ASUS Eee PC 901 12G XP Review

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$599

Pros: Speedier Intel Atom processor; Very good battery life; More attractive glossy design; Multi-touch trackpad; Handy resolution-switching button

Cons: Cramped keyboard; Relatively expensive

Verdict: This update to the Eee PC 900 offers improved performance and much better battery life, but it's not the best mini-notebook.

It's finally here. After months of speculation, rumor, and leaked photos, the Eee PC 901 was officially unveiled at this year's Computex. The official North American version's release date is yet to be revealed, but that didn't stop us from combing the computer markets of Taipei to get our hands on the much-anticipated Intel Atom-powered update to theEee PC 900.

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The Eee PC 901 12G XP shares many of the same features of its Windows XP predecessor (a 12GB solid-state drive, a 1.3-megapixel webcam, 1GB of RAM, and a multi-touch interface), but there are a few new additions both on and under the hood that make the 901 the best Eee PC to date. However, advances by other mini-notebook manufacturers prevent us from making this machine our Editors' Choice.

Slick New Appearance

We never had any major complaints about the aesthetics of previous Eee PCs, but we welcome the visual update. The matte lid found on previous models has been replaced with a smooth, glossy lid with Eee PC branding in cursive script in the upper-left corner. Despite the shiny top, the lid, thankfully, doesn't attract many fingerprints. Where the display meets the deck (which also features the glossy coating) is a new circular, silver hinge, which, in tandem with the new lid, gives the 901 a far more sophisticated look; the Eee PC 901 is the first in the line that doesn't scream "budget." Unfortunately, neither does its price: When the Eee PC 901 hits the North American market in late June or early July, it will cost $599.

The 8.9-inch screen looked sharp from a variety of angles when we watched episodes of Arrested Development on Hulu, but the colors were somewhat muted. Above the display is a 1.3-MP webcam that served up bright images and solid colors when videoconferencing with friends and colleagues using Meebo.

Improved Audio Punch

The inclusion of Dolby Sound Room stereo speakers to the 901 gives the Eee PC 901 surprisingly good sound despite being located on the bottom of the machine. Bass (understandably) was a bit lacking, but while streaming music from Slacker's blues station, we enjoyed crisp, clear audio that had enough punch to fill a small room. When we plugged in a pair of Sony MDR-V150 headphones, a program launched that let us tweak audio settings.

Same Cramped Keyboard, Improved Trackpad

Popping the lid, we were met with a keyboard that's the same size as what's on the Eee PC 900. It's an improvement over the lilliputian keyboard found on early Eee PCs, and feedback was generally good. However, we much prefer the larger layout on theHP Mini-Noteand theMSI Wind NB.

The trackpad, on the other hand, is far roomier than previous efforts and is the first in the Eee line that feels like one you'd find on a full-size notebook. As with the 900, the pad is responsive to multi-touch FingerGlide gestures, which let us zoom in on photos by pinching our fingers together or zoom out by spreading them apart. We weren't, however, able to swipe through a series of pictures or move forward or backward between Web pages. The mouse buttons, similar to the Eee PC 900, now feature dedicated left and right buttons.

Super Hybrid Engine and Resolution Switching

Above the keyboard are four buttons that perform various functions: the first turns off the monitor, the second lets you change the screen resolution, the third, the Super Hybrid Engine switcher, let us cycle through power-saving modes, and the fourth is a user-definable launch key. The resolution and power-mode switchers are the most interesting.

The resolution switcher lets us move between 800 x 600, 1024 x 600 (default), 1024 x 768 (which makes the screen taller than its border), and 1024 x 768 compress, which squashes the image vertically to make everything fit.

The Super Hybrid Engine switcher lets us quickly cycle through power saving (1.2-GHz), auto-power saving (1.2-GHz, default), high performance (1.6-GHz), and super performance (1.8-GHz) settings. We didn't notice any change in performance while switching modes, but you may want to engage this feature just to save battery life.

Good Performance, Great Battery Life

The most-talked-about feature of the Eee PC 901 is its 1.6-GHz Intel Atom processor. We couldn't run our usual PC Mark05 processor performance tests on the system, but in our hands-on experience performance was snappy.

Applications such as Internet Explorer and Windows Media Player opened quickly (which may be attributable to the 1GB of RAM and 12GB solid state drive), and we saw no performance hit when we chatted with friends using Meebo while streaming music, Web surfing, and checking e-mail. The integrated graphics scored 638 in our 3DMark03 test, which trumped all other mini-notebooks except for the MSI Wind NB's 746 mark.

Atom's biggest contribution to the Eee PC 901 is in the area of endurance. It helped power the 6-cell battery to nearly 5 hours of battery life with Wi-Fi turned off, which is short of the 7.8 hours touted by Asus, but still enough juice for plenty of computing. With the Wi-Fi signal activated, we saw an impressive 4 hours and 38 minutes of battery life, which outpaces some full-size notebooks. The other Atom-powered mini-notebook, theMSI Wind, saw 5 hours and 30 minutes of battery with the Wi-Fi turned off, and just over 4 hours with Wi-Fi on.

Wireless Performance

Courtesy of the 802.11n Wi-Fi radio, we saw a strong connection while working and playing online. The Eee PC 901 pushed data along at a rate of 17.5 Mbps at 15 feet away from our access point and 8.8 Mbps at 50 feet. The latter figure is only marginally better than what the MSI Wind NB turned in (7.7 Mbps) and that system sports an 802.11b/g radio. Bluetooth is also included, which we used to transfer Word documents from the Eee PC 901 to aLenovo ThinkPad X300and vice versa.

Software and Extra Features

Our Eee PC 901 came preinstalled with Windows XP Home, but Linux lovers will be pleased to learn that a Xandros version of the Eee PC 901--complete with a 20GB solid state drive--will also be available for $599. With cloud computing becoming more and more mainstream, Asus wisely includes 20GB of online storage courtesy of the Yo Store (accessible via a desktop icon) for accessing files from wherever you can connect to the Web. It should be noted that Asus hasn't announced an online backup partner for this system's U.S. release.

Verdict

All in all, the Eee PC 901 is a good evolutionary step in the Eee line. But when you consider that the MSI Wind NB, which features a larger keyboard and a bigger 10-inch screen, costs $100 less, this mini-notebook becomes less attractive. With the promise of the 10-inch Eee PC 1000 and Eee PC 1000H just around the corner, some may want to play the waiting game.

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Laptop Mag & Tom's Hardware
CPU Intel Atom
Operating System MS Windows XP Home
RAM 1GB
RAM Upgradable to 1 GB
Hard Drive Size 12GB
Hard Drive Type SSD Drive
Display Size 8.9
Native Resolution 1024x768
Graphics Card Integrated graphics
Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g
Bluetooth Stereo Bluetooth
Ports (excluding USB) Headphone
Ports (excluding USB) Ethernet
Ports (excluding USB) VGA
Ports (excluding USB) Microphone
USB Ports 3
Card Slots 2-1 card reader
Warranty/Support One-year limited, 6 months for battery/24/7 toll-free phone
Size 8.9 x 6.7 x 1.3 inches
Weight 2.6 pounds
Company Website www.asus.com