Asus first released the low-cost, low-power Eee PC in the fall of 2007, winning rave reviews for the 7-inch $399 laptop, which cut overhead by using a tiny 4GB solid-state hard drive and a custom Linux operating system with preinstalled software such as Firefox and Open Office. While it became a cult hit (Asus says it will have sold 5 million units worldwide by the end of 2008), the lack of a Windows-based operating system kept some shoppers away.
The company promised a Windows version was in the works, but in the meantime, other PC makers saw the potential for inexpensive small laptops, and we've seen Hewlett-Packard's 2133 Mini-Note and an revamped version of Intel's Classmate PC run Windows with similar hardware, creating a new category people are calling mininotebooks or Netbooks.
While Windows lends the Eee PC broader appeal, a larger 9-inch screen (expected later this year) would give it a boost in functionality because the larger screen would mean less horizontal scrolling, and a larger keyboard would mean fewer typos. Instead, this new Eee PC adds Windows XP to an otherwise identical system and manages to keep the same $399 price (probably because the actual hardware inside is the same as we saw six months ago in the original). Hence, we stand by our original judgment that the Eee PC is certainly worth a look as a second laptop for travelers, or perhaps a first laptop for children--one you won't be afraid to leave in accident-prone hands. It shows up bloated UMPCs, which can cost up to five times as much.
|Price as reviewed||$399|
|Processor||900MHz Intel Mobile CPU|
|Hard drive||4GB SSD|
|Operating System||Windows XP Home|
|Dimensions (WDH)||8.8 x 6.5 x 0.9 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||7.0 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter [pounds]||2.0 / 2.4 pounds|
At first it's easy to mistake the Eee PC's plastic chassis for a toy, and the recent HP 2133 Mini-Note is a similar system with an upscale brushed aluminum look. But the Mini-Note, while starting at only $599, is also a step up in price from the Eee PC, which was designed to put price first and looks second. The Eee PC is still the smallest of the mininotebooks, about the size of a trade paperback book, and it can even fit in a large jacket pocket without too much trouble. At 2 pounds, it's almost a pound lighter than the 2.9-pound HP Mini-Note.
Cramming all the things one expects from a laptop into a package this small presents some difficult design issues, and the Asus Eee PC has some of the tiniest keys we've ever had to deal with (UMPCs not included, which tend more toward smartphone thumb-style keyboards). At least most of the space is saved for making sure the actual letter keys are a usable size, which makes typing at least possible, if not entirely easy. We're not sure we'd ever be able to touch-type on it, but then again a fifth-grader might. Other keys, including the backspace, tab, and control keys, are smaller--mere slivers of their usual selves, and especially hard to hit. This is one area where HP's 2133 Mini-Note succeeds, with a nearly full-size keyboard impressively engineered into an only slightly larger space.
The 7-inch screen looks even smaller than it is, thanks to the large black screen bezel that frames it. At least the extra space around the screen serves a purpose--a Webcam sits above the screen and tiny speakers reside on the left and right side of the display, emitting tinny but passable sound for the occasional YouTube video but not much else. With a resolution of 800x480, there's not a lot of screen real estate to spare. The Windows XP desktop fits well into the small resolution, but some menus and control panels don't fit on the screen perfectly (you'll want to switch to the "small icons" view in the XP Start Menu, for example).
|Asus Eee PC 4G||Average for category [ultraportable]|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||3 USB 2.0, SD card reader||2 USB 2.0, mini-FireWire, SD or multiformat memory card reader|
|Expansion||None||Type I/II PC Card or ExpressCard|
|Networking||Modem, Ethernet, 802.11 a/b/g Wi-Fi||modem, Ethernet, 802.11 a/b/g Wi-Fi, optional Bluetooth, optional WWAN|
|Optical drive||None||None, or DVD burner|
With three USB ports, a VGA out, and standard headphone and mic jacks, the Asus Eee offers decent connectivity. The SD card slot offers a good opportunity to boost the hard-drive space, letting you pop in your own flash memory, easily doubling the system's 4GB drive (less than half of which is actually free), with your own 4GB SD card, which you can get for less than $50.
Our standard laptop benchmark tests wouldn't run on the original Linux-based Eee PC, but the new Windows versions gives us a chance to put the hardware through its paces. It has the same Intel Celeron M processor as the Classmate PC, and both easily beat HP's VIA-powered 2133 Mini-Note. Both Intel (with Atom) and VIA (with Isaiah) have new low-power chips coming out soon for Netbook-style laptops, and though it will be several months before we see those in action, we're nevertheless disappointed to be stuck with essentially outdated hardware. Still, for basic Web surfing and working on Office docs, the Eee PC's underpowered processor suffices (as does the even slower processor in the HP Mini-Note). As long as you keep your expectations modest, and think of systems like this as Internet and word-processing tools, a Netbook can be the perfect travel companion.