By our count ASUS has released -- at the very least -- 20 Eee PC netbooks since 2008. Some had 8.9-inch or 10-inch displays, some ran Xandros Linux or Windows XP, and some packed hard drives instead of flash storage. But common to virtually all of them was an Intel Diamondville 1.6GHz Atom N270 or N280 processor. That all changes with the 10-inch Eee PC 1005PE -- one of the first netbooks to feature the next-generation Intel Pine Trail platform, which features a 45-nanometer Pineview Atom N450 processor that integrates both the memory controller and GMA 3150 graphics onto the CPU die. The newly compact package promises improved performance and power efficiency, but will you notice the difference? Does the $380 1005PE blow past the Diamondville Eee PCs of late? Read on to find out in our full review.
Look and feel
Though the new Intel platform's reduced package size should enable thinner form factors, the 1005PE keeps the same compact and 2.8 pound chassis as the 1005HA. But we aren't complaining -- we still had plenty of room on our airplane tray table for a drink and a snack. Overall it's a nice-looking machine, but we've still got issues with ASUS's glossy, fingerprint-attracting lid. (Seriously, is anyone out there working on making a glossy material that repels fingerprints?) We'd also suggest going with the black version over navy: the blue lid doesn't match the black bottom, keyboard or screen bezel and the result is a bruise-like color combo. Like the 1201N, the plastic chassis feels cheap compared to aluminum-built netbooks like the Nokia Booklet 3G and the HP Mini 5101.
The 1005PE covers the major bases when it comes to ports, including three USB ports, VGA, Ethernet, an SD card slot, and headphone/microphone jacks. Hidden behind the battery is a SIM card slot.
Despite the matte keys feeling a bit flimsy, the typing experience on the chiclet keyboard was solid, and we rarely mistyped words while writing this review. The left shift key is full-size, and though the right one is shrunken it's placed in the correct spot to the left of the up arrow. We continue to be fans of the flush trackpad that's differentiated only by a grid of Braille-like raised dots; it was more than comfortable on our index finger and two-finger scrolling worked fairly well. But we'd love to see that stiff, clicky mouse bar replaced with two quieter dedicated right and left mouse buttons.
The 1005PE's 10-inch, 1024 x 600 resolution screen is plenty bright and watching an episode of 30 Rock on Hulu at full screen looked clean and crisp. It's a shame that it's surrounded by a thick glossy bezel which is almost as reflective as the screen itself, though.
Performance, graphics and battery life
So, what kind of difference does the new single-core 1.66GHz Intel Atom N450 make? Coupled with 1GB of RAM and a 5,400rpm 250GB hard drive that boots Windows 7 Starter, the 1005PE felt slightly snappier than netbooks with Atom N270 or N280 chips, but not by much. We didn't wait around for programs to launch or have any problems running Firefox 3, TweetDeck, and iTunes simultaneously. It's possible to run Photoshop, but editing a batch of photos still requires the patience of a grade-school teacher -- just like on N270 or N280 machines. The benchmarks say the same: On Geekbench the 1005PE notched 942, while the 1.66GHz Intel Atom N280 powered 1008HA scored a lower 756. Either way, the performance gain isn't going to blow you away, and keeps netbooks in line with their original purpose -- light productivity and web tasks.
It's a similar story with the Intel's GMA 3150 GPU, which is now integrated into the Pineview CPU. Like previous Atom-based Eee PCs netbooks (excluding the 1201N) you aren't going to want to put a 1080p video anywhere near it, but a 720p Quicktime clip played back quite smoothly, but we had the same old choppy issues playing an HD YouTube video. 3DMark06 scores also show that graphics gain is minimal: the 1005PE notched 157, which is higher than the GMA945-based 1008HA's 102, but not by such a significant amount that you'd notice real world differences.
Eee PC 1005PE
Eee PC 1008HA
Geekbench (higher is better)
WPrime 32M (lower is better)
3DMark06 (higher is better)
Cinebench (higher is better)
The real gain with Pine Trail comes in battery life, as the platform uses 20 percent less power than its predecessor. Outfitted with a fairly standard six-cell 5800mAH battery that juts out only slightly from the bottom of the machine, the 1005PE ran for an 8 hours and 10 minutes at 65 percent screen brightness during our grueling video rundown test. We got just over 10 and a half hours of juice when web browsing, writing in Microsoft Word and listening to streaming music -- seriously impressive compared to 1005HA, which has the same battery and runs for about 8 hours during similar usage.
Battery Life (video rundown test)
Eee PC 1005PE (Atom N450, 6-cell - 5400mAH, Win7)
Eee PC 1008HA (Atom N280, 4-cell - 2900mAH, Win7)
HP Mini 5101 (Atom N280, 6-cell - 4910mAH, WinXP)
You can launch the 1005PE's ExpressGate instant-on OS by hitting the button on the top of the keyboard deck. The interface is attractive and it's quick to connect to WiFi, but we're still not convinced by instant-on operating systems -- particularly since it just takes an extra 40 seconds to launch Windows 7. Oh, and all of ASUS's new netbooks come preloaded with an annoying screensaver with hold-esque music that plays in the background. Seriously, you cannot switch this off fast enough.
If you've been waiting for Pine Trail netbooks hoping for noticeably better performance and graphics, you're not going to get it -- and the truth is you probably won't even notice the difference between the 1005PE and older Diamondville-based Eee PCs until you start using it on battery power alone. Though we're a bit disappointed in Pine Trail's minimal performance improvement, especially in terms of streaming 720p video content, that's not to say the $380 1005PE won't be a solid, affordable choice for those looking for a 10-inch netbook with seriously impressive battery life when it goes on sale January 4th. And when it comes to netbooks, Pine Trail or not, you can't really ask for much more.