By Jason S. Ganz
I am writing this review on behalf of my younger sister, who isn't exactly “internet-inclined”, so to speak, and trying to keep her style of writing in while maintaining some semblance of my typical reviews... if it seems sub-par, it's because it's her ideas, I only put them together in a way she'd grasp it upon reading.
OK, I'll admit it... I kept having to tell myself not to compare this netbook to any of the other reviews I had done (the HP DV 2000, the Dell XPS m1710, and the Sager np8662), as I would otherwise sully my objective view with biased subjectivities. My youngest sister came home with an ASUS EEE 900, and asked me to do the work of installing the appropriate software and drivers, as well as doing a little gaming on it, so I decided to oblige and did so. The basic synopsis of the EEE 900 is 1GB RAM, a 16GB SSD (SLC or MLC, I am not entirely certain), an incredibly bright 8.9” WSVGA (1024x600) screen powered by an intel GMA900 integrated graphics solution, and a Intel Celeron 353 at 900MHz with a 400MHz FSB and 512k Level 2 cache. It weighs approximately 2 lbs, and gets 6 and a half hours of battery life per charge under intended use, and did I mention it's built quite nicely?
The EEE 900 is the consummate netbook, everything in it is designed toward 3 things: maximum battery life, mobility, and web-surfing / instant messaging. What this means is everything runs on an extremely low amount of power (hence, the long battery life), and thus any gaming beyond solitaire will cause undue stress on this system. Larger programs such as Microsoft Works, and even starting up the computer took several minutes to complete, but such is the nature of a system whose intent is to sip battery life. I cannot, however, place the blame entirely on the machine, as its specifications and ASUS's original intentions are for Linux to have occupied the system. A prime example of marketability superceding optimized usability. One gets the more popular and user-friendly XP over the slightly esoteric linux and pays for it with slower performance and more resource usage. It would be more conducive for ASUS to use the newer Atom processor on the XP-based computers, and relegate the Celerons to the less resource-intensive Linux setups. Even upon opening smaller programs the EEE was intended for, opening and closing times for AIM, ooVoo, Skype, IE6, are longer than expected, in part due to the low-power CPU chosen. Turning the power settings to “always on” helps matters by forcing the CPU to run at its full 900 MHz, and thus causes applications to open faster, windows to start up a little quicker, etc., but the trade-off is that the system runs extremely hot, often to the point of user discomfort.
Using this computer for its intended purpose results in an enjoyable experience. It is completely possible to download programs (installation is a different story if they're large), surf the web, check email, and do basic IMing without a hitch, as this is what the computer is intended for. Youtube videos are fine in normal resolution, if slightly crippled soundwise by the small speakers... however it becomes increasingly difficult to watch HD videos for risk of stutter. I am not sure if this is due to the limitations of the wireless card, or a limitation of the computer as a greater whole, but since the computer screen cannot show 720p, or much beyond 480p, the HD button becomes largely irrelevant unless you enjoy constantly scrolling about with the miniscule mousepad. Watching a HD video that stays the same size is much the same, the increased information seems to get bottlenecked somewhere, and thus the computer stutters. However, for looking up information on wikipedia, or reading a forum, the EEE shows its strength. Page recptions are snappy, with the information coming up completely readable and very little to zero wait time for basic pages to load. Perhaps the card is faster or better than the rest of the computer can handle, who knows... but one thing's for sure, in the EEE's desired work application, it shines! Gaming though, is a different story.
Onto the topic of gaming and graphics and peripherals. Gaming was what sold my younger sister into this netbook, and rightfully so an unscrupulous Best Buy employee looking for a sale nailed her to this rig. I cannot reiterate this enough, do not touch even the most rudimentary flash game on any website with this computer. Even games as simple as tetris can be brought to a standstill because of the combined requirements of IE6, the flash architecture used in the game, as well as the amount of memory XP uses on its own and how much is left for the GMA to actually employ. If you must do some sort of diversionary activity, stick to the solitaire / freecell / spider combination, your CPU, and your lap (and your jewels) will thank you for not having so much heat coming out (and cooking). If you must have some gaming while netbooking, save up the extra $400 or so, and take a long look at the ASUS n10j series... 4GB RAM, bigger and faster hard drive, and a nVidia 9300m GS on board to help the newer Intel Atom CPU. As for the peripherals, the EEE's are quite well-placed. It has 3 USB ports, 2 on the right side for hand-based peripherals, and one on the left. a microphone port, a speaker port, (both on the left side) and a LAN port on the left side. It also has an onboard video camera that captures reasonable quality, but is a relatively heavy load compared to the robustness of the CPU. (Again, lightweight CPU, fairly intensive application, slowdowns and hot laptop alert!). This is a case where the extra CPU cycles available in the Atom CPU would greatly improve performance, and a GPU wouldn't hurt either. However the greatest surprise was when the Habu mouse, a mouse that reads at 2000 dpi, and polls at 1000 polls per second, caused the computer to freeze! This was ultimately attributed to the entire computer, as the Atom-based version my other little sister has did not freeze up with the same settings. Further testing is therefore required to see if Razer Mice are the culprit, or if it's in fact the lack of available computer resources that's the culprit.
Because this computer is so small, ASUS took it upon itself to apparently design the computer with only a minimal ventilation system and no active fan, which cuts down power requirements, and ultimately allows for the thinner appearance for the EEE. That said, the EEE's incredibly strong point is its looks. The reviewed specimen has a cherry red top, black plastic everywhere, and while you won't mistake its rigidity and feel for a Sager, for the light use it was intended, the keys display minimal flex, the screen stays put (it should, considering there is very little weight to hold up), and the structure is rigid for day to day use. For the $300 price tag, its built closer to what one would expect from a $700 to $800 entry level / mainstream laptop. The components are the same, ASUS plucked into it an Intel a/b/g card, the memory stick was a hynix 1GB stick, and the SSD, well I couldn't find its name, but suffice to say I think that an extra $30 would merit a much faster EEE-compatible SSD that could alleviate some of the problems in the previous paragraph. I came into this netbook expecting a usable basic laptop, and that's exactly what ASUS delivers. A no-frills, no-gaming-allowed, straight-away internet machine that while built solidly and attractive to use, has a problem with heat that makes it almost prohibitive to use away from a hard desktop surface. Even a simple vent cut into the bottom would alleviate some of the heat, and I reckon that an atom-based version would further cut down on the heat while improving overall performance. If you need a small, lightweight computer for travel and you're only going to be doing web-surfing, email-checking and light instant messaging, this is your netbook... if you desire to even play WoW at low settings, look at more robust ASUS solutions such as th n10j... the 900 is not your friend.
An Atom version of this computer with 10” screen will be reviewed in the coming weeks as well, as further investigation of the correlation of high-performance mice and freezeups on netbooks.
a faster SSD
a VENT system like on the n10j
Somewhat more robust CPU choice.