by Philip Cody
The ASUS Eee PC 900HA is ASUS’s latest 9″ Eee PC model. It has the same small form factor as the previous 900 model but replaces the Solid State Drive with a 160GB hard drive. The previous 900 had a Linux and Windows XP version while the 900HA is only Windows XP. The Eee PC 901 and 904 are also 9″ models but they have a significantly bigger chassis. As you will see the 900HA is a lot of netbook for only $350.
ASUS Eee PC 900HA Specifications:
Build and Design
The design of the 900HA is very similar to the 900 SSD versions. The width and depth dimensions are identical to the 900. While the 900HA has the same minimum and maximum height dimensions as the 900, the 900HA has more of its chassis at (or near) the maximum height. It feels thicker than the 900. There are some 10″ netbooks that are thicker. The 900HA has a glossy lid which looks very nice (when clean) though it is a fingerprint magnet. Thankfully the only part of the netbook that is glossy is the lid. When comparing the 900HA to my 701 4G it amazes me that they kept it this small and fit a 9″ screen and user accessible 2.5″ hard drive in it. The 900HA is the smallest 9″ netbook available with a hard drive.
Build quality is excellent. This is a very solid little netbook. The hinge is very substantial and screen stays well in place where ever it is open to. There is very little flex in the palm rests and the screen. There is significantly less flex in the 900HA than the 701.
The user serviceable components of the 900HA are mostly accessible via a panel on the bottom. The hard drive and RAM is accessible via the panel and the wireless card (in case you want to change to a/g/n card) can be changed by taking apart the netbook. The hard drive is very easy to change and has an ingenious design where the bottom panel screws also lock the hard drive in place. I upgraded the 900HA to 2GB of RAM and a 7,200 rpm 320GB hard drive with no issues.
The 9” LED-backlit display is very nice with saturated colors and very good contrast. It is very easy for me to view the screen for long stretches of time. White levels are good but on the bluer side. The screen is matte and is anti-glare which makes it much easier to use while in the car during the day or other areas where there is lots of light. The downside of the anti-glare coating is that there is a graininess that is apparent in some instances. This graininess is not as bad as some other anti-glare displays that I have seen and is only noticeable if you really look for it. While backlight levels are higher than the original 701 and 900 at maximum brightness they are still not as high as I would like them. Backlight bleed through is very minimal with 900HA and is in fact much better than some much more expensive displays that I have viewed. Viewing angles on the 900HA are also excellent. Horizontal viewing angles are remarkable; colors do not get washed out dramatically or inverted. Vertical viewing is also very good though I noticed colors getting inverted when looking at extreme angle with screen tilted away from me.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The keyboard is very nice and has very little flex. The left part of the keyboard has more flex and you can tell the keys have a bit more travel than the rest of the keyboard. Key wiggle is very minimal. I like the keyboard of the 900HA better than the 701 and 900. It is configured differently than the 701 and 900 and it is also wider. The keyboard is about a 1/4 inch wider on the 900HA than 701 and 900. I measured the letter keys and they are a tad wider than the 701. The space bar is shorter on the 900HA because they added a right ctrl key. The left tab, caps lock, and left shift are bigger on the 900HA than 701/900. The grave accent/tilde key is to the left of the 1 key as well on the 900HA. The letters are also printed bigger on the keys so they are easier to see. It is still obviously not the same as typing on a full size keyboard but to me it is improved over the 701/900. The shorter space bar does take some getting used to. I sometimes do not get a space when I press the very right edge of my space bar.
The touchpad on the 900HA is an Elantech touchpad and it works very well. I found that it performed even better after I downloaded the latest drivers. I do not have any issues with lag or multi-touch features. I have no problems with touchpad interfering with typing. Finger taps work very well for one, two, and three fingers. Other features of touchpad on 900HA include scrolling, zooming, and drag and drop. Scrolling works great in both Firefox 3 and Internet Explorer 7. Scrolling did not work well in Firefox until I updated touchpad drivers. The single rocker style button for left and right click was very stiff when I first got the 900HA but improved nicely over the first week of use.
Operating Systems and Software
The 900HA comes preinstalled with Windows XP Home Edition ULCPC (SP3). It runs very well on the 900HA. Boot time is about 30 seconds. Applications that are included are Microsoft Works, Windows Live!, InterVideo WinDVD, Skype, Adobe Reader, and Eee Storage. There is no trial anti-virus software installed.
I installed Vista Ultimate on the 900HA and it runs surprisingly well. Boot time is around 50 seconds with stock configuration and about 40 seconds after upgrading to 2GB of RAM. I’m running Aero and it runs with no issues. All hardware is running well including the function keys. Performance when running applications seems about the same as XP. Gaming performance in Vista is a bit better than in XP. I also get better battery time on Vista than XP.
Performance and Benchmarks
System performance is very good. I have used a SSD version of the 900 and performance and battery time was less than impressive. Having the Atom processor and a hard drive (and a fast one) really improves the netbook experience. The Seagate Momentus 5400.4 that comes in the 900HA is one of the better 5,400 rpm notebook drives. Applications open quickly and run very well. I have run Photoshop CS3, Lightroom 2, Office 2007, etc. and they all run great. I play h264 videos at DVD resolution (848×480) and they run perfectly even when full screen. Even 720p videos can be played with the right software (and in super performance mode). Gaming with the integrated graphics (GMA950) on the 900HA works well as long as you are running older games (pre 2004). I play the original Call of Duty on the 900HA and it runs great at maximum settings. I have played other games with the Quake III engine and they play great as well.
wPrime 32M @ 1.6GHz – 123.391 seconds
wPrime 32M @ 1.67GHz (high performance mode) – 117.314 seconds
PCMark05 @ 1.6GHz – 1,564
3DMark03 @ 1.6GHz – 747
Windows Experience Index:
Speakers and Audio
The speakers on the 900HA are quite loud for a netbook. The 900HA is louder than the 701 and 900. The 900HA is even louder than my 15.5″ notebook (ASUS S96j). I suspect that ASUS used larger speakers with the thicker chassis. While the speakers are louder there is some distortion at loudest setting. Not surprisingly there is very little low end to speak of. The speakers are on the underside so if the netbook is on your lap the sound can get muffled. Audio does sound excellent through headphone jack with a good set of head phones.
Ports and Features
The 900HA includes three USB 2.0 ports, 1 VGA monitor out, a headphone jack, a microphone input, a SD card reader (SDHC compatible), a Kensington lock slot, and an Ethernet 10/100 jack. There are no caps lock or num lock indicator lights.
Heat and Noise
There is very little heat and noise with normal activity. The fan is usually at 30% and may kick up to 60% when I’m doing more intensive activities. Having a hard drive has not added a lot of heat. I can have the 900HA on my lap with no issues. I hardly ever hear the fan or the hard drive. When the fan goes up to 60% I can hear it but it is not annoying.
The 900HA uses the Atheros AR5007EG wireless module and performance is excellent for a budget netbook. I can maintain a connection anywhere in my home or yard. I can also see 3 other wireless connections from my neighbors while I’m in my house.
Battery life on the 900HA is good. At 100% brightness and wireless off I get about 4 hours 20 minutes of light use (word processor and reading). At 30 – 50% brightness and wireless off I imagine you could get 5 hours. At 70% brightness and wireless off I get 3 hours and 45 minutes of video playback at full screen. The 900HA battery is a 5200mAh 4-cell battery (39Wh). It is a shame that they did not use the same 5,800 mAh battery that they did on the 900, the battery time would be even better. The 900 battery will not fit on the 900HA. Some other 10″ netbooks that compete with the 900HA have worse batteries. Battery time decreased a tad when I upgraded to the 7,200 rpm 320GB hard drive (mainly when watching videos).
The ASUS Eee PC 900HA is a pleasure to use. It addresses all the issues I had with the 701 and 900. It is small and light enough that it is easy to bring anywhere. In the past sacrifices had to be made to have a netbook this small. This is no longer the case. Having the hard drive lets it perform significantly better with a mainstream OS and also makes it much more useful. It is so nice to have a netbook this size that I can bring copious amounts of movies, audio books, and music with me. Also, there are situations where in the past I had to lug around my full size notebook but I will no longer have to (like off-loading photos from memory cards on vacation). My full-size notebook is traveling with me a lot less these days.