Asus Eee PC 1015PN review

The Asus Eee PC 1015PN may be one of the most powerful 10 inch netbooks with an Intel Atom chip on the market today. Unfortunately with great power comes great less than stellar battery life. While the Eee PC 1015PN can handle 1080p HD video playback and some 3D graphics and gaming tasks, those capabilities come at the expensive of battery life, and you’ll be lucky to get between 4 and 6 hours of run time depending on how you use the laptop.

The netbook has a 1.5GHz Intel Atom N550 dual core processor and next-generation NVIDIA ION graphics. On paper it sound awesome. And in reality, it’s pretty good. But it’s not perfect.

For instance, while the netbook can handle HD graphics, it has a typical 1024 x 600 pixel netbook display, which means that you won’t really be able to see the difference between HD and standard definition video unless you plug in an external display. The Eee PC 1015PN also ships with Windows 7 Starter Edition, which doesn’t support NVIDIA Optimus graphics switching. That means if you want to switch between using the ION graphics (for higher performance) and the integrated Intel graphics (for better battery life), you’ll need to reboot the computer.

Still the Eee PC 1015PN is one of the first 10 inch netbooks to hit the market with NVIDIA ION graphics. If you’ve been looking for a light weight portable computer than can handle 1080p HD Flash and local video playback as well as some light weight gaming, the Eee PC 1015PN may be one of the best options around… although it’s certainly not the only game in town.

Asus sent me a demo unit to review. In addition to the specs mentioned above, the laptop came with a 6 cell, 56Whr battery, 802.11b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth, 1GB of RAM, and a 250GB hard drive. It has a 0.3MP webcam.

Design

I’m not going to spend a lot of time talking about the design, keyboard and touchpad on this model. The Eee PC 1015PN is nearly identical to the Eee PC 1015PED I reviewed a few weeks ago in these areas — and pretty similar to every Eee PC netbook the company has released in the last year or two.

If you’ve been following the Eee PC space closely, here are the two things you might want to know before you skip down to the performance section:

  • The Eee PC 1015PN has a matte display which doesn’t reflect much glare, but the bezel around the screen is made of glossy plastic.
  • There’s an HDMI port for outputting high resolution graphics, video, and audio to an external display.

The computer has the usual array of ports, including 3 USB ports, an Ethernet jack, VGA port, headphone and mic jacks and an SD card slot.

On the bottom there’s a single access panel for upgrading the RAM. You’ll need to take the computer apart to change the hard drive or other internal components.

The lid has a matte finish and comes in several colors. The demo unit Asus sent me is black, as is the palm rest and keyboard area.

The webcam is located at the top of the screen bezel, and there’s a physical switch you can slide to open or close a door over the camera to protect the lens — or your privacy — when you’re not using it

The keyboard features an island-style layout, with flat keys separated by small gaps. The shift key on the right side of the keybaord is rather small but it makes room for arrow keys and an extra Fn key on the right.

The touchpad has the same texture and finish as the palm rest, and is bordered by little strips of chrome, making it easy to find the edges without looking down at your fingers. There’s a single large button beneath the touchpad, with a rocker in the middle allowing you to register left and right clicks.

Performance

There are two key hardware differences between the Eee PC 1015PN and every other netbook Asus has ever released:

  • It has a 1.5GHz Intel Atom N550 dual core processor.
  • It has second-generation NVIDIA ION graphics.

As you’d expect, the dual core processor offers better performance than you’ll get from a single core chip — but not a huge difference. You’re still going to get much more speed from a 1.7GHz AMD Neo K125 single core processor or a higher performance Intel chip such as a Core 2 Duo or Core i-series processor.

I ran a series of benchmarks on the Eee PC 1015PN to see how it handled CPU-intensive tasks such as transcoding audio and video files and creating a ZIP archive file from a large group of files.

The Eee PC 1015PN was able to finish most tasks faster than the Asus Eee PC 1015PED, which has a 1.83GHz Intel Atom N475 single core processor. The 1015PN was also faster than the HP Mini 5103 I recently reviewed, even though it also has a 1.5GHz dual core Atom N550 chip.

But the Acer Aspire One 521 with a 1.7GHz AMD Neo K125 processor came out ahead in every single test. In fact, it was more than twice as fast as the Eee PC 1015PN in the audio transcoding test.

In order to test the graphics performance, I ran two different benchmarks: 3DMark06 and the Street Fighter IV benchmark.

3DMark06

It’s worth pointing out that NVIDIA produces two different versions of its latest ION graphics chip for low power computers. The first is designed for laptops with 11.6 inch or larger displays and/or nettop (tiny desktop) computers. This version offers almost twice the performance of the first generation NVIDIA ION chip.

That’s not the version the Eee PC 1015PN has. Instead, it uses the version of ION designed specifically for 10 inch and smaller netbooks. It uses less energy and generates less heat — and it’s maybe a tiny bit faster than the first generation ION chips. The Eee PC 1015PN came out a little ahead of the HP Mini 311, Lenovo IdeaPad S12, and ASRock ION 330 in the 3DMark06 test… but a little behind the Eee PC 1201N.

By comparison, the Lenovo IdeaCentre Q150 nettop has the more powerful version of NVIDIA’s new ION chip, and as you can see from the chart above, it squashes the competition. The Acer Aspire 521, meanwhile, seems to hold its own against the Eee PC 1015PN. The Acer laptop has ATI Radeon HD 4225 integrated graphics.

Street Fighter IV Benchmark

The Eee PC 1015PN bested the Acer laptop in the Street Fighter IV benchmark, but it still eked out fewer than 17 frames per second in the test — which means the game is all-but unplayable unless you adjust the graphics settings to the point where the characters look like 2D cartoons and you might was well be playing Street Fighter I. The Lenovo Q150 is one of the first computers with an Atom processor that I’ve seen pass the Street Fighter test… which shows how much difference there is between the two versions of NVIDIA’s new ION graphics solution.

The Eee PC 1015PN does get a higher Windows Experience Index score than most netbooks, but that 3.1 score out of 7 is still pretty low, and as you’d expect, it’s the low power CPU that’s the weakest link.

OK… so the Eee PC 1015PN isn’t going to replace a high end gaming rig. I don’t think anyone really expected a $430 netbook to do that. Netbooks are generally small, cheap, and portable. What the Eee PC 1015PN offers is a little more power than you’d get from a typical netbook, allowing you to do things such as:

  • Play some games, but not modern games which require bleeding edge graphics cards.
  • Watch HD videos from your collection without taking the time to transcode them to a lower resolution format first.
  • Watch HD video from YouTube and other Flash video web sites.
  • Experience a minor boost in CPU-intensive tasks such as transcoding media files, multitasking, or surfing the web with multiple browser tabs open.

Battery

You probably won’t be surprised to find out that enabling the NVIDIA ION graphics on the Eee PC 1015PN will take a toll on battery life. In fact, with ION graphics turned on, I only managed to get about 4 hours and 6 minutes of run time out of the laptop — and that was without really using the netbook to watch HD video or perform other graphics-intensive tasks. For most of those 4 hours I was just streaming music over the web from Pandora.

Things get better when you switch to the integrated Intel GMA 3150 graphics. I was able to stream music from Pandora while doing some light web browsing for 5 hours and 37 minutes before the battery died.

While 5 and a half hours of run time isn’t bad, it’s not even close to the kind of battery life I’ve come to expect from Asus netbooks over the past year. The Eee PC 1005PE, for instance, lasted about 10 hours during my battery test, while the Eee PC 1001P ran for over 8 hours.

Battery life will also probably vary depending on whether WiFi and Bluetooth are enabled. And you can improve battery life by using the Asus Super Hybrid Engine to underclock the CPU by enabling “Power Saving Mode,” although in my tests the computer felt much slower when surfing the web with 5 or 6 browser tabs open in this mode — something that I hadn’t really noticed when using the Super Hybrid Engine on other Asus netbooks.

I’m not sure if it’s the Intel Atom N550 processor of the NVIDIA ION graphics that makes the difference, but I’d recommend leaving the computer in “High Performance” or “Super High Performance” mode most of the time unless you’re performing very basic tasks.

Unfortunately that means you’ll get just about 4 hours of run time with NVIDIA ION graphics enabled, and 5.5 hours with integrated graphics.

Since Windows 7 Starter doesn’t support automatic graphics switching, you’ll have to reboot every time you want to change — which means that even if 90% of what you’re doing doesn’t require HD graphics, but you think you might want to watch an HD video on YouTube at some point, odds are that if you’re lazy like me you’ll just leave ION enabled — unless you really need that extra hour of battery life.

I should also point out that my demo unit had a 56Whr battery. It’s possible that not all versions of the Eee PC 1015PN will come with the same battery.

Verdict

The Eee PC 1015PN is one of the most powerful 10 inch mini-laptops around, thanks to its dual core processor and NVIDIA ION graphics. But if battery life is more important to you than graphics performance, there are literally dozens of netbooks that offer better battery life, so this might not be the best option for you.

On the other hand, if performance is what you’re after, the Acer Aspire One 521 has a faster processor, can handle HD video playback, and runs for about 5 hours on a charge without disabling the high performance graphics card. Sure, its graphics card might not be quite as powerful as the one in the Asus Eee PC 1015PN, but honestly, the difference isn’t that great.

Neither machine is designed to play bleeding edge games, but both can handle older games and high definition video just fine. The main difference is that the Acer laptop is about $80 less than the $429 Eee PC 1015PN.

There are some subtle differences which might make the Asus netbook the better choice for you though. It has a matte display a chiclet-style keyboard, for instance, if that’s worth $80 to you.

http://liliputing.com/2010/09/asus-eee-pc-1015ped-review.htmlVer
  • Chris from AK

    Thanks for the review! I really love the comparison to the 521 as I am trying to decide between the two myself. It really does seem to come down to the matte screen…

    Do you have any initial thoughts on the ASUS 1015T?

    • http://liliputing.com/ Brad Linder

      Not really. I’m trying to get my hands on a review unit since it’s one of the first with the AMD V105 CPU. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s not as fast as the Acer 521… but I’m not sure how it compares to an Atom N450/N550 chip. I’ll also be curious to see what the battery life is like.

      Hopefully I’ll be able to get one in the next few weeks, but I’ve got a few other reviews to get through first.

      • aftermath

        Atom processors are low power but inefficient. This seems particularly true of the n550. I haven’t seen this bench tested yet, but I’d be curious about the results. People need to understand that efficiency is a rational (ratio of two values) measure much like value, whereas power consumption is merely a scalar measure much like price. Just because something is low cost doesn’t mean that it’s a good value, and just because something is a parsimonious consumer of power doesn’t mean that it’s effective with what it consumes. Unfortunately, people often call low-power platforms efficient, when they really just mean that they’re low-power (which should come as any big surprise in this world where all slates are “tablets”.)

      • Anonymous

        Here’s some information on the N550…

        http://www.notebookcheck.net/Intel-Atom-N500-Notebook-Processor.29305.0.html

        http://www.cpubenchmark.net/cpu_lookup.php?cpu=Intel+Atom+N550+%40+1.50GHz

        Basically, as far as ATOM’s go the N550 is an actual improvement. But it’s still an ATOM and as you pointed out they are not known for their processing power efficiency.

      • Chris from AK

        Thanks, Brad. I ask because the V105 uses 9 watts of juice; the Atom 550 uses 8.5 watts. That seems to narrow — at least on the face of it — the Intel Atom power consumption advantage.

        ATOM 550: 8.5 watts / PCMARK 1561 / WIN7 3
        AMD V105: 9 watts / PCMARK 1360 / WIN7 3
        AMD K125: 12 watts / PCMARK 1820 / WIN7 4

        Looking at the numbers, it appears that the AMD V105 may give similar battery life to the Atom 550 with slightly decreased performance, although I don’t know how much juice the non switchable Radeon graphics will draw. The advantage is that the Asus 1015T comes in at $330, which is much more palatable for a netbook, I think.

  • http://starwed.livejournal.com/ starwed

    I had planned on getting one of these.

    Turned out that the Optimus stuff has no drivers for Linux (at least not that I could find), and probably won’t for the near future, leaving one with only the Intel graphics. That probably impacts a fairly small % of potential customers, but it did make me a little sad since I like ASUS.

    • Anonymous

      The lack of linux support is because Nvidia isn’t supporting it. Asus has no control over that and as it is had to come up with their own switching app since Optimus is only for Windows 7 Home Premium on up versions and won’t work with Starter.

      But the linux community is working on the problem and will hopefully have a solution soon.

      • http://starwed.livejournal.com/ starwed

        I understand that it’s because Nvidia do not provide drivers, was just saying I was sad not to stick with ASUS. :)

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=636755079 Bryan Toller
  • Jimy

    Though Asus has already done a good job in the business, but there is still a long way to go. Compared to some colorful laptops such as this one, http://bit.ly/clGmIZ , competition for Asus is becoming sharp.

    • Anonymous

      Those are ARM systems that can’t run any x86 OS and you’ll get more power from pretty much any modern smartphone… So no competition from that sort of device, but next year we will see some new products that will definitely compete with Intel based netbooks.

      Asus though is already developing some of those competing products, and will be coming out with their own new offerings next year as well.

  • Anonymous

    Brad do you still have this netbook around? I was really hoping for a bit more insight into the battery life. Here’s what I think.

    In reality, the brightness is key for a battery test. A 50% level is somewhat unrealistic. Personally, if I’m out, I will run at 2 or 3 bars only. It would be nice to know what battery life is with 2 or 3 or even 4 bars. In ideal situations, you can run at 25% brightness just fine. Personally I don’t see the value in a 50% level because I’m not sure who runs at 50%. If you need 50% brightness, it’s because you don’t have a nearby power supply or you are out and about. If you are in those situations, you would be running at the absolute lowest brightness level possible. If you were not out and about, instead of 50%, why wouldn’t you be running at 100%? See my point? 50% is not a great testing point. 25% or less is much more useful information. If you’re worrying about running out of battery when you take out your netbook, you won’t be running it at 50%, you will be running it at 25% or less. I hope this improv ramble makes sense to you. If you’re reading it at all…

    • http://liliputing.com/ Brad Linder

      I don’t know, I think people generally run the screen at the brightness level that makes it easiest to see… and most of the time when I’m testing a netbook in any setting other than a very dimly lit room, about 50% to 60% brightness seems about right. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who tests laptops this way.

      That said, I never claim to perform exhaustive battery tests. You’d have to run at least 10 or 20 different tests under different conditions to really figure out what kind of battery life you’ll get if, for example, WiFi is off, a movie is playing nonstop, Bluetooth is on, you’re playing a 3D game, and so on… All I do is attempt to use the computer like I normally would during a workday until the battery runs out.

      • Anonymous

        Thanks for the reply. After writing I realized if you changed your testing process, that pretty much messes up all your other battery test results. I mean that from a comparison sake by your readers.

        I still think a battery test under your regular conditions, with the low brightness settings would be very helpful. The fact is, nobody out there does this. There are those of us who at times need to take out the netbook for a day or days who won’t be able to access a power outlet. It would be those folks who would be running their brightness at <25%. I guess I need to do my own reviews! ;-)

      • http://liliputing.com/ Brad Linder

        It’s also not that hard to extrapolate.

        Some things use a lot more battery life than others. Dimming the screen will definitely give you a few more minutes, but I wouldn’t expect a 50% increase. On a netbook like this one which runs for 4 to 6 hours, I’d imagine that maybe you’d get 4.5 to 6.5 hours with the screen brightness at a lower setting.

        On the other hand, running CPU-heavy software will likely take a bigger toll than screen brightness, so subtract some time for that.

        My tests typically involve surfing the web, writing documents, listening to music, and maybe watching a few YouTube videos.

      • Anonymous

        Okay fair enough. I’m putting to much value on lowering brightness. I definitely bow to the fact that you’ve put your hands on hundreds of these computers. Thanks for the insight. I guess I can feel a bit more confident is being less “cheap” on my brightness setting when I’m out and about. Thanks.

  • Scott

    Whats the deal with Adobe Flash Player? It works with Nvidia ION but not with GMA 3150?

  • Artyom

    I don’t understand why everyone reviews the 1015pn version with windows starter. I got retail version of 1015pn with 2gb Ram and Win7 Home Premium. Optimus works, I get about 7 to 8 hours browsing the net with a little youtube running. Everyone is rating the 1015pem as a better netbook when it is the same netbook with the exception of the ION 2 processor. My biggest problems with this netbook have been the strange issues of the Intel Video drivers disappearing and Function keys ceasing to work. The problem arises with these 2 things here and there. However, it is a great netbook. I love mine very much. I am writing this message from it now.

    • http://liliputing.com/ Brad Linder

      You must not be in the US. Asus North America is only selling this model with Windows 7 Starter, so if you want to run Windows 7 Home Premium or Ultimate you’re going to have to upgrade it yourself.

      • Artyom

        No I’m not, you are right. I am in Russia. I don’t think it is fair they treat consumers differently. Americans should have the same choice of buying the home premium version. The problem I have I believe is a faulty driver with optimus graphic switch. When it changes to Nvidia, my selection in graphics switch changes too back to use only Nvidia graphics. When I turn Optimus back on, I have to reset anyways. Fn keys still don’t work properly after reinstalling Windows 2 times… I even uninstalled hotkey service 1.32 and installed hotkey from website Asus, 1.31. Still didn’t work. I wrote Asus a week ago and still no answer. When I reinstall or do a rollback setting the fn keys work, but next time I load the system. Nothing. All the same, the system is new and I like it a lot.

      • Artyom

        I just found the cause of my problem was due to Trend Micro anti virus. It somehow didn’t uninstall properly. Reinstalled windows and then went very slowly to remove bloatware. Now everything works great. 5 hours battery life to be expected if you have the Nvidia card blazing the whole time. 7 hours average use. All functions set to battery save it is possible to get more time out of it.

      • http://liliputing.com/ Brad Linder

        Great!

        I usually uninstall whatever security software comes with a computer and
        install windows security essentials, if anything.

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