ASUS Eee PC 1008HA Seashell Review

by Reads (53,016)
  • Pros

    • Thin and light
    • Excellent battery life
    • Cool built-in VGA adapter
  • Cons

    • Integrated battery
    • Weak VGA output performance
    • Bad touchpad buttons

by Jerry Jackson

There is no shortage of netbooks (ultraportable budget laptops) on the market, but the new ASUS Eee PC 1008HA “Seashell” might prove to be one of the best netbooks yet. With a new thin and light design and long life battery the 1008HE Seashell has a lot to offer for a modest price. Keep reading to find out more about this little laptop.

Our ASUS Eee PC 1008HA features the following specifications:

  • Operating System: Genuine Windows XP
  • Processor: Intel Atom N280 Processor 1.66GHz (667MHz FSB)
  • Memory: 1GB DDR2 SDRAM (667MHz)
  • Internal Storage: 160GB 5400 rpm SATA HDD plus 10GB Eee Online Storage
  • Display: 10.1-inch diagonal WSVGA+ (1024×600) 
  • Graphics: Intel GMA 950
  • Wireless: Broadcom 802.11a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR
  • Expansion: 4-in-1 media card slot
  • Ports and connectors: (2) USB 2.0 ports, proprietary VGA adapter, power connector, RJ-45/Ethernet (Gigabit), stereo headphone/line out, stereo microphone in, 1.3 megapixel webcam
  • Dimensions (H x W x D): 0.75-1.20 x 10.3 x 7.0 inches (including feet)
  • Weight: 2.4 lb (not including weight of AC adapter).
  • Power: 3-cell Lithium-Polymer battery
  • Warranty: One-year standard warranty
  • MSRP: $429.99

Build and Design
The Eee PC 1008HA Seashell features a completely new design for the ASUS Eee PC family of netbooks. Like the name implies, the chassis shape is inspired by the curves of a seashell. The clamshell-like design gives the 1008HA a very clean and distinct appearance. Every port from Ethernet to USB is covered with plastic doors which are probably more decorative than they are protective. ASUS claims this version of the Eee PC is just one inch thick at its thickest point, but that doesn’t include the feet on the bottom of the netbook. We measured the maximum thickness at more than one inch, but the 1008HA is still remarkably thin and light.

Once again, ASUS managed to impress our editors with their attention to build quality in the Eee PC line of netbooks. The glossy black plastics suffer from very little flex and the keyboard is as firm as even the best business-class notebooks on the market. The various parts of the chassis come together with tight seams and good attention to detail. ASUS claims that the plastics used on Eee PC 1008HA are coated with an “Infusion finish” that makes the netbook scratch resistant. I wasn’t able to produce any scratches in the plastics during the testing period, but the glossy surface is extremely prone to fingerprint smudges which make this brand new netbook look a little dirty after just a few minutes of use. The 1008HA is also available in white, blue, and pink … in case black isn’t your color of choice.

ASUS switched to a new keyboard design on the 1008HA that is 92% of a full sized keyboard, which is a nice improvement over some of the older Eee PC netbook keyboards. The gesture-based Synaptics touchpad is likewise pretty large for a netbook. If ASUS made any obvious sacrifices with the design of the 1008HA then those sacrifices are related to making this netbook as thin as possible. I’ll explain later in the review.

Screen
The new Eee PC 1008HA Seashell uses a fairly standard LED-backlit display panel with a 1024×600 native resolution. The glossy screen surface helps to improve color and contrast, but glare and reflections indoors under strong lights or outdoors under direct sunlight can be a problem. Although the 1024×600 resolution is far superior to the old 800×480 screen resolution on the original Eee PC, I was a little disappointed that ASUS didn’t use a higher resolution display on the Eee PC 1008HA. Considering that several other manufacturers such as HP and Dell are offering netbooks with 1366×768 screens the display on this netbook just seems a little underwhelming. Vertical viewing angles are average, with minimal color distortion when viewing from below and some over-exposed colors when viewed from above. Horizontal viewing angles are better with colors staying accurate at extremely wide viewing angles; you won’t have trouble sharing a YouTube video with friends using this display.

 

Keyboard and Touchpad
As previously mentioned, the 1008HA uses an all-new keyboard that is 92% of full size. The keys are slightly smaller than the keys on an average notebook but the spacing between the keys is quite limited. If you prefer the shape and feel of traditional keys then you’ll probably like the new keyboard. That said, I personally prefer the “chicklet” style keyboard used on the ASUS Eee PC 1000HE since there is more space between the keys to prevent me from accidentally hitting the wrong key. Still, the keyboard on this netbook is quite usable and should be perfectly fine for typing quick emails or editing documents while traveling.

The Synaptics touchpad used on the 1008HA is a gesture-enabled model that allows you to use multi-figure gestures such as “pinching” your fingers together or “pulling” your fingers apart to zoom in or out. You can also use a “three-finger tap” as an alternative to a right click on a mouse. The Synaptics control panel in Windows also allows you to customize these gestures as well. The touchpad surface is covered in dots that provide a clear indication of the edges of the touchpad, but this also makes the touchpad surface too rough for quick finger movement. The left and right touchpad buttons are located beneath a single rocker-style button, but with no separation between the left and right side it’s easy to accidentally press the middle of the touchpad button when you’re trying to press the left or right side. The touchpad buttons have extremely shallow feedback, so it isn’t always easy to feel when you have or have not pressed a button.

ASUS also included a number of dedicated buttons and keyboard shortcuts to make life easier. There’s a dedicated wireless on/off button, touchpad on/off, as well as FN keyboard shortcuts for screen brightness, video output, volume, and Windows task manager.

Input and Output Ports
In terms of port selection the Eee PC 1008HA is pretty basic. You get two USB 2.0 ports, a 4-in-1 media card reader, headphone and microphone jacks, and a special collapsible Ethernet port. The curved door on the right hand side of the netbook flips down to allow a standard Ethernet cable to be connected to the netbook.

Here is a quick tour around the Eee PC 1008HA:


Front view: No ports here, just clean lines.


Rear view: No ports here either, just the hinge and battery status lights.

Left side view: Power jack, proprietary VGA out, USB 2.0 port, and heat vent.

Right side view: 4-in-1 card reader, USB 2.0 port, microphone jack, headphone jack, and Ethernet.

In case you’re wondering how that proprietary VGA port works, it’s very simple and similar to the USB-to-video out ports on digital cameras. In order to make the 1008HA Seashell as thin as possible ASUS had to remove the standard VGA monitor output. As a result the VGA adapter is stored in a convenient slot in the bottom of the netbook … there when you need it and hidden away when you don’t.

Performance and Benchmarks
When it comes to testing netbooks, I can’t really get that excited about the benchmarks. If you’ve read our reviews of other netbooks that use the Intel Atom processors then you know that all Atom-based netbooks have nearly identical performance in terms of actual real-world use. Overall performance with the Intel Atom platform is very reasonable for daily activities like Web browsing, email, using Microsoft Office, listening to music, and even watching movies. If you’re in a bind you can even use photo editing software like Photoshop or GIMP for basic image editing.

ASUS also includes a proprietary overclocking application on the 1008HA called the “Super Hybrid Engine” that allows you to cycle through pre-set power profiles to maximize battery life by underclocking the processor, keep the processor at stock speed or slightly overclock the processor (from 1.66GHz to 1.70GHz).

If the Eee PC 1008HA suffers from any problems in terms of performance, it’s likely related to the new proprietary VGA connector that ASUS uses to make the Seashell as thin as possible. The connection appears to be USB-to-VGA and if so that may be the heart of the problem. We’ve tested many simple video over USB solutions in the past and every single one of them suffers from sub-par performance with 720p and 1080p video files. *UPDATE* ASUS provided us with an updated BIOS for the 1008HA which improved our 3DMark06 results, putting its score more in line with other similarly configured netbooks.

That said, it’s worth mentioning that the GMA 950 graphics in the Eee PC Seashell use the default clock speed of 133MHz for better battery life while some netbooks use a clock speed of 166MHz for better performance. The proprietary VGA port on the 1008HA should be fine if you’re just wanting to display a Word document on an external monitor or show a PowerPoint presentation on a projector, or even standard definition (DVD quality) video files, but 720p and 1080p video playback over the proprietary VGA port to a higher resolution monitor suffers from some dropped frames/stutter. We used a number of widely available 720p HD trailers (such as this one) during our tests and none of the 720p movies played without some dropped frames. As long as you stay away from HD video you’ll never notice any video problems … similar to other netbooks currently on the market.

wPrime processor comparison results (lower scores mean better performance):

Notebook / CPU wPrime 32M time
Sony VAIO TZ (Core 2 Duo U7600 @ 1.20GHz) 76.240 seconds
HP Pavilion dv2 (AMD Athlon Neo MV-40 @ 1.60GHz)
103.521 seconds
ASUS Eee PC 1000HE (Intel Atom N280 @ 1.66GHz) 114.749 seconds
ASUS Eee PC 1008HA (Intel Atom N280 @ 1.66GHz) 116.030 seconds
HP Mini 2140 with HD screen (Intel Atom N270 @ 1.60GHz) 123.281 seconds
Acer Aspire One (Intel Atom @ 1.60GHz)  125.812 seconds
Lenovo IdeaPad S10 (2009) (Intel Atom @ 1.60GHz) 126.406 seconds
Samsung NC20 (VIA Nano ULV U2250 @ 1.30GHz) 173.968 seconds

 

PCMark05 measures overall system performance (higher scores mean better performance):

Notebook PCMark05 Score
Sony VAIO TZ (1.20GHz Intel Core 2 Duo U7600, Intel GMA 950) 2,446 PCMarks
HP Pavilion dv2 (1.60GHz AMD Athlon Neo, ATI Radeon HD 3410 512MB) 2,191 PCMarks
ASUS N10 (1.60GHz Intel Atom, NVIDIA 9300M 256MB) 1,851 PCMarks
Toshiba Portege R500 (1.20GHz Intel Core 2 Duo U7600, Intel GMA 950) 1,839 PCMarks
ASUS Eee PC 1008HA (1.66GHz Intel Atom N280, Intel GMA 950) 1,564 PCMarks
Acer Aspire One (1.60GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 950) 1,555 PCMarks
ASUS Eee PC 1000HE (1.66GHz Intel Atom N280, Intel GMA 950) 1,535 PCMarks
Samsung NC20 (1.30GHz VIA Nano ULV U2250, VIA Chrome9 HC3) 1,441 PCMarks
HP Mini 2140 with HD screen (1.60GHz Intel Atom, Intel GM1 950) 1,437 PCMarks

 

3DMark06 comparison results against netbooks @ 1024 x 768 resolution:

Notebook 3DMark06 Score
HP Pavilion dv2 (1.60GHz AMD Athlon Neo, ATI Radeon HD 3410 512MB)
1,520 3DMarks
ASUS N10 (1.60GHz Intel Atom, NVIDIA 9300M 256MB) 1,417 3DMarks
Samsung NC20 (1.30GHz VIA Nano ULV U2250, VIA Chrome9 HC3) 151 3DMarks
Acer Aspire One (1.60GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 950) 122 3DMarks
ASUS Eee PC 1008HA (1.66GHz Intel Atom N280, Intel GMA 950) 116 3DMarks
HP Mini 2140 with HD screen (1.60GHz Intel Atom, Intel GM1 950) 112 3DMarks
ASUS Eee PC 1000HE (1.66GHz Intel Atom N280, Intel GMA 950) 92 3DMarks
Sony VAIO P (1.33GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 500, Windows Vista) 88 3DMarks

 

HDTune for the built-in hard drive:

Audio
The built-in speaker performance on the Eee PC 1008HA is extremely good for a 10-inch netbook. I’m not a fan of the location of the built-in speakers since they’re located on the bottom front edge of the 1008HA, but the audio quality is quite good. The speakers produce excellent volume (enough to fill a small room) and there is minimal distortion even at higher volume levels. The speakers lack much bass, but the range of highs and midtones are perfectly enjoyable.

Granted, most audiophiles will want to use external speakers or headphones for a better listening experience … but the built-in speakers work well in a pinch. The audio output from the headphone jack is free of any obvious distortion and worked fine with the earphones and external speakers I used during the testing.

Heat and Noise
Temperatures on the new Eee PC Seashell are quite comfortable thanks to the use of the Intel Atom processor and a well thought out chassis design. Temperature readings taken from the outside of the plastic chassis remained “lap friendly” during normal use. The only time that temperature readings spiked was when I connected the VGA adapter to the netbook and connected an external display.

This little seashell-shaped netbook stayed perfectly silent during our testing and it’s safe to say that the 1008HA is one of the quietest netbooks we reviewed. However, we might have been willing to put up with some fan noise to keep temperatures down when the netbook was connected to an external display.

Below are images indicating the temperature readings (listed in degrees Fahrenheit) taken inside our office where the ambient temperature was 74 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep in mind that these temperatures were recorded while the 1008HA was connected to an external display running at 1280×1024 resolution. When the 1008HA was not connected to an external display the bottom temperatures never exceeded 96 degrees.

Battery
Battery life with the integrated 3-cell lithium-polymer battery is reasonably impressive for a travel laptop. In our test with the screen brightness set to 70%, wireless active, and XP set to the laptop/portable power profile the system stayed on for 6 hours and 36 minutes of constant use. Although I’m more than a little annoyed by the fact that you cannot replace the battery or use an extended life battery, the fact that the Eee PC 1008HA delivers more than 6 hours of battery life with constant use is pretty impressive.

Conclusion
At first glance, the new ASUS Eee PC 1008HA Seashell might not seem like an extraordinary netbook. Indeed, with so many netbooks using the same processor, integrated graphics, and standard 10-inch display, there isn’t much on paper to make this netbook stand out in a crowd.

Still, what the 1008HA lacks in performance, it makes up for in finishing touches. The thin and light design, extreme battery life, and nearly full size keyboard make the Seashell Eee PC a very attractive travel laptop. If you can overlook the integrated battery and weak HD video performance the 1008HA is every bit as good or perhaps even better than the competition.

Pros:

  • Thin and light
  • Excellent battery life
  • Cool built-in VGA adapter

Cons:

  • Integrated battery
  • Weak VGA output performance at HD resolutions
  • Bad touchpad buttons


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