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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Quick Review Of ASUS Eee PC 1005HA-EU2X 10.1 Inch Netbook

I bought two of these ASUS Eee PC netbooks on Black Friday for my kids. They cost me $200 each, and are available right now for closer to $300 from Amazon.com and other retailers. It is a slightly older model, and there are newer Eee PC's that have supplanted it in the marketplace. But this older model has an advantage over the newer models, as I will explain in this review.

The package is small and light, and comes with nice pictures of the netbook instead of being generic brown cardboard. It also comes with a carrying handle. Once you open up the package, you find the netbook, a two-piece power cord, the laptop battery, a small user manual and a DVD. The DVD contains a system image that you can restore onto the hard drive to reset the netbook to factory shipped state, and a few utilities and other odds and ends. I have not played around with the DVD, so I am not sure what "utilities" these are.

The specifications of the computer are:
  • Intel Atom N270 processor running at 1.6 GHz (the CPU is capable of hyperthreading, so it is roughly equivalent to having two CPU's in the box. In my personal experience, this CPU is much more powerful and more useful than Intel Celeron processors which are single-threaded, and tend to get choked when you try to multi-task with one program that requires a lot of computing power)
  • 1 GB RAM
  • 160 GB hard drive
  • 1024x600 10.1 inch WSVGA LED-backlit matte screen
  • 0.3 MP webcam and built-in microphone
  • Built-in 802.11 b/g/n wi-fi
  • 3 USB ports, 1 network (LAN) port, 1 VGA port, microphone and headphone jacks
  • No optical drive
  • 1.1 kg weight (less than 2.5 lbs), including the battery, without the power cord
  • 3-cell battery that the user manual claims to provide a 4-hour power supply to the computer
  • Windows XP Home SP3 operating system
That last item is what I consider a big advantage of this computer over the new models that come with Windows 7 Starter rather than Windows XP Home. Why is it an advantage? Because Windows XP is less computationally demanding than even the starter edition of Windows 7. So, more of the CPU power of the computer is available to you, the user, rather than being used up by the operating system just to keep the computer running. Moreover, Windows XP Home provides a lot more control over the user experience than the Starter version of Windows 7 which has most of the operating system's customization features stripped out to try and make it a viable operating system for netbooks (for instance, you can't even change the default desktop background of Windows 7 Starter without third party software).

Setting up the computer was a breeze. You slip the battery into the back of the computer and latch it in place first. Then you hook up the power cord, and switch the computer on. The computer connected to the internet without any issues once it booted up, and I was able to download and install anti-virus and windows updates without any problem.

The computer came loaded with a small amount of junkware (including Microsoft Works), but I got rid of them without any problems. The hard drive is partitioned into one large user partition and a small recovery partition. You can use this recovery partition to reset the computer back to factory shipped state if the hard disk is intact when you want to do it. The DVD shipped with the computer would be needed if the necessity to reset the computer to factory shipped state arises because of a hard disk failure that makes this recovery partition inaccessible or useless.

The user manual is only a few pages long, and explains the basic features of the computer, including the location of all the ports. It also explains in detail how to use the recovery partition on the hard drive if you need to. The computer can boot off an external USB optical drive, and the user manual explains how to use the included DVD in such a drive to reset the computer if necessary.

Gone are the days when computers shipped with manuals that were a couple of hundred pages long. This manual mostly lets the user figure out other details of the computer by trial and error rather than explaining all the features in detail. But it is part of the fun of starting to use a new computer, right?!

The computer itself is quite attractive. It is shiny black on the outside (unfortunately, that was the only color choice that was available in the store when I bought it. My kids would have preferred the blue color), with the front being very thin, and the back being about an inch thick when closed. The case size is big enough to accommodate a complete keyboard which is supposed to be about 95% of full-size. I had some minor trouble adjusting to the change in size initially, but got used to it quite easily. My kids like it much better than full-size keyboards.

The screen is very bright and colorful. It is supposed to be matte, but it still shows fingerprints and other smudges readily, so both the screen and the outside case of the computer attract smudges. Avoid touching the screen with your hands if at all possible. In addition to the default 1024x600 resolution, you can set the computer to 1024x768 resolution in two modes: scroll mode, where the desktop scrolls up and down as you move your mouse pointer to the edges of the visible screen, or compressed mode, where 768 vertical pixels are compressed into the actual 600 pixels available on the screen, making everything look short and squat.

Most of the time, the computer is used in 1024x600 resolution, but some computer games require a minimum resolution of 1024x768. The two 1024x768 modes come in handy at that time to make sure such games can be played on this computer. Quite clever, really.

This laptop does not have any latches to hold the screen down on the keyboard when it is closed. The hinge design provides the necessary force to keep the laptop closed unless you pry the top open with some force.

The power cord plugs into the left side of the laptop, which is also home to one USB port and the VGA port. The right side of the laptop contains 2 USB ports, the LAN port and the microphone and headphone jacks. The right side also has a slot for memory cards. The computer can read SD, SDHC and MMC cards.

The webcam and the built-in microphone sit on top of the screen. The built-in headphones reside above the keyboard. They are quite decent for a computer of this size. The left side of the computer also contains the cooling vents which put out warm air when the CPU gets hot. Usually, I found that the fan either does not run or runs very slowly and silently. Only when the CPU is stressed quite a bit does the fan run hard. Overall, the computer runs quite cool, thanks to the power-efficient CPU used.

The touchpad is not demarcated from the rest of the arm-rest area, but it is distinguishable by the presence of the mouse buttons. The touchpad itself has a different tactile feel than the completely smooth area surrounding it. It is multi-touch capable, so you can scroll by using two fingers, zoom in and out using multi-finger gestures, etc.

The front end of the laptop has a row of small LED's that tell you whether the computer is on or off or in standby mode, whether the wi-fi is on or not, whether the hard disk is being accessed, etc. These LED's are visible whether the computer is open or closed, so you can tell the state of the computer at a glance even if the lid is closed.

The computer does not have any dedicated switches to control any of the functions like volume control, screen brightness, wi-fi on/off etc. Everything is controlled by Fn key combinations. The key presses do show up on screen, confirming that the specified action was completed successfully.

The battery is supposed to keep the computer powered on for 4 hours, but in my tests, it lasts only about three to three and a half hours. Throughout this time, the wireless connection and hard disk were on though, so I am sure when laptop makers test their batteries, they turn off everything except the CPU to come up with their inflated assessments of how long the batteries last. I can live with three hours, and I just wish battery life assessments were more realistic.

I will conclude this review with a brief list of pros and cons.

Pros:
  • Small size, light weight
  • Excellent screen
  • Almost full-sized keyboard that adults can type on with no problems
  • Responsive touchpad with multi-touch gestures that make it easy to accomplish simple things like scrolling, zooming in and out, etc.
  • Large hard drive with built-in recovery partition
  • DVD with system image for use in emergencies
  • Good instructions on the basics such as system recovery
  • Built-in webcam and microphone for video chats
  • Built-in card-reader slot for SD, SDHC and MMC cards
  • Abundant USB slots on both sides of the computer
  • Windows XP Home operating system
  • Hyperthreading CPU that seemed to be capable of handling most tasks like homework, internet surfing, watching videos and listening to music quite well
  • 1024x768 mode to make the computer compatible with games and other programs that were not designed with netbooks in mind
Cons:
  • Smudge-prone case and screen
  • Small user manual that does not even explain things like how to use the multi-touch touchpad
  • No built-in optical drive
  • No USB ports in the back. In fact, having the power cord connection and VGA port in the sides can cause problems with wires stretching across the computer too.
  • No hardware buttons for multimedia functions or volume controls
So, in summary, I like this computer a lot. It is well worth the money I spent on it, and my kids love it to death. It seems strong enough to withstand at least a few years of use, even at the hands of a kid, and seems to be quite capable at what it does. It is tiny and light, making it easy to travel with. The battery life is long enough for most domestic flights in the US (assuming you charge up the battery life while waiting at the gate). I would recommend the computer whole-heartedly to anyone looking for a cheap netbook, either for kids or as a second computer to be used in situations requiring high mobility. A solid four and a half or five stars out of five!

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