by Kevin O’Brien
The high-class ASUS N10 is a netbook above all the rest, starting a new market segment called the “Corporate Netbook.” The N10 offers similar features to standard netbooks, including an Intel Atom platform and WSVGA screen, but with the addition of optional switchable dedicated graphics and a fancy design. With a starting price of $649 for models with dedicated graphics; is a higher configuration worth the price jump? In this review we explain the differences between the N10JC and the cheaper Eee PC 1000HA and tell you if you should consider the costly upgrade.
There are several different configurations of the N10 series available at various online stores. Some configurations offer Windows Vista, others include a different hard drive or use integrated graphics rather than dedicated. The only reason we mention this is so that consumers are aware that there are different configurations on the market to meet the needs of different people.
ASUS N10JC-A1 Specifications:
- Intel Atom 1.6GHz processor
- 160GB 5400 RPM Hard Drive (Seagate 5400.4)
- NVIDIA 9300M GS with 256MB DDR2 memory and Intel GMA950
- 1GB of DDR2 RAM (667MHz)
- Windows XP Home operating system
- 10.2” WSVGA Glossy LED-Backlit 1024 x 600 LCD
- Ports: 3 USB 2.0, HDMI,VGA monitor out, headphone jack, microphone input, 8 in 1 SD card reader (SDHC compatible), Kensington lock slot, Ethernet 10/100, ExpressCard/34
- Webcam (1.3 MP)
- Battery: 11.1v 4800mAh 53Wh 6-cell battery
- Wireless: 802.11b/g
- Two-year Limited Global Warranty
- Size: 10.8 (W) x 8.25 (D) x 1.46 (H)
- Weight: 3lbs 8.5oz, 4lbs 2.1oz with AC adapter
- MSRP: $649
Build and Design
The N10 is designed a step above other netbooks, with a better paint scheme and chrome accents. The shape is slimmer than the 1000HA we just reviewed, but the thinner shape comes from the battery sticking out instead of down. While some people get hung up on a battery that hangs off the back of a notebook, it doesn’t really bother me since I am used to seeing it on many business notebooks which share that design element. The gold and chrome paint scheme looks very nice, giving this netbook a “normal” color that you don’t generally see on many netbooks.
Build quality is very similar to other netbooks with a feel of slight ruggedness, but generous use of cheap plastic. The two toggle switches for dedicated graphics and wireless on/off feel undersized and are difficult to switch without using your fingernail. The screen hinges feel weaker on the N10 compared to the 901 or 1000 series Eee PC, flopping the screen back when you are carrying around the netbook.
The glossy LED-backlit WSVGA display is an odd screen choice for a business oriented notebook, where most manufacturers use matte displays to reduce screen glare. Another limiting factor is the lower resolution screen; which for the price premium you might expect a higher resolution option. That said the screen is bright and vibrant and very pleasing to look at for hours at a time. Viewing angles are also better than average when compared to standard notebooks, with a broad vertical viewing angle sweet sport before colors start to distort. Horizontal viewing angles extend almost to 90 degrees, if you can actually view the screen over the reflective surface that is showing the surrounding area.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The keyboard is comfortable to type on, but somewhat confusing to pickup if you are used to other keyboard layouts. One layout decision that irks me is the second function key located next to the direction pad. On most keyboards the outermost keys on the second row are both shift keys, making it easy to blindly aim your fingers all by feel. The N10 moves the left shift key inwards, and with it already being condensed in size, makes it difficult to find while typing. The sharp edge key design is another element which I would have preferred ASUS not use, since I found the rounded edge design on the Eee PC 1000 to be more comfortable. I personally think ASUS should have used the same keyboard on the N10 as they used on the 1000HA.
The Synaptics-based touchpad on the N10 is not only larger than most netbooks, but is easier to use than cheaper touchpads now found on many “consumer” netbooks. The pad surface is glossy, sharing the same color as the shell of the netbook. The large size makes it easy to move about the screen without having to pick up your finger to backtrack. Sensitivity is great with a wide range of adjustment and there was no noticeable lag found during use.
The touchpad buttons are adequately sized and easy to depress with little pressure. Feedback is shallow with a small audible click when pressed.
The ASUS N10JC-1A is also equipped with a fingerprint scanner which is located between the touchpad buttons. Scanning your fingertip can be tricky with how deeply recessed it is, but with a bit of practice you can get repeatable accurate readings.
From the moment I received this notebook I was very interested in seeing the performance of the Intel Atom platform with a dedicated graphics card attached. Almost all configurations use the dated Intel GMA950 graphics, which slow everything down, including movie decoding. With the NVIDIA 9300M graphics, this netbook might have a shot at decoding 720p video in a very compact package that has HDMI out.
For our test we tried a wide range of high definition content including an assortment of HD movies and HD movie trailers. Sadly, even though we tried a wide range of video codecs, including CoreAVC, the Intel Atom processor didn’t have enough grunt to keep a steady decoding framerate. Depending on the bitrate the N10 working with the NVIDIA 9300M graphics only managed 10-15fps, well below 24-25fps goal.
Since HD content was out of the question we moved onto video games as another area to see where the dedicated graphics might help out. Using Steam we pulled in Half-Life 2 and tweaked the visual settings to be easier on the system. With the resolution set to 1024×600 and most settings on medium the system average 20-25fps, which was playable, but still under what you would want for smooth gaming. Heavy action scenes dropped the framerate into the mid-teens, and if you weren’t lucky, got yourself killed in no time.
In day to day use the NVIDIA 9300M didn’t do much to improve the overall speed of the N10 compared to standard netbooks which only have Intel integrated graphics. It also didn’t help out much with gaming or video playback since the Intel Atom processor can’t keep up. While it did improve limited gaming abilities, it wasn’t a big enough jump to really make anything old games work under tweaked settings. For these reasons I don’t really see any benefit to including the dedicated graphics when all it does is increase power consumption.
UPDATE: Many forum members wanted clarification on the ASUS N10’s ability to handle HD decoding when using hardware decoding software. We tested MPC-HC and it helps to offload both 720P and 1080P well enough to limit the frame dropping we noticed before. It does have some hiccups running off of battery, but when plugged in to a power outlet it seems pretty solid.
PCMark05 measures overall system performance (higher scores mean better performance):
|ASUS N10 (1.60GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 950)||1,531 PCMarks|
|ASUS N10 (1.60GHz Intel Atom, NVIDIA 9300M 256MB)||1,851 PCMarks|
|ASUS Eee PC 1000HA (1.60GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 950)||1,527 PCMarks|
|Lenovo IdeaPad S10 (1.60GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 950)||1,446 PCMarks|
|Acer Aspire One (1.60GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 950)||1,555 PCMarks|
|ASUS Eee PC 901 (1.60GHz Intel Atom)||746 PCMarks|
|MSI Wind (1.60GHz Intel Atom)||N/A|
|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 N10 (Intel Atom @ 1.60GHz)||126.047 seconds|
|ASUS Eee PC 1000HA (Intel Atom @ 1.60GHz)||117.577 seconds|
|Lenovo IdeaPad S10 (Intel Atom @ 1.60GHz)||127.172 seconds|
|Acer Aspire One (Intel Atom @ 1.60GHz)||125.812 seconds|
|ASUS Eee PC 901 (Intel Atom @ 1.60GHz)||123.437 seconds|
|MSI Wind (Intel Atom @ 1.60GHz)||124.656 seconds|
|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|
3DMark06 comparison results:
|ASUS N10 (1.60GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 950)||73 3DMarks|
|ASUS N10 (1.60GHz Intel Atom, NVIDIA 9300M 256MB)||1,417 3DMarks|
|ASUS Eee PC 1000HA (1.60GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 950)||95 3DMarks|
|Lenovo IdeaPad S10 (1.60GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 950)||N/A
|Acer Aspire One (1.60GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 950)||122 3DMarks|
|Sony VAIO TZ (1.20GHz Core 2 Duo U7600, Intel GMA 950)||122 3DMarks|
|HP dv2500t (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS 128MB)||1,055 3DMarks|
|Sony VAIO FZ (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100)||532 3DMarks|
|HP dv6000t (2.16 GHz Intel T7400, NVIDA GeForce Go 7400)||827 3DMarks|
HDTune hard drive performance results:
Windows Vista also performed remarkably well on the N10, which seems to be the case with many Intel Atom based netbooks. The flow of system applications and short boot and shutdown times made it much more pleasing to use on a day to day basis compared to XP, and some benchmark scores improved as well. PCMark05 with the NVIDIA graphics enabled managed a score of 1,869 and 3DMark06 pulled in 1,404. 3DMark06 with the Intel graphics in the Vista environment almost doubled, with a score of 128. All the required drivers were easy to find on the ASUS site, which was expected since ASUS sells an N10 configuration with Vista out of the box.
Speakers and Audio
The Altec Lansing speakers on the N10 did sound slightly better than other netbook speakers, but were still leaving much to be desired. Bass and midrange were lacking, but volume levels were fine for average use. The headphone output was great for private listening, and with my Sennheiser HD-80s hooked up, I had no more complaints about bass or midrange. Peak volume levels through the headphone jack were well above my tolerance of loud music.
Ports and Features
Port selection was above average compared to many netbooks, with the addition of the HDMI output, ExpressCard/34 slot for external devices, and security enhancing fingerprint scanner. Beyond those devices the port selection included three USB, VGA, LAN, headphone/mic, multi-card reader, and a Kensington lock slot.
Heat and Noise
Thermal performance of the ASUS N10 was great, even under the stress of gaming with the dedicated graphics under load. At no time did the system fan go above a whisper level of noise. Right after gaming the palmrest and touchpad area would peak around 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Compared to the original Eee PC 701 which would heat soak and reach temperatures of 112 degrees Fahrenheit, ASUS has come a long way in terms of cooling performance.
Battery life with the screen brightness set to 100%, the N10 set to the “Quiet Office” power profile , and wireless active was 5 hours and 9 minutes before it went into standby at 3% remaining. With the NVIDIA graphics enabled under the same settings, estimated battery life was about 1 hour less.
The ASUS N10, while performing quite well in our testing in overall performance, didn’t see much gain in day-to-day use from the dedicated graphics. While the addition nets you an HDMI port, it doesn’t help with decoding HD movies or help with many games since the Intel Atom processor doesn’t have enough power to handle those activities. While you do get a classier looking design with a much nicer paint scheme and slightly slimmer look, you pay a price premium over the Eee PC 1000.
With a price tag nearly 50 percent greater than other netbook models, even more when compared to new HP and Dell offerings, it seems ASUS might have priced themselves out of the consumer market with the N10. Of course, the price tag is still perfectly reasonable as a “corporate netbook” … and some less demanding road warriors may desire the affordable N10 over outrageously priced ultraportables like the Sony VAIO TZ.
- Improved cooling over previous Eee PC models
- Good battery life
- Slimmer design over 10” Eee PC 1000
- ExpressCard slot for expansion
- HDMI output from a netbook
- High price tag (compared to consumer netbooks)
- Dedicated graphics don’t really improve HD video decoding or mild gaming
- Keyboard doesn’t feel as comfortable as other 10” netbooks