More PC for your buck

Jesse Sears

The Asus Eee PC 901 is at the cutting edge of the new ‘netbook’ craze, small lightweight laptops designed with ultimate mobility in mind. It is available with either Windows XP Home Edition or a customized version of Linux OS, and earns stellar marks as a second computer or an on-the-go tool for work and play.

Students used to lugging around 6 – 7 pound laptops every day will quickly grow to love some things about the Eee PC 901. With an 8.9 inch screen and weighing in at only 2.5 pounds, it is small enough to slip into a purse or a backpack, or to comfortably carry in the provided sleeve.

Perhaps better still, the Windows XP version enjoys a minimum of 5 hours of battery life with the screen at full brightness, WiFi and Bluetooth running and the processor on ‘Super Performance’ mode. Dial these settings down a bit toward the power saving end of the spectrum and daily-use battery life can approach 6.5 hours.

Power saving in the Eee PC 901 comes chiefly from the new Intel Atom processor, designed specifically to run in ultra-mobile devices. The Atom used in the Eee PC 901 pulls only 2.4 watts of power at maximum, compared with the 25 or 35 watts used by standard laptop processors.

The 1.6 gigahertz single-core Atom processor and Intel integrated graphics will not be enough to run modern games or any heavyweight applications at full speed, but this is not what the Eee is designed for. It has no trouble surfing the web, writing documents or taking notes in class. The Eee PC 901 was even able to process several high-resolution photographs at once using GIMP, a free open-source alternative to Photoshop.

With all this portability come some tradeoffs. Though the screen is admirably sharp and clear, a resolution of only 1024 by 600 means a lot of scrolling and zooming in and out. The keyboard, around 70 percent of the size of a standard laptop keyboard, takes some getting used to but is perfectly adequate for most people with a little practice.

One particularly annoying feature is that the right shift key is tiny, only the size of one of the letter keys. Worse still, the up arrow sits directly to its left, in the space the second half of the shift key should occupy. This leads to a lot of confusion when touch-typing.

Streaming video at full-screen resolution occasionally caused hiccups during playback, but this was uncommon and was not so bad as to ruin the experience. The Eee lacks a DVD drive, but can read data from an auxiliary drive or network with another computer equipped with an optical drive for installations and data transfer.

With only 12 gigabytes of storage space, don’t expect to dump your entire iTunes library onto the Eee or install too many programs. To help with space, Asus gives each Eee PC 901 buyer a 20 gigabytes of online storage. The built-in SD card reader can serve as a place for more data in a pinch, too.

The Eee is sturdy as a rock. It survived a fall from around 6 feet, protected only by its soft sleeve, with just the slightest scuff mark in the corner. A huge advantage to the tiny machine’s durability is the solid-state hard drive (SDD). Unlike a traditional hard disk drive, an SDD has no moving parts, giving greater protection against data loss and costly repairs.
Asus introduced the netbook craze with the first Eee PC last year, but with the faster, more full-featured 901 the respected laptop maker has struck gold. Similar ultra-portable laptops are available from HP, MSI and Acer, with a Dell model to be released soon.

Though it costs a bit more than some other options, at around $550 the Eee PC 901’s feature set and outstanding battery life put it at the head of the pack. The Eee is a highly recommended purchase ‘- perfect for campus use, with enough features to replace bulky, heavy laptops for daily computing on the go.