When ASUS launched a little device called the Eee PC a couple years back, it was greeted with mixed feelings. Some people loved the original Eee PC, and others thought it was more of a gimmick. It was light and it could do basic computing, but so many items were lacking that like most things, you got what you paid for.

If you were looking for something small and inexpensive, great, but for me it was too small - 7" was more like a large PDA than a small laptop. I couldn't type comfortably, the 800x480 LCD was cramped even for basic Linux applications, and the 630MHz (underclocked 900MHz) Celeron processor was anything but fast. The default 512MB of RAM was also very limiting, even under Linux, and 2GB or 4GB of (slow) flash memory was inadequate for storage of anything beyond text documents. The goal of course wasn't to be fast, but rather "fast enough", and in that respect the $300 Eee PC was a success. As a second or third computer, the tiny form factor made sense, but it was still slow.

Over the past two years, we've seen the netbook undergo quite a few revisions. First we started getting 8", 9.1" and 10.1" chassis, along with larger LCDs. The resolution improved to 1024x600, which was still pretty cramped, but a few have offered 1366x768 resolution displays. Now we've started to see 11.6" and 12.1" netbooks with 1366x768 LCDs standard, and these models still hover close to the original netbook price point, though it stretches from $300 to $500+ now.

With the larger chassis and the passage of time, we've also been the beneficiaries of quite a few performance upgrades. Enter the latest netbook offering from ASUS: the Eee PC 1201N.

With a 12.1" LCD running at 1366x768, for me the problem of being too small is addressed. I can comfortably type on such a laptop, though I still prefer full-size ergonomic ("natural") keyboards. The resolution is enough that common tasks fit within the available area. As for the performance, we have moved from a single-core 900MHz Celeron CPU to the first (only) dual-core Atom netbook. With SMT, the Atom 330 is able to work on up to four threads simultaneously, and while we still wouldn't call it "fast" it's certainly faster. The CPU also gets some help in the memory department, with 2GB of DDR2 memory in a dual-channel configuration.

Perhaps the biggest boost in performance from the latest Eee PC is courtesy of NVIDIA's ION platform. ION is essentially GeForce 9400M (nForce 730i) for Atom, and it easily trounces the integrated graphics Intel provides in the old GMA 950 in the 945GSE - or the GMA 3150 in the new Pine Trail platform. In fact, ION is more than twice as fast as Intel's 4500MHD, and driver support is much better. You get full DX10 compliance along with CUDA, Direct Compute, and all the other GPGPU features. Granted, with only 16 SPs ION isn't the graphical powerhouse that the GT200 (or Fermi) is, but for accelerated applications it can easily outperform an Atom CPU.

In theory, ION will also allow you to play games, though we need to temper your expectations in this regard; the 9400M has the ability to handle just about any current game (at 800x600 and minimum detail settings in demanding titles), but even dual-core Atom struggles to provide enough performance to keep ION fed. We'll get to the gaming benchmarks in a moment.

We can easily see that the latest Eee PC 1201N packs a lot more into its small package than previous designs. That's the good news. The bad news for ASUS (and ION in general) is that the sub-$500 netbook space is a lot more competitive than it was two years ago. There are a lot of Atom netbooks out there, and they provide "fast enough" performance for many people along with very good battery life. The 1201N is faster than any other Atom netbook currently available, but the real competition isn't Atom… it's CULV, Intel's Core 2 Ultra Low Voltage processors. The least expensive models start at around $400 (if you can find SU2300 laptops), which is actually less than the base model 1201N. They pack a beefier CPU while still providing great battery life, but they're saddled with Intel's GMA 4500MHD graphics. If you just want to run Windows, that might be fine, but video decoding and in particular gaming are too much for the 4500MHD.

Let's take a closer look at the new 1201N, and we'll follow that with some benchmarks to show where dual-core Atom plus ION excels, and where you still might want something faster.

ASUS 1201N: Eee 1005 Grows Up
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  • bsoft16384 - Saturday, December 26, 2009 - link

    Maybe someone can answer this for me - does the Eee PC 1201N support x86-64? The desktop Atom CPUs (Atom 330) do, but the mobile Atom CPUs have it disabled. Since this laptop apparently has a desktop Atom CPU, presumably it supports 64-bit as well?
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, December 26, 2009 - link

    Yes, it supports 64-bit, but the default OS is 32-bit. Since it apparently only supports up to 3GB RAM, however, it's probably not important to install a 64-bit OS. There are a few apps where 64-bit code can boost performance by ~5%, but the higher memory requirements would likely decrease performance in other apps.
  • vavutsikarios - Saturday, December 26, 2009 - link

    I would like to see how the 1291N compares to Acer Ferrari one.

    They are same size (the acer has the same 1366x768 on a 11.6 screen), exact same price, have comparable CPUs and graphics capabilities, same HDD and memory size, same OS.

    They are, obviously, direct competitors.
  • vavutsikarios - Wednesday, December 30, 2009 - link

    Correction: the Acer comes with the Win 7 Home Premium 64bit version, so it's not the exact same OS.

    Despite that, I still can't think of any other machine that feels so much similar, hardware-wise, with the 1291N.
    I mean, the absence of intel graphics is by itself enough to differentiate those machines from the majority of netbooks out there. And then you add Win7, and they become even more different, and even more similar -with each other.
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, December 30, 2009 - link

    I've already sent in a request; we'll see if Acer fulfills it.
  • sprockkets - Thursday, December 24, 2009 - link

    What is preventing someone from putting out a CULV + an nvidia 9300 chipset???
  • MonkeyPaw - Friday, December 25, 2009 - link

    I'm sure something like that may exist, but you couldn't really call it a netbook anymore, but an Ultra-portable. Once you go there, you typically end up paying 4-5 times more than you would for a netbook.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, December 25, 2009 - link

    The 9300 and 9400 are essentially the same, but regardless no one has created a CULV with NVIDIA IGP so far. There are discrete GPUs with some CULV laptops, but that's as close as we get. Anyway, 9300M is just 9400M with lower clocks.
  • evident - Thursday, December 24, 2009 - link

    This thing is almost pushing $500. If you look around you can find a nice intel pentium dual core 14" laptop for the same price. granted, the netbook is alot smaller and that itself is worth something, but i still feel that the compromise is still too great. IMO, the sweet spot for an ion netbook would be $200.
  • Penti - Thursday, December 31, 2009 - link

    Just buy a Intel CULV (Core2 based) if you like a small notebook. Atom is great, (think embedded space), but with ION, large screen etc I don't really get it. But at least netbooks (with Ion or Broadcom Crystal HD) will be more useful when Flash 10.1 hits none beta release. GMA 4500MHD is still a pretty good fit for accelerated flash (video) though, and the faster cpu helps with a lot of things. I think it would be more interesting to shrink the atom devices to the MID size. Finishing up Moblin would also be nice. Maemo has showed you can create a pretty good consumer Linux MID already. But they become pretty pointless as stand alone internet devices though.

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