Asus Eee PC 900 review
More storage and a bigger screen address the main issues with the original, but the price has risen too.
Asus's original Eee PC, the 701, caused a huge stir in the laptop market, and rightly so. Before it materialised ultraportable laptops were well beyond the reach of most wallets; yet for just £230, the Eee PC offered a fully functional, ultraportable laptop.
Sure, it wasn't perfect. There was no optical drive, the 7in screen was on the small side and, it certainly couldn't lay claim to being as drop dead gorgeous, nor as powerful, as premium-priced ultraportables such as Sony's VGN-TZ31. But the fact you could buy more than four Eees for the price of a single Sony opened everyone's eyes to just how cheap a laptop can be.
What the Eee lacks in good looks and alluring specifications, it more than makes up for with practicalities; and this new addition to the range, the Eee PC 900, addresses quite a few of the complaints levelled at the original.
The biggest change is that the tiny screen has been supplanted by an 8.9-inch panel, but while you'd expect this to make the 900 physically larger than its predecessor, it doesn't. Instead, the big black speakers which framed the original Eee's tiny screen have been moved to the underside of the laptop to make room.
It's a massive change for the better. Even with the specially tailored installation of Xandros Linux - a Windows XP version is also available, although we'll discuss the compromises later - the original's low 840 x 480 pixel resolution proved a little limiting for even the most basic browsing or document editing. Not only is the 900's screen physically larger, but its native resolution has risen to a far more manageable 1,024 x 600 pixels - enough to make surfing the web an enjoyable experience.
It provides good image quality too. It's no match for the likes of Sony's VGN-TZ31, but it's amply and evenly bright across its nine inches, and colours are vibrant and punchy. More disappointing is the noticeable graininess to the image, but it's not serious enough to impede day to day usage.
Room for manoeuvre
The rest of the Eee's specification has also had a slight overhaul. There's no sign of Intel's Atom processors yet, so the same Intel Celeron 900MHz processor beavers away under the hood. But the complement of memory has risen from 512MB to 1GB, and the hard drive has also swelled from the original 2GB or 4GB options to a much more sensible 20GB. The storage is spread between two drives, however, with 4GB provided by onboard flash memory and another 16GB provided by a separate internal SSD drive.
The 4GB partition is still a touch on the small side for the operating system partition, but, while the 16GB secondary drive is tiny by today's standards, it's a more than welcome improvement on one of the original Eee's major drawbacks. Now there's ample room for documents and collections of music and video files without having to remember to bring the right flash drive or SD card whenever you leave the house.
Thanks to the solid state disks, the Eee feels fantastically snappy in use. Our benchmarks can't be run under Linux, but we managed to get some of them running under a Windows XP installation. The 2D graphics and media-encoding segments returned scores of 0.28 and 0.33 respectively. That may not be fast, but considering the Eee's keen price, and the fact that intensive applications probably won't be its primary use, it's not bad at all.