Asus Eee PC 900 Review

by Jerry Jackson Reads (231,207)

by Jerry Jackson

The Asus Eee PC 900 is the new update to the original Eee PC … the affordable mini notebook that shook up the notebook market in 2007. Is this $550 mobile companion the best choice for your next travel laptop? We took an in-depth look at the Eee PC 900 to find out if this latest addition to the Eee PC family offers enough performance and features to get you excited.

 

First, let’s review the system specs for the all new Eee PC 900:

  • Intel Celeron M ULV 900MHz processor
  • Integrated Intel GMA 900 GPU
  • 12GB of Flash-based storage (4GB onboard SSD and 8GB PCI-E mini card SSD)
  • 1GB of DDR2 RAM (667MHz)
  • Windows XP operating system
  • 8.9-inch screen with 1024 x 600 resolution
  • Ports: 3 USB 2.0, 1 VGA monitor out, headphone jack, microphone input, SD card reader (SDHC compatible), Kensington lock slot, Ethernet 10/100
  • Webcam (1.3 MP)
  • Battery: 4-cell 5800 mAh 7.2V Li-Ion (rated at 3.5 hours)
  • Wireless: 802.11b/g Atheros
  • Input: Keyboard and Multi-touch touchpad
  • Dimensions: 22.5cm(W) x 17cm(D) x 2cm~3.4cm(H)
  • Weight: approximately 2.2 lbs with battery, 2.8 lbs travel weight with AC adapter.
  • One-year warranty


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Build and Design

Like the original Eee PC, the designers at Asus had no easy task creating an attractive ultraportable notebook while also making it cheap to produce. Customers also indicated that they wanted a larger screen and a larger touchpad, so both of these features had to be incorporated into a very small footprint.

The chassis seams match up with reasonably tight tolerances, plastics feel thick (though the pearl-like white plastics look cheap) and the display hinges are molded into body with the battery. Overall, the Eee PC 900 is almost identical to the original Eee PC. The only obvious differences are the larger screen and the slightly deeper dimension (front to back) in order to accommodate the larger touchpad.

Lifting the display cover you find the same amazingly small keyboard surface found on the original Eee PC. In short, the build quality is quite high despite the low cost.


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The design of the original Eee PC was something truly unique in the market. Weighing in at just two pounds and delivering a performance level similar to a full-featured budget notebook, the only notebook that came close to “directly” competing with the Eee PC in 2007 was the Fujitsu LifeBook U810 tablet PC … which retailed for more than $1,000 last year. After the success of the original Eee PC, other manufacturers have started to flood the market with low cost mini notebooks. The Eee PC isn’t the only kid on the block anymore, which is why Asus is trying to raise the bar with the Eee PC 900.

Screen

The Eee PC 900 features a nice 8.9-inch display with 1024 x 600 resolution. While this might not be the most impressive resolution we’ve seen, it’s much nicer than the native 800 x 480 resolution on the original Eee PC 4G. Still, most owners of the original Eee PC 4G use modified display drivers to scale 1000 x 600 or higher resolutions on the original Eee PC … so this higher resolution screen isn’t as impressive as it could be.


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In any case, the screen on our review unit was free from any problems such as stuck pixels and color and backlighting were both excellent.


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Operating System and Software

Unlike the original Eee PC, the Eee PC 900 doesn’t come with Linux. This notebook comes pre-installed with Windows XP. While XP might not be the most modern operating system on the market, XP is still one of the most robust and stable versions of the Windows OS. Most importantly, Windows XP doesn’t have massive system requirements … so it still runs fast on a relatively under-powered notebook like the Eee PC 900.

Speakers

Asus received some criticism over the speakers on the original Eee PC because of there massive size located on both sides of the screen. The bezel around the screen on the Eee PC 900 is much thinner than the thick bezel on the original Eee PC and the speakers have been relocated to the bottom of the notebook. Speaker output quality is good, but because of the location of the speakers the sound is quite muffled when you’re using the Eee PC 900 as a “laptop.”

Keyboard and Touchpad

Most low-priced notebooks currently on the market feature poorly built keyboards that show significant flex/bounce when typing pressure is applied. Much to our surprise, the keyboard on the Eee PC 900 (like the original Eee PC) is remarkably firm, though the keys are small and have a large degree of “wiggle” when pressed.


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The keyboard on the Eee PC 900 is very, very compact. The first few days spent typing on this keyboard probably will be quite frustrating as the small footprint and tiny keys require you to use a “hunt and peck” style of typing rather than traditional touch typing methods. This means that passwords get mangled, emails look like gibberish, and playing games that require keyboard commands becomes quite aggravating.

Of course, once I got used to typing on the tiny keyboard the keys felt just fine … but this keyboard isn’t designed to be used as a primary/main computer. For users who would buy this notebook as their “main computer” in their home or office, a full-size keyboard and external mouse are recommended.


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The touchpad and single button (with left and right “rocker” buttons underneath) are easy to use and responsive. The Eee PC 900 actually has a slightly larger touchpad button which makes it more comfortable to use than the original Eee PC. The touchpad is likewise larger than the touchpad on the original Eee PC and this touchpad also features multi-touch functionality so that you can zoom in or zoom out on things like PDFs in order to view the text more easily.

Performance

Overall, the Eee PC 900 is a snappy little budget notebook. Granted, the 900MHz ultra-low voltage processor doesn’t have the performance of a modern Core 2 Duo processor. The flash-based storage drives on the Eee PC 900 help with the benchmarks since they provide virtually instant data access times.

In short, the Eee PC 900 provides plenty of performance for travel and short-term use, but this mini notebook isn’t designed to be a primary computing workhorse.

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

Notebook PCMark05 Score
Asus Eee PC 900 (900MHz Intel Celeron M ULV) 1,172 PCMarks
HP 2133 Mini-Note (1.6GHz VIA C7-M ULV) 801 PCMarks
HTC Shift (800MHz Intel A110) 891 PCMarks
Asus Eee PC 4G (630MHz Intel Celeron M ULV) 908 PCMarks
Asus Eee PC 4G (900MHz Intel Celeron M ULV) 1,132 PCMarks
Everex CloudBook (1.2GHz VIA C7-M ULV) 612 PCMarks
Sony VAIO TZ (1.20GHz Intel Core 2 Duo U7600) 2,446 PCMarks
Fujitsu LifeBook P7230 (1.2GHz Intel Core Solo U1400) 1,152 PCMarks
Sony VAIO VGN-G11XN/B (1.33GHz Core Solo U1500) 1,554 PCMarks
Toshiba Portege R500 (1.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo U7600) 1,839 PCMarks

 

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

Notebook / CPU wPrime 32M time
Asus Eee PC 900 (Intel Celeron M ULV @ 900MHz)
203.734 seconds
HP 2133 Mini-Note (Via CV7-M ULV @ 1.6GHz) 168.697 seconds
Asus Eee PC 4G (Intel Celeron M ULV @ 630MHz) 289.156 seconds
Asus Eee PC 4G (Intel Celeron M ULV @ 900MHz) 200.968 seconds
Everex CloudBook (VIA C7-M ULV @ 1.2GHz) 248.705 seconds
Fujitsu U810 Tablet PC (Intel A110 @ 800MHz) 209.980 seconds
Sony VAIO VGN-G11XN/B (Core Solo U1500 @ 1.33GHz) 124.581 seconds
Sony VAIO TZ (Core 2 Duo U7600 @ 1.2GHz) 76.240 seconds
Dell Inspiron 2650 (Pentium 4 Mobile @ 1.6GHz) 231.714 seconds

 

HDTune storage drive performance results:


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Port Selection and Expansion


Front: Indicator lights (view large image)


Left side: 10/100 Ethernet port, USB 2.0 port, air vent, microphone in, and headphone jack. (view large image)


Rear view: AC power jack (view large image)


Right side: SD card reader, two USB 2.0 ports, VGA out, Kensington lock slot. (view large image)

If you open the bottom panel on the Eee PC 900 you’ll find a standard DDR2 RAM slot and a PCI-E mini card slot. The PCI-E mini card slot in the Eee PC 900 uses the same 8GB SSD module found in the Eee PC 8G. Again, in order to reach the 12GB storage capacity on this notebook Asus essentially just combined the Eee PC 4G and 8G: the motherboard has 4GB of flash storage soldered to it and the PCI-E mini card slot has a 8GB flash storage module.


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Heat and Noise

Even with the low voltage processor and SSD drives, the Asus Eee PC 900 produced an incredible amount of heat. Granted, other low-cost mini notebooks we’ve reviewed get even hotter, but we hoped the Eee PC 900 wouldn’t get this toasty. The keyboard and bottom of the notebook got quite hot even under normal use, and the fan was always running in an attempt to keep the system cool. Fan noise was among the quietest we’ve heard. The only way to tell the fan is blowing is to put your hand next to the air vent to feel the warm air blow past.

Below are heat overlay images showing where the Eee PC 900 warmed up (in degrees Fahrenheit) during normal extended use:


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Wireless

Just like the original Eee PC 4G, the Eee PC 900 uses an Atheros AR5BXB63 wireless module for 802.11b/g wireless Internet access. Reception is quite good for a budget notebook. The Eee PC 900 maintained a connection to my home router from anywhere inside my three-level home and from anywhere in my front or back yard. At the editorial offices for NotebookReview.com the Eee PC 900 managed to stay connected to the office router even after I left the building and walked across the parking lot. The wireless connection only dropped to 75 percent signal strength after I walked more than 50 yards away from the building. Being able to travel a distance equivalent to half the length of a football field means you won’t have trouble browsing the web with the Eee PC 900.

Battery

Under normal use, backlight at 100 percent and using wireless for web browsing and watching a DivX movie at 75 percent volume, the Eee PC 900 managed to deliver less than 3 hours of battery life (2 hours and 53 minutes) with the standard battery. Needless to say, this was rather disappointing. The original Eee PC 4G was able to deliver more than 3 hours of battery life.

Our tests also found the battery meter wasn’t always accurate: sometimes indicating an unplugged power adapter or low battery even when that wasn’t the case.

 

Conclusion

Last year our editorial staff was absolutely amazed by the original Eee PC. The original Eee PC finally delivered something that many consumers have wanted since laptops first arrived on the market: an extremely portable laptop with reasonable performance for travel at an extremely low cost. It’s a shame that Asus seems to have forgotten the original idea behind the Eee PC.

When Asus first announced the Eee PC in 2007, their goal was to sell this laptop for a mere $199. That $199 price point is what got our attention. In the months that followed, the price gradually increased and the specs decreased until the Eee PC 4G was released at a price of $399. At a $400 price point the original Eee PC was still a fantastic deal … a practically “disposable” travel laptop. Now, as more and more companies begin releasing their own mini notebooks, the price keeps increasing with only a modest increase in features.

The Eee PC 900 would be a “can’t miss” deal if Asus sold it at the same $399 price point as the original Eee PC 4G. Unfortunately, at the current street price of $550 to $600 we have a hard time recommending the Eee PC 900.

What is the point of paying $550 or more for a laptop with significantly less performance than similarly priced 14-inch and 15-inch notebooks? Yes, the Eee PC 900 is small, but if you have to sacrifice both performance and cost for the convenience of size then it simply isn’t a very good deal.

In short, if you’re in the market for a low cost travel notebook the original Eee PC 4G is still a great notebook. We’ll pass on the Eee PC 900 at its current price.

Pros

  • Small and light

  • Reasonably well built and durable

  • Flash-based storage

  • Nice multi-touch touchpad

Cons

  • Too expensive for what you get (particularly compared to original Eee PC)

  • 12GB of storage isn’t a single drive (one 4GB drive and one 8GB drive)

  • White plastics “look” cheap

  • The battery meter isn’t very accurate (reports low battery or AC adapter unplugged even when that’s not the case)

  • Temperatures are a little too hot


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