Asus created a whole new class of budget sub-notebooks when it launched the Eee PC late last year. Since its launch, the Eee has been so popular that the likes of MSI, Gigabyte, HP, and even Dell are scrambling to come up with their own take on the formula. The formula, of course, combines relatively low-end hardware that's fast enough for basic tasks with an ultra-portable sub-notebook form factor that's much smaller than other budget notebooks. These systems come pre-loaded with Linux and free software to keep costs down, allowing Asus to sell the standard Eee PC 4G for only $400.
The marriage of true PC functionality with sub-notebook portability at an affordable price makes the Eee PC ideal for a wide range of applications and users. Many folks who have never even heard of alternative operating systems may be turned off by the Eee's unfamiliar Linux OS, though. The device's Xandros distribution is by no means difficult to use, and the bundled applications offer all the right functionality. But the alien environment does take some getting used to, especially if you want to be productive.
The vast majority of consumers have little experience outside the Windows world. While some may enjoy learning the ins and outs of a new operating system, I suspect that most would rather get rolling in a familiar environment. It seems Asus agrees, because the Eee PC is now available with Windows XP.
Getting Windows running on the Eee isn't a particularly impressive achievementthe original was fully compatible with Windows XP, and Asus even provided the necessary drivers if you wanted to install the OS yourself. What makes this latest XP-powered Eee PC 4G special is the fact that it's selling for the exact same price as the Linux version, so you're essentially getting Windows for free. And we like free. Read on to see if XP makes the Eee PC better or if its budget hardware bogs down under the weight of a Windows OS.
An introduction to the Eee PC
Indulge me for a moment, because I'm going to kick things off by getting up on the soapbox. Even after our initial review of the Eee PC, some folks still don't seem to get what makes this little sub-notebook such an, er, big deal. $400 for a budget notebook, they say, is nothing special.
And they're right, sort of.
$400 isn't new territory for budget notebooks, and if you're willing to spend a little more, you can even find models with dual-core processors and gaming-friendly discrete graphics chips.
What most folks seem to be missing is that the Eee PC isn't a notebook. It's a sub-notebook, and the smaller form factor makes all the difference in the world.The Eee PC measures just 225mm wide, 165mm deep, and up to 35mm thick (8.9" x 6.5" x 1.4" if you prefer inches), which is very small indeed. That gives the device about the same footprint as a couple of CDs. (Kids, you'll hear about this archaic music storage device in school one day. It's how your parents listened to music, back when people used to actually pay for it. But I digress.)
So the Eee PC is quite small, then. Small enough that you don't really need a laptop bag. The Eee PC will easily squeeze into smaller backpacks, purses, and even my CamelBak hydration pack. Asus ships the unit with a neoprene slip case, if you just want to tote it around on its own.
While you might be able to find a budget notebook in the Eee PC's price range, there's no way it's going to compete with the Eee on size. Above, the Eee PC is pictured with a standard-aspect 14" Dell. The Dell is smaller than the 15.4" designs that dominate the budget notebook space, but it's quite a bit bigger than the Eee PC. Weighing in between five and six pounds, the Dell is much heavier, too. The Eee PC weighs only 920 gramsless than two poundsmaking it several times lighter than most budget notebooks.A couple of extra pounds shouldn't be a burden to carry around, at least not unless you have arms like the Olsen twins, so it's the Eee PC's diminutive dimensions that really make the difference. Try cracking open a 15" notebook when crammed into steerage class on an airline as the passenger in front of you reclines their seat for a nap, and you'll see there's a very big difference between a full-sized laptop and a sub-notebook like the Eee PC. There's really no sense in comparing the two, even if they're competitive on price.