most performance out of its last 12-inch laptop, ASUS paired a desktop Atom processor with Nvidia Ion graphics. The result was an ultraportable that had good game for its size but not the snappiest overall performance. Now here comes the Eee PC 1215B ($439), which shares the same look as the older 1215N but swaps out those components for AMD's 1.6-GHz Fusion E-350 APU. This ultra-efficient chip pairs a faster processor with graphics that can easily handle full HD video. ASUS also added a USB 3.0 port for super high-speed transfers. And yet the 1215B is $30 less expensive than its Intel-powered counterpart. Check out the full review below to see how the 1215B stacks up to its predecessor, as well as other Fusion-powered ultraportables.
Similar to its predecessor, the Eee PC 1215B has a plain matte-black exterior, which extends to the inside, save for the glossy keyboard deck. Both the HP Pavilion dm1z (glossy black with grid design) and Sony VAIO YB (metallic fuschia lid) have more panache, but you can spice this ASUS up by ordering it in red for just $10 more.
Weighing 3.4 pounds, the 1215B is the same weight as the 1215N and the Pavilion dm1z, making it easy to carry. The VAIO YB weighs slightly less at 3.2 pounds. At 11.6 x 7.9 x 0.9-1.4 inches, the Eee PC 1215B is also identical in size to its predecessor, which is roughly the same size as the VAIO YB (11.4 x 8 x 1.3 inches) and the dm1z (11.4 x 8.4 x 0.8-1.2 inches).
Keyboard and Touchpad
The Eee PC 1215B's chiclet keyboard is identical to the one on the 1215N, which meant we were able to type at a brisk pace with few errors. However, the 1215N's undersized right Shift key and worrisome flexing in the base are here as well. Among similar-sized notebooks, we prefer the keyboard on the Lenovo ThinkPad X120e, but the 1215B's larger palm rest made it easier to type for longer durations, as our wrists weren't left hanging off the edge.
We like the 1215B's 3.2 x 1.8 touchpad. It was smooth and responsive, and the larger real estate made performing multitouch gestures such as pinch-to-zoom and two-finger scrolling easier than on other ultraportables. Selecting text was also a cinch.
Since we prefer discrete mouse buttons, we're not fans of the single silver bar beneath the touchpad. We found it a little stiff at first, but it became easier to press the more we used it.
Display and Audio
The glossy 12.1-inch, 1366 x 768-pixel display on the Eee PC 1215B is sharp and bright. The Green Lantern trailer streamed from YouTube looked great in both 720 and 1080p. The emerald green of Ryan Reynolds' suit was vibrant, and blacks were deep and rich with no sign of pixelation. Viewing angles were narrow, with colors washing out at approximately 45 degrees. We had to tilt the display as far back as it would go--about 40 degrees past vertical--to achieve the best vertical viewing angle.
The Speakers located on the front underside of the 1215B produced clear audio with good volume. The synthesized instrumentals in Lady Gaga's "Judas" and her haunting refrain came through loud and clear with no distortion. As expected on a budget system such as this, bass was barely present. We recommend keeping the notebook on a desk or hard surface, as we noticed that the sound became muffled when we placed it in our lap.
Ports and Webcam
A pleasant surprise for a notebook in this price range, the Eee PC 1215B comes with a high-speed USB 3.0 port. Joining it on the right side are a USB 2.0 port, Ethernet, mic and headphone jacks, and a Kensington lock slot. The left side houses another USB 2.0 port, HDMI, a VGA port, and a 2-in-1 card reader.
Images and video taken with the 0.3-megapixel integrated webcam using ASUS' e-Cam app were bright, but they appeared grainy with washed-out color even after we adjusted the camera settings. Like on the 1215N, the webcam sliding cover is located above the webcam to ensure privacy.
The ASUS Eee PC 1215B maintained relatively cool temperatures during our testing. After streaming a Hulu video at full screen for 15 minutes, we measured the touchpad and keyboard at 86 degrees, and the middle of the underside at 90 degrees. Still, the HP Pavilion dm1z was even cooler, staying below 80 degrees in the same locations.
While the ASUS 1215N paired a dual-core 1.8-GHz Intel Atom D525 CPU with an Nvidia Ion GPU, the 1215B uses a dual-core 1.6-GHz AMD E-350 Fusion APU with 2GB of RAM. These new components allowed the 1215B to notch a PCMark Vantage score of 2,225, besting the 1215N by 324 points. The 1215B also edged out the HP Pavilion dm1z (2,198) and the Sony VAIO YB Series (2112), both of which use the same processor as the 1215B. Nevertheless, all of these scores are below the ultraportable category average of 4,185, which factors in more expensive machines.
The 1215B's 320GB 5,400-rpm hard drive also outpaced the competition, taking 64 seconds to boot Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit). That's slightly slower than the 61-second category average, but the 1215N took 86 seconds and the Pavilion dm1z took 80 seconds.
We noticed a slip in performance during the LAPTOP file transfer test: The 1215B took 4 minutes and 12 seconds to duplicate a 4.97GB folder of multimedia files. That's a transfer rate of 20.2 MBps, well below the category average of 32.6 MBps. The 1215N, while no speed demon, recorded a faster 27.1 MBps.
The 1215B fared better when it came to video editing. It took 2 minutes and 44 seconds to convert a 114MB MPEG-4 file to AVI in Oxelon Media Encoder. While that's below the category average of 1:50, the Sony VAIO YB Series clocked in at 2:51, while the 1215N finished in 3:17. The dm1z came the closest to the 1215B, taking 2:45 to complete the test.
The second half of AMD's Fusion APU is the AMD Radeon HD 6310 graphics chip, which returned a score of 2,250 in 3DMark06. While that's about 300 points higher than the category average, the Nvidia Ion GPU in the 1215N notched a much higher 2,792 on the same test. The VAIO YB also posted a higher score of 2,490, but the dm1z came in last, with a score of 2,217.
The 1215B was powerful enough to output high-def video; when we connected it via HDMI to a 32-inch HDTV we were able to play a 1080p trailer of Tron: Legacy at a stutter-free 60 fps, and saw a smooth, detailed picture with no pixelation in darker areas.
When we played World of Warcraft with the graphics settings on Good, the 1215B notched a lackluster 20 frames per second at 1366 x 768 resolution. When we played on the maximum setting, the score dropped to 9 fps. Both scores are below the ultraportable category averages of 41.2 and 13 fps. On the Good setting, the older Ion-powered 1215N posted the best score (37 fps), while the VAIO YB and Pavillion dm1z turned in 29 and 24 fps, respectively.
Battery Life and Wireless
The Eee PC 1215B lasted 5 hours and 26 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi). That runtime is 35 minutes longer than the category average. However, the Pavilion dm1z lasted more than an hour longer (6:37), and the 1215N went for 5:40. The VAIO YB had the shortest runtime, at 4:58.
The 1215B's Broadcom 802.11n Wi-Fi card posted disappointing transfer rates of 22.3 Mbps and 20.4 Mbps at 15 and 50 feet away from our router, respectively. By comparison, the 1215N had transfer rates of 39.4 and 23.7 Mbps, far surpassing the ultraportable category averages of 33.5 and 19.7 Mbps.
The 1215B includes new version of ASUS' instant-on software that lets you get online in 20 seconds, faster than going through Windows. Now called ASUS ExpressGate Cloud, the interface consists of a series of eight sliding tiles arranged in a Cover Flow-like fashion. It was easy to shift between tiles (Calendar, Chrome, Game, Music, Online Video, Photo, Social Network), but we were disappointed to see that Skype is no longer pre-installed.
ASUS includes a fair amount of branded software with the Eee PC 1215B. ASUS Webstorage allowed us to back up our files and folders to ASUS' servers. From there we could access our data from numerous devices as well as allow friends and family access. The service is free for one year, after which users have the option of purchasing unlimited storage starting at $8 per month.
ASUS Game Park is ASUS' dedicated gaming portal that features a wide range of categories, from Arcade to Action. ASUS App Store allows users to download a variety of apps optimized for smaller displays, including social networking, games, and video. We downloaded Fruit Ninja and spent an hour slicing and dicing fruit ninja-style.
ASUS Vibe is a portal for music, games, and an educational channel. The Dr. Chinese language tutor helped us learn some rudimentary Chinese. Our favorite part of Vibe was the music channel. Similar to Pandora, we were able to type in an artist and Vibe would create a personalized channel featuring the artist and similar music.
We also tried the Dr. Eee Voice Command service but found it to be fairly unresponsive. We had to repeat phrases several times to get the correct response.
Third-party apps include Microsoft Office Starter, Syncables 9, and Trend Micro Titanium.
ASUS is late to the AMD Fusion party, but the Eee PC 1215B offers slightly better overall performance than competing ultraportables from HP and Sony. And, at $439, the 1215B manages to undercut the competition, and is even $30 less expensive than its Ion counterpart (though the 1215N is better for gaming). Still, in this category, the HP dm1z is tops. For just $10 more, you get a snazzier design, 3GB of RAM, a 320GB, 7,200-rpm hard drive, and an extra hour of battery life. But if you want USB 3.0, good sound, and a good selection of software at a reasonable price, the 1215B is a strong value.