When considering a touchscreen computer with a $600 street price, you’d naturally expect compromises. But with the Eeee Top ET1602, Asus made only one that’s left us scratching our heads: Why’d the manufacturer leave out the DVD drive? It’s one thing to not have a disc burner, but the absence of even a read-only drive makes it annoyingly difficult to install new software (unless you buy downloadable versions on the Internet) or watch movies (unless you stream them from an online service like Netflix or rip them from disc and stream them from a server). Hence our mixed feelings about the unit, which you can read onward to find out more about.
The Mighty Atom
Leaving the DVD drive issue aside though, the ET1602 is a very capable, lightweight computer well suited for most productivity tasks. It features an integrated 15.6-inch widescreen display with native resolution of 1366×768 pixels, built-in wireless networking (802.11n, no less), a gigabit Ethernet interface, a good-quality audio chip (although the built-in speakers are absolutely dreadful), and a gigabyte of DDR2 memory. The entire system weighs just 9.47 pounds—not including the keyboard, mouse, and external power supply—and can be picked up by a handle behind its display.
The computer is based on Intel’s Atom N270 processor, a low-power, single-core, 32-bit CPU ostensibly designed for notebooks. Graphics are provided by another notebook part, Intel’s Mobile 945GSE Express chipset (so don’t buy this machine with the expectation that it will run anything beyond the most rudimentary games).
You also shouldn’t expect to do much in the way of multitasking: Decoding music encoded with the FLAC lossless compression algorithm, for example, ate up 25% of the CPU’s cycles. The same task running on the AMD 64 FX-60 in our outdated desktop replacement notebook PC required only 10% of that CPU’s available horsepower. Watching an MPEG-4 video at its native resolution of 640×480 was even harder on the Atom, consuming almost 70% of the CPU’s cycles. Open more than a couple of windows and you’ll find that the small screen gets crowded fast.
The Atom N270 isn’t powerful enough to run Vista (no great loss, really), so Asus installed Windows XP Home Edition on the small, 160GB hard drive. The company’s also come up with a second graphical user interface, called Easy Mode, which sits on top of Windows XP. Easy Mode features oversized icons and buttons that are much more appropriate for fingertip control using the touchscreen (Asus also provides a plastic stylus if you require more precision). Easy Mode is similar to, but considerably less sophisticated than the secondary user interface HP provides with its TouchSmart computers. The single-touch screen is responsive and easy to use, but you can’t use two fingers to manipulate on-screen objects, like you can with the multi-touch model that HP employs.
The use of mobile components significantly reduces the machine’s power consumption. In our tests, the ET1602 drew just 30 watts while idle and only 35 watts while decoding an MPEG-4 video file. Compare that with the typical desktop machine that consumes 180 to 200 watts of power while doing nothing. And if you don’t anticipate using the computer for a while, but don’t want to shut it completely down, Asus has the best possible screensaver: A button on the front of the chassis turns the display off and immediately reduces its total power consumption to 20 watts.
The machine has plenty of USB ports for adding external drives and other peripherals—including a DVD drive, we suppose (there are four in the back, two on the side, and one in the keyboard). But we’d award the Eee Top ET1602 a much higher score if it had an internal DVD drive, even if it came at the expense of the integrated media card reader or if it drove the price up by $20 or $30. If you need a second PC for modest applications such as word processing, web browsing, or even light-duty photo editing, however, this is a capable alternative to a full-size desktop machine.
- Compact size
- Integrated touchscreen
- Can be wall mounted
- Very low power consumption
- No integrated DVD drive
- Terrible speakers