ASUS Eee PC 1201N: Dual-Core Atom + ION FTW?by Jarred Walton on December 24, 2009 5:00 AM EST
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ASUS 1201N: Eee 1005 Grows Up
If all you had to look at was Internet photos, you might have difficulty telling the difference between the 1005 series and the 1201N. The new model is basically the same exterior design - including the fingerprint grabbing glossy black exterior - only two inches larger. With the extra inches comes at least one addition that makes the 1201N better than most other netbooks: HDMI output. A few other Atom-based netbooks offer HDMI ports, but ION provides enough performance to make the inclusion of an HDMI port useful. If you have a USB Blu-ray drive, the 1201N will handle Blu-ray playback on a 1080p display. (We sent our HP Mini 311 with external Blu-ray back to NVIDIA, so we can't perform that test ourselves. Since it worked with a slower single-core N270, though, the Atom 330 will do at least as well.)
One thing that didn't grow up is the LCD quality, unfortunately, as the contrast ratio checks in at a relatively poor 275:1. That's better than just about any other netbook, but it's lousy compared to the 1005HA (or at least the 1005HA we tested; you never know what you'll get with LCD panel lotteries). Like many other laptops and netbooks, we're getting a display where quality has been sacrificed to the almighty bottom line, but glossy plastic remains all the rage. We don't like it, we know most other people we've talked to don't like it… and yet few of the manufacturers seem to be paying much attention, at least not in the $500 netbook/laptop market. C'est la vie!
With the added performance and power requirements, it's worth noting that chassis sizes are likely to bottom out at around 12". We've heard people say they want something like the 1201N in a 10.1" netbook, but honestly we'd be surprised if anyone can do that with the current offerings. Atom 330 and ION put out more heat and thus benefit from larger heatsinks and more powerful fans. It may not be impossible, but we still think it's unlikely, and personally I'm a lot happier with 12.1" and a 1366x768 LCD than any of the 10.1" offerings.
The design is pretty much what we've come to expect from ASUS. The plastic doesn't have a truly rugged feel, so it may not hold up to a lot of abuse, but otherwise it works fine. Incidentally, the glossy plastic (like most other glossy laptops) is prone to scratches, which will quickly mar the surface over time. The touchpad is something that is up to personal opinion; I wasn't a huge fan of the "bumpy" touchpad when I first encountered it on the 1005HA, but it has since grown on me. I'd just as soon use a mouse if at all possible, but this one works as well as any touchpad and better than most. The touchpad also supports multi-touch, which is nice feature. The "rocker" style mouse buttons are a different matter; again, a dedicated mouse solves the problem, but we prefer separate right and mouse buttons.
The battery is the same size/capacity as in the 1005HA and the new 1005PE, which means less battery life from the 1201N given it has a second CPU core and 9400M/ION is known to use more power than 945GSE, not to mention a larger LCD and twice as much RAM. ASUS also has their Super Hybrid Engine software installed on the 1201N, which is supposed to optimize performance and battery life as appropriate. The overclock on AC power tops out at a measly 136MHz bus (a 2.3% overclock), and unlike the 1005HA the power saver setting doesn't underclock the bus. Also worthy of note is that the Atom 330 doesn't support SpeedStep, so the CPU runs at a constant 1.60GHz (12 x 133MHz); an automatic underclock on battery power would be particularly useful. Sadly, the utility isn't nearly as useful as on the 1005HA or Power4Gear on the UL80Vt.
Finally, it's worth noting that the 1201N comes with Windows 7 Home Premium rather than Windows 7 Starter; the 2GB RAM and ION GPU make Home Premium more useful, and we appreciate the difference in look and feel. At least Starter no longer has the silly limitations of previous Starter versions where you couldn't multitask more than three applications (whew).
The overall premise for the 1201N is pretty straightforward: take ION-based netbooks and give them twice as many CPU cores. Our experience with the HP Mini 311 left us wanting in terms of gaming performance, but the 1201N may have enough muscle to run a few more titles. Let's find out.