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.

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  • YpoCaramel - Friday, January 22, 2010 - link

    130cd/m2 is too dim for portable use. These levels might be useful for getting accurate color in lighting controlled rooms, but most ultra-portables don't have that luxury. Even if they are kept indoors they will encounter a variety of lighting conditions, some of which will make the screen quite difficult to see at such low brightness. What's worse, the screen is reflective. Sufficient brightness can minimize reflections, but the 1210N just doesn't have the brightness. The competition can do better - even old the eeePC 1000H.
  • darkryft - Monday, December 28, 2009 - link

    I personally feel the 1201N is a great evolution for the netbook, but probably represents the limit. To go any further in size any number of other features would drive the cost to where it is no longer a netbook, it's a laptop.

    There are some drawbacks, yes, and there are laptops that can be had for nearly the same money the perform better, but this is a fantastic feature set in the ultra-portable class. I'm personally phasing myself out of PC gaming and desktop computing as a whole, and I will probably invest in a full-on laptop at some point, but for documents, music, and netsurfing this will easily handle the tasks.

    If only it were cost-feasible to drop a Patriot Torqx in this thing.
  • SmCaudata - Saturday, December 26, 2009 - link

    The ASUS 14" laptop seems like the best portable out there right now. The battery life is good enough were you really don't need to bring your charger everywhere and it's price is not much more than this dual core netbook for much better performace. There are a few select situations where one may absolutely need 11" or smaller, but for 99% of the users out there I cannot imagine that the 14" thin and light ASUS is too big. If I were in the market for a laptop it is certainly the one that I would buy.
  • Rsaeire - Saturday, December 26, 2009 - link

    " decoding and in particular gaming are too much for the 4500MHD."

    The Intel GMA 4500MHD supports full hardware acceleration of HD video codecs, MPEG-2, VC-1 and H.264/MPEG-4 AVC.
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, December 26, 2009 - link

    Yes, but Flash 10.1 still struggles on HD movies.
  • LoneWolf15 - Monday, December 28, 2009 - link

    Yes, but Flash 10.1 is currently at beta 2, a full-featured release isn't available yet.
  • JarredWalton - Monday, December 28, 2009 - link

    Exactly, and do you buy something with GMA 4500MHD with the hope that everything gets worked out in the next couple of months as far as Flash goes, or do you wait and see first, or do you go with ION? I'm inclined to take one of the latter two approaches, as buying something with the assumption that it will work later (see GMA 500 -- no recent XP driver updates, and as far as I can tell the Acer 751h still has major issues with stability) isn't a great plan.
  • LoneWolf15 - Monday, December 28, 2009 - link

    Alternately, I might just wait for something like this.">

  • LoneWolf15 - Monday, December 28, 2009 - link

    Actually, having seen Adobe in action, I'd probably wait. Haven't seen too many things they can't break to some degree, even sometimes after they have fixed them.

    Ion is cool, don't get me wrong. However, Intel's 4500 onboard video has been the first video product I've seen from them that seems to work well for almost everything except gaming. I rarely switch on my Radeon 3470 mobile graphics (I have a ThinkPad with switchable graphics) for this reason. If I was in the market, I'd rather get an SU2300 laptop than an N330 once I've seen what Flash 10.1 release looks like --and your review actually convinced me of that, as I'd have been on the fence before.
  • Spivonious - Monday, December 28, 2009 - link

    But that's not due to the 4500MHD, it's due to Flash not taking advantage of it.

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