Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

We have a couple things to discuss, namely the Pineview Atom N450 and the ASUS Eee PC 1005PE. Let's start with ASUS.

Most of the changes relative to the older 1005HA (and 1008HA) are very minor. The LCD panel may or may not be better, depending on what particular panel you happen to get. That's unfortunate, but it's the only outwardly visible change. We did feel that the keyboard and touchpad buttons were "loose" compared to the 1005HA, but it might simply be a case of getting an early sample. The design doesn't appear to be any different so we can't imagine ASUS making changes to the keyboard that are clearly worse.

Internally, the changes haven't resulted in a system that's significantly faster, but the one change is very noticeable. Our initial tests indicate that Pineview has improved battery life on the 1005 laptops by a whopping 25%. If you want a netbook that can last 10+ hours and you want to spend less than $400, the ASUS Eee PC 1005PE has exactly what you need.

What about the ASUS Eee PC 1201N? We'll have a full review soon, but since we've already shown many of the results we might as well spoil the surprise: the 1201N is significantly faster than anything you're likely to see from Pine Trail netbooks. Dual-core Atom 330 trumps single-core N450, and ION pummels the GMA 3150, takes its lunch money, and sends it crying home to mama. The 330 and ION are a lot hungrier, though, so your lunch money (i.e. battery life) will only last half as long. As for the design, we like the 12.1" 1201N a lot more than the 10.1" 1005PE. The keyboard is roomier and the LCD gets a resolution that's more useful; personally, 11.6" netbooks are about where I draw the line, but some people will like the smaller designs.

The latest release of Atom brings quite a few changes, but the net result isn't quite as impressive as we were hoping. We have an integrated memory controller in the CPU along with a GPU on package. Those are cost saving measures that also provide some benefits in terms of power requirements. What they apparently don't provide is a significant improvement in performance. Anand saw around a 10% improvement in performance relative to Diamondville on the desktop, but the real problem is what we didn't get.

Specifically, Pineview needed a lot more than GMA 3150 to make it attractive. Given a choice between N280 ION and N450 Pineview, ION will offer a better overall experience for the vast majority of users. If you want to do a silent HTPC, Pineview is going to need some form of external graphics, making the GMA 3150 a waste of space. We would have been much happier if Intel had included GMA 4500 instead, and even then it would be underpowered compared to ION.

On the desktop, the launch of Pine Trail/Pineview seems a lot less interesting, since power requirements for nettops are much less of a concern. Shaving off 2W of power draw - or even 10W - really isn't a big deal. 10W would save something like $8 per year, and only if you run a system 24/7. Even 2W on a laptop is meaningful, but it's particularly useful when you're running at less than 10W idle power. Pine Trail is a real benefit for the mobility minded, and like the original Atom it's still "fast enough" for most users. Just stay away from HD Flash videos and forget about 1080p H.264 and you'll be fine.

Pine Trail does create some other concerns. With the GPU now integrated into the CPU package, what chance do we have for ION laptops? Well, obviously ION as a chipset is dead with Pineview, but we will likely see Pine Trail paired up with discrete GPUs. That means hybrid GPU solutions should become more common, allowing users to choose between performance and battery life as needed - like on the ASUS UL80Vt. But then, why even bother with an underperforming Atom when there's something twice as fast that only uses a bit more power? Yes, we're talking about CULV.

What we really want to see at this point is CULV with a 730i chipset (9400M). 730i certainly uses more power than GM45 (4500MHD), but netbooks using such a design should still be able to get 6+ hours of battery life and run the vast majority of games (albeit at low detail). In addition, it could handle all of the important video decode acceleration. The net result is that it would run games and applications a lot better than ION/Atom, and if you cut out the Intel chipset cost it should be possible to make something like the Acer 1410 with 9400M for around $450 - or add a slightly larger battery to get 8+ hours. The ASUS UL80Vt shows what is possible, and we hope to see future laptops learn from that approach. Get close to UL80Vt performance for under $500 and you have a real winner.

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  • JarredWalton - Monday, December 21, 2009 - link

    You could use a discrete GPU and hybrid graphics (with Win7) to get ION 2. I think that's what NVIDIA will announce in the near future. For ATI, they would be doing the same thing. At present, there's no way to get Pine Trail/Pineview without the GMA 3150 baggage. What's really annoying is that GMA 500 had the necessary DXVA hardware with even less 3D power than GMA 950. Pineview should have been 4500 + DXVA but instead we got GMA 950 on 45nm. Reply
  • AmdInside - Monday, December 21, 2009 - link

    No because NVIDIA does not have a DMI bus license (nor ATI).

    I would like to see an Asus 1201N review. While I would prefer a 10" screen with an ION chipset, I may go with the Asus 1201N before Intel stops producing the first generation Atom processors. I really want a nice portable video player that doubles as a versatile notebook.
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  • JarredWalton - Monday, December 21, 2009 - link

    The Pineview launch preempted the 1201N review, which otherwise would have been posted by now. Expect it later this week. Reply

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