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Asus Eee PC 701 Review - Components Part 1

Size



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(view large image)

The Eee's diminutive measurements (22.5 x 16.4 x 2.15~3.5 cm) speak for themselves. This is an extremely tiny machine. To fully appreciate the small dimensions of the machine, see the above pictures! In the first picture, I've placed a Logitech RumblePad 2 game controller on top of the Eee. Note, that the game controller is not that much smaller! In the second image, you can see the Eee resting on an open 12.1" HP laptop. The Eee is literally dwarfed by the laptop.

Display

The 7" display uses an active matrix LCD which does not fill the top panel. This is because the LCD screen is flanked by a pair of stereo speakers. You might be asking whether a 7" display is usable. Fortunately, Asus has sensibly limited the resolution to 800x480, so that text is clearly readable. This resolution makes the display far easier to read than other ultra-mobile PCs like the Sony Vaio UX1XN which crams a 1024x600 resolution into a mere 4.5" display. Ideally, I would have preferred a bigger display with the speakers moved to the base of the machine.

Even though the display is small, it is very impressive, producing a clean and crisp-looking image. Colours are faithfully reproduced and there were no bad pixels. The screen has an anti-glare finish that helps to reduce reflections from overhead lighting, which was helpful when using the Eee on the train. Another noteworthy feature of the display is its extremely wide viewing angle, although I found that this aided nosey train commuters spying on what I was doing, especially as their attention had already been drawn to the minute size of the machine.

The display can be set to 16 different levels of brightness, which is more than enough for whatever environment the machine is being used in, with the exception of very strong sunlight. Both the screen and the chassis are sturdy and do not flex under pressure. The hinges are sturdy and fairly stiff; a sign of solidity. They certainly belie the inexpensive price tag.

Keyboard

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Another trade-off of the small form factor of the Eee PC is that its keyboard has to be shrunk into a very confined area. The keys are all extremely tiny, including the delete and return keys, although the left shift key and the space bar are of reasonable size. The gaps between the keys are less than 1mm. Even though the keys are very small and tightly spaced, I found that after using the device for a couple of hours, I began to make very few typing errors. I can type at approximately 80% of the speed I obtain on my desktop machine (using a Zippy WK-620 USB keyboard).

This entire review has been typed on the Eee PC without any feeling of being unduly cramped. Despite their small proportions, the keys feel firm and provide a sufficient level of resistance and feedback. Having tried Sony Vaio and the Gigabyte Ultra-Mobile PC, I wasn't expecting the Eee's keyboard to be any better. However, the keyboard wildly exceeded my expectations.

A couple of minor quibbles with the keyboard are the non-standard placing of the right skift key, and the pipe (|) requiring 3 keys to be pressed. The keyboard gets warm, but I'll expand on that issue later.

CPU

At the heart of the Eee PC is the Celeron M 900 MHz processor. This is an ultra-low-voltage model with 512KB L2-cache. Released in September 2004, this CPU is based on the Pentium M microarchitecture. Although it is is a couple of generations behind the latest processors found in some ultra-portable notebooks (such as the Intel Core 2 Duo T7300 and T7500), the machine nevertheless felt quick and responsive at all times. The machine booted up in 14 seconds, and most applications opened up without any significant delay.

Although the processor is rated at 900 Mhz, the BIOS shipped with the Eee (0401) limits the speed of the front size bus. This has the effect that the CPU is actually running at a mere 630 MHz, significantly slower than its advertised speed. Of course there are positive benefits from having the processor underclocked (such as longer battery life and less heat being generated). Furthermore, the machine still has more than enough grunt to handle CPU intensive tasks. For example, playing video files (divx, xvid etc) only consumes about 25-30% of the CPU. Nevertheless, I trust that Asus will address this issue in a future stable BIOS release (or kernel module) so that the true horsepower of the machine is realised.

RAM

The Eee (Model 701) ships with a single 512MB memory module. If the machine had been running Windows XP as its operating system (perish the thought) the amount of RAM could present a problem, especially if, like me, you run lots of applications simultaneously. However, the customised Xandros distribution is much more efficient, with the 512MB of RAM supplied being more than sufficient. Note, there's no swap file or swap partition.

For anyone thinking that they'll just replace the memory stick, be warned that the RAM access panel has a tiny 'warranty void if seal broken' sticker covering one of its screws. However, voiding the warranty by performing a RAM upgrade is likely to be unforceable in law in many countries (assuming that no damage is caused to the machine during the upgrade itself).

Ports


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(view large image)

Besides the power input, Eee's ports are all located on the left and right hand sides of the machine.

The first image shows the left hand side of the machine. Here we have a RJ-45 Lan port (10/100 Mbit), providing wired connectivity. The next port is blanked, but is intended for the optional modem. We then have a USB port which is compatible with both USB 1.1 and USB 2.0 devices. The remaining two ports are a 3.5mm microphone jack and a 3.5mm headphone jack.

On the right hand side of the machine resides a memory card slot (taking MMC and SD/SDHC cards), 2 further USB ports, a D-Sub (VGA) monitor port, and a Kensington Lock port.

Over the years I've amassed a large collection of MMC, SD and SDHC cards ranging in size from 128MB to 8GB. All of these cards were detected and worked well with the Eee. 32GB represents the maximum amount of storage on an SDHC card, although they are currently very expensive.

During the course of this review, I have connected a variety of devices to the USB ports including a 250GB USB hard disk, mice, keyboards, mp3 players, USB flash memory, and a cordless Rumblepad joypad. The Eee automatically detected all of these devices

Components Part 2

Read ahead

1. Introduction
2. Components - Part 1
3. Components - Part 2
4. General Operation
5. Software Introduction
6. Internet Tab
7. Work Tab
8. Learn Tab
9. Play Tab
10. Settings & Favorites Tabs
11. Additional Software
12. Final thoughts
13. Additional Screenshots
14. Appendix


Last Updated Sunday, January 13 2008 @ 11:10 AM EST


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