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Intel’s next-gen Atom arrives in Asus’ Eee PC 1005PE netbook

Geoff Gasior Former Managing Editor Author expertise
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I can’t help but wonder what’s gone through the heads of the engineers who designed Intel’s Atom CPU. Envisioned as an x86-compatible computing platform that could eventually make its way into smart phones, the first iteration of the Atom was targeted at Mobile Internet Devices (MIDs)—glorified web tablets with basic multimedia playback capabilities. MIDs never really caught on, though. That’s just as well, because the Atom had another destiny: fueling a revolution in the notebook world courtesy of a new class of budget ultraportables that came to be known as netbooks.

Yes, the seminal Eee PC ran an underclocked Celeron rather than an Atom CPU. But netbooks really didn’t catch on until the Atom and its associated Diamondville platform became available. The original Atom N270 had just enough horsepower to handle basic web surfing, email, office document manipulation, and standard-definition video playback. Plus, it was power-efficient enough to deliver more than five hours of real-world battery life in ultraportables that tipped the scales at under three pounds and cost around $400. No wonder everyone from mobo makers like Asus, Gigabyte, and MSI, to system giants like Acer, Dell, and HP, were eager to get into the netbook game.

Before netbooks came along, new ultraportables didn’t often dip below the $1,000 mark. Most were premium models that cost well over a grand. The Atom opened this previously exclusive market to the masses, and the rest is history. According to an ABI Research report quoted by Intel, about 50 million netbooks will have sold by the end of this year. Another 60 million are predicted to reach consumers in 2010.

The Atom didn’t stop at netbooks, either. It also spilled into the desktop world, where the CPU can be found driving low-cost nettops, mini home-theater PCs, all-in-one systems strapped to the back of LCD monitors, network-attached storage rigs with multi-drive RAID arrays, and even Mini-ITX motherboards.

One of the most surprising things about the Atom’s rise is the fact that this all-new CPU has managed to succeed while tied to an antiquated chipset whose roots can be traced all the way back to 2005. Atom processors are usually accompanied by two additional bits of silicon: a 945GSE north bridge chip with GMA 950 integrated graphics and an ICH7M south bridge chip. Not only do these older core-logic components lack the sort of features one might expect from a modern chipset with integrated graphics, but they also draw quite a lot of power. The 945GSE/ICH7M combo has a TDP rating of 9.3W—nearly four times the 2.5W TDP of the Atom N270 CPU found in most netbooks. The chipset has a rather large footprint, too; its north and south bridge components have a combined package area of 1,690 mm², which works out to about 3.5 times the size of the Atom’s 484 mm² Micro-FBGA package. Millimeters might not seem like much, but they count for a lot when you’re working within the constrained proportions of typical netbook designs.

More than a year has passed since the first Atom platform debuted, and Intel is finally ready to release its much-anticipated successor. Code-named Pine Trail, this second-generation platform’s most interesting element is again the CPU—otherwise known as Pineview. The intrigue has little to do with changes to the actual processor core, though.


The Atom N450 die. Source: Intel.

Intel declined to comment on any specific modifications to the new Atom’s CPU core, instead pointing us to data sheets that suggest that little has changed. This latest Atom retains the in-order architecture of its forebear, complete with Hyper-Threading support. The cache structure also appears to be unchanged, with 56KB of L1 split between 32KB instruction and 24KB data caches and 512KB of L2 cache associated with each physical core.

Even clock speeds haven’t budged. Intel is announcing the Atom N450, D410, and D510 models today, and they all run at 1.66GHz, just like the old N280. The N450 and D410 feature a single core that can execute two threads in parallel, while the D510 has two cores and can handle four concurrent threads. All three chips are manufactured using a high-k, 45-nm fabrication process, but their TDPs vary somewhat. The netbook-oriented N450 has a 5.5W TDP, while the desktop-bound D410 and D510 have TDP ratings of 10W and 13W, respectively.

But wait, the original Atom had a 2.5W TDP. Where’s all the extra power going? To the rest of the chip, which now integrates a memory controller and a graphics processor on the same die as the CPU. The memory controller is a single-channel affair, and somewhat surprisingly, it supports old-school DDR2 rather than DDR3 memory. N-series Atom CPUs destined for netbooks can use up to 2GB of DDR2-667, while D-series desktop chips are capable of handling as much as 4GB of memory at up to an effective 800MHz.

Memory bandwidth will be in high demand because system memory is shared with the Atom’s integrated Graphics Media Accelerator 3150. This graphics core is based on the GMA X3100 found in Intel’s G31 Express desktop chipsets. That’s technically an upgrade over Diamondville’s GMA 950, but don’t get your hopes up. The GMA 3150 may support DirectX 9 and Shader Model 2.0, but it’s limited to two pixel pipelines and a core clock speed of only 200MHz in netbooks. D-series Atoms get a graphics clock boost to 400MHz, which still isn’t going to be enough for 3D gaming. More troubling, however, is the lack of HD video decode acceleration. The GMA 3150 can assist the decoding of plain old MPEG2 video, but that’s about it. Intel recommends using an auxiliary video decoder chip, available from third parties like Broadcom, to facilitate HD video playback.


The Pine Trail block diagram. Source: Intel.

Pineview has its own display outputs, although they’re quite limited. Literally. An LVDS output that tops out at 1366×768 is the sole digital display pipe. The VGA output is capped, too, at 1400×1050 for the N series and 2048×1536 for the D series, respectively. Home-theater PC implementations are going to need a helping hand in order to drive 1080p display over HDMI.

The only assistance Intel gives Pineview is a “Tiger Point” chipset: the NM10 Express, although it’s not really a set of chips at all. In Intel’s parlance, the NM10 is platform controller hub, or PCH, much like the single external P55 chip used in Lynnfield desktop systems. This mini PCH serves up a couple of Serial ATA ports, eight USB 2.0 ports, a 10/100 Fast Ethernet MAC, and an HD audio interface. There’s also room to grow via four first-generation PCI Express lanes that can be divided evenly between four x1 links or consolidated into a single x4 connection for, perhaps, a potent discrete graphics processor. Ion 2, anyone?

Intel links its new Atom CPUs to the NM10 Express via a PCIe-like DMI link that offers 1GB/s of bandwidth on N-Series Atoms and twice that with desktop chips. Each DMI lane boasts 250MB/s of bi-directional bandwidth, just like gen-one PCI Express. Desktops get four lanes and netbooks must make do with two.

Overall, Pine Trail isn’t so much about new features as it is an exercise in consolidation. Where once there were three chips, now only two remain. The Atom platform’s physical footprint has shrunk by a factor of three, down from 2,174 mm² to 773 mm². Total platform power is lower, too. Netbook implementations of Pine Trail have a combined TDP of just 7W (5.5W for the CPU and 1.5W for the chipset), which is 40% lower than Diamondville’s TDP. For desktop variants, you’re looking at a TDP of 12 or 15W, depending on the D-series processor used. The NM10 Express has a 2W TDP when used in desktops and a 1.5W TDP rating for netbooks.

Asus’ Eee PC 1005PE
On our first walk down the Pine Trail, we’re joined by Asus’ Eee PC 1005PE netbook. This little 10″ system is slated to hit shelves on January 4 with a suggested retail price of $379, which puts it right in the middle of the netbook market. These days, it’s not uncommon to see basic Atom-based netbooks available for around $300. More expensive premium models, such as Asus’ Ion-equipped Eee PC 1201N, run closer to $500.

The 1005PE is a fairly straightforward implementation of the Pine Trail platform. You just get the basics here: an Atom N450 CPU and NM10 Express chipset. Asus is looking into adding a Broadcomm HD video decoder to the mix, but that feature didn’t make the cut for this particular model.

Processor Intel Atom N450 1.66GHz
Memory 1GB DDR2-667 (1 DIMM)
Chipset Intel NM10 Express
Graphics Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 3150
Display 10″ TFT with WSVGA (1024×600) resolution and
LED backlight
Storage Seagate Momentus 5400.6 250GB 2.5″ 5,400-RPM
hard drive
Audio Stereo HD audio via Realtek codec
Port 1 VGA
3 USB 2.0
1 RJ45 10/100/1000
Gigabit Ethernet via Atheros AR8132 controller
1 analog line/headphone
output
1 analog microphone input

Expansion slots

1 MMC/SDHC
Communications

802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi via Atheros AR9285
Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR

Input devices ~85% of full size keyboard
Synaptics
touchpad with multi-touch scrolling, gestures
Internal microphone
Camera 0.3 megapixel webcam
Dimensions 10.3″ x 7″ x 1-1.4″ (262 mm x 178 mm x
25.9-36.5 mm)
Weight 2.8 lbs (1.27 kg)
Battery 6-cell Li-Ion 63Wh

At least Asus hasn’t skimped elsewhere. The 1005PE comes smartly equipped with 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and even Gigabit Ethernet. A webcam’s included, too, but the system ships with only a gig of memory by default.

Obviously, the Eee PC’s spec sheet isn’t something you’re going to drool over. This is a sub-$400 netbook, after all. A more appropriate response might be surprise that Asus has squeezed all this hardware and a six-cell battery into a system with such Gary Coleman-esque proportions. Acer’s thin-and-light 13.3″ Aspire Timeline looks absolutely massive in comparison:

Well, until you get to the thickness, anyway. The Eee PC is mostly petite, but also a little stocky, sort of like an Olympic gymnast. From a practical perspective, I’d rather have a smaller footprint than a thinner profile. I’ve never understood the fascination with ultra-thin designs, perhaps because I’ve yet to encounter a real-world scenario where extreme thinness would have been of any real benefit. I have, however, come across numerous bags, satchels, and purses that can’t accommodate even a svelte 13.3″ notebook, but will easily engulf a 10″ netbook like the 1005PE.

The Eee PC’s shallow depth will also be appreciated by anyone south of business class on a modern airline. My 1000HA has similar dimensions to the 1005PE, and I’ve never had a problem opening it up a cramped coach cabin. In my experience, the Eee’s relatively short screen leaves just enough clearance to survive a violently reclined seat back, too.

If you’ve been following our notebook coverage here at TR, you know we’re not particular fans of glossy plastics. Sure, the Eee PC’s shine looks great on the shelf and in carefully buffed product pictures. Spend a little time actually touching the finish, though, and you’ll leave behind an unsightly mess of fingerprints and smudges.

Asus doesn’t offer a matte finish option for the 1005PE, but two shades of shine will be available in North America: black and the dark, almost-Nightcrawler blue pictured above. Asus will be making white and pink versions of the 1005PE, too, but it doesn’t look like those models will make their way stateside.

At the helm
Although a few netbook models have bucked the trend here and there, the genre has largely been limited to 9-10″ screens with WSVGA display resolutions. The Eee PC 1005PE sticks with the status quo, sporting a 10″ LED-backlit display with 1024×600 pixels.

The low display resolution is by far the screen’s biggest problem. 1024×600 doesn’t give you much desktop real estate to work with, and you’re going to end up doing a heck of a lot of scrolling while surfing the web. That said, I’m not sure a higher 1366×768 resolution would work well in a 10″ display. The resulting DPI might be too high to allow folks with poor eyesight to read text comfortably.

At least the few pixels the screen does serve up look pretty good. The display’s glossy coating isn’t as reflective as some I’ve used, and its colors are clearer and crisper than those produced by my 1000HA’s LCD, whose matte finish imparts a subtle grain to any on-screen image.

As is typical for notebook and netbook displays at the budget end of the spectrum, the Eee PC’s screen looks much better dead-on than it does from an angle. There’s enough room to adjust the display’s tilt to match most reasonable vertical lines of sight, but you’ll have to sit right in front of the system to avoid the dull, washed out colors that take over the screen when it’s viewed from the left or right.

Be careful adjusting the screen’s tilt, though. The bezel is glossy black plastic, and you don’t want a mess of smudges and streaks ringing the display.

The Eee PC’s diminutive dimensions aren’t large enough to accommodate a full-size keyboard, but Asus has done a good job with the area available. There are no real layout quirks, and unlike my 1000HA, the right-shift key is in the, er, right place. Asus has even squeezed in a full-height directional pad, although the keys are a little narrow to make room for a wider right-shift key.

Total keyboard area Alpha keys
Width Height Area Width Height Rough area
Size 252 mm 92 mm 23,184 mm² 155 mm 47 mm 7,285 mm²
Versus full size 88% 84% 73% 90% 82% 74%

I have probably the worst hands for typing on a netbook: massive palms, stubby fingers, and an aggressive typing style that’s more forceful than graceful. The 1005PE’s keyboard is somewhere between 82 and 90% of full size, depending on whether you’re just looking at the alpha keys or the unit as a whole. You’d think would be a nightmare for my meat paws, yet somehow it’s not.

The keyboard does feel cramped, but that’s been true of all the 10″ netbooks I’ve used. Despite the keyboard’s small footprint, I can still get up to full speed without incurring too many typos. Typing at speed is reasonably comfortable, too, I suspect because the keys themselves feel quite good.

Yup, this is another chiclet-style design. The combination of textured key caps and clearly defined edges and gaps makes it easy to keep one’s hands hovering over the home row, even when hammering away at close to 100 words per minute. Some flex is visible, especially when applying enthusiastic force to a keystroke, but the keyboard doesn’t feel mushy as a whole. In fact, key travel feels a little weightier most, providing excellent tactile feedback for the violent staccato that is my typing style.

The last couple of Asus notebooks we’ve reviewed have featured dimpled touchpad surfaces that provided great feedback but lousy tracking. Recessed dimples have given way to Braille-like protrusions for the 1005PE’s touchpad, and I quite like the change. The nubbins still let your fingers know when they’re on the touchpad, but they don’t impede smooth tracking like the old dimples. That said, the touchpad surface is still quite small, making it difficult to settle on a sensitivity that delivers quick tracking and good precision.

Asus is responsible for the touchpad’s surface, but the internals are provided by Synaptics, whose drivers are packed with multi-touch goodness. Users can choose between dedicated zones or a two-finger approach to horizontal and vertical scrolling. Pinch zooming and pivot rotating are also supported, as are three-finger flicks. Adjustable tap zones in each corner can even be configured to perform various functions, such as minimizing or maximizing a window, firing up a search, or launching an application.

Basic connectivity and expansion options
Netbooks generally aren’t known for providing a wealth of connectivity and expansion options, and this latest Eee PC doesn’t break any new ground.

USB, audio, and Ethernet ports adorn the right edge of the system. To probe the Eee’s analog audio signal quality, I ran a 24-bit, 192kHz RightMark Audio Analyzer loopback test between the system’s line output and microphone input. RMAA gave the 1005PE a poor overall score, singling out its frequency response and stereo crosstalk as very poor. Dropping down to a CD-quality 16-bit/44.1kHz test didn’t improve the Eee PC’s RMAA score, either.

Rotating the rig 180 degrees gives us a view of the VGA output and a third USB port. From here, we can also see the primary exhaust port, behind which sits the system’s only fan. The fan is often on, but you won’t always hear it, because the lowest speed emits little more than a faint hum. Charging the unit’s battery kicks the fan into a higher, more audible gear. At no point did I find the fan noise distracting or annoying, though.

You probably won’t have to charge the battery all that often. Asus claims the 1005PE’s six-cell, 63Wh battery offers 14 hours of run time. That’s probably idling at the Windows desktop with the display brightness turned too low to actually read anything on the screen, but it wouldn’t be outlandish to expect close to eight hours of real-world battery life from the system. In a moment, we’ll see just how long the Eee PC lasts with more realistic web surfing and movie playback workloads.

The 1005PE’s removable battery makes it easy to swap in a secondary cell should your primary one run dry. You can also access the system’s solitary SO-DIMM slot, which should accept 2GB modules. However, unlike some other Eee PCs, the 1005PE doesn’t offer easy access to its 2.5″ hard drive bay. Bummer. The underbelly appears to be held on with just four screws, but removing them didn’t allow me to crack the system open, at least not with the amount of force I was willing to apply to a review sample tied to a tight deadline.

Asus covers most of the 1005PE with a one-year warranty. The battery’s warranty period only stretches to six months, though. That wouldn’t be cause for concern all on its own, but my 1000HA’s battery has lost at least an hour and a half of run time in the year I’ve been using it. I hope the 1005PE doesn’t suffer a similar fate.

After using an Eee PC for over a year, I am optimistic about how the rest of the 1005PE will wear. Like my 1000HA, the 1005PE feels nice and solid, and really quite dense. There’s virtually no flex in the chassis, probably because it’s packed to the gills. I didn’t find any odd little creaks or loose components anywhere in the mix, either.

Our testing methods
Benchmarks don’t tell the whole story when exploring netbook performance, but they’re a good place to start. Today, we’ll be looking at how the 1005PE fares against an Eee PC 1000HA based on the old Atom CPU. I’ve also included results from our last few notebook reviews to illustrate the performance gap between this next-gen netbook and budget systems based on Intel’s more capable Consumer Ultra-Low Voltage (CULV) and mobile Core 2 processors.

When connected to a wall socket, the Eee PC 1005PE and 1000HA let their Atom CPUs scale all the way up to 1.66 and 1.6GHz, respectively—their default speeds. However, on battery power, Asus’ default power management profile caps the CPU clock at 1.33GHz on the 1005PE and 1.25GHz on the 1000HA. We’ve tested the Eee PCs on battery power in this configuration and on wall power with the Atom CPUs running at a full tilt. I also ran an extra set of battery life tests with the Eee PCs configured in “high performance” mode, which allows them to scale up to full speed, even when unplugged.

Acer’s Aspire Timeline 13.3″, Asus’ UL80Vt, and Dell’s Studio 14z will provide some notebook competition for our netbook. Neither the Acer nor the Dell notebooks have high-performance or special battery-saving modes, so they were tested in their default configurations. The Asus notebook has not only an aggressive power-saving mode, but also a switchable GeForce graphics processor and a nifty turbo button that overclocks the CPU to 1.73GHz. We’ve tested the UL80Vt in a turbo configuration with its discrete GPU enabled and in its most frugal power-saving mode, which uses Intel integrated graphics and clocks the processor down to just 800MHz. I’m curious to see how a Core 2 CPU ticking along at only 800MHz fares against Atoms running at more than twice that clock speed.

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 UL80Vt-A1

Dell Studio 14z
Processor Intel Core 2 Duo SU9400
1.4GHz
Intel Atom N270 1.6GHz Intel Atom N450 1.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300
1.3GHz
Intel Core 2 Duo P8600
2.4GHz
System bus 800 MT/s
(400MHz)
1066 MT/s
(533MHz)
1066 MT/s
(533MHz)
800 MT/s
(400MHz)
1066 MT/s
(533MHz)
North bridge Intel GS45 Intel 945GSE Intel NM10 Express Intel GS45 Nvidia GeForce 9400M G
South bridge Intel ICH9M Intel ICH7M Intel ICH9M
Memory size 4GB (2 DIMMs) 1GB (1 DIMM) 1GB (1 DIMM) 4GB (2 DIMMs) 3GB (2 DIMMs)
Memory type DDR3 SDRAM at 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM at 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM at 667MHz DDR3 SDRAM at 800MHz DDR3 SDRAM at 1066MHz
CAS latency
(CL)
6 4 5 6 7

RAS to CAS delay (tRCD)
6 4 5 6 7
RAS precharge
(tRP)
6 4 5 6 7
Cycle time
(tRAS)
15 12 15 15 27
Audio codec 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
6.0.1.5898 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
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
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

Windows 7 Starter x86


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
Netbooks spend much of their time browsing the interwebs. To test browser performance, we started with FutureMark’s Peacekeeper benchmark, which the company says tests JavaScript functions commonly used on websites like YouTube, Facebook, Gmail, and others. To test Flash performance, we used the Flash component of the GUIMark rendering benchmark.

The Atom’s performance apparently hasn’t changed much at all in Pine Trail, since the Eee PC 1005PE matches the older 1005HA quite closely. The 1005PE doesn’t score particularly well compared to the larger, more expensive notebooks, which is really no surprise. The Atom is generally fast enough for basic browsing, but JavaScript and Flash will take advantage of additional CPU performance when it’s available. Even the UL80Vt’s 800MHz battery-saving configuration scores better in both tests than the Atom-based netbooks.

Note the gap between the standard and on-battery configurations for both Eee PCs. That’s what happens when you cap an Atom CPU at 1.33GHz.

7-Zip’s built-in benchmark is nicely multithreaded, which should give the Atom’s Hyper-Threading capability something to chew on. We ran this test to 10 iterations.

Our Atom-based netbooks fare better than the battery-saving UL80Vt config in 7-Zip, but again, they’re trounced by the rest of the field. This latest Pine Trail platform appears to be no faster than its predecessor, which isn’t a surprise considering what’s actually new in the CPU.

HD video encoding isn’t the sort of task you’re going to perform regularly on a netbook. However, it’s not an unreasonable workload for a nettop attached to a high-def television.

x264 encoding is just an extremely difficult workload, one that full-fat processors handle much better than the Atom. Video playback is more the Atom’s speed, and that’s up next.

Video playback
Our next batch of tests highlights the 1005PE’s video playback performance. The chart below includes approximate CPU utilization percentages gleaned from the Windows 7 Task Manager alongside subjective impressions of actual playback. I used Windows Media Player to handle all playback tests and Firefox for our windowed YouTube tests.

Battery Wall power
CPU utilization Result CPU utilization Result
Star Trek QuickTime 480p 45-85% Perfect 27-65% Perfect
Star Trek QuickTime 720p 85-100% Some dropped frames, loss
of A/V sync
60-100% Smooth
Hot Fuzz
QuickTime 1080p
~100% Slideshow 80-100%
Frequent dropped frames, loss of A/V sync
DivX PAL SD 35-62% Perfect 32-47% Perfect
YouTube SD windowed 33-56% Perfect 27-48% Perfect
720p YouTube HD windowed 96-99% Slideshow 88-97% Slideshow

Even when running on battery, the 1005PE has no problems perfectly playing back standard-definition video content. Even a 480p Stark Trek QuickTime trailer played back flawlessly. However, bumping the trailer up to 720p resulted in dropped frames and the occasional loss of A/V sync when the the Eee PC was running on battery power. With the 1005PE cranked up to a full 1.66GHz on wall power, 720p playback was smooth and watchable, although not perfect.

The Eee PC choked on the 1080p Hot Fuzz trailer, even when connected to a wall socket. This is what happens when you don’t have HD video decoding hardware to assist a low-cost CPU like the Atom.

Flash video playback has long been one of the Atom platform’s greatest weaknesses, and Pine Trail hasn’t improved the situation. Our 720p YouTube HD test clip was little more than a slideshow on the Eee PC. Standard-def YouTube videos played back smoothly, at least, but with nearly 50% CPU utilization when running on socket power. Without advanced video decoding logic, the GMA 3150 won’t be able to take advantage of the video playback acceleration built into new Flash betas, either.

Performance in the real world
Intel’s latest Atom platform doesn’t have the horsepower to keep up with proper notebook processors in benchmarks. It doesn’t handle HD video playback particularly gracefully, either. So what can it do? The basics: web surfing, email, instant messaging, Skype, SD video playback, and office document manipulation.

Even those simple tasks have some caveats attached. Web surfing is relatively snappy most of the time, but Flash-heavy sites will quickly bog down the Eee PC, especially when multiple tabs are involved. You should probably stay away from multitasking, as well. Running an IM application alongside a browser is doable, but you don’t want to have too much going on, especially given the screen resolution.

Our Eee PC came loaded with Windows 7 Starter x86, and the OS feels just right for the platform. Starter lacks the eye-candy effects you’ll find in full versions of Windows, but it seems just as responsive as XP did on my old 1000HA.

The Windows 7 taskbar does take up valuable desktop real estate, though. You can drag it over to the screen’s left edge to free up additional vertical pixels, but that tends to truncate web sites designed for a display with 1024 horizontal pixels. More often than not, I found myself simply putting the browser in full-screen mode, like so:

Yes, that’s much better. 1024×600 is still a squeeze, but web pages are a lot easier to read when you’re using all of the available pixels. Unfortunately, there’s no way to expand the 1005PE’s display resolution without connecting an auxiliary monitor.

You can, however, overclock the processor, if only slightly. Asus’ SuperHybridEngine application offers a super-high-performance mode that pushes the front-side bus up to 171MHz, resulting in a CPU clock speed of 1.71GHz. The extra oomph might help when playing back video that isn’t quite smooth at stock speeds, but it doesn’t make Windows feel more responsive. You’re going to need a lot more than an extra 50MHz to make the Atom feel better than just fast enough.

Battery life
Each system’s battery was run down completely and recharged before each of our battery life tests. We used a 50% brightness setting for the Timeline, which is easily readable in normal indoor lighting and is the setting we’d be most likely to use ourselves. That setting is roughly equivalent to the 40% brightness level on the UL80Vt, Studio 14z, 1000HA, and 1005PE, which is what we used for those configurations.

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, as well. 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 for this test.

The Eee PCs were tested in their default on-battery configurations and again in high-performance mode, which runs the Atom CPU at a full speed.

Excellent battery life has been a staple of six-cell netbooks, and the Eee PC 1005PE leads the rest of the field in both of our run-time tests. You’re looking at about nine hours of web surfing time and eight hours of SD video playback, which is really quite impressive for such a lightweight and inexpensive system. Students looking to take notes and keep themselves entertained through a full day’s worth of classes shouldn’t have to resort to a wall socket with this latest Eee PC.

I do wonder just how long the Eee PC’s battery will last, though. My 1000HA used to get 4.5-5 hours of run time on its six-cell battery, but after a year of frequent (although not heavy) use, I’ve lost at least an hour and a half. The 1005PE isn’t necessarily destined to suffer the same fate, but it’s something to keep in mind. For what it’s worth, I’ve seen plenty of full-size notebook batteries degrade over time, as well.

External operating temperatures
External operating temperatures were measured with an IR thermometer placed 1″ from the surface of the system. We took these measurements after the Eee PC had run our web surfing battery life test for a couple of hours.

Yeah, Pine Trail runs cool. Only a few of the Eee PC’s surfaces get warm to the touch, and you should have no problems propping the system on your lap for hours on end, even when it’s fully loaded.

Conclusions
Pine Trail’s pseudo-system-on-chip architecture is quite a departure from the first Atom platform and an impressive achievement for Intel. Not only has the company managed to drop the number of chips and dramatically reduce the platform’s footprint, but it has also lowered power consumption by a healthy margin. Those improvements should make it easier for manufacturers to churn out slimmer and lighter netbooks with better battery life than ever before.

The coming wave of next-gen netbooks isn’t going to be any faster than the last generation, though. Intel has done little to improve the platform’s application performance and basic feature set, opting not to include the sort of advanced video decode logic that could have made Pine Trail much more capable than Menlow. At least the CPU’s digital display output supports resolutions up to 1366×768, which we hope means we’ll see more 11.6″ or larger systems based on the Atom.

Asus’ Eee PC 1005PE sticks to the old 10″ netbook formula, and it gets a lot of the little things right. The chassis is nice and solid, and the six-cell battery offers phenomenal run times. Plenty of wireless connectivity is included as standard, and there’s even a Gigabit Ethernet port. The keyboard’s quite good, too, and the touchpad is loaded with multi-touch goodness. Even the screen is nice and bright, albeit with too few pixels for my liking.

With a suggested retail price of $379, the 1005PE is an intriguing option for folks who can live with the platform’s performance limitations. Sure, something like Acer’s $400 AS1410 offers a more potent CULV Core 2 CPU and a higher 1366×768 display resolution, but it’s not going to deliver anywhere close to the Eee PC’s eight to nine hours of real-world battery life. The Acer’s keyboard doesn’t feel as good, either, even if it is bigger.

Netbooks have always been an obvious example of compromise, and the 1005PE is no different. You give up a lot of performance and functionality in exchange for awesome battery life, budget pricing, and a tiny footprint. Intel would probably be quite content to let that compromise remain intact, since netbooks have already eaten into sales of notebooks that carry higher average selling prices.

In Pine Trail, Intel has produced a better netbook platform that presents less of a threat to traditional notebooks. In the processes, it’s taken the Atom one step closer to powering the x86-compatible smart phones of the future. Netbooks might be an extremely popular—and entirely unexpected—diversion for the Atom platform, but that success doesn’t appear to have altered Intel’s plans for the Atom’s future.

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Geoff Gasior Former Managing Editor

Geoff Gasior Former Managing Editor

Geoff Gasior, a seasoned tech marketing expert with over 20 years of experience, specializes in crafting engaging narratives that connect people with technology. At Tech Report, he excelled in editorial management, covering all aspects of computer hardware and software and much more.

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