Hands on with Asus's Eee PC 901 and 1000

The first Eee PCs that use Intel's Atom microprocessor also sport a speedy wireless connection and power-saving technology.

Taiwan's Asustek Computer (Asus), the leader of the mini-notebook category due to its early launch of the Eee PC, launched two new models of the family last month, the 901 and 1000, the first Eee PCs that use Intel's Atom microprocessor.

I was able to use both models at a company visit and you can see why Asustek is the leader in mini-notebooks.

For one, the company has put the speediest wireless Internet I've seen so far on a mini-noteboook, Wi-Fi 802.11n, which is a generation better than the 802.11b/g that's in most rival mini-laptops. Since mini-laptops, or netbooks, are mainly designed as Internet devices, a speedy wireless connection is vital.

The device I tried out downloaded Web sites much faster than rival mini-laptops with 802.11b/g, making it a big plus for the new Eee PCs. The only caveat here is that there are other variables to consider in Internet speed, such as the technology in the network itself and the number of users online at the same time. I didn't have an 802.11b/g device with me to make a comparison.

Asustek has also worked to make the batteries last as long as possible by using power-saving components such as SSDs (solid state drives) for storage and LED (light emitting diode) backlights for the screen. The company added some of its own technology to the mix as well, its Super Hybrid Engine, which adjusts power consumption.

The result is that batteries in the Eee PC 901 and 1000 last around 8 hours, according to Asustek, which is about an hour longer than most rival devices with similar 6-cell lithium-ion batteries. But the Eee PC 1000H, which carries an 80G-byte HDD (hard disk drive) lasts only around 7 hours.

In general, the new Eee PC 901 and 1000 series differ mainly in size, with the 901 weighing in at around 1.1 kilograms and sporting an 8.9-inch screen, while the 1000 weighs 1.33 kg and has a 10-inch screen.

The Eee PC 1000H weighs 1.45kg and has a 10-inch screen. The 80G byte HDD on board might sound better if you need more storage, but overall a 40G byte SSD in the Eee PC 1000 is better for three reasons. First, SSDs are made from flash memory chips and have no moving parts, therefore they don't drain batteries as much as HDDs. SSDs are also more shock resistant, so they don't break as easily if the laptop is dropped. Finally, machines with SSDs boot up, load and run software faster than HDDs.

Another nice aspect of the new Eee PCs is high-definition audio with stereo speakers, as well as Dolby Sound Room for versions that run Windows XP. That turns an Eee PC into a portable stereo, or you can plug your iPod or other MP3 player into the Eee PC and play music through the speakers.

The Linux and Windows versions differ slightly in price -- but more in features. Asustek added hardware to the Eee PCs running a Linux OS to boost performance, but the side effect is to keep the price the same as a similar Eee PC shipped with a licensed copy of Windows XP.

In the Eee PC 1000 series with the 10-inch screen, the Linux OS device has the 40G byte SSD, while the 1000H runs Windows XP and has the 80G byte HDD. There is only a small price difference. The Eee PC with the SSD costs NT$19,988 (US$658) in Taiwan -- prices differ slightly depending on the market and components -- while the Eee PC with an HDD costs NT$18,988 (US$625).

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Dan Nystedt

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