Asus has launched a bigger (and better) version of its popular Eee PC. Dubbed the Eee PC 901, this new version includes a lot of welcome improvements from the previous model, including more screen real estate, storage, and processing power. Asus also now offers the 901 with either Linux or Windows XP, and both versions cost the same too. We received a Linux version for testing and like it much better than the original unit, though the keyboard is still a bit too cramped for our tastes. We’d also prefer the XP version, as Linux is relatively easy to use but it’s still disorienting for long-time Windows users like ourselves.
Features and Design
If you thought the original Asus Eee PC was cute, but were waiting for something with a bit more of everything, the 901 will be right up your alley. Though it’s been improved in many ways, it’s still a very small notebook, and is still primarily designed for web surfing and light productivity.
New Intel CPU
At the heart of the new Eee PC is Intel’s new Atom processor, which is clocked at 1.6GHz and designed for ultra-mobile PCs and handheld computing devices. It is a radical departure from the previous notebook, which was powered by a more conventional low-voltage Celeron processor, and should provide a decent boost on the number crunching side of things. The 901 also has 1GB of DDR2 memory (the previous model had 512MB) in its single DIMM slot, and it can be upgraded to 2GB of memory, but you really won’t need that much with either XP or Linux.
Though the original Asus Eee PC was offered in both 4GB and 8GB varieties, that’s still not a lot of storage these days, and so Asus has upped the internal solid state hard drive’s capacity to 20GB. Asus has partitioned the drive into two partitions, a 4GB partition for the operating system and a 16GB partition for the “my documents” portion of the operating system. When it comes to optical storage, the 901 does not have an optical drive due to its small dimensions, just like its predecessor.
Despite all the changes under the hood, the change users will notice most is the larger display, which has been increased in size from 7 inches to 8.9 inches. Asus has done this by moving the speakers from the edge of the display on both sides to underneath the notebook. Whether or not 8.9 inches is a big enough screen for you depends on your personal tastes, but it’s safe to say it’s a major improvement over the 7 inch screen, which was just too small in our opinion.
The OS situation
Unlike the previous Eee PC, you can now order the 901 with either Linux or Windows XP Home. Both configurations cost the same price, but there’s a difference between them. If you go the Linux route, you get the 20GB solid-state drive. If you opt for XP, you’re limited to a 12GB drive. Of course, just like before Asus provides XP drivers on a CD even if you order the Linux version, so you can always install XP over Linux if you choose to do so.
Ports, Connectors and Extras
Just because the Eee PC is so small and affordable, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a barebones notebook stripped of amenities and expansion options. Quite the opposite is true, as it features three USB ports, an Ethernet port, VGA-out, an SD/MMC card reader, headphone and mic jacks and a Kensington lock slot. It even features an 80211.n wireless card, and has a 1.3MP integrated webcam. And just like the previous model, it comes with a soft fabric carrying case to keep its glossy exterior free from scratches while in transit.
Despite being “upgraded, “the new Eee is still extremely small and light, weighing just 2.1lbs.
Use and Testing
On first blush, the new Eee looks and feels exactly like the previous model. We don’t have the old one around to compare, but our guess would be it’s exactly the same size, weight (2.1lbs) and dimensions, as the chassis appears to be unchanged. Once we opened up the display however, we certainly noticed its increase in size and think it’s a very welcome upgrade. Sadly, the keyboard looked exactly the same size, which was our biggest gripe with the previous model. When we went to plug in the battery it seemed much larger than the previous unit too, as that battery rested flush with the bottom of the case but this one juts downward a few millimeters and seems big in general for such a small notebook.
We pressed the power button and only had to wait 34 seconds to arrive at the desktop, which is similar to what we experienced previously. Linux may have its flaws but it’s certainly slim and trim, and able to boot much faster than Windows XP or Vista, that’s for sure.
The “desktop” isn’t really a desktop, as you can’t put files or folders on it, but rather it’s an interface with five tabs: Internet, work, play, learn, settings and favorites. Each tab contains programs related to the task group, so for example wireless networks are under the Internet tab and office-type applications are in the Work tab and so on. Overall it’s a simple interface to navigate but it does take some getting used to. For example if you plug in a USB device you have to open a file manager to access it, which is like Windows Explorer. It’s also a bit jarring to not have any links or folders on the “desktop,” but this is simply a constraint imposed by the size of the notebook and the Xandros distribution Asus uses here. We’d much rather prefer Windows XP, and thankfully Asus now provides that as an option before you buy.
The Xandros Linux distro is easy to navigate, but there’s still a learning curve for Windows users.
As we mentioned before, the Eee 901 uses Intel’s new super-small Atom processor, clocked at 1.6GHz. This processor combines with the Eee PC’s solid-state hard drive to make a surprisingly responsive notebook. Programs open almost instantly, and there’s no lag at all when navigating between the various tabs in the interface. Since it’s running Linux we don’t have any specific benchmark numbers to report, but we have zero complaints with the speed of the system.
Instead, our primary complaint is with the keyboard, which is the same size as the previous model and is very small. Due to its size, it’s not particularly easy to touch-type with it. We found ourselves resorting to the tried and true hunt-and-peck method for maximum effectiveness throughout testing.
The pre-loaded software is great though, and is a far cry from the typical bloatware we see with most Windows-based PCs we review. All the applications and utilities are generally useful, and range from Mozilla Firefox and Thunderbird for web browsing and email, to StarOffice 8 for productivity, to Skype and Pidgin for instant messaging.
According to the Asus website, the battery in the Eee 901 is a six-cell unit rated at just 4.5 hours. We tested it putting it in power saving mode (a little button above the keyboard toggles three pre-defined performance states) and then playing an MP3 file non-stop until the battery died. All in all, we had to listen to that darn MP3 for 4 hours and 45 minutes, which is almost double what we experienced the last time around, and is excellent battery life indeed.
All-in-all we like the improvements Asus has made to the Eee. It shows they are listening to their customers and making a valiant attempt to stay ahead of the curve in what is rapidly becoming a very competitive market. In fact, we’ll go ahead and say this is what the Eee should have been in the first place, as this version is much more useable and has better features than the original. Even better, Asus hasn’t raised the price despite all of the improvements it’s made, as the 901 still costs just $549, which is a decent value. We wished the keyboard was a bit larger, but for basic web use and email the Eee 901 is hard to beat when it comes to portability and bang for the buck.
• Extremely portable
• Great battery life
• Decent screen size
• Comes with either Linux or Windows XP
• Keyboard is still too small
• Linux still a bit unwieldy
• Drive partitioning could cause issues for Windows users