Asus Eee PC 901 Review

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The Asus Eee PC 901 is the new update to the Eee PC… the affordable mini notebook that shook up the laptop market in 2007. This $600 mobile companion features the new Intel Atom processor, but is it the best choice for your next travel laptop? 

I took an in-depth look at the Eee PC 901 to find out if it has enough performance and features to take the top spot in the popular budget ultraportable category.


Asus Eee PC 901Inside this Review

Build and Design

The design of the original Eee PC was something truly unique in the market. Weighing in at just two pounds and delivering a performance level similar to a full-featured budget notebook, the only model that came close to “directly” competing with the Eee PC in 2007 was the Fujitsu LifeBook U810 tablet PC, which retailed for more than $1,000 last year.

After the success of the original Eee PC, other manufacturers have started to flood the market with low-cost mini notebooks. The Eee PC isn’t the only kid on the block anymore, which is why Asus is trying to raise the bar with the Eee PC 901.

Like the original, the designers at Asus had no easy task creating an attractive ultraportable notebook while also making it cheap to produce. Customers also indicated that they wanted a larger screen and a larger touchpad, so both of these features had to be incorporated into a very small footprint.

Overall, the Eee PC 900 is almost identical to the original Eee PC. The only obvious differences are the larger screen and the slightly deeper dimension (front to back) in order to accommodate the larger touchpad.

Asus Eee PC 901Lifting the display cover you find the same amazingly small keyboard surface found on the original version. In short, the build quality is quite high, despite the low cost.

On the left side of this device you’ll find the 10/100 Ethernet port, USB 2.0 port, air vent, microphone in, and headphone jack.  On the right side is the D card reader, two USB 2.0 ports, VGA out, and power jack.

The chassis seams match up with reasonably tight tolerances, plastics feel thick (though the pearl-like white plastics look cheap) and the display hinges are molded into body with the battery.

Screen

The Eee PC 901 (like the Eee PC 900) features a nice 8.9-inch display with 1024-by-600-pixel resolution. While this might not be the most impressive resolution you’ve seen, it’s much nicer than the native 800-by-480 resolution on the original Eee PC 4G.

Still, many owners of the original Eee PC 4G use modified display drivers to scale 1000-by-600 or higher resolutions, so this higher resolution screen isn’t as impressive as it could be.

In any case, the screen on omy review unit was free from any problems such as stuck pixels and color and backlighting were both excellent.

Keyboard and Touchpad

Most low-priced notebooks currently on the market feature poorly built keyboards that show significant flex/bounce when typing pressure is applied. Much to my surprise, the keyboard on the Eee PC 901 (like the original Eee PC) is remarkably firm, though the keys are small and have a large degree of “wiggle” when pressed.

The keyboard on this device is very, very compact. Your first few days spent typing on this keyboard probably will be quite frustrating, as the small footprint and tiny keys require you to use a “hunt and peck” style of typing rather than traditional touch-typing methods. This means that passwords get mangled, emails look like gibberish, and playing games that require keyboard commands becomes quite aggravating.

Of course, once I got used to typing on the tiny keyboard the keys felt just fine… but this keyboard isn’t designed to be used as a primary/main computer. For users who would buy this notebook as their “main computer” in their home or office, a full-size keyboard and external mouse are recommended.

Asus Eee PC 901The touchpad and with dual buttons are easy to use and responsive. The Eee PC 901 actually has a slightly larger touchpad button than the previous Eee PC 900 which makes it much more comfortable to use than the original Eee PC.

Asus also included several hotkeys for quick access to functions such as built-in screen off, screen resolution, power mode (power saving, auto high performance, high performance, and super performance), and Skype.

Wireless

Unlike previous Eee PCs that used an Atheros AR5BXB63 wireless module for 802.11b/g wireless Internet access, the Eee PC 901 uses a 802.11b/g/n from Ralink.

Reception is quite good for a budget notebook. The Eee PC 901 maintained a connection to my home router from anywhere inside my three-level home, and from anywhere in my front or back yard. At the office, it managed to stay connected to the office router even after I left the building and walked across the parking lot.

Speakers

Asus received some criticism over the speakers on the original Eee PC because of their massive size located on both sides of the screen. I’m happy to report that the bezel around the screen on the Eee PC 901 is much thinner than the one on the original Eee PC, and the speakers have been relocated to the bottom of the notebook.

Speaker output quality is good, but because of the location of the speakers the sound is quite muffled when you’re using this device as a “laptop.”

Operating System and Software

Unlike the original Eee PC, this configuration of the Eee PC 901 doesn’t come with Linux; instead, it comes pre-installed with Windows XP.

While XP might not be the most modern operating system on the market, it is still one of the most robust and stable versions of the Windows OS. Most importantly, Windows XP doesn’t have massive system requirements, so it still runs fast on a relatively under-powered notebook like the Eee PC 901.

Performance

Overall, the Eee PC 901 is a snappy little budget notebook. The new Intel Atom 1.60 GHz ultra-low-voltage processor doesn’t have the performance of a modern Core 2 Duo processor, but provides a nice browsing experience. The flash-based storage drives help with performance since they provide virtually instant data access times.

One odd issue that I encountered with my review unit was that the Eee PC 901 produced a remarkably low PCMark05 synthetic benchmark. PCMark05 generally provides an accurate indication of overall system performance, but the Eee PC 901 produced a score much lower than its “real world” performance. It’s also worth mentioning that the last Atom-based notebook we reviewed in our office (the MSI Wind) was unable to run PCMark05 at all. 

Synthetic benchmark issues aside, the Eee PC 901 provides plenty of performance for travel and short-term use, but this mini notebook isn’t designed to be a primary computing workhorse.

PCMark05 measures overall system performance (higher scores mean better performance):

Notebook PCMark05 Score
Asus Eee PC 901 (1.60GHz Intel Atom)  746 PCMarks
MSI Wind (1.60GHz Intel Atom) N/A
Asus Eee PC 900 (900MHz Intel Celeron M ULV) 1,172 PCMarks
HP 2133 Mini-Note (1.6GHz VIA C7-M ULV) 801 PCMarks
HTC Shift (800MHz Intel A110) 891 PCMarks
Asus Eee PC 4G (630MHz Intel Celeron M ULV) 908 PCMarks
Asus Eee PC 4G (900MHz Intel Celeron M ULV) 1,132 PCMarks
Everex CloudBook (1.2GHz VIA C7-M ULV) 612 PCMarks
Sony VAIO TZ (1.20GHz Intel Core 2 Duo U7600) 2,446 PCMarks
Fujitsu LifeBook P7230 (1.2GHz Intel Core Solo U1400) 1,152 PCMarks
Sony VAIO VGN-G11XN/B (1.33GHz Core Solo U1500) 1,554 PCMarks
Toshiba Portege R500 (1.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo U7600) 1,839 PCMarks

 
wPrime processor comparison results (lower scores mean better performance):

Notebook / CPU wPrime 32M time
Asus Eee PC 901 (Intel Atom @ 1.60GHz) 123.437 seconds
MSI Wind (Intel Atom @ 1.60GHz) 124.656 seconds  
Asus Eee PC 900 (Intel Celeron M ULV @ 900MHz) 203.734 seconds
HP 2133 Mini-Note (Via CV7-M ULV @ 1.6GHz) 168.697 seconds
Asus Eee PC 4G (Intel Celeron M ULV @ 630MHz) 289.156 seconds
Asus Eee PC 4G (Intel Celeron M ULV @ 900MHz) 200.968 seconds
Everex CloudBook (VIA C7-M ULV @ 1.2GHz) 248.705 seconds
Fujitsu U810 Tablet PC (Intel A110 @ 800MHz) 209.980 seconds
Sony VAIO VGN-G11XN/B (Core Solo U1500 @ 1.33GHz) 124.581 seconds
Sony VAIO TZ (Core 2 Duo U7600 @ 1.2GHz) 76.240 seconds
Dell Inspiron 2650 (Pentium 4 Mobile @ 1.6GHz) 231.714 seconds

HD Tune Results

Heat and Noise

Even with the low voltage processor and SSD drives, the Asus Eee PC 901 produced quite a bit of heat. While the temperatures didn’t get as hot as some mini notebooks I’ve reviewed, the 901 did produce higher temperatures than the MSI Wind.

The bottom of the notebook got quite hot even under normal use… as high as 110 degrees. The temperature in the middle of  the keyboard was 98 degrees.

Fan noise was among the quietest I’ve heard. The only way to tell the fan is blowing is to put your hand next to the air vent to feel the warm air blow past.

Battery Life

Under normal use, in “Super Performance” mode, backlight at 100% and using wireless for web browsing and typing a text document, the Eee PC 901 managed to deliver more than 4 hours of battery life (4 hours and 13 minutes) with the standard battery. Needless to say, this was rather impressive. The original Eee PC 4G was only able to deliver a bit more than 3 hours of battery life with a smaller screen and weaker processor.

Fortunately, unlike the Eee PC 4G and Eee PC 900, the battery meter was accurate and always indicated when the power adapter was unplugged and gave correct estimates on battery life.

Expansion

If you open the bottom panel on the Eee PC 901 (see here) you’ll find a standard DDR2 RAM slot and a PCI-E mini card slot. The PCI-E mini card slot in the Eee PC 901 uses the same 8 GB SSD module found in the Eee PC 8G.

Again, in order to reach the 12 GB storage capacity on this notebook Asus essentially just combined the Eee PC 4G and 8G: the motherboard has 4 GB of flash storage soldered to it and the PCI-E mini card slot has a 8 GB flash storage module.

Specifications

  • Windows XP Home Edition operating system
  • Intel Atom 1.60 GHz processor
  • Integrated Intel GMA 900 GPU
  • 12 GB of Flash-based storage (4 GB onboard SSD and 8 GB PCI-E mini card SSD)
  • 1 GB of DDR2 RAM (667 MHz)
  • 8.9-inch screen with 1024 x 600 pixel resolution
  • Ports: 3 USB 2.0, 1 VGA monitor out, headphone jack, microphone input, SD card reader (SDHC compatible), Kensington lock slot, Ethernet 10/100
  • Webcam (1.3 MP)
  • Battery: 6-cell 6600 mAh 7.4V Li-Ion
  • Wireless: 802.11b/g/n
  • Input: Keyboard and Multi-touch touchpad
  • Dimensions: 6.87″ x 8.87″ x 1.63″ (L x W x H)
  • Weight: approximately 2.42 lbs with battery
  • One-year warranty

 

Conclusion

Last year our editorial staff was absolutely amazed by the original Eee PC. This subnotebook finally delivered something that many consumers have wanted since laptops first arrived on the market: an extremely portable model with reasonable performance for travel at an extremely low cost.

The new Eee PC 901 is an impressive update to the Eee PC line, but I have trouble getting excited about this mini notebook

The problem is that the budget mini notebook market has exploded in recent months, with many capable alternatives on the market. Worse still is the fact that Asus itself has already trumped the 901 with the new Eee PC 1000 series notebooks.

This is still an impressive mini notebook or “netbook” for your travel needs, but I hesitate to recommend this particular model over the newer Eee PC 1000H which features a larger keyboard, larger screen, and a larger capacity traditional hard drive.

If you want a smaller Atom-based notebook, the Eee PC 901 still might be a better choice than the Eee PC 1000H, but I suspect most consumers would rather have the slightly larger screen and keyboard found on the latest Eee PC notebooks.

In short, if you’re in the market for a low-cost travel notebook, the original Eee PC 901 is still a great notebook … but you may find even better options from ASUS if you shop around.

Pros

  • Small and light
  • Reasonably well built and durable
  • Flash-based storage
  • Intel Atom processor surprisingly capable
  • Surprisingly acceptable battery life

Cons

  • Impressive, but Asus already has several superior Eee PC models on the market
  • 12 GB of storage isn’t a single drive (one 4 GB drive and one 8 GB drive)
  • White plastics feel nice but “look” cheap
  • Keyboard too small and cramped
  • Temperatures are a little too hot

 


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