Asus’ Eee PC 1015PN netbook

Manufacturer Asus
Model Eee PC 1015PN
Price (Street)
$429.99
Availability Soon

This is a tough time for netbooks. Cursed with stagnating hardware, and under pressure from slates on one side and cheap consumer ultraportables from another, these little 10-inch machines are retreating to ever-lower price points. Just over two years ago, the first Atom-based Eee PCs were generating buzz for their surprisingly capable innards and $400-600 price tags. Our mobile section used to be filled with fresh netbook reviews, and our editors could be seen toting those same systems at trade shows and press events.

That didn’t last, though. Largely due to online high-def video, web surfing began requiring an increasing amount of processing power. At the same time, systems based on Intel’s Consumer Ultra-Low Voltage processors began to show up, offering grown-up performance at netbook-like prices, with competitive battery life and portability. It was like a perfect storm. Today, netbooks usually sell for less than $300, and we largely shun them in favor of Intel CULV- or AMD Nile-based ultraportables, which can be priced anywhere from $400 to $600—the old netbook proving grounds.

Introducing a supercharged netbook in this day and age is therefore a bold move. Asus has done exactly that with the Eee PC 1015PN, which is among the very first systems to incorporate Intel’s Atom N550, a dual-core version of the ubiquitous N450. The 1015PN treads further into uncharted waters by adding Nvidia’s next-generation Ion graphics processor to the mix. It’s no surprise, then, to see the system listed on Amazon with the lofty asking price of $429.99.

The question is: can an extra Atom core and discrete Nvidia graphics spice up the netbook formula enough to make it worth that kind of dough? Folks shopping for a new laptop this holiday season will likely wonder if this lightweight 10-inch contraption can give consumer ultraportables a run for their money. We wouldn’t necessarily expect equivalent performance, but certainly, the blend of adequate CPU performance, solid graphics performance, and long battery life could be a strong selling point for this netbook on steroids.

Join us as we put the Eee PC 1015PN through its paces and see how it stacks up against Intel and AMD ultraportables. We’ll throw in some full-sized notebooks, too, just for comparison’s sake.

First, let’s talk a little more about what makes this new Eee PC unique. Intel’s Atom N550, which came out in late August, is one of the ingredients in the 1015PN special sauce. The N550 has dual Atom cores on a single piece of silicon, with twice the core and thread count of the Atom N450 with a slightly lower clock speed (1.5GHz instead of 1.66GHz) and a larger thermal envelope (8.5W instead of 5.5W). We’ve seen dual-core, four-thread Atom processors before, of course, but this is the first such product explicitly aimed at netbooks—and with a thermal envelope to match.

Another ingredient is Nvidia’s next-generation Ion graphics processor, which has already appeared in other recipes, like Zotac’s HD-ID11. You can think of this part as a discrete GeForce graphics chip, because that’s basically what it is. The new Ion is based on the exact same GT218 silicon as the GeForce 310, and it has all the same trappings: dedicated memory, high-definition video decoding logic, and in theory, support for Optimus switchable graphics technology. We’ll get to the Optimus part in a minute.

The next-gen Ion flavor inside this Eee PC is actually scaled back from what we saw in the HD-ID11, presumably in order to keep power consumption at a more netbook-friendly level. GPU-Z reports eight stream processors, a 500MHz GPU clock speed, 512MB of 700MHz DDR3 memory, and a 64-bit memory interface for total memory bandwidth of 11.2GB/s. Eight SPs is admittedly anemic for gaming, but I don’t think Asus designed this machine to double as an on-the-go Xbox 360 substitute. Being able to run casual or older PC titles would be a nice improvement over the built-in Intel graphics.

Speaking of improvements, the next-gen Ion has allowed Asus to outfit the Eee PC 1015PN with an HDMI output. Combined with the GPU’s PureVideo HD decoding logic, that port should allow high-definition content to be piped from the 1015PN to the nearest HDTV.

Unfortunately, the Ion’s capabilities are held back somewhat by Asus’ choice of operating system. Windows 7 Starter doesn’t support Optimus switchable graphics (as Asus’ website explains) and lacks Windows Media Center. I don’t have any problems with the second omission—I’m sure nobody really expects a netbook to work as a full-featured HTPC—but the lack of Optimus capabilities is much harder to forgive.

The appeal of Optimus is the ability to combine the performance advantages of a discrete GPU (mainly for video playback and 3D gaming) with the low power consumption (and thus longer battery life) of integrated graphics. Properly implemented, Optimus’ operation is largely seamless and transparent to the user. Yet the Eee PC 1015PN provides none of the convenient, on-the-fly switching, instead forcing the user to toggle manually between integrated Intel and discrete Nvidia graphics. Each such switch requires a reboot. Windows 7 Starter might suffice for $300 netbooks, but it looks a wee bit out of place here.

Here are the rest of the Eee PC 1015PN’s specifications, condensed in a handy chart:

Processor Intel Atom N550 1.5GHz
Memory 1GB DDR3-667 (1 DIMM)
Chipset Intel NM10 Express
Graphics Nvidia Next-generation Ion with 512MB DDR3

Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 3150

Display 10.1″ TFT with WSVGA (1024×600) resolution and LED backlight
Storage Western Digital Scorpio Blue 250GB 2.5″ 5,400 RPM hard drive
Audio Stereo HD audio via Realtek codec
Ports 3 USB 2.0

1 HDMI

1 VGA

1 RJ45 10/100 Ethernet via Atheros AR8132

1 analog headphone output

1 analog microphone input

Expansion slots
1 MMC/SDHC
Communications 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi via Broadcom controller

Bluetooth 3.0

Input devices Chiclet keyboard

Elan capacitive touchpad

Internal microphone

Camera 0.3-megapixel webcam
Dimensions 10.3″ x 7.0″ x 0.9-1.4″ (262 x 178 x 23.6-36.4 mm)
Weight 2.86 lbs (1.3 kg)
Battery 6-cell Li-ion 5200 mAh, 56 Wh

Graphics and CPU aside, the Eee PC 1015PN doesn’t stray far from the netbook fold. There’s the 10″ display with its standard 1024×600 resolution, 1GB of system memory, a 250GB mechanical hard drive, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and relatively spartan connectivity. According to our postal scale, the 1015PN weighs in at just under 2.9 lbs, which is pretty much in line with cheaper and less well-endowed netbooks, as well. (Adding the power adapter and cord brings that up to 3.4 lbs.)

Keeping this netbook thin, light, and compact is an honorable achievement, but I think some folks will take issue with the amount of RAM included. Offering a $430 computer with only a single gigabyte of RAM would probably have passed a couple years ago, when netbooks were still shipping with Windows XP, but it seems downright stingy today. Coupled with the puzzling inclusion of Windows 7 Starter as opposed to Home Premium, the small amount of RAM may make it harder for the 1015PN to steer shoppers away from sub-$500 consumer ultraportables.

Externally, Asus has happily steered clear of some of the usual netbook pitfalls, namely excessive glossiness and impractically narrow palm rests. The only glossy surfaces here are the keyboard backplate and the display bezel. Even the display itself has a matte finish, as do the palm rest and the display lid.

The smooth, plain-looking exterior makes the Eee PC 1015PN feel sort of rugged, like it’s designed to be tossed around and thrown in a backpack—as opposed to, you know, sitting on a store shelf looking shiny. At the same time, that matte lid and palm rest have a slight sheen that looks very slick. I’ve got to commend Asus for making this netbook both tasteful and functional. Are the 1015PN’s ergonomics equally worthy of praise?

The display and the controls

On many netbooks, the diminutive sizes of the keyboard and touchpad in particular can impede usability, making the system feel awkward and uncomfortable to operate. If you’re blowing over 400 bucks on a netbook, though, you’d hope such kinks would be absent.

Asus has selected a relatively nice LCD panel for this machine. The display does have the same 1024×600 resolution as every other netbook screen, but it’s bright, colorful, and non-glossy. Those are especially important characteristics for a netbook screen, which is likely to be used outside or in busy, brightly lit locations like coffee shops. The anti-reflective coating on this Eee does add some noise to the picture, but that’s a common trade-off, even on high-end desktop monitors.

Strangely, switching from the Nvidia GPU to the integrated Intel graphics noticeably reduces the display’s brightness. Keep that in mind if you’re going to be using this netbook unplugged—although if that’s the case, I’d expect you’d want to lower the brightness to conserve battery life, anyway.

One last thing before we look at the lower half of the notebook: the webcam. See that little switch above the lens? It actually slides a little reflective cover in front of the camera, blocking out light and ensuring privacy if you happen to be sitting around in your birthday suit on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Most notebooks have an LED that switches on if the camera is active, but a hardware cover seems just that much more trustworthy, at least from a subjective standpoint.

The keyboard doesn’t really depart from the netbook status quo. The chiclet keys are small, the middle of the keyboard flexes, and the backplate is glossy. Unless you live in a factory clean-room and have sterile robot fingers, the keys will be surrounded by smudges and dust before you can say “C-3PO.” Just how small are the 1015PN’s keys? See the table below, which compares them with our full-sized reference:

  Total keyboard area Alpha keys
  Width Height Area Width Height Rough area
Size 250 mm 91 mm 22,750 mm² 153 mm 46 mm 7,038 mm²
Versus full size 87% 83% 72% 89% 81% 72%

Yeah, if the 1024×600 display resolution doesn’t bug you, the keyboard’s cramped dimensions may well do so. Much to my surprise, however, I found this keyboard still allowed me to hit 108 words per minute with 99% accuracy in TypingTest.com’s “Tigers in the wild” test. I suppose the problem here isn’t so much usability as comfort. The palm rest, while completely sufficient for short bursts of typing, is a little too narrow for lengthy writing sessions. The keys—especially non-alpha ones—don’t seem to fall under your fingers where they should, especially if you’re more used to a desktop, a full-sized notebook, or even a decent ultraportable. That’s more of a problem with netbooks in general than with this Eee PC in particular, though.

Then there’s the touchpad. Asus got a lot of things right here. The area is comfortably large, the surface feels smooth enough, multi-touch gestures are supported, and the rocker button allows simultaneous left- and right-clicking with ease, in case you ever need to do that. I’d almost be willing to overlook the button being too far from the front edge or the tracking area not being recessed, if it weren’t for one unfortunate issue.

You see, the touchpad seems to stop tracking when your finger gets within a quarter inch or so of the button. At times, you may think enough tracking area remains to finish your journey toward an icon or a link, but you’ll be mistaken. The cursor will abruptly stop while your finger keeps moving down. As the photo above shows, there’s absolutely no hint of vertical demarcation to define the tracking area. “Unfortunate” really is the right adjective for this problem, because otherwise, the 1015PN’s touchpad is a cut above the competition.

Connectivity and expansion

Like most netbooks, the Eee PC 1015PN doesn’t pile on frivolous connectivity, but it provides enough ports, slots, and bays to keep most users happy. On the right side of the machine, you’ll find a card reader, 3.5-mm headphone and mic ports, a pair of USB ports, a Kensington lock slot, and a 10/100 Ethernet port. That Ethernet port has a sort of elastic jaw that retracts when not in use, keeping the side of the system nice and curved.

The left side is home to the power connector, the display outputs (VGA and HDMI), and a third USB 2.0 port. That HDMI port will only work if the Nvidia graphics are enabled—switch to the Intel integrated graphics to save power, and VGA will be your only option.

That included power plug is tiny, by the way. It has about the same diameter as a pencil core, and it snaps into the socket with an unsettling click. I know I’ve complained about overly large power connectors in the past, but this isn’t quite the alternative I had in mind.

Flipping the system on its back grants access to… not a whole lot, really. You can take out the battery, obviously, and Asus provides access to the machine’s memory through a removable panel. At least, I think it’s supposed to be removable. To open it, you’ll first need to pop off the screw cover with a flathead screwdriver, and then bust out your Philips-head to undo the screw under it. Keep your flathead handy, because the next step is to pry off the plastic cover itself—and on this sample system, that task involved a lot of pulling, bending, sweating, and hoping I wouldn’t have to mail back a damaged Eee PC.

All that work grants you access to a single SO-DIMM slot already populated with a 1GB module. Upgrading to 2GB, which I’d consider almost necessary to ward off annoying slowdowns, will involve buying a 2GB module and either tossing its 1GB predecessor or turning it into a keychain. I’m left wondering why Asus didn’t just include 2GB to begin with. (For reference, DRAMeXchange quotes contract pricing of around $32 for 2GB DDR3 SO-DIMMs right now. That’s not exactly an arm and a leg.)

Windows 7 Starter

We’ve already explained that the Eee PC 1015PN ships with Windows 7 Starter, but what does that mean, really?

Although it’s nowhere to be seen among ultraportables and full-sized notebooks, Win7 Starter has become a staple in the netbook world. You can think of it as a cheaper version of Windows 7 lacking many of the bells and whistles of it brethren, yet still built off the same foundation. Microsoft offers it only to big PC vendors, so you won’t find it at Best Buy next to boxed versions of Windows 7 Home Premium, Professional, and Ultimate.

Windows XP Home Edition used to dominate netbooks before Win7 Starter came along. XP’s looser hardware requirements made it a great fit for netbooks with limited performance and memory, at least compared to Vista. Unfortunately, XP also lacked many of the improvements that have accompanied the latest two Windows releases, namely better security, built-in instant search, better security, improved wireless networking, and… better security. To make matters worse, Microsoft stopped providing free technical support for Windows XP in April 2009 on account of its age.

Looking around Microsoft’s website hints that Windows 7 Starter is the least feature-packed version of Windows, but the company is careful to leave Starter out of its edition comparison table. Finding out the full extent of Starter’s limitations therefore requires some digging. Paul Thurrott helped break it down last year, explaining that this edition lacks Aero Glass, Windows Media Center, Home Group network creation capabilities, Windows Mobility Center, DVD playback, touch support, and live thumbnail previews. Further digging reveals Starter only supports up to 2GB of system memory. According to Wikipedia, other missing features include multi-monitor support, fast user switching, network printing, and the ability to change the desktop background.

Aside from those caveats, Windows 7 Starter still looks and behaves much like other versions of Windows 7, and it’ll happily run the same software. There was talk early on about only giving Starter the ability to run three applications at a time, but happily, that limitation didn’t make it into the final release.

Should you happen to long for some of the missing features, Microsoft provides a way to step up from Windows 7 Starter to Home Premium without getting into the pesky business of buying a new license and reinstalling the operating system from scratch. Dubbed Windows Anytime Upgrade, this scheme is available right from the Control Panel:

Although going this route is cheaper than buying a full license, it still ain’t free. Stepping up to Windows 7 Home Premium costs $79.95, while Professional is a $119.95 upgrade, and Ultimate will set you back $169.95. For reference, Home Premium OEM licenses sell for about $96 at Newegg right now.

Pre-installed software

Not even netbooks are immune to the curse of semi-unnecessary bundled software and trialware. The Eee PC 1015PN is no exception. Here’s what the Windows 7 desktop looks like out of the box:

The widget with the arrow at the top of the screen opens up to reveal four menus—access, sharing, experience, and tools—all of which lead to pre-installed services and utilities. Those include CyberLink YouCam app, Asus’ WebStorage online backup service, Syncable’s Desktop SE cross-computer synchronization tool, and Asus’ LiveUpdate utility, among others.

Opening up Windows 7 Starter’s “Uninstall a program” control panel sheds more light on the 1015PN’s trialware infestation:

In total, I count 13 Asus-specific utilities and applications, 10 or so driver-related uninstallers, and a remainder of miscellaneous apps, including the New York Times Reader, Game Park Console, and Chicken Invaders 2, whatever that is.

Compared to some of the notebooks and ultraportables we’ve reviewed recently, like Toshiba’s Satellite T235D and Asus’ own N82Jv, this isn’t so bad. Remember, though, that this diminutive netbook only has a gig of RAM, so any pre-loaded software that launches at startup will steal precious system memory away from anything you might want to run. I’m looking at you, Eee Docking utility, Trend Micro Titanium, and Boingo Wi-Fi.

Our testing methods

This is our second review to use TR’s new notebook testing suite, so we were only able to include results from a small number of other systems as reference points. We have two full-sized Optimus notebooks, the Asus N82Jv and 833Jc, as well as two consumer ultraportables, the Acer Aspire 1810TZ and Toshiba Satellite T235D.

We ran two batches of tests with the Eee PC 1015PN. One batch was run with the discrete Nvidia graphics processor enabled and Asus’ Super Hybrid Engine system tray control set to “Super Performance Mode,” which overlcocked the CPU by 25MHz. A second batch was run using the SHE “Power Saving Mode,” which limits the CPU to about 1GHz, and with the Nvidia GPU disabled. In both cases, we set the Windows power-saving profile to “Balanced.” (Curiously, the Super Hybrid Engine settings are separate from the Windows Power Options control panel.)

The Eee PC N82Jv, U33Jc, and T235D were also tested using special “battery-saving” profiles, and the N82Jv and U33Jc were run in “high-performance” mode, as well. With the N82Jv, we recorded our battery-saving results with Asus’ Super Hybrid Engine on, which dropped the CPU clock speed from 2.4GHz to 0.9-1GHz depending on the load. The U33Jc also has a Super Hybrid Engine mode, but we didn’t enable it for testing. On the U33Jc, the high-performance profile included by Asus raises the maximum CPU clock speed from 2.4 to 2.57GHz. On the N82Jv, the same profile leaves the CPU running at default speeds, i.e. up to 2.66GHz when Turbo Boost kicks in.

With the exception of battery life, all tests were run at least three times, and we reported the median of those runs.

System Acer Aspire 1810TZ Asus Eee PC 1015PN Asus N82Jv Asus U33Jc Toshiba Satellite T235D-S1435
Processor Intel Pentium SU4100 1.2GHz Intel Atom N550 1.5GHz Intel Core i5-450M 2.4GHz Intel Core i3-370M 2.4GHz AMD Turion II Neo K625 1.5GHz
North bridge Intel GS45 Express Intel NM10 Intel HM55 Express Intel HM55 Express AMD M880G
South bridge Intel ICH9 AMD SB820
Memory size 3GB (2 DIMMs) 1GB (1 DIMM) 4GB (2 DIMMs) 4GB (2 DIMMs) 4GB (2 DIMMs)
Memory type DDR2 SDRAM at 667MHz DDR3 SDRAM at 667MHz DDR3 SDRAM at 1066MHz DDR3 SDRAM at 1066MHz DDR3 SDRAM at 800MHz
Memory timings 5-5-5-15 6-5-5-12 7-7-7-20 7-7-7-20 6-6-6-15
Audio Realtek codec with 6.0.1.869 drivers Realtek codec with 6.0.1.6186 drivers Realtek codec with 6.0.1.6024 drivers Realtek codec with 6.0.1.6029 drivers Realtek codec with 6.0.1.6072 drivers
Graphics Intel GMA 4500MHD with 15.17.11.2202 drivers Intel GMA 3150 with 8.14.10.2117 drivers

Nvidia Ion with 8.17.12.5912 drivers

Intel HD Graphics with 8.15.10.2189 drivers

Nvidia GeForce 335M with 8.17.12.5896 drivers

Intel HD Graphics with 8.15.10.2119 drivers

Nvidia GeForce 310M with 8.17.12.5721 drivers

AMD Mobility Radeon HD 4225 with 8.723.2.1000 drivers
Hard drive Western Digital Scorpio Blue 500GB 5,400-RPM Western Digital Scorpio Blue 500GB 5,400-RPM Seagate Momentus 7200.4 500GB 7,200-RPM Seagate Momentus 5400.6 500GB 5,400-RPM Toshiba MK3265GSX 320GB 5,400 RPM
Operating system Windows 7 Home Premium x64 Windows 7 Starter x86 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

SunSpider JavaScript benchmark

The SunSpider JavaScript benchmark has become a staple of browser testing around the web, usually serving to highlight differences in JavaScript execution speeds between browser revisions. Today, we’ll be looking at SunSpider performance with the same browser (Firefox 3.6.9) across multiple notebooks.

Despite its dual-core CPU, the Eee PC 1015PN trails the competition by a solid margin, especially when running in its power-saving mode with the processor underclocked to 1GHz. Poorer JavaScript performance should translate into poorer performance in web applications, although this test doesn’t tell us whether the difference is really noticeable. We’ll talk about our subjective impressions shortly.

7-Zip

Odds are, anyone with a computer will need to compress or decompress some files every one in a while. To see how our four laptops handle that task, we ran 7-Zip’s built-in benchmark and jotted down the results for both compression and decompression.

The Eee PC does much better here, especially in the decompression test. At least in this task, stepping up to an ultraportable won’t get you much extra oomph.

TrueCrypt

Next up: file encryption. Because who wants any two-bit thief to have access to his sensitive data? We ran TrueCrypt’s built-in benchmark and averaged the results for all of the different encryption schemes.

x264 video encoding

Last, but not least, we took our notebooks through the x264 high-definition video encoding benchmark.

With more CPU-intensive tasks, the 1015PN falls behind the competition once again. I would think few users would want to encode video on their netbooks, though.

Startup and wake times

Fresh from our application performance comparisons, we busted out a stopwatch and timed how long our notebooks took to boot up and wake from hibernation. For the startup test, we started timing as soon as the power button was hit and stopped when the Windows 7 hourglass cursor went away. For the wake-up test, we measured the time it took to bring up the log-in screen after hitting the power button.

I don’t know if it’s Windows 7 Starter’s more streamlined feature set or the more limited amount of trialware, but the Eee PC actually boots up rather quickly—more so than our full-sized notebooks, in fact. Waking from hibernation is even quicker.

Subjectively speaking

More often than not, a netbook will be used chiefly to surf the web, either from one’s couch or on the go. We can benchmark page rendering and JavaScript execution performance easily enough, but none of that tells us just how fast the Eee PC feels in the real world. That calls for some subjective, seat-of-the-pants testing.

To gauge the Eee’s subjective web browsing performance, I put it side by side with an Acer Aspire 1810TZ, installed the latest version of Google Chrome, and browsed around, loading up my TR e-mail, Facebook, CNN, and other sites I frequent on a regular basis. Funnily enough, Gmail felt about equally responsive on the Aspire and the Eee. I got a similar impression in Google Calendar, although files and pages in Google Documents opened up noticeably quicker on the Aspire.

Facebook pages are chock-full of information, widgets and images, and the 1015PN visibly struggled to load some of them, like the TR Facebook page, as promptly as the 1810TZ. Less interactive but still image-heavy sites, like TR and CNN.com, also took visibly longer to load on the Eee. Overall, I’d say the experience isn’t dissimilar from using an outdated web browser on your primary desktop or notebook—nothing is painfully slow, but extra snappiness wouldn’t hurt.

Performance was very much a secondary concern for me when surfing on the Eee PC 1015PN, however. The 1024×600 screen resolution was far more of a handicap. Just look at the amount of screen real estate the Eee gives you (on the left) versus what’s offered by the Aspire’s 1366×768 screen (on the right):

1024×600 just feels very cramped, especially if you happen to use a browser with bigger toolbars, like Firefox 3.6. It’s a good thing the Eee PC has multi-touch scrolling, because you’ll be doing a lot of scrolling just to read your average website. I found that looking at large photos or graphics often involved panning up and down. I wouldn’t call it a particularly pleasant experience—and don’t get me started about the pains of multitasking on a display that tiny. On the flip side, the Eee is definitely lighter and more compact than the Aspire 1810TZ.

Gaming

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare

Infinity Ward’s first Modern Warfare title is growing somewhat long in the tooth, but it still has a strong following in multiplayer circles. More importantly, it’s a good representative of the type of game you might want to play on a notebook that lacks limitless GPU horsepower: not too old, but not too new, either. We tested Call of Duty 4 by running a custom timedemo, first at 800×600 with the lowest detail options, then again at 1366×768 with everything cranked up except for v-sync, antialiasing, and anisotropic filtering, which were all left disabled. (With the Eee PC, we opted for the 1024×600 native resolution instead of 1366×768.)

Oh boy. The Eee’s Nvidia graphics barely outperform the Aspire 1810TZ’s Intel IGP in Call of Duty 4 at 800×600. The Eee PC does markedly better at 1366×768 with the detail cranked up, but I wouldn’t exactly call 7.6 FPS playable—not that 20.8 FPS is really a whole lot better. If you’re wondering about the “Power Saving” scores, the game just wouldn’t run on the Eee PC’s Intel IGP.

Far Cry 2

Ubisoft’s safari-themed shooter has much more demanding graphics than CoD4, so it should really make our notebooks sweat. We selected the “Action” scene from the game’s built-in benchmark and ran it in two configurations; first at 1366×768 in DirectX 10 mode with detail cranked up, then at that same resolution in DX9 mode with the lowest detail preset. Vsync and antialiasing were left disabled in both cases. (Again, the Eee PC was run at 1024×600, since that’s the highest resolution its display supports.)

Things only get worse for the Eee PC in this more demanding title. Neither detail setting allowed the system to crank out playable frame rates at 1024×600. Clearly, if you’re planning to do any gaming on the 1015PN, you’ll have to stick to oldies and casual titles. Speaking of which…

Off the beaten path

Scientific benchmarks or not, we like to install different games on our laptops and manually tweak the options to see how well they run. A little subjective testing never hurt anybody, right?

Being based on the ten-year-old Quake III: Arena, id Software’s Quake Live is more forgiving with low-end hardware. At 800×600 (the game didn’t support 1024×600), the Eee PC 1015PN was able to hit 40-50 FPS on q3dm17, a.k.a. The Longest Yard. The game was smooth and playable, although I still got my butt railgunned out of the sky more times than I could count.

Next up was TrackMania United, a delightful arcade-style racing game with its own track editor. The 1015PN cranked out anywhere from 21 to 75 FPS at 1024×600 with the detail level set to “Medium.” The “Low” preset was definitely smoother in bits with a lot of dust on-screen, but it looked awful, and the “Medium” mode was playable enough.

I gave Darwinia a shot, too, not wanting to break the tradition of including this indie real-time strategy game in our netbook and nettop reviews. The Eee PC handled Darwinia reasonably well at 1024×600 with the detail cranked up and the “Pixel effect” setting disabled, averaging about 20-30 FPS. Enabling “Pixel effect” caused frame rates to drop as low as 12 FPS, at which point playability suffered.

Video playback

We tested video decoding performance by playing the Iron Man 2 trailer in a variety of formats. Windows Media Player was used in full-screen mode for the H.264 QuickTime clips, while Firefox was used for the windowed YouTube test. In each case, we used Windows 7’s Performance Monitor to record minimum and maximum CPU utilization for the duration of the trailer.

We tested video playback performance first in the Eee PC 1015PN’s “Super Performance” mode, with the Nvidia GPU enabled…

  CPU utilization Result
Iron Man 2 H.264 480p 5-29% Perfect
Iron Man 2 H.264 720p 5-26% Perfect
Iron Man 2 H.264 1080p 6-30% Perfect
Iron Man 2 YouTube 720p windowed 9-20% Choppy

…then in the “Power Saving” mode, with only the Intel integrated graphics assisting the CPU:

  CPU utilization Result
Iron Man 2 H.264 480p 22-66% Perfect
Iron Man 2 H.264 720p 33-93% Smooth, some dropped frames
Iron Man 2 H.264 1080p 48-99% Choppy
Iron Man 2 YouTube 720p windowed 61-96% Very choppy

We can draw two conclusions from the numbers above. One, the Ion graphics chip does a fine job of decoding H.264 video content. Two, Flash performance, even with the hardware-accelerated 10.1 plug-in and the Ion GPU, leaves much to be desired. Smoothness did improve when in full-screen mode, but generally speaking, I would advise against venturing beyond YouTube’s 480p setting on this computer.

Out of sheer curiosity, I whipped out an HDMI cable and plugged the Eee PC into one of my 24″ desktop displays, to see if it could handle 1080p video playback on a panel actually capable of displaying that many pixels. The 1080p Iron Man 2 trailer looked clear and smooth at the monitor’s native 1920×1200 resolution, with CPU utilization hovering between 8% and 35% or so. Not bad for a little netbook. Too bad Windows 7 Starter doesn’t allow you to extend your desktop onto a secondary display.

Battery life

We took our laptops through two battery life tests—but not before taking care to condition the battery by cycling it two times. For the web browsing test, we used TR Browserbench 1.0, which consists of a static version of the TR home page that cycles through different text content, Flash ads, and images, all the while refreshing every 45 seconds. Then, we tested video playback in Windows Media Player by looping an episode of CSI: New York encoded with H.264 at 480p resolution (straight from an HTPC).

We attempted to keep the display brightness consistent across all four systems, choosing levels correspond to a readable brightness in indoor lighting. A 40% brightness setting was used on the Acer 1810TZ, Toshiba Satellite T235D, Asus N82Jv, and Eee PC 1015PN in its “Super Performance” mode. We used a 50% setting on the Eee PC 1015PN in “Battery Saving” mode, since disabling the Nvidia GPU seemed to reduce brightness, as well as on the U33Jc.

The Eee PC 1015PN has great battery life, just as one might expect from a netbook. More than seven hours of web surfing ought to satisfy even hard-core road warriors. The real question here, however, is whether the 1015PN also has better battery life than consumer ultraportables. The answer looks to be no.

With the Nvidia GPU disabled, and the processor underclocked, the Eee PC roughly keeps up with our Acer Aspire 1810TZ. With the Nvidia GPU switched on, it falls in line with the Toshiba Satellite T235D, which also has rather decent graphics capabilities. Both the Toshiba and the Acer have considerably better CPU performance than the Eee, too, not to mention bigger, higher-resolution displays and larger keyboards.

Surface temperatures

How hot to the touch does this Eee PC get during an average surfing session? We let the run TR browserbench 1.0 for about an hour before measuring surface temperatures using our IR thermometer from 1″ away. The system was set to its “Super Performance” preset with the Nvidia GPU enabled.

29°C

85°F

  27°C

81°F

  31°C

87°F

 
28°C

83°F

  27°C

81°F

 

28°C

83°F

  31°C

87°F

  31°C

89°F

 
28°C

83°F

  35°C

94°F

The Eee PC 1015PN hardly heats up during regular use, although its fan did run pretty much constantly throughout this test. Good thing the fan noise is nice and airy, which makes it easy to tune out.

Conclusions

After spending these past few days picking and probing at the Eee PC 1015PN, I’m left with a mixed impression. On the one hand, this is arguably the nicest netbook on the market right now, and it represents a new high-water mark for the category. While conserving the traditional netbook form factor and keeping battery life at a largely competitive level, this Eee PC ramps up both CPU and graphics performance. It features great overall build quality, as well. This may well be the first of a new breed. One would think the arrival of Intel’s Atom N550 processor will usher in more supercharged netbooks like the 1015PN, and by all rights, that’s a good thing.

I only wish Asus had thrown in an extra gig of RAM and Windows 7 Home Premium. Those are upgrades the user can take care of himself, but they’re not particularly cheap. Stepping up to the better OS via Windows Anytime Upgrade costs about $80, and a 2GB DDR3 SO-DIMM should set you back roughly $40 at Newegg.

On the other hand, you can head to Dell.com right now and purchase an Inspiron M101z ultraportable for the exact same price as the Eee PC 1015PN. The Inspiron is a little larger and half a pound heavier, but it comes right out of the box with 2GB of RAM and Windows 7 Home Premium, not to mention an 11.6″ 1366×768 display, Mobility Radeon HD 4200-series integrated graphics, and a similar, 56 Wh battery. Based on what we’ve seen from the Toshiba T235D, I would expect the M101z’s battery life to be comparable to that of the 1015PN running in Super-Performance mode.

Therein lies the 1015PN’s greatest pitfall. At $429.99, it’s too close to consumer ultraportables like the Inspiron M101z for comfort right now—especially with that stingy memory capacity and absent Optimus support.

Now, I wouldn’t be surprised if Asus brought that price tag down. Dell’s profit margin on that Inspiron M101z probably doesn’t amount to much, but the 1015PN’s bill of materials is likely lower. With an asking price of, say, $350, one could definitely make the case for it—spend an extra 50 bucks over the price of a regular netbook, get something nicer and more powerful. That would make the Eee PC 1015PN a nice middle ground for users too broke to afford a consumer ultraportable but too discerning to settle with a mediocre bargain-bin netbook. At its current price, though, I just can’t bring myself to recommend it.

Comments closed
    • kilkennycat
    • 9 years ago

    1015N: Processor Intel Atom N550 1.5GHz
    1215N: Processor Intel Atom D525 1.8GHz

    1015N: Memory 1GB DDR3-667 (1 DIMM)
    1215N: Memory 2GB DDR3-667 (2 DIMM)

    1015N: Display 10.1″ TFT with WSVGA (1024×600) resolution and LED backlight
    1215N: Display 12.1″TFT with WSVGA (1366×768) resolution and LED backlight

    1015N: Bluetooth 3.0
    1215N (-PU17, USA) No Bluetooth

    1015N Windows 7-32 Starter No Optimus
    1215N: Windows 7-32 Home Premium. Optimus fully enabled !!!

    1015N: Product Dimensions: 10.3 x 7 x 1.4 inches ; 2.8 pounds
    1215N: Product Dimensions: 11.6 x 8 x 1.5 inches ; 3.2 pounds

    1015N: Amazon Price: $429.99
    1215N: Amazon Price: $484.99

    All other specs identical.
    Battery Life of 1215N shorter than 1015N….. Still averages over 5 hrs…

    Methinks (again) that you reviewed the wrong (er, crippled) product version….

      • joeTaco
      • 9 years ago

      You’re forgetting that while the 1015N has a matte screen, with 1215N you’re forced to get glossy. Looks nice in the showroom but makes the screen useless outside. It’s a dealbreaker for me. 🙁 If only this thing came with 2gb ram and a fully functional OS, it’d be perfect…

    • kilkennycat
    • 9 years ago

    1015N: Processor Intel Atom N550 1.5GHz
    1215N: Processor Intel Atom D525 1.8GHz

    1015N: Memory 1GB DDR3-667 (1 DIMM)
    1215N: Memory 2GB DDR3-667 (2 DIMM)

    1015N: Display 10.1″ TFT with WSVGA (1024×600) resolution and LED backlight
    1215N: Display 12.1″TFT with WSVGA (1366×768) resolution and LED backlight

    1015N: Bluetooth 3.0
    1215N (-PU17, USA) No Bluetooth

    1015N Windows 7-32 Starter No Optimus
    1215N: Windows 7-32 Home Premium. Optimus fully enabled !!!

    1015N: Product Dimensions: 10.3 x 7 x 1.4 inches ; 2.8 pounds
    1215N: Product Dimensions: 11.6 x 8 x 1.5 inches ; 3.2 pounds

    1015N: Amazon Price: $429.99
    1215N: Amazon Price: $484.99

    All other specs identical.
    Battery Life of 1215N shorter than 1015N….. Still averages over 5 hrs…

    Methinks (again) that you reviewed the wrong (er, crippled) product version….

    • HisDivineShadow
    • 9 years ago

    Atom only has a place in low-power servers, netbooks below $300, tablets, and streaming devices.

    Looking ahead to what’s coming next year, buying a netbook over $300 seems very foolish no matter what extras or incentives they give you. Given the success of the iPad against Windows-based Atom netbooks, I’d argue that their value should be at seriously undercutting the iPad at $250. With low-end netbooks being put down below $200.

    Needless to say, I think Ion’s pointless now for netbooks. Whenever it’s added, it makes the netbook cost just short of a CULV, so just cut it.

    You can always make an argument for what’s coming around the corner, but damn if it really isn’t true now. Bobcat is going to make Intel really advance the Atom or risk getting creamed. Plus, Bobcat + ATI graphics will wind up as a great package, I suspect.

    Even if Intel only competes in price, that could dramatically lower the cost of netbooks (and tablets).

    • OneArmedScissor
    • 9 years ago

    As annoying as it is to me that Bobcat laptops likely won’t show up until February, at least that gives them a little more time to buck the 2.5″ HDDs that have overtaken these types of computers. I’m pretty bored of the, “Wow, ANOTHER premium/cheapo laptop!” game.

    Bring back the SSDs, please. The battery would last an eternity with the lower power sorts like the 30GB Kingston. I’m going to hope and pray there’s a higher capacity version of that coming at the beginning of next year, as those were released last January.

    • Welch
    • 9 years ago

    I personally like the Asus I purchased for a business recently who had a need for a compact laptop with Windows 7 Pro to join a domain. The thing gets 9 hours no problem on battery life. The screen in beautiful on it and the materials used feel VERY solid. The keyboard is excellent compared to my 10.1 Acer that I hate… Sure its a N455 and it doesn’t have ION graphics, but it felt very snappy and had no issues displaying nice quality youtube videos. Has Bluetooth, a Web Cam, Gigabit NIC, Wireless N, 320gig HDD, 2gigs of ram and Windows 7 Pro….. Too bad they don’t have them on the Egg anymore.

    §[<http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16834220769<]§

    • kilkennycat
    • 9 years ago

    Sorry, methinks you reviewed the wrong version…… Please review the Asus 1215N-PU17 instead !!! $485 at Amazon….. Price/performance beats the Asus 1015N to shreds….. See what you get for the extra $50…

    Just bought one for my college-bound son. 12.1″ display…. D525 1.8GHz Dual-core hyperthread Atom, ION2, 2Gbyte (2*1Gbyte) RAM , [2-slots only, swap out for 4Gbyte if desired…] Windows 7 32-bit Home PREMIUM, 1366×768 (full 720p) display. Usual TN-panel display quality :-(. Very snappy browsing, word-processing etc with multiple windows open… Will play out full 1080p Blu-ray to your big-screen TV vis full size HDMI1.3a connector….thanks to ION2…… provided you can afford the USB2.0 Bluray drive/software…… Otherwise a very handy mini-size USB2.0 DVD drive/burner will set you back ~$45. The machine has multiple instantly accessible lower-power modes, so the much faster Atom processor is no real disadvantage at all. 6-cell 56/63Wh Li-ion battery.

    A truly terrific buy, imho of course……

      • indeego
      • 9 years ago

      Meh to ATOM (really painful when you really need the power)
      Meh to 32-bit.
      Meh to 2 Gib (4 is minimum these days)
      Meh to Price! Should be $100 cheaper.

      Got an Acer 1410 a year ago with my desired specs for $399 a year ago and it’s still impressing people in our officeg{<.<}g

    • Trymor
    • 9 years ago

    I still like the 12.1″ – 1024×768 – 4:3 thin and light lappy I bought the wife years ago for $500.

    • FuturePastNow
    • 9 years ago

    Sort of want…

    • Anonymous Coward
    • 9 years ago

    This is a market just begging for Bobcat.

      • djgandy
      • 9 years ago

      Yes put something that doesn’t exist into it.

        • highlandr
        • 9 years ago

        Technically it does exist, you just can’t buy it /[https://techreport.com/discussions.x/19830<]§ q[

        • Anonymous Coward
        • 9 years ago

        That wasn’t a very useful response.

    • odizzido
    • 9 years ago

    bloody flash is such ass. /mission Just die already.

      • indeego
      • 9 years ago

      So don’t use itg{<.<}g

    • Voldenuit
    • 9 years ago

    Just my $0.02. Picking the palest color for the graphs of the product being reviewed make it harder to pick out. I think the benchmarks would be easier to read if the main product were in a bold color and everything else was in a faded out color.

      • ludi
      • 9 years ago

      What this guy said.

    • MadManOriginal
    • 9 years ago

    ‘Subjectively speaking’ –

    For all the people who say that marketing-sham Full HD 16:9 monitors are fine and a ‘mere’ 120 pixels isn’t a big deal…look at that picture and suck it. (Yes in the netbook case the percentage of vertical pixels is higher but it clearly shows a difference purely in amount of information displayable because the latter is just a function of the number of pixels.)

    • flip-mode
    • 9 years ago

    Cyril, the Inspiron M101z has glossy screen fail. I, personally, will *[

      • d0g_p00p
      • 9 years ago

      Software and document compatibility would be one of the main reasons why you would want windows on a netbook vs linux.

    • End User
    • 9 years ago

    Reply fail

      • Spyder22446688
      • 9 years ago

      Reply fail x 2.

    • Spyder22446688
    • 9 years ago

    I used a netbook with a 1024×600 screen one time. Emphasis on one time. /Me hugs his 1400×900 Thinkpad X301.

      • End User
      • 9 years ago

      1366×768 is my minimum and I’d hold out for USB 3.0.

      How much did you spend on the X301?

        • Spyder22446688
        • 9 years ago

        I spent around $1400 after tax from the Microsoft Store. A week later, the same model went on sale for $1000.

        Obviously, a netbook can be purchased for much cheaper. But I’d rather have, at a minimum, an 11″ screen with a 1366×768 resolution. I’ve yet to meet somebody who could fit and carry around a 10″ netbook, but couldn’t just as easily do the same with an 11″ or 12″ unit.

          • swaaye
          • 9 years ago

          1024×600 is much more acceptable on my 9″ EeePC. It’s similar in density to 1280×800 on a 12″. Of course, I’d welcome even more density but these are pretty good.

          It’s too bad that netbooks have lost their focus on portability. I’m actually on the lookout for functional PCs under 9″ but they are few and they are expensive.

            • odizzido
            • 9 years ago

            I feel exactly the same. Portability is the big thing for me with netbooks, but instead of getting more smaller 9 inch ones or some even smaller ones they actually started releasing ones larger than 10 inches. I can only hope that bobcat will inspire some smaller netbooks focusing on portability.

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