Asus Eee PC 900 £330
27th Mar 2009 | 00:00
Could price be the Eee netbook's biggest problem?
Our love of the original Eee PC is no secret. Coming back from last year's Computex in Taipei we were all awash with geeky excitement over the ultra-portable laptop we’d been looking for all our lives.
For a shade over £200 it was all we wanted from a machine we could literally take anywhere with us.
An Eee too far?
Luckily for Asus it wasn't just us who found the first iteration instantly desirable - if you try looking for a new 701 4G it's still rare as hen's teeth or dog's eggs. Now comes the inevitable update, the 900, the 8.9inch-screened version we first got our hands on at this year's CeBIT. Is it as immediately exciting though as its smaller predecessor, or is it an Eee too far?
Inevitably it's the larger screen that draws the eye as soon as you flip open the largely unchanged chassis. Gone is the over-sized, plastic bevel which surrounded the 7inch panel, making this version look every inch the serious laptop rather than the slightly Fisher-Price styling that resulted from the original screen.
Much better screen
The increased resolution this gives is what really makes this version of the Eee most special. At 1024 x 600 there's no more fiddly scrolling around web pages or straining your eyes to see what you're typing. To be fair the original 7inch panel was still impressive for its size, but we always wanted more.
Aside from the screen the next biggest change is the size of the drive; with the Linux version you get a fairly meaty 20GB drive, and a smaller 12GB drive if you opt for the XP-powered 900. The difference in size is down to Asus wanting to keep the two options at the same price point despite Windows' insatiable hunger for more storage than its open source brethren.
The multi-touch, MacBook Air-style touchpad is another neat addition giving you the ability to scroll around simply by placing two fingers on the pad and sliding up and down. It's a neater solution than the sometimes awkward side-scrolling method employed by the 701. You can also use this function to zoom in and out; handy but a little gimmicky.
Override the underclocked processor
Asus has also included an updated BIOS allowing you to run the Celeron CPU at stock speeds rather than the underclocked 600MHz set at as standard on the 701. The slightly larger chassis (around 1cm deeper and a shade taller) helps to provide sufficient cooling to keep the system stable at the higher clock speeds. This will give more of a noticeable difference should you get the more demanding Microsoft installation on your machine.
We’re not without our reservations though, with the bigger screen comes higher power draw and with that a larger power block to give it the 12v it needs over the 9.5v of the 701. Supposedly this offers faster charging of the battery, but the original, single lead offering had a longer cable and was simply more practical on the move. The higher power draw inevitably has an impact on battery life - gone is the 4-hour up time, replaced by around 2.5 hours. Less ideal on the move.
The 1GB RAM that comes pre-installed on the 900 is also slower than that which nestled in the 701. Only by 267MHz, but is still possible evidence of a cut corner. It's possible this was necessary to keep the unit price down, but when you can pick up a stick of DDR2 667 for £15 that seems unlikely.
And that brings us neatly to the question of price, which is our biggest issue with this new Eee PC. At £329 it's edging more into the realms of standard laptops; you can pick up a brand new, dual core Dell Inspiron specced up to the nines for exactly the same price - a machine you legitimately could use as a primary notebook, whereas arguably the EeePC 900 isn't designed for that.
Price is a massive issue
At the £220 price mark the 701 was pretty much a no-brainer, it was cheap and did everything you could want. Now with the 900 you actually have to make a decision, weigh up whether you want a serious laptop you can use for everything but gaming or do you want something that is significantly smaller, yet with far less grunt for the same price?
There's also the fairly reliable rumour that an Intel Atom-powered version of the 900, replacing the geriatric Celeron CPU, could be making an appearance at this year's Computex show. This ought to provide a bit more oomph and certainly an improvement on battery life too. Combined with our other reservations and despite the beautiful new screen this makes the latest Eee less of a rush-out-and-buy gadget and more of a wait-and-see one.