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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  • chrnochime - Thursday, December 24, 2009 - link

    Some of us don't want to lug around a 14" and its requisite 9 cell battery plus the charger and the bag.

    I'd still take the SU2300 version over this, that's cheaper and faster.
  • mindless1 - Wednesday, January 6, 2010 - link

    But some of us DO want to lug around a netbook with at least a 9 cell battery.

    I chuckle every time someone thinks "I'll only use it X amount of time", as if it's really acceptable to them to have to make a beeline to a power socket to recharge it every chance they get. THAT is far far far far more of a burden than the extra few ounces and cubic centimeters 3 x more 18650(?) cells take up.

    It's just plain madness. Even if you don't need that runtime when it's new, it'll retain the runtime you do need a couple years later rather than requiring another battery. IMO, a battery pack should last the viable lifespan of the system even if they have to move to LiPOFE4 and make it twice the size it already is! No more packs bursting into flames would be an added bonus.

  • yyrkoon - Friday, December 25, 2009 - link

    "Lug around a 14" laptop" ? "requisite 9 cell battery" ? Netbooks do not have chargers, or bags ?

    All I can say is wow. Anything more, and I will become the troll. . . . Or maybe I already am ? Because some people can not handle criticism ?
  • san1s - Saturday, December 26, 2009 - link

    I'm guessing he/she means that the netbook's battery life is long enough to not require a charger and/or additional batteries, and that it is so small that you do not need a separate bag.
  • sublifer - Thursday, December 24, 2009 - link

    I'd like to see the Gateway EC1435u compared or an equivalent. These cheap dual-core celeron proc's probably would smear the atoms across the floor. Same price, same size, better performance. :)
  • yacoub - Thursday, December 24, 2009 - link

    I am SUPER disappointed by the crappy LCD in this netbook. That was one of the things I was most hoping they would improve alongside the better CPU and GPU. :(

    Thanks for the review!!
  • SilthDraeth - Thursday, December 24, 2009 - link

    Asus is an ODM and one of the largest lap top designers out there. I don't get why they add stupid features like a rocker mouse button to their own branded laptops, and netbooks. Also, why are they sticking to the glossy plastic. Gloss only looks good in a display window. Most people prefer the flat black that some Dells come with.

    I certainly hope they don't design it to be inferior to justify the low price of selling, and design their higher end laptops with the features people like/want.
  • withog - Thursday, December 24, 2009 - link

    Curious how the amd congo powered (dual core mv40+radeon hd3200) will fare up to its dual core atom+ion sibling.
    Should be cheaper (no hdmi, 7 starter ed.), lesser battery life (processor tdp of 18w), more appealing looks (silver version should cut the gloss at least) and i guess the overall performance should be more balanced as processor seems to be more closer to culv levels than d330.
  • IdBuRnS - Thursday, December 24, 2009 - link

    "I can comfortably type on such a laptop, though I still prefer full-size ergonomic ("natural") keyboards"

    So you've come across many portables with full-size ergonomic keyboards? Doubtful, so why even mention it in a portable review?
  • brybir - Thursday, December 24, 2009 - link

    He is letting you know what he prefers so that when he says "I dont like X, it is because I prefer Y" you have some basis of comparison. Would his review be better if it just said "I don't like the keyboard because its small"? That is nothing but a subjective statement, and when he makes those subjective statements, he qualifies them as a good reviewer does, rather than pass something that is only opinion off as fact.

    This would be different if he were talking about build quality of the keyboard, key response or anything else that is objective, but I for one like when authors qualify subjective comments like the one you quoted above so I know why they think what they do.

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