Review: Asus Eee PC 1201N

 
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Published: January 27, 2010 11:00 PM
By Fabien Pionneau
Multimedia takes centre-stage on Asus' new Eee PC 1201N netbook.  Although it might look just like the brand's other netbooks from the outside, there's some rather unusual hardware on the inside.  The combination of a dual-core Intel Atom processor and Nvidia's ION graphics chipset gives the 1201N a real boost.

Handling: too glossy

The Eee PC 1201N has the same glossy black exterior as the 1101HA.  It gives an elegant finish, but you can't avoid getting greasy fingerprints all over the outside.  In short, the finish is attractive to start with when the netbook is clean, but gets dirty very easily as you use it, which puts us off.  The 1201N is very well made and feels solid: the base is rigid and the hinge for the screen feels very robust.

Asus Eee PC 1201N keyboard

The chiclet-style keyboard takes up the whole width of the computer, and is made up small (15 x 14 mm) flat keys with plenty of room between them.  They're firm to the touch, but typing is comfortable and not very loud.

The multitouch touchpad blends in with the rest of the laptop and you can only tell where it is by feeling the difference in texture.  The little dots that stick out of the case feel a little odd at first, but the touchpad is fast and accurate.  Just underneath is a shiny metal bar that allows you to click, and although it's good quality, it's quite loud.

Asus Eee PC 1201N webcamThe webcam produces a decent video signal.  Colours are accurate and movements are nice and fluid.  On the other hand, areas that are overexposed are too bright, and it's difficult to rely on the camera in low light conditions.

Despite having a more powerful configuration than the majority of other laptops, the 1201N manages to stay quiet.  The majority of the time, all you hear is a quiet whir firm the fan; it only picks up when you are handling tricky photo and video content.

The connectivity options are entirely standard: three USB 2.0 ports, HDMI and VGA for video, mic and headphone jacks, an Ethernet port, a two-in-one memory card reader and an anti-theft lock.  802.11b/g/n WiFi and Bluetooth are vote included.

Underneath, a single panel gives access to the RAM.  Both memory slots are occupied, with a 1 GB module in each.  You can remove the battery, which only just sticks out of the bottom of the netbook.


Asus Eee PC 1201N Asus Eee PC 1201N
VGA, power, USB 2.0 and HDMI

VGA and power

Asus Eee PC 1201N Asus Eee PC 1201N
Touchpad

Card reader, USB, audio jacks, USB and Ethernet


Processor Power: better at multitaksing
Windows 7 Index: 3.3. Detail: CPU 3.3 - RAM 4.7 - Graphics 4.3 - Game Graphics 5.3 - Main hard disk 5.9.

The Intel Atom 330 processor that powers the 1201N is a dual-core CPU that we're more used to seeing in a net-tops.  It produces 8 W of thermal energy that needs to be dissipated, compared to just 2.5 W for the Intel Atom N270.  Getting rid of that excess heat has a negative impact on battery life. 

We weren't blown away by the 1201N's performance in our tests, which give it an indexed score of 27.  You can compare that to the 19 achieved by the Samsung N510, which has an Atom N270 CPU, or our reference laptop, the Fujitsu-Siemens Amilo Xi 3650 and its Core 2 Duo T9400, indexed at 100.  It's 50% better than other ION-based notebooks, of course, but we'd prefer to see more power given the energy consumption.  We found that the 1201N was relatively at home with the Windows 7 Family Premium Edition that it ships with, booting in 45 seconds.

Despite having two cores, the processor can't decode HD video by itself.  Even with a CPU load of over 80%, video didn't play smoothly.  Fortunately, the ION chipset can take on some of the work.  Turning on hardware acceleration allows you to benefit from the excellent decoding that Nvidia's graphics hardware provides.  The CPU load falls back to around 11%, and the energy consumption drops to 30.5 W, compared to 33 W without hardware acceleration and 20 W while idle. 

Gaming: the ION chipset does well

The ION chipset is definitely the most powerful graphics solution currently available for netbooks, but it's often underused by processors that aren't powerful enough to keep up.  The 1201N's dual-core CPU does a better job than most, and makes it possible to play some games that are unavailable on other ION notebooks like the Samsung N510 or the Compaq Mini 311c.

We finally managed to play Race Driver: GRID with a reasonable amount of fluidity, and games like Half-Life 2 and Team Fortress 2 that use the 3D Source Engine for their graphics also have a little room to breathe.  It's still only a small change, and you're usually restricted to using a limited set of graphics.  We're still looking forward to the first netbook to include a CULV dual-core processor and an ION chipset which will be a very interesting proposition.

Audio Quality: only the headphone jack is worth it

The speakers don't produce good quality audio.  With no bass, the sound lacks depth and treble takes over, the traditional problem on netbooks.  The headphone jack is the only decent link in the chain, and it doesn't suffer from any feedback or crackle.

Portability & Battery Life: a huge battery saves the day

Reading this netbook's impressive specs left us worrying about what its battery life would be like.  Fortunately, though, it did better than we expected, looping video for 3 hours 35 minutes in our standard test conditions (no WiFi, headphones plugged in and the screen at 100 cd/m².  That's impressive, but not as long as the Samsung N510 lasted (4 h 6), or the Compaq Mini 311c for that matter (4 h 52).  The 120N is more suitable for users needing a little bit of extra power rather than those that need extra long battery life.

A 5600 mAh six-cell battery clearly has something to do with this result, and we're glad that it's not too big either.  Weight 1.46 kg, the 1201N is just a few grams heavier than the Samsung N510 (1.4 kg), which is perfectly reasonable given the size of the netbook.  The charger is absolutely tiny, which is excellent, and will take up very little space in your laptop bag.
4/5 Asus Eee PC 1201N DigitalVersus 2010-01-28 00:00:00

Pros

  • Attractive performance
  • Plays HD video and has HDMI output
  • 3D gaming possible
  • Reasonable size and weight
  • Comfortable to use

Cons

  • Poor quality glossy screen
  • Glossy plastic everywhere
  • Processor not very powerful
  • Weak battery life

Conclusion

The Asus Eee PC 1201N performs well and introduces some faster components. Almost an ultra-portable PC rather than a netbook, we would have been happier with less use of glossy materials and a better processor (a CULV for instance). Still, it's limited to users who don't need the best possible portability and battery life.

OUR SCORE 4/5
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