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Review: Asus Eee PC 901

Asus began blazing a trail into the netbook space with its first Eee PCs. The Test Center examines its newly refreshed line.

Looking like miniature laptops, they were designed to be an affordable alternative for those who only needed to surf the Internet, check email, and write or read an occasional document. One of the most popular of these was Asus' Eee PC (pronounced E-P-C). The second generation of this series is now making its way to market and the Test Center took a look at the Windows XP version of the 901 model.

At 8.9 inches by 6.7 by 1.3 inches, the 901 is literally smaller than most real books. This is due, in part, to being a system built with the tiny Intel Atom CPU. The 8.9 inch LCD display is very bright with nice, vivid colors at a 1024 x 600 native resolution. In addition to the small size, its weight of 2.5 pounds (with the battery) makes it light enough to carry around all day.

Our evaluation unit was Ebony Black, which gave the unit a look of class but attracted fingerprints immediately. Luckily, Asus includes a micro fiber cleaning cloth for the case and display screen. Up to five additional colors are expected to be available.

With 1GB of memory installed, the Eee PC scored an 869 on Primate Labs' GeekBench2 benchmarking utility. While this doesn't compete with the desktops and high-end notebooks that have come through our lab, it is a respectable score for its specifications and is very similar to other devices using the Atom processor.

The Windows version of the 901 (There is a Linux version too.) comes with 12GB of solid state storage. Unfortunately (and surprisingly), this is divided among two separate SSDs. The operating system, and most of the applications, are loaded onto a 4GB SSD. In addition, there is a second 8GB SSD where some other applications are installed.

Among the many advantages of using SSDs is speed. Amazingly, Windows XP loaded completely in just 30 seconds from the time the power button was pressed. Additionally, the combination of the Atom CPU and SSDs are credited for a low power draw, which directly correlates to a cooler running device. Even after being on and in use for over two hours, the bottom of the 910 was barely warm to touch. Temperature readings were only 99 degrees Fahrenheit at the warmest spot.

Additionally, noise levels were so low enough to be considered silent. Even when placing an ear right next to the fan's vent, the only sound we were able to hear was that of rushing air.

Probably one of the most important advantages of the low power usage of the Atom and SSD mix is battery life. With all power saving settings turned off, we played a .wmv file in Windows Media Player set to repeat. From a full charge and with both the Bluetooth and 802.11n Wi-Fi radios turned on, the 901 lasted an incredible 4 hours, 45 minutes before dying. Recharging the battery to 100% took just over 3 hours while on. During normal usage, we suspect it should be able to last almost a whole day on one charge.

As many would expect, the keyboard on the Eee PC is quite small. Everyone, except for those with the smallest of fingers, will probably need to adjust their typing to the "two-finger" style.

Aside from the short learning curve to use the keyboard, the rest of the 901 is pretty much standard fare. Below the keyboard there is a full size touchpad that is responsive, while above there are four "Instant Keys," two of which are user definable (the other two are to turn the display's backlight off and to adjust the resolution).

Rounding out the device's features are a 1.3 megapixel webcam above the screen, two internal microphones below, and a pair of speakers on the front edge. Lacking an optical drive, the only methods of getting data to or from the Eee PC (other than network or an external drive) is via one of the three USB 2.0 ports or the integrated SD card reader.

The Eee PC 901's MSRP of $599 is more than double that of the original. Granted, the series has grown in both size and specifications, but the price seems a little steep for a computer with limited uses. On the other hand, it is still within reach for individuals who have a use for such a device (as well as those who want one strictly for the "cool" factor), and is comparable to similar models from its competitors.

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