The Asus Eee 1000 -- more power, still portable

The latest iteration of Asus' groundbreaking mini-notebook adds a faster CPU, a larger display and a better keyboard.

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Credit goes to the 1.6-GHz Intel Atom processor under the Eee 1000's hood, which never uses more than 3 watts of power and runs cool. In my lap, the 1000 got warm, but never hot. And the fan, even at top speed, emitted nothing more than a low hum.

The Eee 1000's Wi-Fi is also much improved -- reliably fast to start up and boasting a signal-pulling strength nearly equal to my ThinkPad. (The Wi-Fi meter at the bottom of the screen was also a winner, rating reception on a percentile scale, rather than the more typical 1-5 metric.)

Xandros remains Asus' choice of Linux operating systems. Though unheralded compared with the more popular Ubuntu Linux, Xandro's interface is perfectly suited for netbooks, being easy to navigate by keyboard. The mix of installed open-source applications and links to Web apps remains mostly unchanged. The biggest addition is a link to 20GB of Web storage offered free to Eee owners.

What else do I like? The 1000's 40GB solid-state disk eases the storage crunch of earlier models (the $650 Eee 1000H is even more capacious, with an 80GB hard disk drive). The built-in webcam's resolution has been quadrupled to 1.3 megapixels, up from the 701's 0.3-megapixel webcam. Finally, I loved the mirrored black plastic shell of the 1000, what Asus calls "fine ebony," which felt sturdy and sleek. The material's propensity to show fingerprint smudges will encourage the obsessive-compulsive tendencies of its owners, though.

Readers at this point may wonder if I've become as brainwashed into the cult of Eee. But while it's true that I definitely dig the 1000, not everything is perfect in Eee land.

Take the touch-pad keys. They remain as stiff and hard to click as they are on the 701. And although the 1000's touch pad is bigger and includes trendy multi-touch capabilities, I found I couldn't really get the hang of it (apart from clicking and dragging two fingers up and down to move a Web page up and down). It made me feel old and self-conscious. Was some teenager secretly laughing at my clumsy finger manipulations the same way I once did at a co-worker who moved the mouse around in a herky-jerky death grip?

What else? The Intel Atom processor, while thrifty on the power, won't break any land-speed records. And the video driver, for now, can't support using the Eee 1000 screen and an external monitor as two independent displays.

The 1000's power supply, while far more petite than a typical laptop "power brick," takes two hours to fully charge. And the Eee 1000 remains incompatible with many hardware peripherals, such as printers and scanners, though this is more a fault of Linux.

Eee 1000
The Eee 1000 unboxed.

Finally, when judged purely on "speeds and feeds" type of benchmarking, the Eee 1000 and its netbook brethren can't compare even with budget laptops.

The Eee 1000 is for the type of user for whom being able to drop four-plus pounds of gear while adding three hours of battery life is imperative. Which leads to where the Eee 1000 may be most vulnerable -- its relatively high price versus rival netbooks such as the HP 2133 Mini-Note, the MSI Wind or the Acer Aspire One.

Listing for $700, the 1000 is Asus' top-of-the-line Eee, costing twice as much as a 701 and $100 more than the Eee 901, which offers the same 1.6-GHz Intel Atom CPU but a smaller keyboard and screen.

So the Eee 1000 may not be the best deal out there in the fast-growing netbook market. That's OK, though. The third time is the charm for Asus, which has learned through experience just what compromises were acceptable to make in the Eee 1000. Until something else comes along that clearly bests the Eee 1000 in both price and performance, this should be the first model any consumer tempted by a netbook should take a look at.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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