A visual tour
Around the left side of the Eee PC, we find a single USB port and a 10/100 Ethernet jack powered by an Atheros L2 Fast Ethernet controller. Gigabit Ethernet isn't in the cards, unfortunately, and neither is a modem, despite the presence of a phone jack right next to the networking port. The Eee PC does offer 802.11g Wi-Fi via an Atheros AR5007EG adapter, whose range is at least as good as the wireless module in my full-sized laptop.
From the left, we can also see the Eee PC's headphone and microphone jacks. HD audio is provided through a Realtek ALC6628 codec, and as one might expect from a budget laptop, playback quality doesn't blow your socks off. Sound quality is adequate, thougha theme that carries throughout the Eee PC.
Over on the right-hand side of the system, the Eee PC serves up an additional two USB ports and a standard VGA output. Asus also throws in an MMC/SD memory card reader, making it easy to bolster the device's 4GB solid-state hard drive with additional storage capacity. This expansion capability is particularly useful given the Eee PC's lack of an optical drive.
Flipping the Eee PC over reveals its four-cell lithium-ion battery, which sits flush with the system and delivers 5,200 mAh of power. According to Asus, that's good for three and a half hours of battery life.
Asus actually offers two different batteries across its various Eee PC models. 4G and upcoming 8G models are equipped with the same 5,200 mAh battery, while less expensive 2G and 4G Surf models come with a 4,400 mAh battery. Battery life for the latter is rated at 2.75 hours.
The most interesting element to the Eee PC's underbelly is a plastic door that affords users access to the system's SO-DIMM slot and a PCI Express Mini Card connector. Eee PC 4G models are equipped with 512MB of DDR2-667 memory out of the box, but it's possible to swap in a 1GB or even 2GB memory module. When the Eee PC was first released, such a memory upgrade would have voided the device's warranty. However, Asus has since backed away from that position, allowing users to upgrade their systems' memory at will. It's worth noting, however, that the Eee PC's Linux-based operating system will apparently only see 1GB of system memory, even if a 2GB DIMM is installed.
Upgrading the Eee PC's memory is no more difficult than doing so with a standard notebook. Swapping modules takes a couple of minutes at most, and with the current market's ridiculously low prices, I was able to toss in a 1GB Corsair Value Select SO-DIMM for just $15.
The Eee PC's screen pivots on a beefy hinge that feels quite a bit more solid than I had expected from a budget sub-notebook. In fact, the entire system feels surprisingly sturdy, with little flex in the chassis even when the Eee PC is held from only one corner. I can't speak to how the Eee PC will wear over time, but at least out of the box, build quality appears to be quite good.
When open, the Eee PC looks very much like a normal laptop. Without other items in the shot above to provide reference for scale, you might even mistake it for a full-size model. Unfortunately, my camera isn't particularly adept at dealing with this much whiteness, which is why the screen looks a little off in the picture above.
Zooming in on the screen reveals a 7" panel with an 800x480 resolution. That's not a lot of screen area to work with, certainly far fewer pixels than I'm used to having at my disposal, but the display itself is surprisingly brightas good as my 14" Dell, in fact. Driving the screen is a Graphics Media Accelerator 900 housed in an Intel 910GML chipset. Don't expect much in the way of pixel-pushing horsepower; this system isn't built for performance, let alone gaming.
It is built to do a little bit of everything, though, which is why you'll find a 0.3 megapixel webcam nestled along the top edge of the screen. Capture quality is adequate for video chat and easily better than some YouTube feeds, which is about what we'd expect from an integrated webcam with so few megapixels
On either side of the screen, you'll find the Eee PC's integrated speakers. Like most speakers on laptops of this size, sound quality isn't particularly good. What's more annoying, however, is that the speakers create a border around the screen that's about an inch and a half thick. This border makes the screen feel more cramped than it actually is, as if the speakers were robbing you of screen real estate.
Sadly, there's really no solution to the thick screen border. Using a larger screen would increase the cost of the Eee PC, and shrinking the border would require shrinking the device as a whole. That actually seems like a decent idea until you look at the Eee PC's keyboard, which is quite small. Asus has managed to squeeze in all the important keys, but the keys themselves are much smaller than on a standard keyboard.
To give you an idea of just how small the keys are, here's how a Canadian quarter (which is the same size as a US quarter) compares.
For my clumsy Neanderthal hands and their thick, stubby fingers, the Eee PC's keyboard feels more than just a little cramped. It's not unusable, mind you, and I'd far rather use a cramped normal keyboard than the even-smaller keyboards found on some Internet appliances. However, it takes careful concentration and a little practice to get up to any kind of speed. And even after weeks of practice, I still end up hitting the Enter key instead of the apostrophe about 50% of the time.
Interestingly, a friend of mine who isn't the most proficient typist tried the keyboard and had no problems adapting. If you just hunt and peck, adjusting the smaller keys should be much easier than if you're used to touch typing at 100 words per minute.
Power comes to the Eee PC via what is quite possibly the smallest plug I've ever seen bundled with a laptop. This isn't so much a power brick as, perhaps, a power stone. Heck, it doesn't even have a ground line. Don't think Asus is skimping, though; the cable attached to the power plug is a whopping 10 feet in length.
The Eee PC can get away with such a modest power plug because it really doesn't have much in the way of power-hungry components under the hood. Processing duties are handled by an "Ultra Low Voltage" Intel Celeron M 353 with a TDP of just 5W. However, that TDP refers to the chip's power consumption at its normal 900MHz core clock speed. The Eee PC runs the chip at just 630MHz using a 70MHz front-side bus instead of the standard 100MHz, which should drop processor power consumption even further.
In addition to the power cable, Asus bundles the Eee PC with a neoprene carrying case that has an unmistakable new wetsuit smell. The case isn't particularly fancy, but it's nice to have one included that fits the Eee PC's diminutive dimensions. This form factor hasn't yet spawned a wealth of aftermarket cases.
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