Not much has changed in Netbooks since next-gen Atom N450 processors hit the scene at the beginning of 2010, which is why the emergence of dual-core Atom Netbooks merits some interest. Single-core Netbooks have always lacked the oomph to attack tasks the way a full-size laptop can, particularly when it comes to multitasking. The dual-core Atom N550 CPU in the Asus Eee PC 1015PEM provides slight performance improvements without causing any extra strain on battery life or your wallet; this configuration costs about $40 more than an otherwise similar single-core Asus Eee PC 1015PED with an Atom N455 CPU.
The 11.6-inch Netbooks featuring AMD Athlon Neo dual-core CPUs are still faster, but this more affordable CPU configuration gives the more expensive dual-core 12-inch Asus Eee PC 1215N, with its D525 Atom, a run for its money. Still, you get what you pay for: this Netbook's lack of higher-end features--HD screen, Broadcom HD accelerators, or Nvidia Ion graphics--place it in a non-premium category.
|Price as reviewed / Starting price||$369|
|Processor||1.5 GHz Intel Atom N550 (dual core)|
|Memory||1GB, 667MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||250GB 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||Intel GMA 3150 (integrated)|
|Operating System||Windows 7 Starter|
|Dimensions (WD)||10.3 x 7.0 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||10.1 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||2.7/3.2 pounds|
Like many of Asus' recent Eee PC Netbooks, the 1015PEM has a sleek, teardrop-shaped side profile, thicker at the back and tapering down to a sharp point at the nose. It's largely the same tapered/curved design we've seen on most Asus Eee PCs over the last year or so, particularly the 1005PEB, and it's getting hard to muster excitement over yet another incrementally similar design. Smooth matte surfaces on the back lid and keyboard deck guard against fingerprints but still show some ambient gloss. This Eee PC line comes in red, blue, white and black; our red model had an attractive coppery brownish glow. The back lid is rather thick and the whole unit feels solid, even a bit dense, but the compact form felt easy to tuck away. Having no protruding batteries or edges other than a slight bump on the rear bottom is a plus.
The edge-to-edge raised chiclet-style keyboard features responsive keys and no flex, but the smaller-than-full-size keyboard felt cramped after a while. In particular, the tiny wrist rests underneath feel too small for easy lap typing. A wide multitouch trackpad is composed of the same comfortable matte-smooth lid and palmrest material, and is delineated by thin silver strips on the left and right, a slight change from previous Eee PC models. The trackpad felt wider and nicer than on previous models, though our thumbs tended to land on the pad when typing. A thin plastic button-bar beneath is a bit small, but has a solid click.
Above the keyboard, a small plastic power button sits to the right and a quick-start button lies side-by-side with a Wi-Fi on/off button on the left. Asus' Express Gate Cloud quick-start OS is a pared-down environment with its own browser, photo app, and a few other features. Despite its faster boot time, we doubt many people will be satisfied with its performance and limited options; most will opt to simply boot up Windows and keep the Eee PC in sleep mode between sessions.
The 10.1-inch LED matte screen on the 1015PEM has a maximum pixel resolution of 1,152x864, which is highly nonstandard and produces a squished look. The resolution can be knocked down to 1,024x600--common for Netbooks. We've noticed 1,366x768 10-inch Netbook displays becoming increasingly common, but there's no such luck here. Pictures and videos looked crisp and viewing angles were reasonable for the size and hinge limitations of the Asus' lid, but Web pages feel cramped at this limited resolution.
Stereo speakers, located on the bottom front edge of the Eee PC 1015PEM, offered louder-than-average audio that actually sounded quite good for video viewing. They're not musically extravagant, but they're definitely good enough for most needs.
Asus chose to add a physical lens cover slider to its VGA Webcam, ostensibly to protect people against being unknowingly recorded. It seems a little silly and is more likely to cause panic by making some people think their Webcam is broken when it's really just covered. Regardless, the picture quality is suitable for basic video chat, but its contrast levels created dark silhouettes. Included on the system is CyberLink's YouCam software, which can be launched from a pull-down software widget on the desktop and links to various Asus cloud-storage services and shortcuts.
|Asus Eee PC 1015PEM||Average for category [Netbook]|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||3 USB 2.0, SD card reader||3 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth|
Netbooks rarely surprise when it comes to ports and features, and this Asus Eee PC doesn't break the mold. Three USB 2.0 ports and an SD card slot pretty much round out the offerings; there's only a VGA out for connecting to an external display. This Eee PC does have Bluetooth and is, in fact, Bluetooth 3.0-compliant.
The real question here is, "How does that dual-core Atom perform compared with a regular, old single-core?" The speed of the included Atom N550 CPU is very similar to its single-core brethren, so there's no appreciable bump in any single tasks, such as streaming video or converting MP3s. This isn't a panacea enabling silky-smooth video on a Netbook. Hulu and Netflix viewed full screen exhibited the same choppy-yet-somewhat-watchable video we experienced on the 1015P. Most everyday tasks will feel exactly the same as they do on any other Netbook. The difference comes in multitasking: if you like to download and Web browse and stream audio and do other things all at once, the 1015PEM will feel less chuggy.
We did notice improvements on our multitasking benchmark test, but the results are still nowhere near what faster laptops can do. Dual-core CPUs such as those found on the more expensive 11.6-inch AMD Athlon Neo systems produced faster overall results, but the N550 kept up with the dual-core Atom D525 CPU found on the pricier Asus 1215N. The N550 is an incremental fix at an incremental upgrade in cost. Is it worth it? We'd say yes, as long as you keep your expectations in check.