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Asus Eee PC 1201PN review: Asus Eee PC 1201PN

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Unveiled as the first Atom Netbook featuring a next-gen Nvidia Ion processor, the $499 Asus Eee PC 1201PN is an update to the very similarly named Asus Eee PC 1201N we reviewed at the beginning of 2010. Back then, we enjoyed the 12-inch 1,366x768 screen, the graphic improvements offered via Ion, and the dual-core Atom processor it employed. It was priced higher than most Netbooks, but was also more powerful.

OVR
6.2

Asus Eee PC 1201PN

The Good

Comfortable keyboard, good screen and speakers; Ion processor offers some graphics and performance gains.

The Bad

Full laptops can be had for the same price; streaming video and gaming are hit-and-miss with this single-core Atom/next-gen Ion configuration.

The Bottom Line

Touting the Asus Eee PC 1201PN as the first next-gen Nvidia Ion Netbook is a bit misleading, since it offers single-core Atom performance, with no automatic graphics switching in an expensive package that underperforms its predecessor.

The 1201PN, however, only has a single-core Atom N450 CPU to go with its Ion GPU, a combination that results in general performance that's weaker than its same-priced predecessor. If the 1201N can be found for sale somewhere, it's probably the better buy for now. While the keyboard feel and general build of the 1201PN are very similar to what we enjoyed in the 1201N before it, its limited processor slows things down, whereas the Ion graphics don't seem to add much more than what we'd already seen in Ion last year--and, in some cases, it even seemed to offer less. In a post-iPad era, a Netbook has to offer a low price or an impressive performance, and this Asus really has neither.

From the outside and inside, the Eee PC 1201PN looks a lot like both the 1201N we reviewed in early January and recent, more affordable Eee PC Netbooks. A plain, glossy-black plastic lid that flaunts its fingerprints also comes in red or silver.

Inside, more shiny black plastic frames an edge-to-edge raised Chiclet-style keyboard. The double hinge on the lid straddles either side of a battery that has minimal bulge on the 1201PN's bottom and fits right into the back. The keyboard's easy to type on and comfortable to work at on a desk or perched in one's lap. The dimpled multitouch touchpad below is flush with the rest of the keyboard deck but responds well to finger gestures. A thin chromed-plastic rocker bar for button-pressing could have been a little more ergonomic.

The LED-backlit 12.1-inch glossy LCS screen has a native resolution of 1,366 x 768 pixels, which matches most laptop displays around 13 and 14 inches. Most importantly, it's a common resolution; browser windows and other programs won't feel shoehorned in like they do with the pixel restrictions on most 10 and 11-inch Netbooks. Images and video looked as bright and crisp as they did on the Eee PC 1201N we reviewed previously. The stereo speakers on this laptop, embedded on the front bottom edge of the base, are notably louder than other Netbooks. They don't exactly produce well-defined music, but we appreciate their volume for TV viewing.

Above the screen, a 0.3-megapixel Webcam offers video conferencing and picture-taking capabilities, with a passable frame rate and middle-of-the-road image quality.

To its credit, the Eee PC 1201PN includes Bluetooth--but it better at this price. HDMI is common on any non-Apple laptop, but in the case of this Ion-equipped Netbook you might find it more useful than with others, as Nvidia promises smooth 1080p playback of video files on an external HDTV. While that's nice, we imagine more people will want to stream video onto an HDTV (for Hulu, for instance, or YouTube). Streaming-video playback, which relies on Adobe Flash 10.1, worked well sometimes and stuttered at others depending on the site and level of graphic overlay.

2GB of RAM and a 250GB hard drive are increasingly standard offerings for higher-end Netbooks. Windows 7 Home Premium is preinstalled, which is an improvement over the Windows 7 Starter many Netbooks offer.

While the 1201PN is technically the first Netbook with next-gen Nvidia Ion graphics, the CPU is decidedly current-gen. Unlike the dual-core Atom processor we saw in the innovative but hot-running Eee PC 1201N, the single-core Atom N450 at the heart of this Netbook is the same one in nearly every Netbook currently for sale. Its performance when augmented with its Nvidia Ion integrated GPU does fair better than other competitors, but the 1201PN actually is a slower laptop than its dual-core predecessor, which cost the same back in January. If you can find the 1201N on sale somewhere, you'll have a faster Netbook.

So, does the next-gen Ion at least provide significant graphic improvements? Unfortunately, based on our experiences, we'd have to say the platform as it currently stands isn't ready for prime time. The much-heralded Adobe Flash 10.1, which uses GPU processing in certain tasks such as playing flash streaming video, is still a mixed bag in its final release. Hulu in full-screen still had some stutter, and YouTube in 720p played very smoothly until a Google pop-up ad or the mouse cursor intervened, causing massive frame drops. Unreal Tournament III, a forgiving, older 3D shooter, also wasn't really playable.

While other games might have better results, it's still hit-or-miss as far as finding games that play perfectly with Atom and Ion, at least on the 1201PN. There are games that will play well on this platform and have 3D graphics--Torchlight, Battlefield Heroes, and World of Warcraft on low settings, for instance--but if you're expecting fuller-fledged mainstream PC games to all run well on the 1201PN, you're out of luck. We wish Asus and/or Nvidia had at least offered a selection of game demos and programs as suggestions that "play well" with this type of laptop, because right now it might leave customers feeling a little confused with their out-of-the-box experience.

We expect future dual-core Pine Trail processors, ULV chips such as the new Core i3 CPUs, and future Nvidia Ion processors with Optimus automatic graphics switching will improve Netbook performance in the near-future. Software updates from Adobe and other companies could help matters as well. The next-gen Ion actually acts as a discrete GPU interfacing with the NM10 chipset via PCI Express in this Asus Eee PC 1201PN, whereas the original Ion was a true integrated GPU. What that means is one more level of distance between the Ion and the Atom, which may have been the cause of some of the graphics dips we saw as compared with the last generation of Ion Netbooks.

According to Nvidia, this Ion processor will be the heart of its future Ions with Optimus, which will be able to switch between discrete graphics and the integrated Intel processor and theoretically improve battery life performance. But, we're not sure this Ion GPU has enough graphics punch to really be of use to most people in a dedicated graphics capacity. It has nowhere near the graphics seen in the Alienware M11x, for instance, and really works best for enhancing streaming video quality and video playback as opposed to any sort of game play. The fact that both CPU and graphics performance seemed to take a dip since the January debut of the Asus Eee PC 1201N is the least forgivable part. To be front-running with next-gen technology, there at least need to be significant improvements.

Juice box
Asus Eee PC 1201N Average watts per hour
Off (60 percent) 0.45
Sleep (10 percent) 0.79
Idle (25 percent) 9.74
Load (5 percent) 18.616
Raw kWh 32.56
Annual energy cost $3.70

The Asus Eee PC 1201PN ran for 3 hours and 57 minutes on our video playback battery drain test, using the included six-cell battery. For the record, that's under 40 minutes more than what the dual-core Atom Eee PC 1201N achieved back in January. It's slightly more than what the 12-inch Ion-packing Lenovo IdeaPad S12 had for battery life, too. Still, we'd rather have a 6-hour-plus battery like what's available on the smaller-screened Asus Eee PC 1005PR. We're not sure whether the Ion is at fault or Asus' implementation, but the bottom line means less battery life for you as a result.

Asus includes an industry-standard, one-year, parts-and-labor warranty with the system. Though the company has cleaned up its varied and confusing Web sites a bit of late, there are still separate pull-down menu items for both "service" and "support," which lead to completely different things. Digging around, you can find FAQs, driver downloads, and even a list of authorized service centers in your state. There's a lot of useful information here; it just may take a little patience to find it (here's a starting point: the 24-7 phone support line is 1-888-678-3688).

Jalbum photo conversion test
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Multimedia multitasking test
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Apple iTunes encoding test
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Video playback battery drain test
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Annual power consumption cost

System configurations:
Asus Eee PC 1201PN
Windows 7 Home Premium; 1.66GHz Intel Atom N450; 2048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 512MB Nvidia ION; 250GB Western Digital 5,400rpm

> Lenovo Ideapad S12
Windows 7 Home Premium; 1.6GHz Intel Atom N270; 3072MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 256MB Nvidia ION; 320GB Western Digital 5,400rpm

> MSI Wind U160
Windows 7 Starter; 1.66GHz Intel Atom N450; 1024MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz; 250MB (Shared) Mobile Intel GMA 3150; 250GB Toshiba 5,400rpm

> Sony Vaio Eco VPC-W212AX
Windows 7 Starter; 1.66GHz Intel Atom N450; 1024MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz; 250MB (Shared) Mobile Intel GMA 3150; 250GB Seagate 5,400rpm

> Samsung NB30
Windows 7 Starter; 1.66GHz Intel Atom N450; 1024MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz; 250MB (Shared) Mobile Intel GMA 3150; 160GB Samsung 5,400rpm

> HP Mini 210
Windows 7 Starter; 1.66GHz Intel Atom N450; 1024MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz; 250MB (Shared) Intel GMA 3150; 160GB Toshiba 5,400rpm

> Fujitsu LifeBook MH380
Windows 7 Starter; 1.66GHz Intel Atom N450; 1024MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz; 250MB (Shared) Mobile Intel GMA 3150; 250GB Hitachi 5,400rpm

> Find out more about how we test laptops.

OVR
6.2

Asus Eee PC 1201PN

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 6Performance 7Battery 5Support 6