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Asus Eee PC 1215N Netbook Review
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Date: Sep 10, 2010
Section:Mobile
Author: Ray Willington
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Introduction and Specifications

Is Intel's Pinetrail platform really all its cracked up to be? We recently took an in-depth look at the 1.8GHz processor / platform, but it's a different thing to take a look at the same thing in a shipping product that's available today to consumers. We have been longing for faster Atom processors, and particularly in recent months, we felt as if even the newer Atom chips weren't fast enough compared to their predecessors. That said, the new Atom D525 dual-core chip holds a bit more promise, at least on paper, for the next generation of netbooks.



We seem to be heading into an era where netbooks aren't the bargain bin machines that they once were. We can't recall the last time we saw a $199 or $249 netbook.  The vast majority coming our way now are priced at at least $399, and Asus' Eee PC 1215N fits the mold here. With a $499 MSRP, this isn't the netbook to get if you're looking to pinch pennies, but it does offer a new generation Atom CPU, NVIDIA's next generation Ion GPU and NVIDIA's Optimus graphics switching technology. That's solid power in a netbook, and we're as interested as anyone to see if this sub-$500 machine can actually serve as an ultraportable replacement.


Click To Enlarge

The 12.1" display means that you'll get a full-size keyboard, and Asus has made the trackpad a bit wider than we're used to seeing. In honesty, the 1215N is an SSD and an integrated optical drive away from being just as full-featured as the average $800-$1000 ultraportable, which makes the $499 price tag look a lot more appealing when you put it in perspective.

Asus Eee PC 1215N Netbook
Specifications and Features (as tested)
  • Intel Atom D525 CPU (1.8GHz; dual-core with 1MB L2 cache)
  • 2GB of DDR3 RAM 
  • 12.1" LCD (1366x768 resolution)
  • NVIDIA Ion 2 + Intel UMA Pintrail Graphics (Optimus enabled)
  • 250GB (5400RPM) Seagate Momentus 5400.6 HDD
  • 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi
  • No optical drive
  • 0.3 Megapixel Webcam
  • VGA and HDMI Outputs
  • USB 2.0 x 3
  • RJ-45 (Ethernet 10/100)
  • Headphone / Mic Input Jacks
  • SD / MMC / SDHC Multimedia Card Reader
  • Altec Lansing Stereo Speakers
  • 'Chiclet' Keyboard
  • Gesture-Enabled Elan Multi-Touch Trackpad
  • 3.1 Pounds (with 6-cell battery installed)
  • Removable 6-Cell (5200mAh) Li-ion Battery
  • "Up To 7 Hours" Claimed Battery Life
  • 11.6" (W) x 8.0" (D) x 0.90 - 1.4" (H) (Dimensions)
  • Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)
  • 1-Year Warranty
  • Price (MSRP): $499



As you can see, the specifications list here is drool-worthy for a netbook. But do these specs lead to real-world performance? And more importantly, is this 12.1" netbook dramatically more powerful than Asus' last line of 12.1" netbooks? Is the 1.8GHz D525 really a leap above the last Atom? Join us in the pages ahead as we find out.
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Design and Build Quality


If you've seen one of Asus' recent Eee PC netbooks, then you've seen the Eee PC 1215N. It utilizes the Asus Seashell design scheme that has been in place since early 2009, which means that the machine gets thicker from front to back, curves are everywhere and the overall build quality could be a bit more sturdy in our opinion.


The 12.1" form factor means that a full-size chiclet keyboard can be included, which is great for touch typists who tend to spend an inordinate amount of time pegging away on thesis papers and the like. The overall design is a familiar one; the Ion 2-powered Eee PC 1201N that we reviewed in late July is nearly identical in terms of layout.

    

That means that Asus still hasn't dropped their single silver trackpad button. You have to click on the left side to activate a left click, and click down on the right side for a right click. We'd prefer a legitimate split in between the bar, but it seems that we're either alone in thinking that or we're just being ignored perhaps. The trackpad itself here is fairly good; it's large for a netbook, but we wish it were a few millimeters wider given the ample palm rest space. The multi-touch gesture support is fantastic, and we've always credited Asus for including this on even their low-end notebooks.


The port assortment is fairly usual. On the left, there's a VGA and HDMI output, SD/SDHC/MMC card slot, USB 2.0 port and an AC input. On the right edge, there's an Ethernet port, two more USB ports, a headphone jack and an audio input (3.5mm) port.

    

The bezel and LCD are par for the course; there's a 1366x768 12.1" non-touch panel (glossy), with an LCD recline that folds back nearly completely, but not quite. Our only major gripe is that Asus has done little to improve the feel of these 12.1" Eee PC netbooks. It still feels somewhat flimsy, and it relies too heavily on cheap plastics. It just feels like a toy more than a real machine, despite the fact that the specifications clearly show that it is indeed meant to be a performer in its category. We will confess that this one feels a bit less flimsy than prior Eee PC netbooks, but just barely so.



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Software and Accessories

Don't everyone act shocked at once: there aren't any noteworthy accessories bundled with the Eee PC 1215N. Even as one of the company's most pricey machines at $499 (MSRP), the only accessories you get are an AC power cable, an AC power brick and...nothing else.


On the software front, things are a little brighter. There's a 64-bit copy of Windows 7 Home Premium, which is a huge plus for a netbook. Most of these guys are running Windows 7 Starter, or a 32-bit copy of Home Premium at best. The 64-bit version allows for more RAM to be recognized should you upgrade, and a small performance edge in general.



Aside from the OS, Asus includes Adobe Reader 9, an Office 2010 Trial, Trend Micro A/V Trial, and the ASUS User Suite. Of course, because Ion 2 is included, there's also an NVIDIA Control Panel where you can fine tune your hybrid graphics switching system and manage control over the discrete GPU and IGP.


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User Experience

We had high hopes about usability going into this review. With a 1.8GHz dual-core Atom D525 under the hood, an Ion 2 GPU system and a 64-bit copy of Windows 7 Home Premium, all the pieces were in place for a great netbook user experience. But as always, the challenge is measuring real-world responsiveness and comparing that to what should have been felt given the price point and specs list.


Our main gripe with netbooks over the past months has been this: new netbooks didn't feel faster than old netbooks. The rate of change was just far too slow, and we found it hard to justify the purchase of new machines when machines that were 6 months old had 95% of the performance. The Eee PC 1215N is the first significant leap in Atom-based netbook performance that we can remember.


It's not game-changing, and you'll still feel as if you're using a netbook, but it's a great move forward. The 1.8GHz D525 definitely has some pop to it, and it's the first time in a while that we have felt comfortable saying that this $499 netbook is superior to the $499 netbooks of 6 months ago. Boot-up feels snappier than usual, as did application load times. Of course, we wished badly for 4GB of RAM and a 7200RPM hard drive, but we think if you add those two upgrades you'll really be in for a treat.


We understand that balancing power consumption, price and performance is a challenge for Intel's Atom group, and we still think they have some ways to go before we think that the Atom is a CPU worth gloating about. But for "just a netbook," the Eee PC 1215N feels as quick as they come. Opening Firefox pages and tabs didn't drag any more, and HD multimedia performance was great. We'd feel comfortable sending 720p and 1080p clips from this to an HDTV via HDMI, and we'd feel confident that no skipping or frame drops would occur.



We still wish the trackpad button was two separate buttons, and we still wish the screen wasn't glossy. The viewing angles on the LCD weren't amazing, but all of these complaints are somewhat washed aside when you remember that you're talking about a sub-$500 netbook. Obviously, not everything will be perfect, but the 1215N does a lot right. We finally felt as if the netbook in front of us was at least trying (and in most cases, succeeding) at keeping pace with our requests.



One quick note on noise and heat: when you're just handling small tasks, this machine is near-silent. So quiet that you can hear the hard drive tick every now and then. But there's definitely heat once you kick in the discrete GPU. We felt it warm our laps somewhat after a half-hour of multimedia and light gaming.  Even casual use caused noticeable heat within an hour. Not a deal-breaker, but you definitely feel the higher performance with higher waste heat.
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Futuremark 3DMark 06 & PCMark Vantage

 
HotHardware's Mobile Test Systems
Covering the bases
 Asus Eee PC 1215N

Intel Atom D525
(1.8GHz)

2GB DDR3

Intel GMA HD
(Pineview) +
NVIDIA Ion 2

On-Board Ethernet
On-Board Audio

1x250GB Hard Drive         
5400 RPM SATA

Windows 7
Home Premium (64-bit)

12" LED LCD Display
(native 1366x768)
Lenovo ThinkPad X100e

AMD Athlon Neo (MV-40)
(1.66GHz)

2GB DDR2

Radeon HD 3200 IGP

On-Board Ethernet
On-Board Audio

1x250GB Hard Drive          
5400 RPM SATA

Windows 7
Professional (32-bit)

11.6" LED LCD Display
(native 1366x768)
HP Mini 311

Intel Atom N270
(1.6GHz)

2GB DDR2

NVIDIA Ion GPU
(Based on 9400M)


On-Board Ethernet
On-Board Audio

1x250GB Hard Drive          
5400 RPM SATA


Windows 7 Home
Premium (32-bit)

11.6" LED LCD Display
(native 1366x768)
Asus Eee PC 1201N

I
ntel Atom 330
(1.6GHz)

2GB DDR2

NVIDIA Ion GPU
(Based on 9400M)

On-Board Ethernet
On-Board Audio

1x250GB Hard Drive          
5400 RPM SATA

Windows 7 Home
Premium SP1 (32-bit)

12.1" LED LCD Display
(native 1366x768)



 Performance Comparisons with 3DMark06
 Details: http://www.futuremark.com/products/3dmark06/

The Futuremark 3DMark06 CPU benchmark consists of tests that use the CPU to render 3D scenes, rather than the GPU. It runs several threads simultaneously and is designed to utilize multiple processor cores.



When looking at the 3D Mark 06 scores, we see a more notable increase in performance. And with an Ion 2 at the helm, we aren't surprised. We're still not to the point where a netbook can be considered for serious gaming, but users will have an easier time playing the moderately impressive titles of last year, at near-native resolutions with this machine, versus the Eee PC 1201N, or particularly any netbook prior to that one. 


Asus Eee PC 1215N 3DMark 06 Score




 Performance Comparisons with Futuremark PCMark Vantage
 Details: http://www.futuremark.com/benchmarks/pcmarkvantage/introduction/

We ran the system through Futuremark’s latest system performance metric PCMark Vantage. This benchmark suite creates a host of different usage scenarios to simulate different types of workloads including High Definition video and movie playback and manipulation, gaming, image editing and manipulation, music compression, communications, and productivity. We like the fact that most of the tests are multi-threaded as well, in order to exploit the additional resources offered by multi-core processors. 


As you can see here, the Eee PC 1215N performed better under the pressure of this rigorous benchmark as compared to its contemporaries. Not a quantum leap or anything, but a suitable increase. It's certainly evolutionary (rather than revolutionary), but coming from months of seeing near-identical scores from machines that were supposed to be more powerful and weren't really, this is a breath of fresh air.
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Gaming Benchmarks


 Performance with Half-Life 2 Episode 2 and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars
Gaming Performance

To touch on gaming performance, we chose two games that draw moderately on system resources, Half-Life 2 Episode 2 and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars. We then ran a pre-recorded demo of each at a resolution of 1280x800. The resulting performance achieved is indicated in frames per second in the graph below. For comparison, we've included results for the Core i5-540M/Intel Graphics Media Accelerator HD-based laptop we looked at in our Intel Arrandale Core i3/i5 article.



Here we see more of the expected: an evolutionary bump in frame rates, but nothing revolutionary. We think it'll take a whole new Ion architecture or an entirely new Atom (rather than just a speed-bumped one) to see super high frame rates on a netbook. Of course, we're complaining that a netbook -- a machine that was never, ever built for gaming -- can't play 3D titles good enough, so that in and of itself is telling. At least the 1215N can handle some of the better games from last year at decent resolutions, but modern titles will bring the system to its knees. Then again, any gaming is better than no gaming when it comes to a sub-$500 netbook.
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SiSoftware Sandra & Multimedia Benchmarks

Testing with SiSoft SANDRA 2009
Synthetic Benchmarks

We continued our testing with SiSoftware's SANDRA 2009, the System ANalyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant.  We ran four of the built-in subsystem tests (CPU Arithmetic, Multimedia Memory Bandwidth, Physical Disks). All of the scores reported below were taken with the processor running at its default speed along with 4GB of DDR3 RAM running in dual-channel mode.

 
CPU Arithmetic Test; Click To Enlarge


CPU Multimedia Test; Click To Enlarge


Memory Bandwidth Test; Click To Enlarge


Physical Disc Test; Click To Enlarge

Our gauntlet of SiSoftware SANDRA tests show nice performance gains in terms of CPU performance compared to Atom processors of the past few months. It even outpaces the dual-core Atom 330, which previously held quite a few top performance spots in the Atom family. The 5400RPM hard drive is obviously no race horse, but it's an easy thing to upgrade in the future should you choose to. 



To test multimedia capabilities, we attempt to play back a 720p WMVHD clip, a 720p H.264 clip and a 1080p clip. We've also included a screenshot of the 1080p clip from the Mini 311 (which uses the original NVIDIA Ion GPU) to give you a better idea of CPU utilization from a slightly different type of system.


Click To Enlarge; 720 H.264 - Asus Eee PC 1215N


Click To Enlarge; 720p WMVHD - Asus Eee PC 1215N


Click To Enlarge; 1080p - Asus Eee PC 1215N


Click To Enlarge; 1080p on HP Mini 311 w/ Ion

In our video playback tests, we see that the 1215N is plenty capable of handling high-definition video. Both 720p and 1080p clips were perfectly smooth, even with applications running in the background. If you're only looking for good HD media playback (and don't much care about gaming), this netbook is a champ.  We'd definitely trust it as a media playback device for HDTVs via HDMI.

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Battery Performance

In the past, we've had some ups and downs with regrd to Asus battery life claims. But here's some good news. Possibly great news, depending on how important battery life is to you. During our real-world battery run down test, the Eee PC 1215N managed to last 267 minutes on the Intel integrated graphics. Of course, that figure would be cut down significantly if you run on the discrete Ion 2 graphics set, and somewhere in between if you mix the use of the two. But still, knowing that it's possible to squeeze just under 5 hours out of this netbook if you have to, is really nice actually.



The only real issue we have is that our press material claims that the 1215N should last up to 7 hours. We can't figure out how you'd ever get 7 hours from this unless you always had Wi-Fi disabled, had the screen set to minimum brightness and really did nothing at all to tax your machine. At that point, you probably aren't even "using" your machine. But still, compared to the Eee PC 1201N, we're seeing an increase in battery life, and it's always great to see performance go up while battery life is extended. That's a hard feat to accomplish, so kudos to all involved for making it happen. 


Click To Enlarge

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Summary and Conclusion

Performance Summary: In our SiSoftware Sandra tests, the Eee PC 1215PN did very well in comparison to the reference systems in the CPU benchmarks, and it also performed well in GPU tests. The good news is that we can actually say that a netbook outperformed a netbook of the past. Netbook performance has been on a remarkably slow performance increase curve for the past two years, and the 1215N -- in large part thanks to the 1.8GHz dual-core Atom D525 and Ion 2 graphics system -- finally makes a noteworthy leap in the right direction. It still feels like a netbook, pokey at times when you start to multi-task with five or six applications, but it's still quicker than the competition. In the past, we couldn't actually feel performance increases from one machine to the next.



The Eee PC 1215N, from a style perspective, is just about exactly like the 1201N from late July. It has a glossy 12.1" display, a chiclet keyboard, a multi-gesture trackpad, a single-bar trackpad button (still not a fan), and the usual port arrangement. Asus isn't redesigning the netbook or anything, but at least a familiar design is spruced up by the latest and greatest internal components, mildly improved build quality and a wider-than-average trackpad.

Click To Enlarge

The Ion 2 GPU and the hybrid graphics switching system is a dream come true. It allows power users to take advantage of a discrete GPU when you need the power (gaming, HD playback, etc.), and uses the IGP when handling more traditional duties (Office documents, web surfing, etc.). The 1.8GHz dual-core processor is a nice upgrade; we can't recommend that netbook buyers of the past year go upgrade to this machine right away, but those who have been holding off a netbook purchase as they wait for a "real" Atom to launch, this may be the one you've been waiting for.



We still maintain that Asus should tweak a few design aspects, including the single trackpad bar and the painfully glossy display and somewhat flimsy build materials. We were also let down by the lack of Bluetooth 3.0 and USB 3.0; we're hearing that some international 1215N SKUs will have these technologies, but not the $499 U.S. model. That's a real shame. Of course, hybrid graphics are a major boon when trying to conserve battery life and keep heat to a minimum. At $499, this is easily the nicest netbook on the market today, but it probably won't hold that crown for long. Now that the D525 is out in the open, we'd expect HP, Lenovo, Dell and the rest to bring this chip into their lineups soon, with the high-end netbook race set to begin all over again. 

     
  • 1.8GHz CPU performs well
  • NVIDIA Optimus graphics
  • Wide trackpad
  • Great battery life
  • Build quality is on the rise

  • Glossy LCD
  • Palm rest stickers
  • Gets quite warm in use
  • No USB 3.0
  • 5400RPM Hard Drive

 



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