The blogosphere has been humming with information about Intel's new GN40 netbook chipset and its hardware-based ability to decode and play 720p video. And because ASUS's upcoming Eee PC 1000HE sports the new 1.66-GHz Atom N280 CPU that Intel announced today along with the GN40 chipset, most of us assumed that the new Eee PC 1000HE would have GN40 graphics. At LAPTOP, we happen to be testing an Eee PC 1000HE right now and we found that it has a 1.66-GHz N280 CPU, but still uses the same old Intel 945GSE graphics that we've come to know and love in past netbooks. We spoke with our ASUS rep, who confirmed that the system will indeed ship with an N280 CPU and the older 945 chipset. The screen shot below shows the DirectX diagnostics display tab on the 1000HE and, as you can see, it's using a 945GSE chipset with a 950GMA chip, just like most other netbooks on the market today.
However, before we realized that we did not have the GN40 chipset, we tried playing 720p video on the 1000HE and on two other netbooks with the older 1.6-GHZ N270 processor, the MSI Wind U120 and the Eee PC 1000H. On all three systems, we found that a 720p video from Microsoft's HD showcase worked perfectly when played at full screen on a 32-inch external monitor running at 1360x768. So, if you want to use your netbook to output 720p video to a huge monitor or a large screen TV that has a VGA port, you simply don't need GN40. Perhaps the new chipset offers more tangible performance benefits in other areas, such as gaming, but we'll have to wait for a netbook to come with it to find out.
Our ASUS rep could not disclose the company's reason for going with an N280 chip in the first place, when we asked why they'd upgrade to a the chip that offers only .06-GHz more than its N270 predecsessor. Perhaps the CPU alone consumes less power or takes up less space, but we can't confirm that. We'll have a full review of the system, including battery life and performance numbers next week.