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Asus Eee PC 901 review: Asus Eee PC 901

Asus Eee PC 901

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Dan Ackerman
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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

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Editors' note, October 27, 2008: We have revised the rating of this product to reflect the changing competitive Netbook landscape.
Editors' note: On July 16, 2008, we updated this review to correct errors in our performance charts.

8.0

Asus Eee PC 901

The Good

Much-improved battery life; new mouse and quick-launch buttons; still highly portable and reasonably priced.

The Bad

Slightly bigger than the Eee 900; price is creeping up to the full-size laptop range.

The Bottom Line

The long-awaited Asus Eee PC 901 is the best version of this inexpensive Netbook yet, but it's facing increased competition from the likes of HP, Dell, and MSI.

We've been impressed by the Asus Eee PC line from the very first 7-inch model in the fall of 2007, and it seems as if every time we turn around, there's a new version hitting store shelves. This 9-inch version, the "="" rel="follow">Eee PC 901, comes mere months after the substantially similar Eee PC 900, adding a few items to features list, another $50 to the price, and, most notably, Intel's new Netbook-focused Atom CPU.

The $599 Eee PC 901 is the best version of this inexpensive laptop yet, thanks to its fantastic battery life and design tweaks--including better touch pad mouse buttons and new quick-launch buttons. Like the Eee PC 900, it offers a choice of Windows XP or Linux operating systems and has a reasonable 12GB (20GB in the Linux version) of solid-state hard-drive space.

While the Eee was the first consumer Netbook on the market, the competition hasn't been idle. Hewlett-Packard now has the excellent 2133 Mini-Note, Dell is working on a Netbook-style laptop, and MSI's oft-delayed Wind is gaining buzz as an Eee-PC killer. Now priced at $600, the Eee PC suddenly finds itself in the same category as budget mainstream laptops, which offer faster processors and much larger hard drives, but not the portability and battery life of the Eee. To keep up with the competition, Asus will have to double down on either price or performance in future versions of the Eee PC, or face being squeezed out of a market it almost single-handedly created.

Price as reviewed / Starting price $599
Processor Intel Atom 1.6GHz
Memory 1GB DDR2 SDRAM 400MHz
Hard drive 12GB solid-state drive,
Chipset Intel GMA950
Graphics Mobile Intel 945 Express Chipset
Operating System Windows XP Home Edition SP2
Dimensions (WDH) 1.6x9.0x6.9 inches
Screen size (diagonal) 8.9
System weight / Weight with AC adapter 2.5/3.0 pounds
Category Netbook

The new Eee PC is marginally larger than the first 9-inch version, the Eee PC 900, and our review unit had a glass black finish, rather than the white, pearlized plastic look of the three previous Eee PCs we've reviewed. The Eee PC is still incredibly small, about the size of a trade paperback book, a size that until recently was only available in high-priced ultraportable laptops or even higher-priced UMPCs.

The touch pad now has two distinct mouse buttons, as opposed to the rocker-style left/right switch on previous Eee PC models. The touch pad still supports the gesture controls (similar to those on the MacBook Air and Pro) first introduced on the Eee PC 900. Images can be pinched and 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 keyboard, with its tiny UMPC-size keys, is still hard to use for expended periods, but we do like the new row of quick-launch buttons that sit above the keyboard, for turning off the display, scrolling through different screen resolutions, switching between power-saving modes and launching Skype.

The display is the same 8.9-inch one on the Eee 900, with a decent 1,024x600-pixel native resolution, which is much easier to use than the 800x480-pixel resolution of the original 7-inch Eee PCs.

  Asus Eee PC 901 Average for category [Netbook]
Video VGA-out VGA-out
Audio headphone/microphone jacks headphone/microphone jacks
Data 3 USB 2.0, SD card reader 2 USB 2.0, SD card reader
Expansion None None
Networking Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth modem, Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
Optical drive None None

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 901 is the first laptop we've gotten our hands on with Intel's new Atom processor, specifically designed for small, low-power Netbook-style devices such as this (we've since reviewed the MSI Wind U100 and updated the performance charts here). The single-core Intel Atom processor performed about as expected, coming in well behind a Core 2 Duo system in the form of the Dell Inspiron 1525 and ahead of the single-core Celeron Eee PC 701 and HP's VIA-powered 2133 Mini-Note. We also saw much improved battery scores, and low power consumption is one of the main selling points for Atom-powered products. Intel is already purportedly working on a new generation of dual-core Atom chips that may improve performance while multitasking.

The Asus Eee PC 901 ran for 5 hours and 15 minutes on our video playback battery drain test, which is one of the best battery life scores we've seen for a laptop in any category. That's thanks in large part to the Eee's energy-efficient design, using the new Intel Atom CPU and a solid-state hard drive. The system will also automatically underclock the CPU while running on battery power (although you can force it to run in high-performance mode through a system tray application).

Asus covers its laptops with a standard, one-year parts-and-labor warranty, and it offers online Web-based help and a toll-free phone number. The company's support Web site includes the expected driver downloads and a brief FAQ, but lacks useful features such as user forums or the chance to chat in real time with a technician.

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Asus Eee PC 901
2,091 

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Asus Eee PC 901
753 

Video playback battery drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Asus Eee PC 901
315 

Find out more about how we test laptops.

Asus Eee PC 901
Windows XP Home Edition SP2; 1.6GHz Intel Atom; 1024MB DDR2 SDRAM 400MHz; 128MB Mobile Intel 945 Express; 12GB Phison Solid-State Drive.

Asus Eee PC 900
Windows XP Home Edition SP2; 900MHz Intel Celeron Ultra Low Voltage M353; 1024MB DDR2 SDRAM 400MHz; 64MB Mobile Intel 915GMS Express; 12GB Phison Solid-State Drive.

Asus Eee PC 701
Windows XP Home Edition SP2; 900MHz Intel Celeron Ultra Low Voltage M353; 512MB DDR2 SDRAM 400MHz; 128MB Mobile Intel 915GMS Express; 4GB SiliconMotion SM223A Solid-State Drive.

HP 2133 Mini-Note
Windows Vista Business Edition; 1.6GHz VIA C7-M Ultra Low Voltage; 2048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; --MB VIA/SG3 UniChrome Pro II IGP; 120GB Seagate 7,200rpm.

8.0

Asus Eee PC 901

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 7Battery 9Support 6
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