Asus Ion 2-Powered Eee PC 1201PN Review

Introduction and Specifications

It's been said for years by industry veterans: a lot can happen in a very short window of time when you're dealing with technology. As soon as one piece of cutting-edge tech makes it to market, the next big thing is just days, weeks or months away. In the netbook realm, that hasn't applied as much. Netbooks haven't evolved nearly as quickly as desktop and standard notebooks are evolving these days, largely because of just how difficult it is to create chips that have low power consumption and reasonable thermal characteristics, coupled with improved performance.  There's also the issue of cost: netbooks are priced at rock-bottom, leaving little room for chip makers to innovate or integrate, while still turning a profit. People have demanded machines that cost next to nothing, and the cost of that demand can slow innovation somewhat. 

We've watched netbooks from the launch of the very first Eee PC, and while they have evolved, the changes are certainly minimal. Most still use Atom processors that top out at 1.66GHz, most still only ship with 1 or 2GB of RAM, most still use integrated graphics and most still have no optical drive nor USB 3.0. To put it bluntly, you could buy a netbook that was produced 8 months ago, and it would probably be 90% as good as a netbook produced yesterday. But we have to give credit where credit is due: Asus is largely considered the company that ushered in the "netbook" form factor as we know it. The original Eee PC started a revolution that continues today.  The netbook craze is far from over and for good reason; people still want hyper-portable computing devices that reach beyond the bounds of a smartphone footprint. 

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Around seven months ago, we were able to review one of the more advanced netbooks out at the time, the Eee PC 1201N. It was one of the first netbooks to integrate a revolutionary graphics chip known as the NVIDIA Ion, which promised to both keep power draw and costs low, yet beef-up the netbook form factor for something it had been lacking: 3D graphics and HD video playback support. It was a lofty promise and goal, but it delivered. Now, here we are in the second half of 2010, and we're looking at what is essentially "Part II" of the 1201N legacy. The Eee PC 1201PN retains many of the same features and nearly the exact same form factor as the original, but it utilizes the next-generation of Ion (we'll call it Ion 2 throughout), which is based around a discrete NVIDIA GeForce 210M GPU. 

Asus Eee PC 1201PN Netbook
Specifications and Features (as tested)
  • Intel Atom N450 CPU (1.66GHz; single-core with Hyperthreading)
  • 2GB of DDR2-800 RAM 
  • 12.1" LCD (1366x768 resolution)
  • NVIDIA 512MB Ion 2 Graphics (Based on NVIDIA GeForce 210M)
  • 250GB (5400RPM) WD Scorpio Blue 250
  • 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR
  • 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
  • Stereo Speakers
  • 'Chiclet' Keyboard
  • Gesture-Enabled Multi-Touch Trackpad
  • 3.22 Pounds (with 6-cell battery installed)
  • Removable 6-Cell (4700mAh) Li-ion Battery
  • "Up To 7 Hours" Claimed Battery Life
  • 11.54" (W) x 8.11" (D) x 1.06 - 1.3" (H) (Dimensions)
  • Windows 7 Home Premium (32-bit)
  • Price (MSRP): $499.99 (street: $479 currently)

This netbook is obviously one of the more expensive on the market today. Priced at $499.99, it's double the price of some other rivals, but it borders on being a substitute for an ultraportable. It has a 12" LCD display (far larger than most netbooks that use 10" panels), a much larger keyboard for comfort, a discrete GPU and one of Intel's fastest Atom chips. But have the minor hardware upgrades and the Ion 2 chip made this machine powerful enough to warrant an upgrade if you purchased an older netbook with Atom and the first generation Ion under its hood? Or is this yet another marginal upgrade that is probably worth skipping over? Join us in the pages to come as we take an in-depth look and answer those very questions.

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