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.