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Asus' Eee PC 1201T ultraportable

The 'choose your own adventure' laptop

Manufacturer Asus
Model Eee PC 1201T
Price (Street) $379.99
Availability Now

Few laptops straddle the line between netbook and notebook more than the Eee PC 1201T. On one hand, the recently released Asus system has the telltale Eee PC branding of many netbooks, and its thin "seashell" design would be right at home around an Atom processor. On the other hand, the 1201T defies netbook convention with a 12.1" 1366x768 display, an AMD Athlon Neo processor, and Radeon HD 3200 integrated graphics.

At this point, the distinction would normally come down to the Windows 7 edition included: Starter for netbooks or Home Premium for the rest. But guess what? The Eee PC 1201T doesn't come with a full operating system. Asus ships the Eee PC 1201T with only its ExpressGate instant-on OS, which provides Internet access, web browsing, and other basic functionality. The company opted to let users decide for themselves whether they want this Eee PC to be a scaled-back netbook or a more grown-up consumer ultraportable.

Those users are clearly meant to be PC enthusiasts. Inside the box, Asus provides only a DVD with some Windows drivers and a manual that doesn't say a word about picking or installing an OS. Users are expected to choose their poison, stick it on a USB thumb drive, and set up the 1201T to their liking all on their own. If that's not a departure from the masses of nearly identical netbooks and ultraportables, we don't know what is.

The question, of course, is whether giving folks a blank slate is more of a blessing than a curse. Last we checked, Windows 7 wasn't particularly cheap, and other laptops in the same price range were all sold with a version of it pre-installed. Slapping on Linux solves the cost issue, and devotees of open-source operating systems may rejoice at the prospect of dodging the infamous "Microsoft tax." But does Linux really work as well as Windows on a system like this? And most importantly, is the 1201T's hardware compelling, regardless of the OS situation?

Let's start by studying the Eee PC 1201T's hardware. You might notice the AMD Vision sticker on the palm rest. AMD just introduced its 2010 Ultrathin Platform, previously code-named Nile, but Asus has based the 1201T on the previous-gen Congo platform. The included Athlon Neo MV-40 processor has a single, 65-nm core operating at 1.6GHz, and the accompanying RS780MN north bridge has DirectX 10-class Radeon HD 3200 integrated graphics. (Newer offerings, for the record, have 45-nm CPUs and DX10.1 graphics.)

Despite its older innards, the MV-40 still has a pretty tight 15W power envelope. It should also have very respectable performance—higher than a similarly clocked Atom CPU, one would hope—since it's based on the same out-of-order architecture as desktop Athlon 64 CPUs of old. Couple that with the Radeon integrated graphics, and we could be looking at a decent step up from the performance of your typical netbook.

Processor AMD Athlon Neo MV-40 1.6GHz
Memory 2GB DDR2-667 (1 DIMM)
Chipset AMD RS780MN
Graphics AMD Radeon HD 3200
Display 12.1" TFT with WXGA (1366x768) resolution and LED backlight
Storage Hitachi Travelstar 5K500.B 250GB 2.5" 5,400 RPM hard drive
Audio Stereo HD audio via Realtek codec
Ports 3 USB 2.0
1 RJ45 10/100 Ethernet via Atheros AR8132 controller
1 analog headphone output
1 analog microphone input
Expansion slots

802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi via Realtek RTL8191SE
Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR

Input devices Chiclet keyboard
Synaptics capacitive touchpad
Internal microphone
Camera 0.3-megapixel webcam
Dimensions 11.7" x 8.2" x 1.1" (296 x 208 x 27.3 mm)
Weight 3.2 lbs (1.46 kg)
Battery 6-cell Li-Ion 47 W/h

The rest of the Eee PC 1201T's components would look as much at home on an Intel-based consumer ultraportable as they would on a netbook, except perhaps for the 1366x768 display resolution. Generally speaking, only the handful of Atom netbooks with Broadcom Crystal HD video decoders, like Asus' own Eee PC 1005PR, have displays denser than 1024x600. (The 1005PR costs a good $40 more than the 1201T right now, by the way, even though the 1201T's integrated Radeon HD 3200 should have the chops to handle HD video.)

To us, those 768 vertical pixels seem like a bare minimum for anything without an exceptionally small display. Anything lower, and the touchpad's primary purpose would likely change from pointing to scrolling.

From a physical standpoint, the Eee PC 1201T is actually a little bigger and heavier than some 11.6" ultraportables with Intel Consumer Ultra-Low Voltage processors. Regardless, this thing makes full-sized systems like the 13.3" Asus U30Jc we reviewed last month look positively portly, all without forcing too much of a compromise upon the user when it comes to keyboard size. Speaking of which...