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Eee PC 901 review: Eee PC 901

The Eee PC 901 is here. Its mission: to re-establish the Eee brand as the number one in the netbook space. It's based largely on the hugely successful Eee PC 900, but has several improvements, including a more stylish chassis, a better mouse, better battery life and more powerful components.

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8.3

Eee PC 901

The Good

Intel Atom CPU; 8.9-inch screen; battery life; high-speed wireless.

The Bad

Fiddly, small keyboard.

The Bottom Line

The Eee PC 901 is better than its predecessor, the 900. It looks nicer, has a faster, more efficient CPU and better battery life. It's larger and 100g heavier and its keyboard is still too small for our liking, but in many ways it's the pick of the netbook litter

Asus says it'll go on sale on 1 July. Windows XP and Linux versions will be available for the same price -- £319 -- although the specs will vary slightly.

Design
The 901 is approximately the same size as the 900. It's 100g heavier, thanks to some new additions like a 6600mAh battery, but the 1.1Kg chassis is still barely noticeable in your bag.


The new shortcut buttons live at the left side of the keyboard, opposite the blue, LED-backlit power button

Overall, it has a very contemporary aesthetic -- all its edges are now noticeably more curved, making the 900 look toy-like in comparison. Black and white versions are available, both of which have a glossy, pearlescent lid and wrist rest, which is a nice alternative to the matte white plastic used on its predecessor. On our white review sample, however, the keyboard, underside, battery and screen bezel are all slightly off-white -- and that clashes with the glossy bits.

Asus has removed all 'Asus' branding on the Eee PC 901. Instead, the branding reads simply 'Eee' at the top left of the lid and on the lowermost part of the screen bezel. We're presume this is because Asus wants to completely separate its high-end laptop portolio from its super-cheap netbook line-up.

The Eee PC 901 also sports a new hinge. This one seems fatter than before and has large silver-edged rings at each end. The lower section of the laptop has also changed slightly -- as you'll see from our pictures, it now has a larger vent designed to expel more hot air generated from its internal components. The more eagle-eyed among you will also notice twin microphones, or array mics, which helps the 901 better understand voice commands.

The 901's keyboard is exactly the same model as used on the 900. This isn't great news since the keys are small and fiddly, but it's possible to get used to them over time. Just above the keyboard, the 901 has a range of shortcut keys that weren't seen on its predecessor.

One lets you deactivate the screen backlight instantly -- perhaps to help you improve battery life when you've stepped away from the machine. Another changes the on-screen resolution -- like a makeshift zoom function -- and another cycles through pre-set performance modes -- super performance, high performance, auto high performance and power saving.


Features
While the two use the same 8.9-inch, 1,024x600-pixel display, there are many notable differences between the features on the Eee PC 900 and 901. The most important change is the move to an Intel N270 Atom CPU, clocked at 1.6GHz -- an improvement over the 900MHz Intel Pentium M on the 900.


The Atom logo, in all its finery. Notice, also, the mouse trackpad is now framed in shiny silver bezel

Atom chips promise improved performance as well as better energy efficiency and longer battery life, but you can find out exactly how it compares later in this review. Both versions of the machine use 1GB of RAM, but since there's one DIMM slot, this can only be upgraded by switching to a 2GB DIMM.

The Eee PC 901 will be sold in two varieties. The Windows XP model gets 12GB of storage, while the Linux model gets 20GB of storage. The reasoning behind this is fairly straightforward -- laptops with Windows cost more to 'produce' because Microsoft charges a fee for the Windows XP licence. Since this fee doesn't apply to Linux, any money saved can be spent on increased disk capacity.

We'd recommend buying the Linux model, then -- if you already have a valid licence -- installing a copy of Windows XP. The Linux operating system used on the Eee is fine for most purposes and there are even more pre-installed applications than on the 900, but it still lacks the flexibility of Windows XP.  There are no parental controls on the Linux model, for example; you should be aware of this if you're letting young kids use the machine.

Interestingly, storage is less of an issue this time round, because both versions of the Eee PC 901 come with 20GB of free online backup space. This is provided by Yo Store. Exactly for how long this storage is provided is unconfirmed, but we'll update this review with that information as soon as we get it. As before, extra storage can be added by installing a large SD card into the SD card reader on the right side of the laptop.

Wireless 802.11b/g is standard, as you might expect, but the Eee PC 901 now sports 802.11n Wi-Fi. For those of you who have an 802.11n router, this means data transfer speeds that are up to 70 times faster than traditional 802.11g. We've yet to test this particular implementation -- we'll update this review when we do -- but we'd estimate approximately 150Mbps in real-world scenarios.

Bluetooth is included this time round, which is good news for anyone wanting to establish wireless links between their mobile phone and the 901.


Performance
As mentioned, the 901 uses an Intel Atom N270 CPU, a chip designed specifically for machines of this ilk. Overall, we're very pleased with the performance. Switching between application tabs in the Linux OS is quicker than before, as is the speed at which applications launch. Even multi-tasking isn't a problem -- the Eee PC 901 is perfectly happy playing movies or music while running other apps in the background or foreground.


Left to right: SD card reader, USB ports, D-Sub video output, and a nice, chunky, metallic hinge

One of the Atom CPU's biggest selling points is its energy efficiency. With the addition of the large 6-cell battery, it helped the Eee PC 901 rack up an impressive battery life. In our movie playback test, it lasted approximately 4.5 hours with the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth adaptors enabled and brightness set at near maximum. That's a definite improvement on the Eee PC 900, which lasts anywhere between 1.5-3.5 hours depending on what you're doing. We estimate battery life could stretch close to the 6-hour mark for those willing to deactivate wireless features and reduce screen brightness.

Conclusion
The Eee PC 901 is better than the 900. It looks nicer, has a faster, more efficient CPU and better battery life. It's 100g heavier, and larger, but it's the better machine, for sure. Its keyboard is still too small for our liking, but currently it's the pick of the netbook litter.

Edited by Shannon Doubleday