Tuesday, January 19, 2010

ASUS Eee PC 901 Netbook Review

The day after Christmas I came across an exceptionally good deal on a brand new Asus 8.9" netbook. I wasn't really looking for a netbook at the time, but the deal was too good to pass up so I bought two of them. I planned to sell them on eBay and put the profits toward the upcoming Apple tablet. The first netbook sold right away. The 2nd was a textbook example of eBay gone bad. I ended up listing it twice and in both cases the idiots that won the auction had no intention of paying for it. I took that as a sign that I should just keep it.

Here's a breakdown of the specs of the netbook:
  • 1.6Ghz Intel Atom N270 processor
  • Windows XP Home
  • 8.9" LCD
  • Pearl White color
  • 12GB Solid State Storage (4GB SSD + 8GB PCI mini card SSD)
  • 1GB DDR2 RAM (expandable to 2GB)
  • Wireless:802.11b/g/n
  • Bluetooth
  • 1.3MP webcam
  • 3 USB 2.0, 1 VGA out, Ethernet 10/100, SD card reader
  • 6-Cell Li-ion Battery (8 hrs)
My first impressions were very good. The netbook is an attractive pearl white color and it feels very solid in your hands. The screen is surprisingly usable for being only 8.9". The keyboard on the other hand is a different story. I have large hands and it's almost unusable. I find my self hunting and pecking instead of typing. It's very frustrating when you constantly are hitting the wrong keys.

This particular model came with WinXP Home and a 12GB solid state drive. There's also a Ubuntu version that ships with a 20GB drive. This is the first PC that I've owned with a solid state drive. The boot time is impressive. It boots into XP from a powered down state in exactly 30 seconds. It also comes out of sleep mode in ~7 seconds. Web browsing seems incredibly responsive given the relatively weak 1.6Ghz Atom processor. I haven't tried much in the way of multitasking, but this type of device really isn't designed for heavy lifting. The battery life is ~4 hours with Wifi enabled. I don't currently have Bluetooth enabled, so I'm not sure how it impacts battery life.

The video performance was also surprisingly good. I tested the MPEG2 playback using my HDHomeRun ATSC/QAM tuner. After installing the HDHomeRun client on the netbook I was able to watch a football game in 720p without much trouble . I expected a horrible studdering mess, but it was actually very watchable. I haven't tried Netflix or Hulu streaming yet, but it's on my todo list. The combination of the onboard Intel video processor and the Atom CPU provided just enough horsepower to get the job done. To top it off the video was being streamed over an 802.11n wireless network. The portability and screen size make it a nice portable TV.

The biggest problem that I have with the device is the limited storage. Instead of a single 12GB drive it contains a 4GB and an 8GB drive. The OS is installed on the 4GB drive and you only have ~1.6GB of space left. I made the mistake of blindly accepting the 74 suggested windows updates. After the updates, I was left with 164MB of free space. By uninstalling IE 8 and stripping the OS down to the bare essentials I was able to free up a total of ~600MB on the smaller drive. That's not very much space, but it's enough to keep the OS from constantly complaining. If I run out of space I'll likely dump XP in favor of Linux. The PC also contains an SD card slot which is convenient for adding additional storage. Asus also includes 20GB of online storage with the device. They limit it to 5GBs of uploads per day, but in a pinch the extra space would be useful.

All in all the device performs better than I had expected. It's fast, it has a nice display and plenty of features. Unfortunately, the tiny keyboard limits its usability considerably. The 10.1" netbooks have space for a bigger keyboard, so I would go that route if you are in the market for a netbook.

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