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Asus' Eee PC 1000HE netbook

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss

I can't live without a laptop. I'm not sure when it happened, but somewhere along the line, something clicked inside my brain. I realized that most of the tasks for which I was using a desktop PC could be accomplished by a smaller, more efficient, and more portable alternative. Since then, my laptop and I are almost inseparable. If I'm on the couch watching TV, the laptop's right there with me. Sports? I'm looking at live stats for the game. The Discovery Channel? I'm reading Wikipedia to learn more about each topic.

And it's not just around the house: a day full of errands usually includes a laptop in tow. After all, checking my email and reading my favorite sites is only a Wi-Fi hotspot away. In a worst-case scenario, I can tether my mobile phone to the laptop for Internet access anywhere.

It might come as a surprise, then, that I have yet to jump on the netbook bandwagon. After all, why wouldn't one want an extremely portable notebook, designed for Internet access, with the added bonus of great battery life? Until recently, netbooks have struck me as awkward hybrids between PDAs and ultra-light notebooks—not offering the pocket-sized convenience of the former or the feature set of the latter. Awkward keyboard layouts, specialized hardware, handicapped multimedia performance, and unfamiliar operating systems left me uninterested in netbooks.

However, in the 18 months or so since Asus started the netbook craze with the original Eee PC 701, the firm (and its competitors) have continually revised and improved upon that formula. Screen resolutions are no longer terribly cramped at 800x480, and general usability has improved with each iteration. Intel's Atom processor, designed specifically for efficiency in mobile devices, has also brought performance and battery life improvements.

The 1000HE represents the next evolution in the Eee PC 1000 series, which we've spent a good amount of time talking about in the past. Geoff reviewed the original 1000 netbook, and both he and Scott have discussed 1000H and 1000HA derivatives on the site and in our podcast. TR readers made their voices heard, as well, picking the 1000H as their favorite netbook on the market in a poll last year. It almost goes without saying, then, that the 1000HE has some large shoes to fill.

A new Eee for a new year
Not everyone has seen a netbook before, so when we discuss their capabilities and limitations, it's important to understand just what kind of device we're talking about.

With the lid closed, you might have a hard time telling the 1000HE apart from its predecessors. After all, the always-classy piano black remains the standard finish for the netbook's exterior. The signature "Eee" on the lid provides no hints as to the model enclosed within, and the overall size and weight remain identical to the 1000H's.

To give you an idea of how small the 1000HE really is, here it is compared to standard CD case. The Eee PC's footprint is just 10.5" by 7.5"—smaller than a sheet of paper. Of course, the netbook measures 1.5" at its thickest point, which is actually thicker than some full-sized laptops.

The Eee PC 1000HE pinning down Apple's 13.3" unibody MacBook.

How much smaller is a netbook compared to a standard laptop computer? The unibody MacBook is by no means large, yet it still manages to dwarf the 1000HE. Yes, the MacBook is thinner, but the lighter, smaller Eee PC is easier to toss into a bag and tote around. And we're not even taking the battery life differences into consideration yet. Before we get further into discussing the Eee PC 1000HE's qualities, let's take a look at its hardware breakdown:

Processor Intel Atom N280 1.66GHz
Memory 1GB DDR2-667 (1 DIMM)
North bridge Intel 945GSE
South bridge Intel ICH7M
Graphics Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 950
Display 10.2" TFT with SWGA (1024x600) resolution and LED backlight
Storage 5,400RPM 160GB Seagate Momentus SATA
Audio Stereo HD audio via Realtek ALC6628 codec
Ports 3 USB 2.0
1 RJ45 10/100/1000 Ethernet
1 analog headphone output
1 analog microphone input
Expansion slots 1 SDHC
Communications 802.11n Wi-Fi
Bluetooth 2.0
Input devices 92% "chiclet" keyboard
Touchpad with multi-touch support
Camera 1.3 megapixel webcam
Dimensions 10.5" x 7.5" x 1.5" (266 x 191 x 38 mm)
Weight 3.2 lbs (1.45 kg)
Battery 6-cell Li-Ion 8700mAh

The 1000HE has received upgrades over the 1000H in three key areas: the CPU, battery, and keyboard. Asus went with the new Atom N280 processor, which is clocked at 1.66GHz with a 667MHz front-side bus—a step up from the 1.6GHz Atom N270 and 533MHz FSB found in most other netbooks. Like the N270, the N280 supports Hyper-Threading Technology, allowing the operating system to run two threads on one core. The small operating frequency bump won't suddenly open the door for 1080p movie playback or make Crysis playable, however, and you'd actually have a hard time telling the N270 and N280 apart in most usage scenarios. Still, Asus deserves some credit for keeping up with Intel's latest.

Asus includes a dynamic underclocking/overclocking utility called Super Hybrid Engine (who comes up with these names?) with four pre-configured profiles. These presets have nothing to do with Windows' power saving settings, and are strictly related to the CPU's frequency. Here's a breakdown of the different modes:

  • Power Saving: Lower FSB of 500MHz, resulting in a CPU speed between 750MHz and 1.25GHz.
  • High Performance: Stock FSB of 667MHz, resulting in a CPU speed between 1GHz and 1.66GHz.
  • Super Performance: Higher FSB of 700MHz, resulting in a CPU speed between 1.05GHz and 1.75GHz.
  • Auto: Switches between Power Saving when running on battery and High Performance when on the AC adapter.

Most users will likely never find a scenario that would benefit from direct control of the CPU speed, and they're best served leaving the Super Hybrid Engine set to "Auto." For the rare video file that requires a little extra oomph, though, the ability to overclock the CPU is a useful feature.

The 1000HE's mechanical hard drive seems indicative of a trend away from solid-state solutions, which can hamstring a netbook's performance and storage capacity. 160GB might be overkill for a tiny laptop, but hard drive manufacturers have few reasons to make lower-capacity alternatives nowadays. Despite all of that free space to work with, you'll be happy to know the stock Windows XP installation is largely free of bloat. By default, you'll find StarOffice 8, Skype, and Adobe Reader pre-installed. Asus also includes its Eee Storage software, which provides access to 10GB of online space to transfer files between locations or share with others. One last interesting piece of software is InterVideo's WinDVD, which allows you to enjoy DVD playback if you connect an external drive to the 1000HE.