Asus’ Eee PC 1201T ultraportable

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″ 1366×768 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 (1366×768) 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 VGA

1 RJ45 10/100 Ethernet via Atheros AR8132 controller

1 analog headphone output

1 analog microphone input

Expansion slots
1 MMC/SDHC
Communications

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 1366×768 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 1024×600. (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…

The display and the controls

Now that the nitty-gritty hardware details are out of the way, we can talk about the ergonomics of the Eee PC 1201T’s display, keyboard, and touchpad. Few laptops manage to get all three of these items to look and feel just right. That’s too bad, because unlike desktops, notebooks don’t give you an opportunity to upgrade to a nicer monitor or throw on a nice, clicky keyboard. The best you can usually hope for is being able to carry a Bluetooth mouse along. How does the 1201T fare on this front?

With a moderately bright LED backlight, a TN panel, and a glossy finish, the 1201T’s display wouldn’t exactly make George Takei recoil with an amazed gasp. As we’ve noted before, glossy finishes really ought to go together with powerful backlighting, lest reflections impede usage in brightly lit environments. Considering this machine’s ultraportable credentials, however, we’re willing to make concessions if they can help portability and battery life. You’ll probably want to use a battery-saving, display-dimming power profile when on the go, anyway.

I just wish Asus hadn’t also made the display bezel glossy. Shiny, almost mirror-like display bezels may look gorgeous in product photos, but they seem to attract dust in an almost magnetic fashion. Unless you’re willing to wipe the thing down with a microfiber cloth every few days, we can pretty much guarantee that a gross-looking dust frame will build up around the LCD panel and the hinges.

  Total keyboard area Alpha keys
  Width Height Area Width Height Rough area
Size 280 mm 97 mm 27,160 mm² 159 mm 48 mm 7,632 mm²
Versus full size 98% 88% 86% 92% 84% 78%

The 1201T’s keyboard has a relatively small surface area, as one would expect from a 12.1″ laptop. Nevertheless, Asus has managed to deliver a full layout and comfortably wide alpha keys. Typing effectively on this puppy might involve a little adjustment, but not to anywhere near the same extent as some of the more lilliputian netbook keyboards.

If we have one gripe here, it’s that, as with many ultraportables, the 1201T’s chiclet keyboard flexes. That makes typing a little mushier than it should be, impeding tactile feedback especially in keys like T, Y, and H that sit near the center of the keyboard. We wouldn’t have a problem with an extended typing session on this machine, though, especially if the battery keeps up.

Asus has unfortunately gone with a glossy finish on the palm rest, the touchpad button, and the touchpad surface itself. Those little raised dots you see above draw attention away from some of the oily fingerprints and, more importantly, make the touchpad stand out from the rest of the palm rest, since there’s no other physical separation between the two. However, this design basically dooms users to having the lower third of their laptops covered in smudges.

Looks aside, we’re pleased with the size of the palm rest—it’s not narrow enough to make typing uncomfortable—but we’re less happy with the touchpad’s ergonomics. Asus has used a pretty solid capacitive multi-touch design from Synaptics here, but it’s given it a frustratingly small, poorly defined surface. The little dots don’t do a very good job of delimiting the tracking area, and I often found myself outside of it when attempting to drag and drop a file. Would it have killed Asus just to move the button closer to the edge of the laptop and make the tracking area a little taller, wider, and more clearly defined? As it is, the touchpad almost seems to serve more of a decorative purpose than a functional one. Good thing the Eee PC 1201T has built-in Bluetooth, so at least carrying around a small wireless mouse is an option.

Connectivity and expansion

The spartan nature of the Eee PC 1201T’s external connectivity looks straight out of the netbook playbook. On the starboard side, we’ve got a card reader, two USB ports, an Ethernet jack, and a pair of 3.5-mm ports for headphones and a mic. (There’s a built-in microphone next to the webcam, too.)

On the port side, Asus includes lone USB and VGA ports straddling the thermal exhaust vent. The power connector goes next to the vent, as well.

The bottom surface of the 1201T looks even barer, perhaps in part due to the lack of a Windows license sticker. Asus lets users remove the battery using a pair of sturdy-looking latches, and it offers direct access to the memory via a little door held in place by two Philips screws.

Easy memory upgrades are always a nice plus, but there’s a catch here: lifting the trap door and the protective sheet of black plastic reveals… the 2GB DDR2-667 SO-DIMM that comes with the system, sitting in a lone SO-DIMM slot. Upgrading involves throwing out that module and coughing up the cash for a 4GB SO-DIMM, which would set you back around $140 right now. You might think another SO-DIMM slot resides hidden in the bowels of the system, but the CPU-Z software disproves that hypothesis, reporting naught but a single, already-populated slot.

Admittedly, two gigs of RAM should be plenty for a laptop like this one. The relatively slow processor and tight form factor mean users probably won’t play graphically intensive games or run demanding photo or video editing apps. We’ll look at performance in more detail soon, but we never witnessed the 1201T apparently running out of memory and grinding to a halt, whether in Windows 7 or other operating systems. Besides, it’s not like any ultraportable in this price range would ship with 4GB to begin with—some netbooks not much cheaper than the 1201T sport only a single gigabyte.

Operating system madness

The Eee PC 1201T’s hardware may not be particularly remarkable, but we can’t say as much about its lack of a full bundled operating system. When first booting up, the 1201T greets users with ExpressGate, an “instant-on” OS we’ve already seen in other Asus products. Meant to boot quickly and provide quick access to basic PC functionality, ExpressGate is hardly a replacement for Windows or a full Linux distribution. However, it does let you connect to the Internet via Wi-Fi, browse the web, manage photos, use Skype, and chat on other instant-messaging networks. Asus even includes a shortcut with links to casual web-based games.

ExpressGate is capable of downloading files to a USB drive, so in theory, you could use it to grab a Linux ISO disc image off the web. Except as far as we can tell, there’s no software included to make that image bootable. Also, unlike some ExpressGate implementations we’ve seen on Asus motherboards, this version actually resides on the 1201T’s hard drive, so installing a real OS will wipe it. The only way to get the software back is, believe it or not, to install Windows and run the .exe ExpressGate installer available from Asus’ website.

ExpressGate or not, you’ll want to install a real OS on the Eee PC 1201T. Two obvious choices present themselves here: Linux, which is free, and Windows, which isn’t. Depending on your ability to get cheap Windows licenses (student discounts can be especially juicy) or your willingness to break the law, Windows might be the most attractive option. For the rest of us, installing Linux removes the need to shell out $99.99 for a Windows 7 Home Premium OEM license—the cheapest non-discounted edition available, as far as we can see.

The open-source community has fashioned dozens, perhaps hundreds of Linux distributions, but right now, none seem to be quite as popular as Ubuntu Linux. We downloaded the freshly released 10.04 version and took it for a spin on the 1201T. (Canonical does offer a special “Netbook Edition” of Ubuntu 10.04, but that variant is tweaked for low-resolution netbook displays. The 1201T’s panel has the same 1366×768 resolution as many full-sized laptops, so the regular, grown-up version of Ubuntu seemed like a better fit.)

Normally, installing Linux—or any operating system, for that matter—involves a CD or DVD. The Eee PC 1201T doesn’t have an optical drive, so we instead reached for the closest USB thumb drive and loaded the Ubuntu 10.04 ISO onto it, thanks to Pendrivelinux.com’s Universal USB Installer. Setting the system to boot from USB involved a little trip through the BIOS, but Ubuntu installed pretty much without a hitch, recognizing and supporting almost all of the 1201T’s hardware with one unfortunate exception: the Realtek Wi-Fi controller.

Using the built-in drivers, Ubuntu would detect only a handful of networks and drop Wi-Fi connections within a few minutes. We hunted on the Asus website and the included DVD for some Linux Wi-Fi drivers, but Asus only offers Windows software. After much Googling, we finally came across a custom driver by developer Matt Price. Happily, installing it didn’t involve any command-line hijinks. All we had to do was open up Ubuntu’s Software Centre application, add Price’s Launchpad repository in the options, and then head to the new section under “Get Software” to activate the driver from there. After a reboot, everything was working peachy, down to the laptop’s sleep mode. Ubuntu also prompted us to install AMD’s Linux Catalyst drivers, which gave us a Catalyst Control Center control panel with power-saving options just like in Windows.

Provided you don’t need to do anything particularly elaborate (like set up new hardware or attempt to run Windows apps) Ubuntu 10.04 works surprisingly well. The Software Centre provides a uniquely straightforward way to add or remove software, and the bundled open-source applications should serve most users’ needs. There’s the Firefox browser, OpenOffice productivity suite, Empathy IM client, Totem video player, Rhythmbox music player (with access to the Ubuntu One music store), Pitivi video editor, F-Spot photo manager, and a few other miscellaneous utilities, like a BitTorrent client. Ubuntu even connects to Windows network shares out of the box, so working in a Windows environment shouldn’t be too difficult.

Canonical has polished its user interface quite a bit for the Ubuntu 10.04 release, too, serving up a fairly tasteful default theme with subtle soft shadows and transparency effects. My only complaint is the location of the close, minimize, and maximize buttons: right above the “File” and “Edit” menus in the menu bar, leaving far too much room for accidental clicks. Canonical almost seems to be awkwardly aping Mac OS X. While Apple’s OS does have window buttons on the left, it also locates the menu bar at the top of the screen, well out of harm’s way.

Finally, there’s Windows. Paradoxically, we had a harder time installing Windows 7 Home Premium onto the Eee PC 1201T than Ubuntu. Microsoft provides a special tool to copy the Windows installer on a bootable USB drive, but that tool requires a Windows 7 ISO (hopefully purchased from the Microsoft store online). We had an old-fashioned installation DVD, which required a different solution, as we found out on the Microsoft TechNet website. In a nutshell, you have to open a command prompt and use the diskpart utility to format and partition the USB drive in the correct manner. Then, just copy all the files from the Win7 installation disc to the USB drive, and you’re set.

With Windows 7 installed, getting the 1201T to work as intended is actually much easier. Just copy the contents of the Asus software DVD, then run the installer and tell it to load up all the drivers and utilities. You’ll get perks like multi-touch scrolling, function key shortcuts, and special battery profiles, none of which are available in Ubuntu.

Our testing methods

We’ll be comparing the Eee PC 1201T to two netbooks, the Eee PC 1005PE and 1000HA, plus five grown-up laptops, the Acer Aspire Timeline 1380T, Asus K42F, Asus U30Jc, Asus UL80Vt, and Dell Studio 14z.

Asus’ default power management profile underclocks the Eee PC 1005PE and 1000HA’s Atom processors to 1.33GHz and 1.25GHz, respectively, when those netbooks are running on battery power. We tested both with this profile and the “high performance” mode, which lets CPUs scale up to their top speeds even on the battery. The Asus U30Jc, UL80Vt, and K42F also have special “Battery-saving” modes, which we’ve used in our battery life comparisons. We tested the UL80Vt in its “Turbo” mode, which overclocks the processor, as well. Other laptops were run in their default configurations.

With the exception of battery life, all tests were run three times, and their results were averaged.

System Acer Aspire AS3810-6415 Timeline Asus Eee PC 1000HA Asus Eee PC 1005PE Asus Eee PC 1201T Asus K42F Asus U30Jc Asus UL80Vt-A1 Dell Studio 14z
Processor Intel Core 2 Duo SU9400 1.4GHz Intel Atom N270 1.6GHz Intel Atom N450 1.66GHz AMD Athlon Neo MV-40 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-540M 2.53GHz Intel Core i3-350M 2.26GHz Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300 1.3GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8600 2.4GHz
North bridge Intel GS45 Intel 945GSE Intel NM10 Express AMD RS780MN Intel HM55 Express Intel HM55 Express Intel GS45 Nvidia GeForce 9400M G
South bridge Intel ICH9M Intel ICH7M AMD ID439D Intel ICH9M
Memory size 4GB (2 DIMMs) 1GB (1 DIMM) 1GB (1 DIMM) 2GB (1 DIMM) 4GB (2 DIMMs) 4GB (2 DIMMs) 4GB (2 DIMMs) 3GB (2 DIMMs)
Memory type DDR3 SDRAM at 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM at 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM at 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM at 667MHz DDR3 SDRAM at 1066MHz DDR3 SDRAM at 1066MHz DDR3 SDRAM at 800MHz DDR3 SDRAM at 1066MHz
Memory timings 6-6-6-15 4-4-4-12 5-5-5-15 5-5-5-15 7-7-7-20 7-7-7-20 6-6-6-15 7-7-7-27
Audio Realtek codec with 6.0.1.5807 drivers Realtek codec with 6.1.7600.16385 drivers Realtek codec with 6.0.1.5948 drivers Realtek codec with 6.0.1.5948 drivers Realtek codec with 6.0.1.5939 drivers Realtek codec with 6.0.1.6029 drivers Realtek codec with 6.0.1.5898 drivers IDT codec with 6.10.0.6217 drivers
Graphics Intel GMA X4500MHD with 7.15.10.1666 drivers Intel GMA 950 with 8.15.10.1749 drivers Intel GMA 3150 with 8.14.10.1929 drivers AMD Radeon HD 3200 with 8.635.0.0 drivers Intel GMA HD with 8.15.10.1995 drivers Intel GMA HD with 8.15.10.2021 drivers Intel GMA X4500MHD with 7.15.10.1752 drivers

Nvidia GeForce G210M with 8.15.11.8688 drivers

Nvidia GeForce 9400M G with 8.15.11.8619 drivers
Hard drive Toshiba HDD2HD21 500GB 5,400 RPM Seagate Momentus 5400.4 160GB 5,400 RPM Seagate Momentus 5400.4 160GB 5,400 RPM Hitachi Travelstar 5K500.B 250GB 5,400 RPM Seagate Momentus 5400.6 500GB 5,400 RPM Hitachi Travelstar 5K500.B 320GB 5,400-RPM Seagate Momentus 5400.6 500GB 5,400 RPM Western Digital Scorpio Blue 320GB 5,400 RPM
Operating system Windows 7 Home Premium x64 Windows 7 Starter x86 x64 Windows 7 Starter x86 x64 Windows 7 Home Premium x86

Ubuntu Linux 10.04

Windows 7 Ultimate x64 Windows 7 Home Premium x64 Windows 7 Home Premium x64 Windows 7 Home Premium x64

We used the following versions of our test applications:

All the tests and methods we employed are publicly available and reproducible. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to talk with us about them.

Application performance

Although we’ve outlined the merits of Ubuntu Linux a couple of pages back, the performance benchmarks on this page were all run in Windows. We had two good reasons to exclude Linux. First, our 7-Zip and x264 benchmarks don’t run natively in Linux. Also, we weren’t able to track down the same versions of Firefox and Flash we used in Windows for our other tests.

You may skip to the next page for cross-OS comparisons of video playback performance and battery life. In the meantime, think of the graphs below as a raw performance comparison meant to highlight the capabilities of the 1201T’s hardware.

We’ll start off our mobile benchmark suite by looking at browser performance using FutureMark’s Peacekeeper benchmark. FutureMark says this app tests JavaScript functions commonly used on websites like YouTube, Facebook, Gmail, and others. Next, we’ll look at Flash performance using the Flash component of the GUIMark rendering benchmark.

The 1201T’s Athlon Neo processor does most of the work here, and its performance falls right between that of the Intel Atom and full-featured CPUs.

7-Zip’s built-in benchmark is nicely multithreaded, so it should give an advantage to the multi-core CPUs in our comparison.

Indeed, the 1201T falls in line with the netbooks here, although it does manage to outdo the Eee PC 1005PE, which is based on Intel’s latest Pine Trail platform.

We see a roughly similar picture in x264 high-definition video encoding. The Athlon Neo MV-40 outmatches the Atom N450, but not by enough to get close to the same ballpark as Intel’s Consumer Ultra-Low Voltage processors, like the one inside Acer’s Aspire 3810T.

If one can draw a conclusion from the numbers above, it’s probably that the Athlon Neo will make web browsing a little smoother and snappier than an Atom, but users will be hard-pressed to distinguish the two in very CPU-intensive tasks.

Video playback

Considering the 1201T’s performance picture so far, we were curious to see how well its Athlon Neo and Radeon HD 3200 tandem would handle videos. To assess playback performance in Windows 7, we kept an eye on the Task Manager while viewing each clip. In Linux, we whipped up a little shell script to record the CPU utilization of either Firefox (for Flash videos) or Totem (for QuickTime clips) every few seconds. We also jotted down our subjective impressions.

First, in Windows 7, we tried QuickTime for our HD trailers, Flash 10 for the windowed YouTube test, and Windows Media Player for standard-def DivX playback:

  CPU utilization Result
Alice in Wonderland QuickTime 720p 55-100% Frequent dropped frames
Avatar QuickTime 1080p 72-100% Slide show
DivX PAL SD 27-67% Perfect
720p YouTube HD windowed 61-98% Smooth, occasional dropped frames

That’s not very good now, is it? QuickTime evidently doesn’t play well with the Radeon HD 3200, and the Athlon Neo doesn’t quite have what it takes to play back non-hardware-accelerated HD Flash video.

We then tried playing the QuickTime trailers in Windows Media Player, and we installed Flash 10.1 RC4, which has hardware acceleration:

  CPU utilization Result
Alice in Wonderland QuickTime 720p 10-24% Perfect
Avatar QuickTime 1080p 3-93% Smooth, occasional dropped frames
720p YouTube HD windowed 67-100%  Frequent dropped frames

WMP’s accelerated renderer did wonders for our HD clips, even if the 1201T still stumbled occasionally in the 1080p Avatar trailer. Surprisingly, though, the Flash 10.1 release candidate actually made performance worse. We tried grabbing the latest Catalyst drivers from AMD’s website to see if they would help, but the installer would only update the Catalyst Control Center. The latest AMD chipset drivers on Asus’ website, meanwhile, date back to December 2009. For now, this looks like the best the 1201T can do with Flash 10.1.

Last, but certainly not least, we booted up Ubuntu and attempted the same round of tests. Here, we used the latest version of Flash available via the Ubuntu Software Centre, and we viewed the other clips in Totem, which conveniently fetched and installed the relevant codecs automatically.

  CPU utilization Result
Alice in Wonderland QuickTime 720p 38-52% Perfect
Avatar QuickTime 1080p 44-77% Frequent dropped frames
DivX PAL SD 20-35% Perfect
720p YouTube HD windowed 16-64% Smooth, occasional dropped frames

The performance picture here is more or less similar to what we’d get using Windows Media Player and Flash 10 in Windows 7. That said, Totem did drop more frames than WMP in the 1080p Avatar trailer.

Battery life

Each laptop’s battery was run down completely and recharged before each of our battery life tests. We used a 40% brightness settings on all displays except for the Aspire Timeline’s, which we cranked up to 50%. (We found the Timeline’s 50% setting more directly comparable to the 40% settings of the K42F, UL80Vt, and Studio 14z.)

For our web surfing test, we opened a Firefox window with two tabs: one for TR and another for Shacknews. These tabs were set to reload automatically every 30 seconds over Wi-Fi, and we left Bluetooth enabled on systems that include it (the U30Jc does not). Our second battery life test involves movie playback. Here, we looped a standard-definition video of the sort one might download off BitTorrent, using Windows Media Player for playback. We disabled Wi-Fi and Bluetooth across the board, too.

Just like that, Ubuntu reveals its greatest weakness on the 1201T. The free operating system fared pitifully in our web browsing test, racking up a miserable 2.9 hours of run time. The 4.2 hours we got in Windows 7 might not be particularly worthy of praise, either, but a 31% drop from one operating system to the next is still a very big deal. There’s a real mobility cost to skipping that Windows license.

Now, since we’re talking about Linux, it’s entirely possible that battery life could be improved by recompiling the kernel with different flags or some equally esoteric maneuver. Unless you’re buying this laptop specifically to tinker with, though, we don’t know if that’s a particularly appealing proposition for anyone except die-hard Linux enthusiasts. 

Getting my Tux Racer on

For many years now, Windows users have derided Linux for its dearth of games—some might say Tux Racer, the circa-2000 3D classic, is still the state of the art in the Linux world. As we found out, that’s not quite true. We were able to test the Radeon HD 3200’s gaming chops in several Linux-native titles, starting with Splash Damage’s Enemy Territory: Quake Wars:

Although we did get it to run, Quake Wars didn’t seem to belong on the 1201T. Installing it involved the command line, and once we loaded up the game, performance was atrocious even at the lowest possible resolution and detail settings. (The image above is barely smaller than the original screenshot.) So much for Penguin-powered Strogg slaughtering.

Quake III Arena was once a staple of Linux gaming, and its web-based sibling Quake Live works just as happily on the free operating system. This title runs within Firefox via a special plug-in, but it performed flawlessly at 1280×720 with the default settings. Of course, the original Q3A is more than 10 years old now, so this engine doesn’t exactly need very much graphics horsepower.

We took a break from first-person shooters with Frets On Fire, a free Guitar Hero clone available through the Ubuntu Software Centre. This is more of a casual game, so buttery-smooth performance isn’t as big a requirement, but it maintained acceptable frame rates even in windowed mode with antialiasing enabled. Playing this thing on a laptop keyboard isn’t for everybody, though.

The Ubuntu Software Centre included another cross-platform first-person shooter: Warsow, whose name might refer to a bellicose pig, the similar-sounding Polish city, or both. This multiplayer game is based on a modified version of the Quake II engine snazzed up with cel-shaded graphics and per-pixel shading. Warsow was fairly playable at 1024×768, but we couldn’t get it to work in wide-screen mode.

In spite of the battery life caveat we mentioned earlier, then, using an Eee PC 1201T with Ubuntu doesn’t have to mean turning one’s back on gaming entirely. The Radeon HD 3200 clearly does a decent job with older and casual titles. And with the rumor mill grinding away about a Linux version of Valve’s Steam, perhaps things will only get better.

Conclusions

There’s room for debate over whether the Eee PC 1201T is a netbook or a consumer ultraportable, but we have few reservations about giving it another label entirely: mixed bag. Asus has fashioned this system with many of the ingredients for success, yet we can’t help but feel the company didn’t blend its concoction quite well enough.

A “choose your own adventure” laptop is certainly an original concept, especially in this price range, but the seemingly total lack of Linux software support from Asus puzzles us. If you’re not going to run Linux on this system, then you must buy a Windows license. Assuming no student discounts or the like, tacking the cost of Windows 7 to this system brings the total cost up to $479.99. Some Intel CULV-based consumer ultraportables already pre-installed with Win7 Home Premium actually sell for less right now—and as we’ve seen, the 1201T’s Athlon Neo processor doesn’t perform all that much better than the lowly Atom chips found in $299 netbooks.

Getting Ubuntu Linux 10.04 up and running on the Eee PC 1201T could have been much more difficult, of course. Everything except Wi-Fi functioned right off the bat, and we were able to solve the Wi-Fi issue within an hour or so. However, that choice of operating system comes with other drawbacks. Battery life is much worse, as we’ve seen, and there are other little problems and omissions, like the absence of some function-key shortcuts or multi-touch scrolling support. Flash performance seemed generally worse than in Windows, too; full-screen YouTube videos actually dropped frames even at the 360p setting.

If Asus really wants to cater to Linux users, basic software support seems like a must. Since Ubuntu 10.04 doesn’t cost anything, why not simply pre-load it on the machine instead of the largely useless ExpressGate software? Enthusiasts and tinkerers might format the hard drive and install their own distributions of choice anyway, but with a full pre-loaded OS, they could at least do so directly from the Eee PC.

In the end, though, installing Windows 7 really seems like a necessity in order to get the most out of the Eee PC 1201T’s hardware and battery. I can’t help but think this would have been a more compelling product had Asus actually shipped it with Windows and charged a tad more for it.

Comments closed
    • linuxferret
    • 9 years ago

    The question becomes, did you install the power stepping for Ubuntu to get it to function properly? You just do *[

    • dgz
    • 10 years ago

    I am glad you fired Warsow and QuakeLive. Such an amazing free games.

    geeky reviewer

    • MaMuS
    • 10 years ago

    About the power consumption, Isn’t it a little advantage for the windows guys that asus includes their tweaked drivers and settings for this plataform? I wonder if they did that for ubuntu, would we get better powersave?

    Also, about the “recompiling the kernel” part, you really don’t need to go this far. Some little tweaks would already pay for some more battery life. Of course, I don’t expect users or even someone installing the system to do so,but actually, thats what asus should have done!

    It fells bad because Linux is a perfectly capable OS. It seems that we need some giant company behind, putting some money and effort (android) for the computer manufacturers to get interested.

    • eitje
    • 10 years ago

    Cyril, Darwinia has a Linux port. Talk to Geoff about how fun that game is!

    World of Goo, too! gish, too! Penumbra, too!

      • MaMuS
      • 10 years ago

      I wish the next reviews will include some others cool linux games. Enemy territory is really cool, but a bit too much for the poor radeon 3200…

    • ludi
    • 10 years ago

    Is it really an ultraportable if it doesn’t have a built-in optical drive?

      • tu2thepoo
      • 10 years ago

      If I remember right, the thinkpad X series doesn’t come with a built-in optical drive… and that’s just about the definitive ultraportable product series.

        • no51
        • 10 years ago

        the x301 has an optical drive.

    • Storme
    • 10 years ago

    I can’t figure out why, after years of complaints from the majority of reviewers and end users that manufacturers (such as Asus, but many others too) STILL make bezels and screens glossy..?
    I mean, c’mon, its gotta be the most often complained about feature on any net/notebook/laptop..
    What do they need? a brick?

      • Firestarter
      • 10 years ago

      Because glossy screens look good in the store and sell better that way. Besides, matte screens aren’t better in every way, but better in many ways important for netbooks/small laptops.

        • ironoutsider
        • 10 years ago

        It’s the same way brains look good zombies. Brains!! *munches on brains*

    • Chrispy_
    • 10 years ago

    12″ netbook, Pirate OS Edition!

    I’ve already started pirating windows 7 since paying for a fourth copy seemed excessive. With a server/workstation, an HTPC and a gaming laptop all running either retail or OEM licenses, there was no way I was putting up with the hideously crippled Windows7 starter on my new netbook. There’s also a limit to how many copies of windows I can use at once, so I don’t see why I should pay for another license.

    Flawed argument? Yes.
    Guilty conscience? Nope.

    • jp107
    • 10 years ago

    Oops double-post.

    • jp107
    • 10 years ago

    Arn’t the OEM MS licences only valid if bought with ‘qualifying’ hardware?

    §[<https://partner.microsoft.com/download/US/40031047<]§ (page 5) ... For OEM licenses, you must have the following components to prove ownership: ... 2) The invoice for your purchase. Why would you need the invoice? Because OEM software must be sold with “Qualifying hardware.” What is “Qualifying hardware?” If you purchase an OEM desktop operating system license (Windows 2000 Pro, Windows XP Pro, etc.), then that license must be sold with a “non-peripheral hardware item.” This can be any internal computer system component such as a motherboard, memory, CPU, hard drive, etc. If you purchase an OEM Office or OEM Server license (Windows NT Server, Windows 2000 Server, Windows 2003 Server, etc.), then the only “qualifying hardware” is “a fully-configured computer system.” That is right, OEM Office and Server licenses can ONLY be sold with a complete computer system, period. They cannot be sold alone or with a hard drive, motherboard, etc. So as you can see, the invoice is required to show what “qualifying hardware” you purchased with the OEM license in order to see if it is a legitimate OEM license or not. ... Buying an OEM licence with the entire machine is probably ok, but not on it's own or with trivial bits of hardware. If the machine can't be bought with an OEM licence then those wanting Windows on it probably need the (more expensive) FPP versions.

    • deathBOB
    • 10 years ago

    Linux: Why Bother?

      • MadManOriginal
      • 10 years ago

      Hey, without the Linux option here you wouldn’t have had such a sweet troll opportunity would you?

      • fyo
      • 10 years ago

      I’m running Ubuntu Netbook almost exclusively on my ultra-portable. Roughly same battery life as Win7. Much nicer UI and not nearly all the programs I use are available in Windows.

      Oh, and the scheduler in Windows still sucks, much to my dismay. I really thought maybe they would do something about it this time around, btu apparently not.

      • stmok
      • 10 years ago

      l[

        • Meadows
        • 10 years ago

        Indeed, you can get for free what you don’t need.

          • stmok
          • 10 years ago

          Let’s look at it from the Windows/Linux user perspective then…

          *[<(1) You pay approx US$100 (or AUD$122) OEM license for the OS on pre-built desktop or notebook systems.<]* I pay $0. *[<(2) Think about the long term.<]* To make it fair for both sides; => The first Linux distros (Slackware or Debian) was released in 1993. => The closest would be Windows 3.1 if you focus on consumer in 1992. Windows 3.1 Windows 95 Windows 98 Windows Millennium Edition Windows 2000 Windows XP Windows Vista Windows 7 ...That's at least US$800 spent on the OS alone in the last 17 years or so. (And this is without adjusting 1993 or other year dollars to 2010 dollars. Not to mention not accounting for Windows Home Server version.) I spent $0. *[<(3) You are feature restricted based on version. You want a feature not in the version you're using? Pay up!<]* I use one distro. I install or remove components based on the uses of the system. I can convert a server; to purpose specific workstation; to home desktop; to HTPC; to public kiosk for a local library; to even a head node for a supercomputing cluster...All at $0. You have to look at what version of Windows *[approximately*] suits your needs. And depending on the features required; you will be asked to pay more. Say you wanted [*Software Restriction Policy*] because you know how to use it to improve system security; Only Windows 7 Professional or greater has that feature. Pay up! If its *[

            • UberGerbil
            • 10 years ago

            Pretty sure you just won the tl;dr award for the TR front page.

            WaltC is gonna be pissed.

            • swaaye
            • 10 years ago

            What about people who use all of the platforms day to day and see the strengths and weaknesses of each without your preaching?

            Linux has gotten somewhat better over the years but it has a long way to go before MS and Apple have to worry about it as a desktop competitor. As a server OS or embedded OS on the other hand, Linux is fantastic in many situations.

            I actually think that the “freeness” mentality is a major roadblock for Linux in its road to gaining more industry support. The attitude of quite a few of its users, who look for just about everything to be “free as in $0”, doesn’t attract companies that have to spend money to create products and want to make money on those products.

            Also the fragmentation within the Linux world is another impediment. How many fundamental incompatibilities are there between the many distros? Why can’t these people get along and work together against the evil tyrant corps?

            Finally there’s something to consider from a backwards compatibility standpoint. This is one very significant reason that MS dominates. A person can run DOS apps from >20 years ago on Windows 7 x86. Win 7 x64 will run many 32-bit apps all the way back to Windows 95. This is important to companies and to individual users. Apple isn’t on the same level here either. Linux desktops are fragile setups, frequently most concerned with what’s exciting this year, and they have in no way proven themselves to have trustworthy long-term support.

            • indeego
            • 10 years ago

            /[<"Linux has gotten somewhat better over the years but it has a long way to go before MS and Apple have to worry about it as a desktop competitor."<]/ Linux skipped the desktop and jumped to the smartphone. You bet your ass MS and Apple are worried about the Droidg{<.<}g In 10-15 years the idea of using a desktop as primary way to use computers will be as archaic as the floppy is todayg{<.<}g

            • bjm
            • 9 years ago

            ……….k.

    • nagashi
    • 10 years ago

    Thanks again for testing the laptop with Ubuntu. It’s great to see some love on TR! It’s a real shame about the battery life though, and this review is sadly a week late for me. I just ordered an MSI x340 with the intent to run ubuntu on it. I might’ve opted for the 1201t instead…

    • A_Pickle
    • 10 years ago

    Dear PC manufacturers:

    Could ONE of you PLEASE put a damn eSATA port on one of these things? I’d be willing to GIVE YOU MONEY in exchange for one. Without eSATA, you’re SOL.

    Thanks,
    -Fricken’ angry person.

      • KarateBob
      • 10 years ago

      e.SATA, gigE, and HDMI. C’mon!

        • ludi
        • 10 years ago

        The HDMI is there.

        Not sure what the point of GigE is on this type of unit.

          • Palek
          • 10 years ago

          I’m pretty certain there is no HDMI port on the 1201T. The pictures show 3 USB ports, a card reader, an Ethernet port, an analog VGA port, DC in and analog audio ports, but that’s it.

            • ludi
            • 10 years ago

            Whoops, you’re right. I was inspecting the wrong unit when I went looking for it.

            That’s actually pretty bad. The Timeline 1810TZ is smaller than this and Acer had no problem getting all of those ports and an HDMI on the two sides.

    • Veerappan
    • 10 years ago

    I find it odd that you couldn’t get the function key shortcuts working correctly in Ubuntu. I’ve mapped all of my macbook’s function keys to their compiz equivalents (brightness/expose’/volume/playback).

    I believe it’s all under either Preferences->Keyboard Shortcuts.

    Also, I’m assuming you took care of this but if you didn’t, I just wanted to point it out. By default, Ubuntu seems to put the CPU governor in a fairly high performance mode. You can add a CPU frequency monitor to the Gnome panel (just right click, add to panel, select CPU frequency monitor) and then use that to toggle the governor to ‘ondemand’ or ‘powersaving’ modes, which might help battery life when web surfing.

    There’s also support for auto-dimming the display when idle, but I will definitely acknowledge that there’s lots of room for improvement in Linux battery life.

      • Palek
      • 10 years ago

      Asus could have quite easily included drivers/scripts/whatever to enable custom keys and CPU power saving mode for Ubuntu and maybe another one or two major Linux distros.

        • Veerappan
        • 10 years ago

        Yeah, they could have. I’d much rather see more sane defaults for laptops in general, regardless of manufacturer.

        Unfortunately, power savings in laptops hasn’t been the biggest focus thus far for Ubuntu (and most other linux distros).

    • grantmeaname
    • 10 years ago

    The results really made it look like playback performance was /[

    • derFunkenstein
    • 10 years ago

    This product probably should have waited for the Athlon/Turion refresh so it could have a dual-core Phenom II derivative. That’d make it achingly close to perfect.

      • demani
      • 10 years ago

      Yeah- it seems like a new release with the new platform would be great. I like the size and features. Hate the trackpad and the glossy though (man, I really like satin black finish- when did that stop being classy?)

      I do like the no OS thing though. Would be nice if there was a way to include options for installers, such that you’d just pay for a key to get it up and running once you decided what you wanted to install (either for Windows, or for a Linux support package).

    • oMa
    • 10 years ago

    Athlon Neo is not a good processor. A dual core culv uses less power and is better even at singel threaded tasks. But with Nile, amd is taking a giant leap catching up with intel’s culv platform. And hopefully bobcat will be competative in performance/watt with next years intel culvs.

    (Intel ULV/LV is in their own league, just look at the processor inside macbook air, working at 2+ GHz and using less power than congo)

    • bthylafh
    • 10 years ago

    post fail

    • bthylafh
    • 10 years ago

    I wonder how much battery life would improve on Ubuntu if you installed Powertop and followed its recommendations.

    An even better question is why PT’s recs aren’t included by default in Ubuntu, but still.

      • fyo
      • 10 years ago

      Mod up, if such a thing existed. “powertop” is extremely simple. Just run it and press the indicated key to implement the suggested power saving feature.

      In addition to powertop, there’s one other easy thing to do: “iwconfig wlan0 power on” (run as sudo). That enables power saving for the wireless adapter (and isn’t enabled in 9.10 UNR, which is what I run — don’t know about 10.04). There are many parameters in iwconfig that can be tuned to minimize wireless power consumption, but just the above does a decent job in most cases.

      It would be nice to see the benchmarks rerun with those to easy optimizations.

        • bthylafh
        • 10 years ago

        For small values of “easy”. Most people don’t want to bother with a terminal, and you & I are outliers.

          • fyo
          • 10 years ago

          The comparison was (implicitly) to recompiling the kernel as the review suggested as the only option to enhance Ubuntu battery life.

          In that regard, using the terminal to run powertop and iwconfig is pretty easy 😉

    • satsuper
    • 10 years ago

    All the pictures of the screen have a weird blue tinge to it, I am guessing this is due to TN viewing angles?

      • Firestarter
      • 10 years ago

      Getting the whitebalance right when photographing laptops is pretty hard.

    • flip-mode
    • 10 years ago

    The use of Linux benches is much appreciated.

    The 1201T, though, just makes Asus look like a jerk. Why not put a full Linux OS on there? Why not provide any Linux support?

    I had to lol when I saw that installing Windows /[

      • shank15217
      • 10 years ago

      I don’t understand why ASUS has to make a thousand different models of Laptops which are so half-hearted. Look at Lenovo’s x100e thinkpad, at least that’s a serious attempt at an AMD based laptop.

    • Farting Bob
    • 10 years ago

    Asus, you fail for not installing any OS, then providing no advice in where to get one. Oh and putting drivers and programs on a DVD? More Fail. Would it have been much harder to use one of those 1GB USB sticks? You get them given away in alot of places, cant be that pricey.

    • Firestarter
    • 10 years ago

    I’m very surprised by AMD’s Neo, barely faster than an Atom while using a lot more power it seems!

      • BlackStar
      • 10 years ago

      This was a last-gen part, however. No wonder.

      • Anonymous Coward
      • 10 years ago

      Considering that AMD’s chip was single-threaded, its not so bad.

      • wiak
      • 10 years ago

      you forgot the IGP that beats the crap out of Atom’s IGP 😛
      you can play blu-ray on this 12″, you cant do that on atom based ones

    • ssidbroadcast
    • 10 years ago

    q[

      • MadManOriginal
      • 10 years ago

      Uh, did you read what came after that? The reason it was ‘hard’ was because they had to install it off a USB thumb drive and didn’t have a downloaded ISO to use the most common USB install method. Once they got it though.. q[

        • ssidbroadcast
        • 10 years ago

        Your sound logic and veritable reading comprehension skills aren’t welcome here.

        • BlackStar
        • 10 years ago

        On the other hand, the reviewer couldn’t get Ati’s drivers to install on Windows, which sucks *big* time.

        Thumbs up for Ubuntu, there.

    • ssidbroadcast
    • 10 years ago

    That’s a very nice looking laptop, aesthetically speaking.

    • End User
    • 10 years ago

    Very nice to see Ubuntu included in this review.

    I’m a fan of the 12xx series of netbooks. I love my 1201N (running Ubuntu 10.04). A review of the 1215 (http://bit.ly/dcb29x) would be very cool.

      • trackerben
      • 10 years ago

      My year-old HP dv2 runs vista x64 premium on 4gb stock, has similar specs (same MV-40 cpu), form, mass and battery life yet slightly better performance due to the discrete hd3410 gpu. Media player classic plays x264 720p video flawlessly while dxva-compliant 1080p plays ok with occasional stutters in some files. Icing on the cake is the nicer keyboard and aluminum chassis, the 1280×800 screen and HDMI are also more livable features imo. It can run hot when gaming but at least stuff like CoD4 Modern Warfare is very playable at low res. It does lack wireless-N, bluetooth, multitouch pad.

      This older model can still be found for under $550 with an external dvd bundled. Out of the box it has better specs and just needs sp2 (or perhaps Win7 x64) , rightmark undervolt utility, and bios/driver refresh to outperform the 1201T (excepting new win7 features of course, ubuntu should perform similarly)

    • MadManOriginal
    • 10 years ago

    So it appears the ‘Microsoft Tax’ has a pretty huge refundable tax credit in the form of battery life.

      • stmok
      • 10 years ago

      (1) Don’t judge Linux by one distro.
      (Ubuntu is not Linux. Its a distro of Linux.)

      (2) Ever heard of Intel’s PowerTop utility?
      => §[<http://www.lesswatts.org/projects/powertop/<]§ (3) You can tweak Linux to meet your exact needs. You can't do that with Windows. Cyril mentioned tweaking in the review; but never bothered to explore the idea at hand with Intel's PowerTop. (They just went with the defaults...Which are aimed for the desktop user => The power governor is set to performance mode, not "on-demand" mode.)

        • derFunkenstein
        • 10 years ago

        Have you looked at Win7’s power saving options? You can most certainly tune it to exactly meet your needs.

          • tu2thepoo
          • 10 years ago

          yeah, seriously. when Win7 lets you define sleep mode behavior for wireless adapters and the % of max CPU speed you want to downclock to when on battery power, I have to wonder what magical settings Linux can unlock.

          (knowing about powertop would’ve been nice before I resigned myself to installing WinXP on that spare laptop… oh well.)

          • stmok
          • 10 years ago

          * Can you compile and tweak the Windows Kernel; dropping all the useless components you don’t need for your specific notebook hardware?

          * Can you remove any component that you don’t need, which Windows provides as the default install?

          * Can you specifically analyze, and remove any components of Windows that is expressly hogging power?

          * Can you recompile and optimise for your specific hardware and needs of your system?

            • MadManOriginal
            • 10 years ago

            Here’s another loaded rhetorical question:

            * Can you just install and get to doing actual work with Windows (and apparently get better battery life with minimal effort too) rather than waste a lot of time screwing around with Linux ?

            Like your questions, the answer is YES! 🙂

            • grantmeaname
            • 10 years ago

            You can just install Linux and get to work too! It’s not an advantage if it’s a feature common to both parties.

            • stmok
            • 10 years ago

            Careful! You don’t want to point out the obvious to folks like MadManOriginal.

            • MadManOriginal
            • 10 years ago

            Sooo did you actually read this article or does half-assed wireless which required a hunt for custom drivers count as ‘working’ to you?

            • stmok
            • 10 years ago

            Please point me to where I can tweak the Windows 7 kernel?

            • MadManOriginal
            • 10 years ago

            Yeah the yes/no thing didn’t work out too well, your questions don’t strictly have yes/no answers, but the trolling thing sure as hell did work 🙂 (and the point still stands so it was only trolling in that it elicited a crazy reply from you.) My lord that’s one long reply. I guess since your time is worthless and you go around compiling and tweaking Linux constantly a huge and rambling post is no sweat!

            Here’s another one though: UNLIKE Mac and Linux zealots who go apesh*t when someone insults their -[

            • OneArmedScissor
            • 10 years ago

            If you so please, you can pretty much chop Windows down to nothing with the services control panel just by unchecking items on a largely self-explanatory list, no technical voodoo required.

            I’m guessing that wasn’t done, so much as Linux was not “tweaked” and only had one version tested, it was the exact same case for Windows.

            It’s a netbook, for crying out loud. Most people will want to just turn it on and check their Facebook, not rebuild an OS.

            The comparison used the most popular form of each OS, right out of the box. Considering the limitless other possibilities, that’s as appropriate and fair for this article as it’s going to get.

        • shank15217
        • 10 years ago

        Ok so what distro of Linux would you suggest?

        • bwcbiz
        • 10 years ago

        Is Powertop actually compatible with an AMD chipset? Or does it detect Intel chipsets and refuse to operate otherwise?

          • bthylafh
          • 10 years ago

          It will run on any x86 Linux system.

    • wiak
    • 10 years ago

    Mobility Catalyst can be found here
    §[<http://support.amd.com/us/gpudownload/windows/Pages/radeonmob_win7-32.aspx<]§ §[<http://support.amd.com/us/gpudownload/windows/Pages/radeonmob_win7-64.aspx<]§ and meybe try the quicktime trailers in Media Player Classic Home Cinema? §[<http://www.xvidvideo.ru/media-player-classic-home-cinema-x86-x64/media-player-classic-homecinema-x86-x64-svn-1899.html<]§ might be good to try disable desktop composition aka aero, as the HD 3200 dont have that much power to decode & postprogress video while running with aero enabled both Arcsoft TotalMedia Theatre and Cyberlink PowerDVD disables Aero when using IGPs and lowend discrete when you start a blu-ray keep up the good work, i love tr reviews =D

      • Cyril
      • 10 years ago

      q[http://support.amd.com/us/gpudownload/windows/Pages/radeonmob_win7-…<]§<]q The unified Catalyst 10.4 release is supposed to support Mobility GPUs. I did try the special Mobility installer supplied through that link, though, and it simply threw up an error about "incompatible hardware/software on your computer." No dice.

    • codedivine
    • 10 years ago

    Thanks for testing under Ubuntu! Would be great to see more reviews include Ubuntu if time permits.

    As for this case, I suspect its the Realtek linux wifi drivers which is causing the power consumption to go up. Realtek drivers are just a binary blob at the core, which cannot be optimized by the Linux community. But whatever the reason, the end result for the user is that the battery life under Linux for this laptop is quite poor.

    Under video playing the battery life between Ubuntu and Windows is much closer. I suspect that if you were just editing a document with wifi disabled, then battery life of Win7 and Ubuntu will come out close too. At least thats the case on my machine with a realtek card.

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