When we first saw the diminutive Asus Eee PC back in the fall of 2007, we were duly impressed by its capability to mix small size with a small price, and rightly predicted it would be popular with consumers and influential with other PC makers (although, to be fair, the OLPC XO and Intel Classmate first blazed the same trail in the education space).
At the time, we said the Eee PC could be the perfect secondary or travel laptop as long as expectations were kept modest, and we found its small screen, Celeron processor, and tiny flash-based hard drive adequate for Web surfing and working on office documents. Later the Eee added different colors and Windows XP, but other systems, such as HP's 2133 Mini-Note were already expanding on the original concept with bigger screens, more storage, and sharper designs, while keeping the price fairly reasonable ($599 for a Mini-Note versus $399 for the 7-inch Eee PC).
Just as the original Eee PC started to feel a bit dated, Asus comes out with an updated version, called the Eee PC 900. Although it occupies only a marginally larger footprint than the original, this new model finds room for a 9-inch screen, accomplished by moving the tiny speakers away from the sides of the lid, leaving more room for the display. With a much more reasonable 1,024x600 resolution (the 7-inch screen was a paltry 800x480), the new Eee PC 900 feels more like a laptop and less like a portable Internet appliance.
While the RAM has been bumped from 512MB to 1GB, and the onboard storage from 4GB to 12GB (or 20GB in the Linux version), you're still stuck with the same 900MHz Celeron processor. With new mobile CPUs from Intel and Via on the way, and more powerful mobile processors available in the Lenovo U110 and MacBook Air (both of which admittedly cost nearly $2,000), that's starting to look dangerously dated, especially now that, at $550, the Eee PC has passed the point of an impulse purchase.
|Processor||900MHz Intel Celeron M|
|Memory||1GB, 400MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||12GB SSD|
|Graphics||Intel 915GM (integrated)|
|Operating System||Windows XP Home|
|Dimensions (WDH)||8.9x6.5x0.9 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||8.9 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||2.2 /2.6 pounds|
The new Eee PC is, at first glance, virtually identical to the original. The chassis is only marginally larger and a few ounces heavier, but it has the same white, pearlized plastic look. The Eee PC 900 is still among the smallest of the Netbooks, about the size of a trade paperback book, and it can fit in a large jacket pocket without too much trouble.
Opening up the lid, the most striking difference is the new, larger screen. There's still a fairly thick screen bezel, but the two speaker grills that sat next to the 7-inch model's screen are gone (they now sit under the front lip of the system), and the display now fills more of the lid space. The touch pad is larger as well, and supports a handful of gesture controls, similar to those on the MacBook Air. Images can be pinched (or unpinched) with the thumb and forefinger to zoom in and out, and two fingers can be used to scroll up and down Web pages. The zooming only works with select software--for example, we could zoom a photo in the Windows image viewer, but not in Firefox.
The keyboard, with its tiny UMPC-sized keys, unfortunately remains unchanged from the 7-inch Eee PC. It's still fairly hard to use for any length of time, especially now that we've seen a couple of tiny laptops (Lenovo's U100 and HP's 2133 Mini-Note) with nearly full-size keyboards.
One of the major benefits of the bigger screen is its higher resolution. At 1,024x600, it's still on the low side, but it's a major improvement over the original Eee PC's 800x480 resolution, which made most Web sites hard to read, and left little room on the desktop for icons and files.
|Asus Eee PC 900||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||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|
The SD card slot offers a good opportunity to boost the hard-drive space, letting you pop in your own flash memory, adding to the built-in 12GB (4GB is on the motherboard, and there's an 8GB SSD chip under a user accessible panel on the bottom of the system. That's still not a lot of space for files and applications (and less than the 20GB that the otherwise identical Linux version supplies--your bounty for skipping the cost of an XP license).
The Eee PC 900 has the same Intel Celeron M processor as both the 7-inch Eee PC and the Intel Classmate PC, but gets a small boost in our iTunes test from having more hard-drive space to work with. The Eee is still faster than HP's VIA-powered 2133 Mini-Note, but that 800MHz CPU is starting to feel more than a little dated, especially since both Intel (with Atom) and VIA (with Isaiah) have new low-power chips coming out soon for Netbook-style laptops. Still, for basic Web surfing and working on office documents, the Eee PC's underpowered processor suffices, as long as you keep your expectations modest.