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A second look at the updated Archos 9 tablet

Archos sent us an updated version of its 9 PC tablet, this time with a Intel Atom Z515 CPU. See how the new version fared in our benchmark tests.

Trapped in the temporal vortex between the iPad's announcement and its actual release, the Archos 9 PC tablet --a Windows 7 touch-screen slate PC--has the unenviable job of competing with the ridiculously high expectations set by Apple's device.

Despite its slim, sturdy metallic design, full-featured operating system, and even a USB port, the first version of the Archos 9 we looked at fell well short, even when grading on a curve, of iPad/tablet fever.

At the time, we said: "The final result fully satisfies neither as a Windows PC nor as a handheld multimedia device," and chalked a good deal of that up to the choice of a 1.1GHz Intel Atom Z510 as the CPU--which was just too slow to perform even basic tasks in any kind of acceptable fashion.

Archos has sent us an updated version of the 9 PC tablet, this time with an Intel Atom Z515 CPU. Our initial thought was that this version would be similarly disappointing experience, as it was also a Z-series Atom with  almost the same clock speed (1.2GHz versus 1.1GHz). The main hardware difference between the versions is that the newer processor supports hyperthreading.

While that might not seem like a big upgrade in theory, the new CPU actually made a fairly significant difference in our tests.

Apple iTunes encoding test (in second)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Intel Atom Z515 (updated Archos 9)
Intel Atom Z510 (original Archos 9)

JAlbum photo album creation (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Intel Atom Z515 (updated Archos 9)
Intel Atom Z510 (original Archos 9)

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Intel Atom Z515 (updated Archos 9)
Intel Atom Z510 (original Archos 9)

By upgrading to the newer Intel Atom Z515,  Archos significantly improved the tablet's system performance. In hands-on use, we were able to install and run software without spending half the day starting at Window 7's Spinning Wheel of Wait. The updated Archos 9 PC goes from being frustratingly sluggish to merely a bit slower than your average Netbook, and therefore usable in a pinch.

You can use the Archos 9 PC as an e-book reader with Amazon's Kindle software for PC.

The system's other major problem, its touch screen, is unchanged. We originally said it was "less responsive than we would have liked, even when using the included dummy stylus, and the custom onscreen keyboard (handily summoned by a physical button on the bezel) required very firm finger taps to use."

Now that we're in the post-iPad era, these deficiencies are even more pronounced. For example, the inertial finger swipe to scroll up and down long documents--a fairly basic finger gesture--doesn't work here. In general,  any use of the Archos touch screen requires you to pay far too much attention to every tap, essentially defeating the purpose of an intuitive touch interface.

To be fair, many of these issues go far beyond the Archos 9 PC and also affect other PC tablets we've tested. The unfortunate result is a series of devices, which may include HP's upcoming slate PC,  that on paper offer capabilities--USB ports, the capability to run Flash, Firefox, a Webcam, and so on--far beyond Apple's iPad; however, in practice they don't present as finely tuned an overall consumer experience as Apple's device does.