Speed test: Netbook versus Apple iPad

To see which machine was actually faster, we decided to pit a Netbook (in this case an Asus Eee PC 1001P) against an iPad in head-to-head competition.

Dan Ackerman Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming
Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times
Expertise I've been testing and reviewing computer and gaming hardware for over 20 years, covering every console launch since the Dreamcast and every MacBook...ever. Credentials
  • Author of the award-winning, NY Times-reviewed nonfiction book The Tetris Effect; Longtime consumer technology expert for CBS Mornings
Dan Ackerman
3 min read
Watch this: Speed test: Netbook versus Apple iPad

Apple's new iPad has legions of eager fans who attribute chameleonlike qualities to it, promoting the tablet as an ideal media player, e-book reader, gaming console, and even a Netbook replacementfor basic computing chores.

Most often cited is the iPad's speed, and it indeed feels very quick and responsive, and generally comes off as a powerful tool compared with a standard Netbook, which can feel sluggish even when performing the most basic tasks.

Yet under the hood, it's obvious that a typical $299 Netbook has much more powerful hardware. It's Atom N450 CPU runs at 1.66GHz, it has 1GB of RAM (nearly four times as much as an iPad), and even Windows 7 Starter Edition is a much more capable operating system than the iPhone OS.

But specs on paper are one thing, real-world performance is something entirely different. To see which machine was actually faster, we decided to pit a Netbook (in this case an Asus Eee PC 1001P) against an iPad in head-to-head competition.

Some may call this an apples to oranges comparison, others would say it's more like oranges to tangerines. In either case, our standard Windows 7/OSX/Linux benchmarks won't run on the iPad (as it's a walled garden of App Store software), so we will instead rely on a series of hand-timed anecdotal tests. Keep in mind these are significantly less scientific than the typical benchmarking we do on laptop and desktop PCs, and the results are meant only to provide a general overview.

With those admonitions in mind, we ran a boot-up time test, a Web page rendering test, and a browser-based JavaScript test on both devices. The tests were repeated several times to ensure consistency, and the boot-up and Web page rendering tests were hand-timed with a stopwatch.

You can see a time-condensed version of the testing in the video above.

Boot-up time
Netbook: 50.5 secondsiPad: 23.1 seconds

Web page rendering
Netbook: 5.4 secondsiPad: 5.4 seconds

SunSpider JavaScript benchmark
Netbook: 2,272msiPad: 12,591ms

As expected, the iPad's boot-up time was much faster than the Netbook's. After all, the iPad is booting up a slim OS, specifically designed for low-power systems. The Netbook, on the other hand, is running effectively the same Windows 7 (although in this case it's the slightly stripped-down Starter Edition) as full-size multicore laptops do.

When it comes to fully rendering a Web page (our CNET home page, in this case) the two systems were exactly tied. But it's difficult to read too much into a Web-page-loading test, as many other factors can influence it (we used the Safari Web browser on our Netbook, and cleared the cache on both devices between tests).

It's only when we got to our JavaScript test that the Netbook showed its real advantage. When it comes to performing tasks not specifically designed for its hardware and operating system, the iPad is no match for even a $299 entry-level Netbook.

As we mentioned before, these were extremely anecdotal tests, and should not be considered on par with the typical highly controlled benchmarking we do for laptops and desktops. The results are only intended to give you a broad overview of how a Netbook and the iPad compare in head-to-head competition.

Recommended further reading:
>10 things Netbooks can learn from the iPad
>The Apple iPad as e-book reader

>Gaming on the Apple iPad
>Is the Apple iPad a Netbook killer?
>iPad hype dissected on the Digital City video podcast

A closer look at the Apple iPad's features (photos)

See all photos