Asus Eee PC 1101HA review
The Asus Eee PC 1101HA is the first laptop in the Asus Eee PC lineup to have an 11.6 inch display. Some people will argue that this means it’s not a netbook, but the Eee PC 1101HA isn’t much larger than the 10.2 inch Eee PC 1005HA, and it’s design is almost identical in most respects. It has the same keyboard, touchpad, and overall look and feel. But there are two things that definitely do set the Eee PC 1101HA apart from most netbooks: The high resolution display, and the energy-sipping processor. As I’ll explain in review, both of these features are mixed blessings.
The unit featured in this review has a 1.33GHz Intel Atom Z520 processor, 1GB of RAM, 160GB hard drive, 802.11b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth, and an 11.6 inch, 1366 x 768 pixel display. It features integrated Intel GMA 500 graphics and has a 6 cell battery.
The Asus Eee PC 1101HA is available from Amazon for under $400.
The laptop features a glossy, fingerprint-attracting plastic case. The lid, palm rest, and screen bezel areas are all coveredy with shiny plastic. Only the keyboard and the bottom of the computer are matte. The shiny effect gives the Eee PC 1101HA an eye-catching effect at first, but after a few days, the laptop will be covered with fingerprints and smudges.
Because this laptop has a larger display than most netbooks, the case is necessarily a bit larger. But just a little bit. The Eee PC 1101HA is just a fraction of an inch wider than last year’s Eee PC 1000H model with a 10 inch screen. And because Asus has changed the way it places the screen hinge, both laptops take up the same amount of vertical space with the screens open. The Eee PC 1101HA also weighs just about 3 pounds.
The Eee PC 1000H lid is able to open at a wider angle than the Eee PC 1101HA, but the 11.6 inch display does fold back further than those on many other netbooks.
While the 1101HA is the largest Eee PC-branded laptop to date, it is smaller than some mini-laptops from competing companies.
For example, the Lenovo IdeaPad S12 which features a 12.1 inch display is clearly larger than the Eee PC 110HA.
On the sides of the unit you’ll find 3 USB ports, an Ethernet jack, a VGA port, mic and headphone jacks, an SDCH/MMC card slot, the power connector, a lock port and a single vent.
The bottom of the laptop features several vents, the battery which almost sits flush with the base of the laptop, and a single access panel that covers the RAM slot. You can upgrade the RAM simply by removing one screw, taking off the access panel cover, and swapping out the existing RAM with a new stick.
The Eee PC 1101HA has a display which is both larger than a typical netbook screen, and which offers a higher pixel resolution. I’ve used a number of smaller netbooks with high resolution displays, and the experience had always left a bad taste in my mouth. Because Windows XP and most other existing operating systems and applications don’t do a great job of scaling graphic elements, looking at a 10 inch, 1366 x 768 pixel display means staring at incredibly tiny text and pictures, and I typically get a headache after about 20 or 30 minutes.
This is not the case with the Eee PC 1101HA. While the 11.6 inch, 1366 x 768 pixel display has a higher dot pitch than your average netbook, it’s not too sharp for the average person to use.
In other words, you can actually appreciate the experience of fitting full web pages and higher resolution applications on the screen without resorting to scrolling or zooming.
On the other hand, it takes more processing power to pump out graphics to the laptop’s higher resolution display. A 1366 x 768 pixel display has almost twice the resolution of a 1024 x 600 pixel screen. And while some applications run flawlessly on the Eee PC, some programs which run well on lower resolution displays struggle to keep up. But we’ll get into that more in the performance section.
Asus includes a utility for adjusting the screen brightness, and there are 15 different settings. Honestly, I find it hard to tell the difference between a few of the brightest settings, but that’s OK, because the screen is sufficiently bright that I typically set it to between 40 and 60 percent brightness. At the dimmest setting, the screen is nearly unreadable unless you’re in a pitch black room, in which case I would recommend turning on a lamp.
The laptop features a 1.33GHz Intel Atom Z530 processor. This CPU uses less power than the Atom N270 or N280 processors found in most netbooks, and that can help prolong the Eee PC 1101HA’s battery life. But the slow processor also causes the computer to feel slow when performing many common tasks like surfing the web with multiple browser tabs open.
I found that basic tasks such as flipping from one story to the next in Google Reader seemed to take a fraction of a second longer with this computer than with most others I’ve used.
Asus does provide a utility called the Super Hybrid Engine, that lets you easily overclock and underclock the processor. And the Eee PC 1101HA is the first computer from Asus to include a BIOS setting that gives you even more control over the Super Hybrid Engine.
From the BIOS settings window, you can adjust the increments by which the Super Hybrid Engine will adjust the CPU. You can choose from 5%, 10%%, 15%, 20%, 25%, or 30%. At the 30% setting, switching to “power saving” mode will underclock the processor to run at about 1GHz, while the “super high performance” setting will cause the CPU to run at speeds higher than 1.7GHz.
But even at the highest setting, performance feels a bit slower than on a netbook with a 1.6GHz Intel Atom N270 processor running at normal speed. When running at top speed, the laptop’s fan will also whir continuously. It’s not the loudest fan I’ve heard, but it is noticable, especially if you’re in a quiet room. On the bright side, the computer rarely gets warm to the touch, even while running at 1.73GHz.
The Intel Atom Z520 processor is paired with integrated Intel GMA 500 graphics. While this graphics chipset isn’t as widely supported by non-Windows operating systems as the GMA 950 graphics more commonly found in netbooks, it does have at least one advantage. The GMA 500 graphics chipset includes support for HD video acceleration and the Eee PC 1101HA can decode 720p and 1080p video in some formats with ease. Even standard definition video looks great when blown up to full screen.
Unfortunately, web video is a different story. Adobe Flash is the web video format of choice for internet video sites ranging from YouTube to Hulu. And while standard definition video looks great in windowed mode on the Eee PC 1101HA, when you try to blow up high quality or high definition video to play in full screen, it gets choppy. YouTube HD is unwatchable in full screen, and standard definition Hulu videos look like they were hit with a strobe light when you try to watch in full screen.
The problem is that Flash doesn’t currently take advantage of GPU acceleration features, and so web video generally relies on CPU cycles. And like most low cost mini-laptops, the Asus Eee PC 1101HA has a slow CPU. It’s fine for watching Flash video in a 480 x 360 pixel window, but it’s not up to the task of expanding that video to use all 1366 x 768 pixels of the screen.
Because the laptop has a high resolution screen, some applications that have a minimum screen size requirement will run on the Eee PC 1101HA when they wouldn’t run on most 10 inch netbooks. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll run smoothly.
I installed Age of Mythology, a 2002 real-time strategy game on the Eee PC 1101HA, and while it loaded reasonably quickly, playback was somewhat choppy even on the lowest graphics settings. The game is certainly playable, but it’s not quite as much fun as it should be. The same game doesn’t want to load on a netbook with a 1024 x 600 pixel display, but if you can coax it into running by adjusting the game resolution in safe mode, it will play more smoothly. I can’t say for sure if this is primarily because of the screen resolution or because most 1024 x 600 pixel netbooks have faster Intel Atom N270 processors.
There is an up side to the Eee PC 1101HA’s slow processor and below average performance. This laptop gets excellent battery life. In fact, when I underclocked the Eee PC 1101HA to run at 1GHz, I was able to squeze more than 10 hours out of the battery. That was with WiFi turned on and the screen brightness set at about 50%.
Unfortunately, the computer was excruciatingly slow and I can’t imagine why you would want to use it for 10 hours at that speed. So I tried the test again with the CPU overclocked to run at about 1.73GHz and the laptop ran for about 8 hours. That’s not the best score I’ve seen, but it’s pretty good. And when running at top speed, the Eee PC 1101HA feels almost as fast as an Intel Atom N270-powered netbook.
The battery is a 6 cell, 5600mAh, 63Whr battery that sits at the bottom and back of the laptop. It juts out a tiny bit from the bottom of the computer, but no further than the plastic legs that allow the keyboard to tilt foward to make typing more comfortable.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see Asus and/or a third party put out a higher capacity battery for this laptop that could give you truly all-day battery performance. And when I say all day, I don’t just mean the workday. We’ve already seen third party, 10,000+ mAh batteries for earlier Asus netbooks. If you doubled the capacity of this battery, the computer could reasonably run for 20 or more hours.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The Asus Eee PC 1101HA keyboard is virtually identical to the one on the Asus Eee PC 1005HA. This is despite the fact that the 1101HA has a slightly wider chassis, which would have allowed for a slightly larger keyboard. But while the keyboard is a little smaller than a so-called “full sized” keyboard, it’s still comfortable to type on.
The shift key on the right side of the keyboard is a bit smaller than I’m used to, but at least it’s located to the left of the up arrow, not to the right as it was on earlier Asus netbooks. This should prevent touch typists from accidentally moving the cursor up a line when they meant to capitalize a letter.
As with most notebooks, there’s not enough room for all the keys one would like, so Asus includes a number of keys that serve dual purposes. Hitting the Fn key plus another key can bring you functions ranging from Page Up and Down to adjusting the screen brightness or volume or bringing up the Windows Task Manager. You can also adjust the clock speed using the Super Hybrid Engine software by hitting Fn + Spacebar.
Above the keyboard are two buttons. On the right side of the computer is the power button, and on the left is a dedicated button for turning off the touchpad. This can come in handy if you’re using a mouse and don’t want to accidentally swipe your palm across the touchpad while you’re typing.
The touchpad is also pretty much the same as the one on th eEee PC 1005HA. It’s reasonably wide and features a dimpled texture that makes it easy to locate the edges with your finger even though the touchpad sits flush with the palm rest area.
It takes a little while to get used to the texture of the touchpad, but once I did get used to it, I found the touchpad to be quite respnsive and easy to use, although I personally prefer a flatter pad without dimples.
Below the touchpad is a single wide button with a rocker in the middle that you can use to left or right-click. The button is fairly responsive, but I personally prefer touchpads with two distinct buttons.
The touchpad also supports multitouch gestures including pinching to zoom and “chiral motion” which lets you scroll by swirling your finger in a circular motion.
Asus loads the Eee PC 1101HA with a number of software applications. Some are developed by Asus while others are provided courtsey of third parties. For instance, the Microsoft Works suite comes preinstalled, as does a 60 day free trial version of Microsoft Office. Earlier Asus netbooks came with StarOffice, a free Office alternative similar to OpenOffice.org, but it looks like Asus has replaced that suite with Microsoft products.
You also get a number of Asus utilities, some more useful than others. The previously mentioned Super Hybrid Engine is extraordinarily useful for overclocking the CPU to boost performance or underclocking it to extend battery life. There’s also a Font Resizer utility that doesn’t do anything you couldn’t do by tweaking some Windows settings, but it’s nice to be able to adjust font sizes with just a few clicks. Some people might find the 11.6 inch, 1366 x 768 pixel display a bit too sharp for comfort without changing the font sizes.
The laptop also comes with parental control software that lets you make certain web sites, applications, or other settings inaccessible without a password. This can come in handy if you plan to give the laptop to a child or if you want to really tick off your spouse.
An interesting application is the Easy Mode software that replaces the Windows XP desktop with a series of large icons organized into tabs such as Work, Play, and Learn. Easy Mode is very similar to the simple user interface Asus developed for early Eee PC models that shipped with Xandros Linux. I’m not sure that it’s particularly useful for Windows XP laptops, but it doesn’t run all the time, only when you turn it on, so I guess it doesn’t hurt.
There’s also a Data Sync application that lets you synchronize files between the Eee PC 1101HA and another computer, and Eee Dock, which places a collapsible dock at the top of the display which provides shortcuts to a number of Asus programs.
The Asus Eee PC 1101HA isn’t the fastest Intel Atom computer around. And in fact, it feels kind of sluggish at times, even with the CPU running at top speed. But by allowing users to overclock the processor to run at 1.73GHz, Asus has made the Eee PC 1101HA feel significantly faster than the Asus Eee PC T91, which features the same processor and a lower resolution display.
And while the the laptop isn’t a speed demon, it does get excellent battery life, running for up to 11 hours on a charge (although I think 8 hours with the CPU running at top speed is a more realistic number for most users).And the Eee PC 1101HA also has a large, high resolution display which is excellent for watching videos and looking at pictures.
This laptop isn’t going to be for everyone. But if you value long battery life and a high resolution screen more than speedy performance, you could do a lot worse.