Asus Eee PC 901 review
A fine improvement over the Eee PC 900, with longer battery life and sleeker looks - but its rivals are sneaking up on the Eee with every release.
UPDATE: We have now received a full XP version of the 901. Click here to jump directly to the updated battery life results.
With new pretenders to the throne growing in both number and popularity, the mini-notebook that started it all must adapt to stay ahead of the pack. Thus, Asus is launching the Eee PC 901 - less of a whole new model, more an Atomic Eee PC 900 with added curves.
To recap, the 900 brought the original Eee up to the specification most people were clamouring for: an 8.9in, 1,024 x 600 screen, a more sensible 1GB of RAM and up to 20GB of solid-state storage. The Eee was finally a proper, usable laptop rather than an early adopter's novelty item.
But with a 900MHz Intel Celeron processor under the hood, it still lacked power compared to full-sized laptops; and despite this the battery failed to offer the necessary juice for a full day's work. The price also rose to £329 inc VAT, moving uncomfortably away from the original ground-breaking concept of a cheap-as-chips runaround laptop.
The Eee PC 901 doesn't do much to refute that last criticism (the price has only dropped to £319 inc VAT), but in every other respect it's a step forward. As our first look showed, the chassis has been smoothed, glossed and rounded to make it more attractive to consumers, and Asus has taken its own name off in favour of the ever-expanding Eee PC brand. A new hinge also feels more solid than the previous mechanism.
The MacBook-inspired multitouchpad on the 900 got a lot of praise, and it's still here on the 901. The mouse buttons, however, have been rejigged, with a full silver frame now surrounding the pad, bringing the buttons into line with Asus' other laptop families. They're responsive and quite firm, but a bit too clicky for our liking - and the touchpad on our sample didn't quite sit flush with them.
The real improvements, however, are internal. We've been hearing about Intel's Atom for eons now, and the Eee PC 901 finally gives us what we've waited for: the Atom N270. It runs at 1.6GHz, with 512KB of L2 cache and a 533MHz front side bus; has a thermal design power of just 2.5W, and an idle power consumption as low as 30mW - it promises similar performance to an old Celeron, but with hugely increased efficiency.
Running Linux the 901 felt responsive and smooth, just as the 900 did. As we expected, you still can't push the Eee too hard and expect it to remain snappy, but in our XP benchmarks (all of which it completed, unlike the 900) it actually performed pretty well. The 901 and its Atom scored similarly to the 900's Celeron in our Office and 2D graphics tests, yet proved 37% quicker at video encoding and 33% slower with audio - a mixed bag overall.
As well as the Atom processor, Asus has also fitted a new 802.11n wireless module and a Bluetooth adapter, both of which extend the Eee's appeal to those on the move. The physical ports haven't changed, so you get VGA, three USB, Ethernet and a memory card reader.