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Asus Eee PC 900 Ultra Mobile PC
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Date: May 29, 2008
Section:Mobile
Author: Marco Chiappetta
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Introduction and Specifications


Soon after we began posting images and information regarding the original Asus Eee PC from the Computex show in Taipei in June of last year, we knew Asus had a hot product on their hands.  In fact, our initial hands-on preview of the Eee PC was so popular, it has actually been one of the most heavily trafficked articles we've ever posted here on HotHardware.  The combination of the Eee PC's ultra small form factor, features, and affordable price made it attractive to such a broad range of technology consumers, that readers from around the globe poured in to check out Asus' slick, Linux-based, mini-machine.

A few months later, we followed up with our full evaluation of the Eee PC 701 4G.  By the time early Eee PCs were ready for the retail market, Asus had morphed the machine from a competitor of the OLPC XO to a UMPC for the masses.   In the move, pricing increased from initial reports, but that didn't stop the Eee PC from being wildly popular.  The Eee PC was still priced low enough to allow budget conscious consumers to own a UMPC, and to allow power users to pick one up as somewhat of an accessory for their main PC or full-sized notebooks.  Fan sites and numerous Eee PC mods would eventually hit the web too;  Asus really did strike a chord and consumers (and competitors) listened.

Due to the success of the originals, Asus of course followed up with numerous accessories and multi-colored Eee PCs in the months after the initial release.  The follow-up units were essentially identical to the originals though, save for the different colored enclosures.  The first really major change to the Eee PC line-up would be the Eee PC 900, which was just introduced about two weeks ago.

Although the new Eee PC 900 and Eee PC 700 series machines have similar hardware foundations, Asus has tweaked the 900 in a number of meaningful ways.   Below are the official specifications, but they don't tell the whole story...


Asus Eee PC 900
Features and Specifications




The specifications above hint at some of the more significant differences between the Eee PC 900 and Eee PC 700.  First, the 900 series is outfitted with a larger, higher resolution 8.9" screen.  Solid state storage capacity has been increased as well, as has the amount of factory installed RAM. A 900MHz Intel mobile Celeron CPU and 910 chipset still lie at the heart of the machine, and audio and LAN connectivity options are also similar.  Asus did more than just attach a larger screen and add more storage though, as we'll show you on the pages ahead.


   

  


Asus ships the Eee PC 900 in an unassuming box adorned with the likeness of the system.  Inside, we found a detailed User's Manual, a Quick Start Guide, a warranty card, and a couple of DVDs - one with the Linux recovery image and the other a Support CD that contains a number of useful tools for reconfiguring or restoring the Eee PC, including a utility to create a bootable thumb drive with the factory OS image.  In addition to the aforementioned items, Asus also included a 36W power adapter and a simple, padded pouch.  If you're familiar with the Eee PC 700 series, you'll notice the newer 900 series machine includes a more traditional power  adapter with a cord and not a wall brick like the 700 series.

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Design and Ergonomics


With all of the news that circulated prior to the Eee PC 900's release regarding its larger screen, you'd think all Asus did was slap a bigger LCD onto the original Eee PC 700 and be done with it.  But there are a myriad of subtle differences that set the Eee PC 900 apart from its 700 series counterpart.
 

       

As we examine the exterior of the unit, the Eee PC 900's 7mm larger casing is immediately apparent.  The Eee PC 900 is slightly longer than the Eee PC 700, and the underside shows another subtle change.  Due to the 900's use of a larger screen, the stereo speakers on the unit have been moved to the underside of the unit behind some perforations towards the front edge.  The new location for the speakers does hinder audio performance, especially if the Eee PC 900 is sitting on your lap, but this isn't a multimedia powerhouse of a machine by any means, so we can't really hold that against Asus.


     


The Eee PC 900's touchpad, touchpad buttons and I/O connectivity options have changed as well.  In addition to the touchpad getting larger, it now supports multi-touch gesture recognition.  Using specific two-finger movements, the 900's touchpad can be used for up and down, and sideways scrolling, and for zooming into and out of photos - similar to an iPhone or MacBook Air.  As for I/O, things are mostly unchanged, but the Modem is not present on the Eee PC 900 (pictured at bottom) any longer. On the right side of the Eee PC 900 you'll see a VGA output, two USB 2.0 ports, and an SD card reader that supports standard SD and SDHC cards.  On the left of the unit is a 10/100 LAN Jack, a single USB 2.0 port, and headphone and microphone jacks.


     


When opened side by side, more differences between the Eee PC 900 and 700 are visible.  First of course is the larger screen.  The Eee PC 900's 8.9" LCD supports a resolution of 1024x600, which is much more useful for day to day use than the 700's 800x480 resolution, which required side-scrolling for virtually any webpage.  The new screen is also marginally brighter than the original, although not by much.  The touchpad is also considerably larger, the keyboard is pushed back slightly, and the wrist rest is somewhat larger.  All of these subtle changes improve the ergonomics and usability of the Eee PC in our opinion.  Although the changes aren't dramatic, except for the screen size, they do enough to improve upon the already popular design.


      


The keyboard used on the Eee PC 900 is identical to the 700's and definitely requires some "re-learning".  With average to large sized hands, touch-typing is simply not an option due to the unit's diminutive form factor.  With some training, however, we think you'll still be able to be productive - we were.  The keyboard, however, is somewhat "mushy", for lack of a better term, because it is not firmly held in place.  A few tiny metal clips are all that secure the keyboard in place, so there is some play there.

The Eee PC 900's microphone and webcam are visible at the top of the unit.  The 1.3MP webcam is a marked improvement from the original and the machine has the horsepower to capture smooth video.  The internal microphone, however, pics up a ton of electrical noise and can only be used for basic recording.  We'd recommend picking up a better quality external microphone for any type of VoIP communications.

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Internal Look, BIOS, Boot Times


Internally there are some differences between 900 and 700 series Eee PCs as well.  Although they technically use the same processor and chipset, the storage configuration, the actual default CPU clock, and stock memory configuration has changed.


      


The Asus Eee PC 900 is available in two configurations currently, a 20GB model pre-loaded with a custom Xandros based Linux operating system and a 12GB version that includes Windows XP Home. The difference in storage space for the two operating system options allows Asus to offer both units at the same $549 price.  But note, the flash storage is not one contiguous partition.  The OS actually resides on 4GB of internal flash memory, and 8GB (Windows) or 16GB (Linux) socketed modules are used for the rest of the storage.   In reality, it would be better to list the storage capacity of the Eee PC 900 series as 4+8GB or 4+16GB.

The 16GB flash storage module is located under a panel on the underside of the unit, along with the 1GB of DDR2-667 RAM.  The Eee PC 900's stock 1GB of RAM is double, or quadruple that of earlier 700 series models, and it has a profound impact on the perceived performance of the machine.  More on that later.

Under the hood lies a ULV 900MHz Intel Mobile Celeron processor, clocked at its full 900MHz - not the 630MHz of a stock Eee PC 700 (you'll need to update the BIOS and enable full speed mode in the 700 series for full speed). And the same Intel 910GML series chipset with Intel UMA integrated graphics is used.  Audio duties come by way of a Realtek ALC6628, 10 / 100 Ehternet by way of a PCI Express based Attansic L2 controller, and WiFi duties are handled by an Atheros-based 802.11g controller.


Inspecting the Eee PC 900 BIOS
Back to Basics

  

  


The Asus Eee PC 900's BIOS should look familiar to most of you.  The BIOS is a AMI derivative that is very similar to what's used on the vast majority of Asus motherboards being produced today.  The BIOS does not offer the wealth of options typically associated with a high-end motherboard, but the basic options for configuring all of the unit's integrated peripherals are present, as are all of the typical options for altering the time, date, boot order, etc.

Boot and Application Load Times:
Because the Eee PC 900 is technically clocked higher by default and has more RAM, boot and application load times are noticeably faster than a bone stock Eee PC 700 series unit.  The Linux version of Eee PC 900 we tested here can go from an off state to useable OS in about 15 seconds.  And all of the units included applications loaded in no more than a couple of seconds.  We certainly wouldn't call application response time instantaneous, but every does load rather quickly and we don't think you'll ever find yourself tapping your fingers waiting for one of the included applications to load.

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Software and Applications


Right out of the box, the Asus Eee PC 900 comes with 47 different applications, utilities and diagnostic tools already pre-loaded and ready to use.


Software and Applications - Primary Screens and Programs
Loaded Up and Ready to Go


      

      


When the unit is first power up, you're presented with a simple menu screen with tabs labeled Internet, Work, Learn, Play, Settings, and Favorites.  Under each tab is an assortment of related applications related to the tab.  For example, the work tab has a spreadsheet and document editor, the Play tab has games, and so on.


Software and Applications -"Settings"
System Configuration Screens


      

      


As we've already mentioned, the Asus Eee PC 900 comes loaded with a custom Xandros-based Linux distro.  The machine takes about 15 seconds to boot and shuts down in even quicker.  You can see in the above top right shot, that the OS and various applications take up about 2.3GB of the initial 4GB of flash storage. This leaves about 17GB+ of space free if you include the space offered by the 16GB storage module.

There are also various standard utilities available to manage various functions, like task manager and a BIOS updater.  In addition, Asus ahs bundled anti-virus software that can be routinely updated with virus definitions via the on board WiFi or 10/100 Ethernet connections through the internet.


     


The Eee PC's built-in diags software show us that the machine is built on an Intel Mobile processor with integrated Intel Graphics capable of a 24-bit color depth.  The on-board 4GB Flash drive on board is built by Silicon Motion.  Finally, the Eee PC also comes with a pre-built system health check utility for testing all the major functions built into the machine.

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Software and Applications (Cont.)


Asus also saw fit to include a handful of basic games on the Eee PC.  After all, what fun would an ultra-mobile PC be if you couldn't fire up a game now and then to let off some steam?


Software and Applications - "Play"
Fun and Games

      

      

Various games are bundled in with the system, like LTris, Crack Attack, Sudoku and a snow racing game called Penguin Racer.  The 3D graphics are actually pretty decent in these games, when you consider the size of the system, its cost, and power consumption, which we'll get to later.

Music manager is a digital audio playback program that has good organization functionality and will pipe various digital audio formats out through the available built-in stereo speakers.  Just don't expect high fidelity here.  If you want something with a bit more fidelity and punch, however, we'd suggest plugging external speakers or good headphones into the system's audio output.

Finally, as you can see in the bottom left shot, we hit the Microsoft WMV HD content showcase site and downloaded one of the HD video files in 720p format.  Our 802.11G WiFi connection was able to pump out 351KB/sec from this site, sometimes peaking even higher.  The Atheros WiFi chipset that is built into the machine is excellent in terms of speed and stability.  And of course we were actually able to playback that HD content on the Eee PC, though the frame rate crawled a bit since clearly decoding a video stream of this quality takes a bit of muscle.  In any case, the video was a higher resolution that the unit's screen, so using a less taxing video in its place would play back fine.


Software and Applications - "Internet" And "Work"
Communications and Office Apps


Another key feature of the Eee PC is the inclusion of Open Office applications such as Writer (word processing), Impress (PowerPoint-like), and Calc (Excel-like).  There is also a PDF reader installed as well as a dictionary.


   
 

      


Web browsing functionality is handle by Firefox of course and again there is also a built-in WiFi connection manager that handles multiple connections and security features like WEP.


       


Asus even went so far as to bundle in both Skype and an IM client, for chat and VOIP connectivity.  We tried out both and they worked well.  Our unit also came equipped with a built-in web cam with associated software that also worked quite well.  We've also given you look at the system's Photo Manager software that does a nice job of organizing your pictures and providing slide show and various other viewing features. 

And by the way, all of the screen shots you see here were taken with the systems built in screen capture utility, which is very much like a basic version of Hypersnap, for example.  You can snap an entire screen or just a region of the screen and save the image in various image file formats like JPEG, GIF, BMP or PNG.


Software and Applications - "Learn"
Educational Tools For Kids


The Asus Eee PC is very much positioned as a "learning" computer, in that the three "easys" that we mentioned earlier (learn, work, play) are focused on the novice user, quick navigation and an intuitive interface.  Though the Eee PC is much more than a child's starter machine, Asus has also bundled in some great educational tools and software that will surely bode well with kids and parents alike.


      

       


Whether you or your young key-masher is interested in geographic time zone differences, astronomy, geometry or a basic dictionary reference, the Eee PC comes nicely appointed with applications that can come in handy.

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Power Consumption and Thermals


We're not going to be including any benchmark scores in this piece, mostly because the Eee PC we tested is outfitted with a custom version of Linux and our traditional suite of application won't run on it.  But also because we feel this type of system isn't about high frame rates or insane number crunching, but rather portability, convenience, and ease of use.  You don't need us to tell you that a single-core 900MHz ULV Celeron isn't going to be very fast in comparison to most of today's Core 2 and Turion X2 powered notebooks.

We did, however, monitor power consumption, temperatures, and battery life.  The results of our tests are listed right here...


Power Consumption and Battery Life
Idle Power 15W (observed)
Load Power 19W (observed)
Battery Life 3 hours 3 minutes (observed)



As you can see, the Eee PC 900 virtually sips power.  While idling at its desktop, the system used only about 15W of power.  And under load (which consisted of playing back an HD video, while simultaneously browsing the web), consumption peaked at only 19W.

To test battery life, we looped a video demo included on the machine, and browsed the web for about 10 minutes at a time, every half hour.  Ultimately, the battery died at a few minutes past three hours, which is right on par with Asus' claims.





  


We also took temperature readings from different parts of the Asus Eee PC after numerous hours of use to see how hot the unit got to the touch.  We found that the bottom of the unit got slighly warm, but it wasn't uncomfortable to touch at all.  The edge of the keyboard and front portion of the wrist rest, however, did get somewhat warm.  The machine's CPU and chipset lie underneath a metal plate / EMI shield / heat spreader, that is directly under the keyboard.  So, over time, it is going to put off some heat.  We measured the warmest temperature at only 36.5'C though, which is not very warm at all in comparison to some other full sized notebooks.
 

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Summary and Conclusion


Asus has done a good job with the Eee PC 900.  Almost all of the things that we - and virtually everyone else - like about the Eee PC 700 have been improved upon in some way, shape or form - except for the price.  The Eee PC 900 delivers a much better user experience than its older counterpart, thanks to its larger, higher resolutions screen, default CPU clock speed of 900MHz, and 1GB of RAM.  The bigger screen makes using the Eee PC easier on the eyes, and it will likely make users more productive too, simply because of the increased real estate.  Having more available memory definitely helped the machine feel smoother and more responsive as well, which is another major plus.  And despite a bigger screen and better overall performance, the Eee PC 900 is only 7mm larger than the Eee PC 700 and provides only slightly less battery life.  Like we said, Asus has clearly done a good job.


 


The Eee PC 900 also just "worked" right out of the box.  And we found it to be perfectly compatible with a handful of wired and wireless routers, USB flash drives, hard drives, keyboards and mice.  When Asus says the Eee PC is easy to work, easy to play, and easy to learn, as corny as it sounds, they mean it.  Open the box, charge the battery, turn it on, and you're ready to go.

From a usability standpoint, there is a lot to like about the machine as well.  It is virtually silent, ultra mobile,  it runs cool,  it provides good battery life, and the flash storage is very durable in comparison to standard hard drives.  The Eee PC also boots very quickly and all of its included applications load in seconds.  The wealth of software included on Linux-based versions of the Eee PC is also impressive (Note: The Windows XP Home version includes Microsoft Works and Windows Live Suite).

It's not all sunshine and roses, however.  The Eee PC 900's small keyboard definitely takes some getting used to and will likely slow down touch-typists.  And the keyboard feels somewhat "mushy" with too much flex for our tastes.  While we liked the larger screen, it is not very bright, even on the highest brightness setting.  But these drawbacks comes with the territory.  You can't very well have an ultra mobile PC with a full sized keyboard and a brighter screen would likely increase power consumption and heat, and decrease battery life.

Perhaps the biggest concern with regard to the Eee PC 900 is price.  In comparison to the 700 series, the Eee PC 900's $549 price tag is easily justified - the unit has a bigger screen, more memory, and much more storage.  But at that price, the Eee PC must compete with much higher performing, larger machines, that also offer more storage and integrated optical drives.  Currently, there are a host of 14.1" to 15.4" notebooks with more memory and storage available at numerous on-line retailers for less than $500. When shopping for a machine of this type, consumers must make a choice - go with the ultra-mobile, small form factor, durable Eee PC 900, or a larger, heavier, but higher-performing traditional notebook.  If mobility is high on your list of priorities though, the Eee PC 900 is an incredibly compelling product.  We can't wait to see what Asus has in store with the Intel Atom-based 901 and the larger 10" 1000 series of Eee PCs.


     
  • 8.9" 1024x600 Screen
  • Ultra Small Form factor
  • Tons of Included Software
  • Fast Boot and Load Times
  • Good Battery Life
  • 20GB of Durable Flash Storage
  • Silent
  • Keyboard is Cramped and Mushy
  • Screen Not Very Bright
  • Much More Competition at its Price Point




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