The storage situation
This version of the Eee PC 901the one with Windows XP pre-installed on ithas a 12GB solid-state disk. The Linux version costs the same but comes with a 20GB SSD. You may hear the letters S-S-D and think warm thoughts about durability, long battery life, and high performance, but, well, this is a low-cost device, so there are caveats.
In this case, the big caveat is how that SSD is arranged. The 901's 12GB SSD has a 4GB partition of relatively quick flash memory and an 8GB partition of much slower (we're talking USB key grade) flash RAM. This setup presents immediate problems for Windows XP, since the 901's OS installation and basic set of applications take up over 3GB of space on the 4GB C: drive by default. Asus has dealt with this issue in several ways. For one, the 901 comes configured with no page file, and thus no virtual memory. That's not necessarily a big deal on a netbook, but going commando has never appealed to me personally. On top of that, the 901 isn't set up to hibernate to disk. To me, that's a fundamental problem.
Now, this is the part where I stop and acknowledge that a netbook like this one a different sort of product than a full-fledged laptop and that one should expect some limitations in such a device. Noted. But I still wanna hibernate it.
You see, hibernation very handy for saving the state of your system, with all of the apps and browser tabs and text editor tabs and IM windows open just as you had them, and shutting down the system for a move elsewhere. Sure, a simple netbook may boot to the Windows desktop almost as quickly as it will come up from hibernation, but it won't finish booting completely for some time after that, and then you have to load up all of your apps and documents again. Quite simply, I want to be able to hibernate a laptop.
But in order to do so, you must have enough space free on the OS drive to store the contents of memory1GB on a stock 901. Finding enough free space on the 901's 4GB C: drive is a challenge.
I was up to it, of course, determined to clear off enough space to make it work. I uninstalled a bunch of the Windows Live! stuff (Asus puts a whole truckload of Live! apps on the 901), reinstalled some apps into a Program Files directory on the 8GB D: partition, fiddled with NTFS compression on both partitions before finally going all in on both of 'em (with a 1.6GHz dual-threaded CPU and a slow storage device, this seems like a clear win), moved my user profile to D:, and moved the Windows temp directories to D:.
At last, I had it: Hibernation! The 901 was terribly slow at writing a 1GB hibernation file to the SSD, but at least it worked. Then I got crazy, creating a small page file on C: and a larger one on D:, like I thought it should be done.
My victory was short-lived, however, when I realized that web pages were slow to load in Firefox. I'm talking multi-second delays before the page fully loaded and rendered, even on a fast 'net connection. Fairly quickly, I figured out that the problem was the 8GB D: drive, which is slow enough to make installing a program a 20-minute affair. The system was sluggish while rendering web pages because it was taking a long time to write objects to the browser cache. Eventually, I had to move my user profile, temp directories, and Firefox back to the C: drive. I even got rid of the page file, just to be sure it wasn't part of the problem, and backed down on NTFS compression on the C: drive. After that, browsing was much fasteracceptable, though not particularly snappy.
Incidentally, the SSD is the reason I said the 901's Atom processor doesn't tend to slow it down much. In day-to-day use, I've found that disk I/O is this system's overriding performance constraint.
The bottom line here is that Eee PC's SSD is not a desirable feature compared to a traditional mobile hard disk. This SSD has advantages in terms of packaging size, durability, and probably cost, but any power efficiency gains you might see with it surely evaporate when disk I/O operations take this long to complete. The whole system is left waiting, burning battery power, during those intervals. And the 4GB limit on the quicker root partition is a severe limitation, in my book. Given the choice, I'd take a mobile hard drive over this thing any day of the week.
Battery life and heat
Before you get the sense that I'm totally down on the 901, we should talk about this Eee PC's ace in the hole: battery life. The rear portion of the machine is anchored by a beefy, 6600 mAh lithium-ion battery. When coupled with the Atom processor and LED display backlight, that makes for some very nice run times on a single charge. Asus rates the 901 for 7.8 hours of run time, and they aren't kidding. You can get a good eight-hour day out of a fully charged 901, if you're judicious about how you use it. That's a fragile thing, though. In my experience, you're probably more likely to see run times closer to six hours, if you're using Wi-Fi, surfing the web, and chatting via an IM program. Still, the new Eee PCs stand out among the current constellation of netbooks for their endurance, a critical factor in a product like this one.
One reason the battery life is so good, perhaps, is that Asus' software auto-tunes the 901's CPU in response to the power source. When plugged into a wall socket, the CPU runs at up to 1.6GHz, less via SpeedStep if there's no demand. On battery power, the system switches into "battery saver" mode, in which the CPU ranges between a minimum of 600MHz and a max of 1200MHz. One may also switch between power modes manually and select a third "super performance" mode that overclocks the front-side bus to 560MHz and the CPU to 1680MHz. I didn't bother with this mode, though, and I found Asus' auto-switching software to be seamless and acceptable.
Here's a look at the temperatures on the 901's exterior after a web-surfing session via Wi-Fi. The temps are pretty reasonable, all things considered, but I'm pretty sure the 901 can get warmer than this in the right conditions. I measured on an unseasonably cool day, and the thing has felt warmer to the touch to me in the past when surfing via a wireless network, for whatever that's worth. I still wouldn't consider heat a particular weakness of the 901. It can get warm to the touch, and every so often its fan has to kick up and make a little noise getting it cooled down. Most of the time, though, it's not especially hot and almost completely inaudible.
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