Luxury netbooks have always seemed a contradiction — yet that doesn't make the champagne or black-coloured brushed aluminium finish of the Eee PC 1004DN any less alluring. To match this, the 1004DN has updated its insides compared to usual netbooks — a 1.67GHz N280 Atom processor and the new GN40 chipset to be precise, with GMA 4500 graphics. The FSB has been upped from 533MHz to 667MHz, giving it an almost imperceptible increase in both the processing and graphics fields.
The 1004DN's main point of difference, however, is something we didn't expect to see in a netbook — an optical drive. It's odd then that there's no easy way to turn the drive off, especially given the facility to turn off Bluetooth, wireless and the webcam from the included Eee PC tray utility. Granted, netbook battery times are quite good, but being able to disable the drive until needed would be an excellent power save. The drive is also a double-edged sword as far as weight is concerned, bringing the laptop to 1.45kg.
A large black bezel around the 10.2-inch, 1024x600 screen makes it look smaller than it is, with a webcam and microphone included therein. The screen can be maxed out to a virtual resolution (that is, it can show the resolution, but requires scrolling to see everything) of 1024x768, just in case an application isn't designed to fit within the netbook's vertical resolution constraints.
Interestingly, a fingerprint scanner is also included, something typically avoided on netbooks. In fact the 1004DN is arguably the most feature complete netbook we've seen, including an ExpressCard 34 slot, SD/MMC/MS card reader, three USB ports, VGA out, headphone/microphone jacks, a 120GB hard drive and, of course, the aforementioned optical drive. It is odd, then, to see it only include a 100Mb Ethernet instead of gigabit, giving competitors the jump in the wired arena. Still, it contains Bluetooth and 802.11n, keeping it competitive in the wireless field.
On the software side, the 1004DN features Windows XP Home, with a few more tools than we're used to seeing with the Eee series. Eee Storage is back, offering 10GB of online storage for 18 months before you have to start paying — but new to the fold is the Eee PC tray utility (which acts as a quick resolution switcher and can disable some components), Asus' Data Security Manager (for the fingerprint scanner) and EZ Messenger, for transferring files easily between PCs. Asus' USB Datasync is also bundled in (for synchronisation between USB sticks and a folder on the hard drive), as is a font resizer tool. The resizer does nothing that can't already be achieved in Windows, though it does offer quicker access to making your fonts easier to read.
The keyboard flexes a little in the middle when typing, but not too badly, and is quite decent to use. Similarly, the trackpad is passable for a netbook, as are the mouse buttons. In fact it highlights that 10.2-inch is still the sweet spot for netbooks both in comfort and screen size.
The 1004DN performs like every other netbook — perfectly capable of office and networking tasks, but stumbling when it comes to decent resolution Flash video, such as YouTube's HD option. 3DMark returned a score of 573, and PCMark05, as seems to always be the case for netbooks, would not run. Battery life was good, lasting three hours, 46 minutes and 55 seconds while playing back an XviD file.
It's almost the ultimate netbook — until you see the price, a whopping AU$1399, and start seriously thinking about buying a normal-sized laptop instead, which may not have as good a battery life, but is significantly greater powered and has more features. It seems Asus has forgotten that the netbook is meant to mean value, which makes the 1004DN hard to recommend to anyone except those with the most gilded of wallets filled with leather-bound pounds, who want things tiny and cute.