Asus Eee PC 1215N £429
29th Nov 2010 | 15:50
Does dual-core performance and Nvidia Ion graphics make this a netbook to look for?
Asus Eee PC 1215N review: Overview
You'd be forgiven for thinking the days of humble netbooks such as the Asus Eee PC 1215N are numbered, with tablets such as Apple's iPad, the Viewsonic Viewpad 10 and the Samsung Galaxy Tab currently stealing the limelight.
While it can't be denied that sales have been hit by the new breed of ultra-stylish tablets, they're not exactly direct competitors to netbooks; you're unlikely to opt for a tablet if typing documents or carrying out other keyboard-intensive tasks is on the menu.
What we have here is the latest effort from netbook pioneer Asus, namely the Eee PC 1215N. With enhanced graphics and a dual-core processor, it's aimed at people looking for a mix of portability and performance.
However, the Eee PC 1215N also comes with a rather heady price tag of £429, which some will say instantly prevents it from being called a netbook at all. But with its Eee PC moniker, Asus clearly sees it as a netbook.
So what exactly do you get for your extra notes? Well, quite a lot, as it happens. Most obvious is the display, which is larger than what you'll find on most netbooks at 12 inches.
It also looks good and feels reassuringly solid in the hands. There are none of the nasty creaks you get on cheaper models when opening the lid, for example, and its smooth, curvy design looks great.
Asus has also done well to accommodate the six-cell battery into the chassis; it protrudes ever so slightly on the underside, but not enough to ruin the shape of the netbook.
There's a fair bit going on under the hood, too, with a dual-core Atom processor and Nvidia's Ion graphics combining to produce above-average performance for a netbook. You'll be sorely disappointed if you're hoping it will double as a mini games machine, but it certainly outperforms its cheaper, single-core rivals such the Acer Aspire One 533.
Ultimately, though, the Eee PC 1215N's success will be down to whether or not Asus has done enough to justify the rather high price tag.
Asus Eee PC 1215N: Specifications
While most netbooks such as the MSI U160 stick to a 10.1-inch screen, Asus has plumped for a 12.1-inch model on the Eee PC 1215N. It also comes with a native 1,366 x 768-pixel resolution, which means there's not only more room on your Windows desktop compared to the standard 1,024 x 600 resolution found on most 10-inch netbooks, but that it's also capable of displaying 720p HD video.
And, as you'll find out in a moment, HD video is something this netbook is more than capable of handling smoothly.
As expected, the display has a glossy coating. This enhances colours and makes movies and photos look vibrant, but it also attracts reflections like there's no tomorrow. If you'd prefer a non-glossy display, consider Samsung's N230.
Of course, a larger screen is always going to impact on chassis size, and with dimensions of 296 x 203 x 38mm, this netbook is ever-so-slightly harder to cram it into a small bag. Still, at 1.46kg it's impressively light, and won't weigh you down on your travels.
The left side is home to the power socket, VGA-out, USB and an SD card reader. There's also an HDMI-out socket, enabling the Eee PC 1215N to be quickly connected to an HD television. On the right are a further two USB ports, along with a 10/100 Ethernet socket and audio in/out.
802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth take care of the wireless, but there's no built-in 3G module, so if you're looking to access the internet while travelling you'll need to purchase a separate 3G dongle.
The quality of the keyboard can make or break a netbook, and the one on the Eee PC 1215N is something of a mixed bag. We loved the chiclet design and the feedback from each individual key was spot on. However, it also has a worrying amount of flex; this is never nice to see, especially so when you're paying for a premium netbook.
The touchpad looks good and has two slim chrome-effect bars marking its left and right edges, but it has the same smooth, slippery texture as the wrist rest, which makes it a little uncomfortable to use. We also found the left and right buttons, which take the form of a single bar, to be a little on the stiff side.
Asus has been slightly stingy with the hard drive, installing just a 250GB model. Unless you're looking to amass a large movie collection, it should suffice, but we expected at least 320GB at this price.
The Eee PC 1215N comes with Windows 7 Home Premium.
Asus Eee PC 1215N review: Performance
Although it comes from Intel's Atom line-up and runs at just 1.8GHz, the D525 processor powering the Eee PC 1215N has two cores at its disposal. This means it's far more capable in terms of multitasking and won't slow to a crawl when your weekly antivirus scan kicks in. It also supports hyper-threading, so Windows will see it as a quad-core processor.
A total of 2GB of DDR3 memory is supplied, which is double that of most netbooks and helps Windows 7 tick along that bit smoother.
Graphics performance also gets a shot in the arm thanks to the use of Nvidia's Ion chip. Impressively, when running tasks that aren't graphics-intensive, the netbook is able to fall back on Intel's integrated GMA 3150 graphics chipset, and the dynamic switching between the two is handled so smoothly by Nvidia's Optimus technology that you won't even know it's happening.
More powerful graphics means shorter battery life, so the netbook's ability to automatically switch between the two is welcome. However, it's also possible to manually choose when to activate Nvidia's Ion chip.
This can either be done using Nvidia's Control Panel or on an ad-hoc basis; for the latter you can choose whether or not to use the more powerful graphics by right-clicking a program icon and selecting 'Nvidia' or 'Integrated' from the 'Run with graphics processor' option.
The big question is whether Nvidia's Ion graphics makes a difference. In short, it does, but it's not a massive leap. We managed smooth fullscreen 720p playback on the 12-inch display and, impressively, even when outputting Full HD 1080p content via the HDMI port. Adobe Flash Player 10.1 also supports Ion, so you'll be able to enjoy stutter-free playback online.
However, you can banish all thoughts of playing graphically intensive 3D games. When we gave Crysis a whirl, it just about managed 12fps, but that was at the very lowest resolution and detail settings – not exactly a fun-filled gaming experience.
Despite the dual-core processor and 12-inch display, battery life on the Eee PC 1215N is pretty good, and when we ran it at full pelt with the brightness at full whack it lasted 204 minutes.
Running the same test, but with the Ion graphics chip activated, saw this drop to 156 minutes, which highlights the added power-draw of Nvidia's chip. Stick to the integrated graphics and dim the screen, though, and you can expect around five or possibly even six hours from a single charge.
It's by no means table-topping battery life (Samsung's N230 can manage well over 10 hours), but it's not bad considering the higher-spec components.
Asus Eee PC 1215N review: Verdict
The Asus Eee PC 1215N definitely offers a boost in performance compared to your average netbook. However, if you're looking to do little more than browse the web, send emails and edit documents, you would undoubtedly be better off opting for a smaller, cheaper alternative such as the Acer Aspire One 533 or MSI Wind U160.
It's also worth remembering that larger, more powerful laptops can be picked up at this price, such as the 15-inch Acer Aspire 5551, but you'll obviously lose out on portability.
Undoubtedly the Eee PC 1215N's greatest asset is the combination of a dual-core Atom processor and Nvidia's Ion graphics. Anyone hoping for a massive boost in performance will be left disappointed, but it's far better at multitasking compared to single-core netbooks, and its enhanced graphics capabilities means it's a dab hand at smoothly playing back HD video.
The seamless switching between integrated and Ion graphics is also impressive, as is the ability to manually configure which programs should take advantage of the more powerful, but battery-sapping Nvidia chip.
We also liked the 12-inch display with its higher-than-average 1,366 x 768 pixel native resolution, making it perfect for watching HD video. And with the included HDMI port, it can quickly be hooked up to a larger HD TV to display Full HD 1080p video.
The 2GB of memory is also a welcome addition, allowing Windows 7 Home Premium to smoothly run multiple applications.
It's not all good news, though, and the Eee PC 1215N has its downsides. The most obvious is the price. Although you get a reasonable amount for your money, it's a fair bit more expensive compared to 10-inch netbooks.
We felt the keyboard and trackpad could be improved on, with the worrying amount of flex on the keyboard being the main issue. The 250GB is also a bit measly, and something closer to 500GB seems more appropriate on a premium netbook such as this.
The Eee PC 1215N certainly isn't a bad effort from Asus, but it occupies something of an uncomfortable middle ground between bog-standard netbooks and fully fledged laptops. The performance increase over standard netbooks is definitely there, but it's not massive.
That said, if you're after something small and light, and find the current crop of netbooks don't quite meet your power expectations, the Eee PC 1215N would be a good choice.
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