Review by Senor Zoidbergo:
As of the date of this review, the ASUS-1201N is the best netbook on the market today. This is my first netbook purchase, and I wanted a machine with the following characteristics;
- at least 2 GB of RAM
- graphics processor capable of playing 1080P media
- decent battery life (willing to sacrifice battery life for performance, since I’m usually close to a wall socket)
- Windows 7 Premium (offers improved battery life over Windows 7 Starter)
- 11.6″ to 12.1″ size
- 1366 x 768 resolution
- At least a 100 GB hard drive (SSD still too pricey and swapping out drives voids warranty)
First, a little background information. Thanks to restrictions by Intel and Microsoft, the number of high performance netbooks is quite small. The vast majority of netbooks have just 1 GB of ram, and are too small in size (most are in the 9-10″ range). However, I settled on 4 possibilities, the ASUS EEE PC 1201N, Lenovo IdeaPad S12, HP Mini 311, and the Samsung N510. I immediately discounted the Samsung because of the high pricetag (0). The remaining three all lacked one feature of the 1201N; dual core processors. The Asus is the only netbook to currently feature 1.6GHz Dual Core Intel Atom 330s. In general, the order of netbook processors is as follows;
Dual Core Atom 330s (found mostly on nettops) >> Atom N450 > Atom N280 > Atom N270 > Atom Z520
Since the Mini 311, Lenovo, and Asus were all comparably priced, I decided to go with the newer and more powerful Asus. I should also note that the HP Mini 311 only has the Nvidia Ion LE chipset, which is not DirectX 10 compatible, although it can be hacked to full Ion compatibility. However, I suspect that mainstream users are not interested in hacking their netbooks. I had also considered waiting until CES 2010 finished to get a glimpse of future netbooks. But, based on what has been revealed so far at CES, most of the future offerings will be just 10″ netbooks with a single core N450, 1 GB RAM and a new Crystal HD Broadcom chip. At best, on parity with the 1201N, and probably marked into the 0 range when all optioned out. Ultimately, I decided that I wanted a netbook larger than 10″.
The Amazon price for the 1201N was 2, which is at the high end of the netbook market. Why should I get this 1201N, when I can easily get a comparably priced CULV (Intel’s Core 2 Ultra Low Voltage) light notebook with superior performance you ask? Well, the CULV performance is only superior with regard to the processor; GPU-wise, CULV equipped notebooks with Intel’s integrated graphics GMA3150/4500MHD solutions are actually worse than the Nvidia Ion equipped 1201N. A CULV notebook with higher performance GPU would run you in the 0-1000 range. Asus has a CULV with Intel 4500MHD for about 0, but the Intel integrated graphics leaves much to be desired. As far as I know, there is no sub-0 CULV with 9400M that weighs less than 4 lbs and is less than 13″ and is ultra-mobile. The 1201N fills that gap.
Nvidia Ion (GeForce 9400M) >> Intel GMA3150 (PineTrail) and 4500MHD > Intel GMA950 >> Intel GMA500
I also thought about waiting for Nvidia’s Ion2 platform to hit the market, but considering that it took Nvidia and the computer manufacturers close to one year to output a netbook to take advantage of the Ion, I decided to go ahead and make the purchase. The Ion gives you the capability to play *some* games; it definitely won’t play Crysis! You’ll most likely have to play at 800 x 600 resolution to get any sort of decent performance, but at least there’s a capability. You probably won’t be able to get past the loading screen on other netbooks. While Ion dings battery life, it in combination with the dual Atoms allows you to watch 1080P content while multi-tasking on the 1201N, previously unheard of in a netbook.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS of the 1201N: The size is perfect! I’m glad I didn’t get a 10″ netbook. It arrived pretty barebones; netbook, battery, charger, and a few software CDs. Initial impressions were very good; the glossy black cover actually seems pretty fingerprint resistant. Overall construction is very solid, be careful once you insert the battery pack, because it tips the center of mass very sharply. Make sure you have a tight grip- mine nearly slipped out of my hand. In addition, I thought the Velcro straps on the battery cords were a nice touch; they keep the wires tucked away more neatly than plastic zip ties. Some also complained of the hard drive being too noisy- I didn’t notice anything unusual, just the steady hum of the hard drive that was mildly audible only if I placed my ear right on top of the keyboard. Air flow seems fine- after several hours of usage, the keyboard was still the same temperature, and the bottom was warm, but not hot.
KEYBOARD/TOUCHPAD: I really like the keyboard, although it will take some getting used to the small size. Some online review sites thought it flexed a bit too much, but I didn’t notice any flexing. The chiclet style keyboard appears to be very solidly made. I do have one minor complaint, whilst typing, my greasy wrists tend to leave imprints all over the nice glossy plastic wrist-rest. I have never used a dimpled one-button touchpad before, but it seems to work well. I didn’t notice any differences between it and a regular touchpad, although I’ll probably get a USB mouse for convenience.
WINDOWS 7: Initial setup of Windows 7 took about 30-40 minutes; thereafter, boot time is about 30 seconds. There’s not much bloatware pre-installed; basically only MS Works, Trend Micro Anti-Virus, MS Office Starter, Acrobat Reader, and a media-player. Response to keyboard and mouse inputs seems fast, I didn’t notice any lagging. Minor quibble- how do I get the Windows Classic look in Windows 7?!
DISPLAY: As for the display, I like the glossy screen, it looks fantastic, and text is clear, sharp, and very legible. Before I purchased the netbook, I was bothered by the screen not being flush with the bezel in various promotional images. Now with the unit actually in hand, I don’t really notice any aesthetic issues. The whole seashell design is very nicely done.
OTHER OBSERVATIONS: Maximum battery time with a full charge is about 5-6.5 hours, but that’s with LCD brightness at 50%, battery saver, and very little user activity. The battery saver settings are easy to toggle, simply pressing Fn + spacebar cycles through the different choices. The hard drive is oddly partitioned into a c: drive with about 100 GB and a d: drive with about 125 GB. Note that Nvidia’s ION chipset takes 250 MB of the 2 GB of RAM for its own usage.
1080P MEDIA: Aha, here’s the juicy part! So I installed CoreAVC Professional, and disabled deblocking (which helped to offset some of the CPU load). I played a 1080P music video, and opened up Windows task manager. CPU utilization was at just 60%, and I was also able to open a MS Powerpoint file, an MS Word file, and play a 3D Chess game. The 1080P file played fine, with no hiccups. I was quite impressed by the multi-tasking in the 1201N. Battery life decreased a bit to roughly 4 hours, but I wasn’t continuously playing high definition media.
Also, I can’t stress how important it is to use CoreAVC Pro for decoding High Definition H.264 media; the 1201N can handle 1080P without CoreAVC (using ffdshow), but CPU utilization shoots up to ~ 90%. With CoreAVC and deblocking turned off, it goes down to 60%. CoreAVC really helps boost the 1201N’s multi-tasking abilities, it’s also not too expensive. I think Core AVC 2.0 is selling for about -.
Sorry ladies and gents, haven’t gotten around to testing games on it yet.
OTHER THOUGHTS: Reliability wise, all the netbooks are about the same, which is to say, not very reliable. Well, at least ASUS isn’t as bad as HP. I decided to do myself a favor and buy a Squaretrade Extended warranty for peace of mind.
CONCLUSION: In summary, should you get this 1201N? Well, it depends on your needs. But if having 8 hour+ battery performance isn’t terribly important, and you want a well performing netbook with decent battery life, superior multimedia capabilities, and some gaming performance, then I strongly recommend the 1201N.
I want to also add that purchasing from Amazon for 0 with no tax and free shipping makes this deal much hotter than buying from newegg, wherein tax tips the price over 0.
UPDATE (01/25/10): Engadget released their review today of the Dell Mini 10 with Broadcom Crystal HD hardware based accelerated netbook. All optioned out, with 1366×768 screen, the Dell Mini 10 comes to 5, which is actually quite close to the 1201N price-point. They noted that the Broadcom Crystal HD is ONLY capable of playing back 1080P WMV files media using Windows Media Player 11. For those of you who wish to use Quicktime, VLC, WMP Classic, or Flash 10.1 you’re out of luck. MKV (matroskas), MOV, BLU-RAY DISCS, are **NOT** supported by the Broadcom Crystal HD chip, go figure. I know several other netbook manufacturers were considering using the Broadcom Crystal chip as well. The Dell Mini 10 also does not have an HDMI out, and the size is 2″ smaller than the 1201N. Here, size makes a big difference.
So if you want any sort of 1080P playback utilizing a large range of input files while also maintaining multi-tasking at a sub-0 price with reasonable battery life, the 1201N is the best option!