Atom-based Eee PCs arrive in North America

After plenty of buildup, the new Eee PCs based on the Intel Atom processor are finally getting official in North America today, with Asus announcing immediate availability of the Eee PC 901 and the impending release of the larger 1000 series, as well.

All of the new Eee PCs share some common traits, including the low-cost, low-power Intel Atom processor, amped up connectivity via integrated 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and a 1.3 megapixel webcam and microphone.  They're also all-new designs, with various improvements over the original Eee PC 700 series.  Have a look at the images in the gallery below to see a comparison of the Eee PC 4G Surf (701) and the 901.

Yes, the Eee PC 901 has in fact already made its way into the dank confines of Damage Labs, causing a temporary stoppage of productive work. The 901's several key refinements over the 700 series really help with usability, especially the 8.9" display with 1024x600 resolution, which is wide enough to show most web pages properly without the need for side-to-side scrolling.  The touchpad is much larger and now supports multi-touch functions, including two-finger-swipe scrolling a la the Macbook.  And the Atom N270 processor, which runs at 1.6GHz and supports two hardware threads via Hyper-Threading, seems to produce snappier performance than the Celeron in older Eee PCs.  Thanks to a six-cell battery and the Atom's power efficiency, Asus rates the 901's battery life at 7.8 hours.  Based on our limited experience, that claim seems entirely credible, so long as you allow Asus' auto-adjusting power management software to do its thing.  With the new battery, the 901 weighs in at 2.4 lbs.

The 901 comes with 1GB of DDR2 memory and either 12 or 20GB of storage in the form of a solid-state drive, depending on your OS choice.  Asus kicks in a 20GB SSD with Linux-based 901s, while they drop the SSD size to 12GB to defer the cost of Windows XP.  Newegg currently lists Pearl White and Galaxy Black variants of the Eee PC 901 XP, which both come with Windows XP Home Edition pre-installed and carry a $599.99 price tag.

With the advent of the Eee PC 901, some variants of the very similar Celeron-based Eee PC 900 have come down in price, as well. The Pearl White Eee PC 900 16G laptop with Linux pre-installed now costs only $399.99, even though it launched at $549.99. A Windows XP-based version of the same system costs $449.99, though, and Newegg still charges $549.99 for the XP-based Eee PC 900 12G.

Asus says the Eee PC 1000 series will ship later this month.  These are the bigger Eee PCs that move further into "real laptop" territory with 10.2" 1024x600 displays, larger and more comfortable keyboards, and "up to 2GB" of DDR2 memory.  The 1000 will come with Linux and a 40GB SSD; it will weigh 2.9 lbs and be able to survive for up to 7.5 hours on a single battery charge.  The 1000H will offer either Linux or Windows XP along with an 80GB hard disk drive, which will raise its weight to 3.1 lbs and reduce its maximum battery life to 7 hours.   Like the 901, the 1000 series will come in both pearlescent white and black color schemes.  The 1000H will list at $649, while the 1000 will go for $699.

We should have a full review of the Eee PC 901 soon, once I've had enough quality time with it.  Already, though, this is looking like a much more desirable execution of the Eee PC concept than the original.

Note: This story was updated on 7/9/08 with new information on Eee PC 1000-series displays and pricing.

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