ASK NBB #4: Evolving Eee PC


Today’s question comes from an asker with a special interest in one of NBB’s favorite netbooks – the ASUS Eee PC.

QUESTION:

I’m looking at getting a netbook and people generally tend to tell me that the Eee PC is the best choice. Are they right? And which model is the best value?

Thanks!

-Amanda

ANSWER:

Well, Amanda, you ask a perceptive question I think a lot of netbook buyers are considering. How do you differentiate the multitudes of Eee PCs in order to choose the best one for your purposes? I don’t know what you specifically need, but I’m going to try to outline the various models of Eee PC, and hopefully by the end of this you’ll have a good idea of what to look for.

What the heck is ‘Eee’?

The Eee in ASUS Eee PC is a reference to their ‘three Es’ slogan; “Easy to learn, Easy to work, Easy to play”. There are a few Eee PC For Dummies-style books out there, so apparently everyone doesn’t think they’re so easy. Regardless, the Eee PC has pleased a wide audience and will likely continue to do so as long as netbooks are around.

The Eee 700 Series

It’s hard to believe that the first models of the Eee PC were announced all the way back at COMPUTEX Taipei 2007. The Eee PC 701 was released October 16 of that year in Taiwan, with three followup models on the way soon after. This led ASUS to over 300,000 netbook sales in 2007, before netbooks were even big.

Eee PC 701

A lot of people have taken to calling the 700-series Eee PC the Surf, with the various iterations being known as the Eee PC 8G (or Eee PC 702), Eee PC 4G (Eee PC 701), 4G Surf (Eee PC 701), and 2G Surf (Eee PC 700). The 2G in 2G Surf refers to the 2 GB SSD, while the 4G models have 4 GB of space on the solid state drive.

The CPU of the 700 series is the 900 MHz Intel Celeron-M ULV 353, though the 700 and 701 versions of the CPU are clocked at different speeds. While the Eee PC 700 and Eee PC 701 have 512 MB of RAM, the 702 adopted the 1 GB of RAM that eventually became standard in the newer 900 Series Eee PC netbooks.

The Eee 900 Series

Launched in Spring 2008, the 900 series upped both pricing and features to what we’ve come to expect from ASUS netbooks. The May 1 US/UK/EU release came in at $650, including VAT. The machines were multitouch and ran either Linux or Windows XP. The Eee 900A and 901 adopted our good friend the 1.6 GHz Intel Atom.

Eee PC 900

The Linux Eee PC is called the Eee PC 900, packing a 16 GB SSD. A few comparable have an additional 4 GB chip, bringing the overall space to 20 GB. The XP version, to contrast, is known as the Eee PC Win with both 12 GB and 16 GB models. Curiously enough, the 12 GB Windows XP version and 20 GB Linux version cost about the same, prompting many to drop the Microsoft OS for its open-source competitor.

The 900 Series netbooks all have 1 GB of RAM, an 8.9-inch 1024 x 600 LCD screen, and a 1.3 megapixel webcam. The webcam was a big step for netbooks, beginning their transition into devices that needed to appeal to mainstream sensibilities. Their mobility and features were starting to not only throw off their ‘cheap, crappy laptop’ image but also make them a category in their own right.

The Eee 1000 Series

Introduced once more at COMPUTEX Taipei (but this time in 2008), the new Eee PCs featured 10-inch screens and all-new power management software. Further changes included the 1.6 GHz chip, which was replaced with the 900 MHz Celeron for the Eee PC 904HD and 1000HD (which in turn traded their SSDs for 80 GB hard disk drives). However, by the time ASUS released the Eee PC 1000H, specs were where we’d expect them – 80 or 160 GB HDDs, 1 GB of RAM, and the Intel Atom.

With larger screens came more usable keyboards, measuring in at about 92% of full-size. They featured 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, something they had in common with the Eee PC 901.

ASUS Eee PC 1000HE

The 1000 Series models are somewhat differentiated, with the Eee PC 1000 shipping with Linux, 4.3-7.5 hours of battery, and 40 GB of SSD space To contrast, the 1000H shipped with Windows XP or Linux, 3.2-7 hours of battery life, and larger 80-160 GB SATA HDDs. These netbooks supported upgrades up to 2 GB of DDR2 RAM, though they only shipped with 1 GB.

The new 1000HE, which we reviewed, uses the newest Atom processor – the 1.66 GHz Intel Atom N280. Its 6-cell 9.5-hour battery, 10-inch LED screen, and amended keyboard honed the 1000 Series Eee PC to its finest form. You can also get an Eee PC 1004DN, which packs an optical drive for DVDs.

Still, it was time for something different. What’s coming next for the Eee PC?

The Future

ASUS announced the Eee 1008HA netbook at CeBIT 2009, christening the ultra-thin design the Seashell PC.  Beautiful form and admirable function were united in the Seashell, and it’s expected in stores soon.

Eee Seashell

Newer Eee PCs include the ASUS Eee PC T91 and T101H. These 10-inch netbooks incorporate multitouch and a tablet style touchscreen. Additional features set to invoke the appetites of mobile PC users are the GPS and TV tuner in those netbooks.

Eee PC T91

Conclusions

The Eee PC has come a long way from the early days of the 700-series. It’s gotten flashier, more versatile, and sexier, all while keeping the spirit of the ultra-mobile ultra-cheap netbook. If future releases by ASUS are anything like what we’ve seen recently, netbook consumers are in for a treat while competitors are in a run for their money.

I can’t tell you what netbook to buy, but I hope this helps you know where to start looking. The Eee PC is a fantastic machine, whatever the model, and I think if you think hard about what features are essential you’ll have a device that suits your lifestyle. Happy netbooking!

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Interested in getting your own question answered on ASK NBB? Here’s how! Be sure to check out ASK NBB #2 for some commentary on 3G netbooks, or ASK NBB #3 for my projections for the future of the netbook industry.

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