Asus Eee PC X101CH netbook review

The Asus Eee PC X101CH is a netbook with a 10 inch display, a 1.6 GHz Intel Atom N2600 dual core processor, 1GB of RAM, and a 320GB hard drive. With a starting price of about $270, it’s on of the cheapest mini-laptops available today, but it’s also one of the first models to feature an Intel Cedar Trail processor.

The truth of the matter is that when it comes to all-around performance, there’s not much difference between a Cedar Trail chip and the Atom N270 processor Intel released in 2008.

But Intel has reduced power consumption while boosting graphics performance. The Eee PC X101CH is one of the first netbooks I’ve used that can handle 1080p HD video playback flawlessly, and Asus has even included an HDMI port for outputting HD video to an external display.

Acer, HP, Lenovo, and other PC makers will all have Cedar Trail netbooks of their own soon, and Asus has a few other models in the works. But the Eee PC X101CH is one of the first, one of the cheapest, and most importantly… the one that I got my hands on first.

Asus loaned me a demo unit for the purposes of this review.

Overview

With tablets and ultrabooks hogging the limelight in the ultraportable computer space, it’s been a while since I’ve reviewed a netbook, so this might be a good time to remind you what a netbook is.

In a nutshell, it’s a small, cheap notebook. Unlike an iPad, a netbook will run full-blown desktop apps such as Microsoft Office. But unlike a more powerful notebook it may not run them well.

Generally a netbook is a good choice if you’re looking for a secondary computer to use when you’re out of the house or even to carry around the house if your full-sized notebook or desktop PC isn’t particularly portable. I’d only really recommend a netbook as your only computer if you haven’t had much experience with computers, don’t have high expectations for their abilities, or can’t afford to spend more than a few hundred dollars on a laptop.

The Eee PC X101CH has a 10.1 inch, 1024 x 600 pixel display, a 1.6 GHz Atom N2600 processor, 1GB of RAM and a 320GB hard drive. It comes with a 3 cell, 23Whr battery.

Asus packs the netbook with 802.11b/g/n WiFi and a 0.3MP webcam, and offers customers 3GB of free web storage space.

The netbook ships with Windows 7 Starter Edition, but it should be capable of running Windows 7 Home Premium or any number of other operating systems including most Linux distributions.

But the limited screen resolution, small keyboard, relatively slow processor, and small amount of RAM mean that while some tasks (such as basic web browsing) are comfortable on the Eee PC X101CH, others tasks are sluggish at best (such as editing videos).

Design

Measuring 10.3″ x 7.1″ x 0.86″ and weighing about 2.2 pounds, the Eee PC X101CH is one of the smallest and lightest netbooks available with a 10 inch display. It has a solid plastic case that looks a bit toy-like, but just like any really good child’s toy the plastic feels sturdy and durable.

The netbook also features a fanless design which means the only sounds it makes come from the speaker or the spinning hard drive… which is either noisier than you’d expect or perhaps just noticeable since there’s no fan noise.

The fanless design is made possible by the low power Intel Atom N2600 processor which has a max TDP of 3.5 watts. Since it doesn’t generate a lot of heat, there’s not much risk of the computer overheating and Asus can use passive cooling techniques to keep the temperature manageable.

But if you use the computer for more than a half hour you will notice that the keyboard starts to feel warm, particularly in the center and on the left side of the PC. And if you position the netbook on your lap you may also notice that the bottom gets warm.

On the left side of the laptop you’ll find a VGA port, HDMI port, USB port and SDHC card slot as well as the power jack.

The right side houses a second USB 2.0 port, a combo mic/headphone jack, and an Ethernet jack which is just a little too large for the mini-laptop, so Asus has used a little flip-down hinge which folds down a bit so that you can connect a full-sized RJ-45 adapter.

On the bottom of the computer you’ll find holes for the netbook’s single speaker. While the Eee PC X101CH has a mono speaker instead of the stereo speakers found on most other laptops, it sounds reasonably loud and clear and I actually think it may sound better than the speakers on many other netbooks I’ve tested.

After all, the computer is only 10.3 inches wide — so even if there were two speakers spaced as far apart as possible, it would probably be difficult for most people to detect stereo audio.

While most netbooks feature access panels which allow you to easily replace or upgrade RAM and possibly even the hard drive, the Eee PC X101CH does not. Instead, you’ll need to disassemble the case (and probably void the warranty) to upgrade the hard drive.

There’s no easy way to upgrade the RAM because the computer’s 1GB of memory is attached to the motherboard and there are no SODIMM slots for additional memory.

Most netbooks and larger notebooks have glossy displays which look good on store shelves, but which tend to reflect a lot of glare and which virtually turn into mirrors when used in direct sunlight.

The Eee PC X101CH has a matte display instead. It’s not exactly easy to view outdoors, but it doesn’t reflect much glare at all.

While some of the earlier netbooks from Asus which featured matte displays had glossy plastic bezels around the screens, the Eee PC X101CH has a matte bezel. In fact nearly the entire PC case is made of matte plastic, which means that the notebook doesn’t appear shiny under bright lighting, and it also doesn’t tend to collect fingerprints from your greasy fingertips.

The Eee PC X101CH features the new Asus “flare” design, which basically means that the palm rest and the area behind the keyboard are raised slightly higher than the keyboard. As far as I can tell, this doesn’t make the laptop any easier or more difficult to type on than other netbooks.

The keyboard is a little smaller than a typical laptop keyboard, with keys that are about 10 percent smaller than you’d find on a larger notebook. Many keys also serve double-duty. For instance, the arrow keys also function as the Page Up, Page Down, Home, and End buttons when you hold down the Fn key before pressing them.

If you use those keys a lot, you should know that they’re awfully tiny on the Eee PC X101CH. Asus crams those keys into a tiny space on the lower right corner of the keyboard and it took me a while to get used to pressing the correct key without looking down at my fingers.

That said, despite a little flex in the center of the keyboard, I found the Eee PC X101CH reasonably comfortable for typing. I’d prefer a full-sized keyboard for seriously heavy-duty writing, but I typed up a little over half of this review on the netbook and my hands don’t hurt from the effort.

The touchpad below the keyboard isn’t very large, but it’s very responsive and features the same matte plastic finish as the rest of the laptop case, complete with a slightly textured surface area. The touchpad is recessed a tiny bit below the surrounding palm rest which makes it easy to detect the edges of the touch area with your fingers.

Below the touchpad is a single chrome bar with a rocker dial in the middle so that you can press the left or right side to register a left or right click. It’s not quite as simple as touchpads with distinct left and right buttons, but it’s much easier to use than many of the cheap netbook touchpads I’ve tried that have the buttons integrated into the touch surface.

Performance

The Eee PC X101CH is powered by a 1.6 GHz Intel Atom N2600 dual core processor 1MB of L2 cache, support for hyperthreading, and a maximum TDP of just 3.5 watts.

Intel builds the N2600 chip using  32nm process, which is part of the reason it’s more energy efficient than the company’s earlier 45nm Atom chips for netbooks.

In terms of overall performance, there doesn’t seem to be much difference between the Eee PC X101CH and earlier netbooks. That’s not surprising since Atom processors are designed to be efficient, not powerful.

But the Eee PC X101CH does have a few tricks up its sleeve.

First, Intel did improve the graphics performance of its latest chips so that the Eee PC X101CH can handle 1080p HD video playback with ease. I downloaded a few 1080p movie trailer in a couple of different formats and had no difficulty watching them in Windows Media Player.

I was also able to watch a couple of 720p and 1080p HD videos on YouTube even though Adobe Flash doesn’t actually support hardware graphics acceleration for the integrated graphics used in this netbook.

Most netbooks with Cedar Trail processors will be able to handle 1080p video playback, even though most won’t actually have screen resolutions high enough to display all of those pixels. That’s why the Eee PC X101CH and most other Cedar Trail netbooks have HDMI ports allowing you to send high definition video to an external monitor or TV.

But the Eee PC X101CH does have a feature that sets it apart from the crowd: Asus Instant On.

Asus loads the netbook with a software tool designed to help the computer resume from sleep nearly instantly. This is a feature I’ve come to expect from ultrabooks with speedy Intel Core i5 or Core i7 processors and solid state disks. But it’s not something you see often in cheap netbooks with old fashioned hard drives.

So I was a bit surprised to find that Asus Instant On works… sometimes. I’d say about two thirds of the time that I open the lid the Eee PC X101CH springs to life in about 1 to 3 seconds. But sometimes it takes longer — about 5 to 10 seconds.

Either way, the computer wakes from sleep much more quickly than older Windows netbooks (and many Windows desktop and laptop computers) I’ve tested.

Light web browsing, basic image editing, and media playback all work nicely on the Eee PC X101CH. But it doesn’t take much to tax the little laptop.

When surfing the web in Google Chrome with more than 5 browser tabs open the netbook starts to feel sluggish. That’s not surprising, since the laptop has just 1GB of RAM, and almost all of it used by the web browser under those conditions.

The Intel Atom N2600 processor supports up to 2GB of RAM, but there’s no way to upgrade the memory in this netbook since there’s no access panel on the bottom of the computer. Even if you do pry open the case, there’s no space for additional memory on this model since Asus affixes the RAM to the motherboard and doesn’t provide a SODIMM slot.

The Eee PC X101CH has a Windows Experience Index of 3.2. That’s pretty good for a netbook but not particularly impressive for a modern computer. The low score is primarily due to the slow processor and mediocre 3D gaming graphics performance.

The chart above shows scores for several other netbooks released in the last few years including the Acer Aspire One 522 with an AMD C-50 processor and Readeon HD 6250 graphics, an Asus Eee PC 1015PN netbook with an Atom N550 chip and NVIDIA ION graphics, and a Samsung NF310 with an Atom N550 processor and integrated Intel graphics.

While casual Flash-based games run reasonably well on the netbook and some older 3D games will work, you probably wouldn’t want to install Crysis or Skyrim on the netbook

Just for kicks, I ran the 3DMark06 benchmark to see how the Eee PC X101CH stacks up against some other notebooks I’ve tried. As you’d expect, it scores far, far lower than computers with NVIDIA or AMD graphics or even ultrabooks with Intel HD 3000 graphics.

For this test, I compared the Eee PC X101CH with the Acer Aspire One 522, Asus Eee PC 1015PN, and an Asus Zenbook UX31 ultrabook with an Intel Core i5 CPU and Intel HD 3000 graphics.

While the CPU scores for the three netbook-sized devices were pretty similar, the X101CH came in dead last overall. This is clearly not a machine meant for serious gaming.

In terms of general performance, the Eee PC X101CH wasn’t much faster than other netbooks I’ve used at transcoding an audio file from WAV to MP3 or adding 2186 files to a ZIP archive.

I tried running my usual video transcoding test as well, but for some reason the Eee PC X101CH was about 2-3 times slower than other netbooks I’ve tested. I’m going to blame the tools rather than the netbook though. The Virtualdub video editing tool and Xvid codec I’ve been using in this test for the past few years are both starting to look a little dated.

Battery

While the Eee PC X101CH offers decent performance with and low power consumption, the netbook isn’t exactly a champ in the battery life arena.

Asus estimates that you should be able to get up to 5 hours of run time.

In my tests I rarely got much more than three hours of battery life.

Unlike the hard drive and memory, the 3 cell Eee PC X101CH battery is removable, so if you can find a spare battery you can always extend your time away from a wall outlet by swapping batteries.

A higher capacity battery would probably help, but Asus has no plans to release a 6 cell battery for this particular netbook, which means that it’s a good thing the power supply only weighs about 5 ounces — because if you plan to use this laptop on the go, there’s a good chance you’re going to need to plug it in from time to time.

Verdict

The Eee PC X101CH is a great little notebook for a great little price. For half the price of a new iPad or many Android tablets, you get a computer that can handle 1080p HD video playback and most Windows 7 apps.

But there are a few things to consider before plunking down any money on this netbook.

  • It only gets around 3 hours of battery life and there’s no official option for a higher capacity battery.
  • There’s no way to upgrade from 1GB to 2GB of RAM.
  • While the netbook features a fanless design, it’s not entirely silent thanks to a talkative hard drive. It also gets a bit warm to the touch.

If you’re looking for a netbook with better battery life or more upgrade options, you might be better off with one of the other upcoming models from Asus such as the Eee PC 1025C or Eee PC 1025CE. Acer, HP, and Lenovo are all also expected to release Cedar Trail netbooks soon.

And if you want a machine capable of running the latest video games or handling high-performance tasks such as video editing, then a netbook might not be the best option. While the latest Intel Atom processors offer better support for high definition video, they’re not much faster than the other Atom chips for netbooks that Intel has been cranking out since 2008.

But if you simply want a portable computer for light-weight computing tasks and don’t care much about long battery life, the $270 Eee PC X101CH is one of the best options available today.

  • SamTrenholme

    A question.  The article states this:

    “There’s no easy way to upgrade the RAM because the computer’s 1GB of memory is attached to the motherboard and there are no SODIMM slots for additional memory.”

    Does this mean the memory is soldered to the motherboard and is not in a SODIMM slot?

    – Sam

    • CyberGusa

      Yes, no SO-DIMM means soldered.  It is possible to de-solder and solder replacement memory but it’s tricky and only for those well versed modding SMT.

      • SamTrenholme

        Thanks for the clarification.  I really like the fanless design…this would be no moving parts with a SSD…but 1gb just doesn’t cut it for me.  I’ll keep an eye on the 1025CE.

      • CyberGusa

         Seems to be the same issue with the 1025CE, or at least any model with N2800.  Though if you can find a unit sold with Home Premium instead of Starter Edition then it can have 2GB soldered instead of 1GB.

        Otherwise the 1025C seems to be the best bet for upgradeable RAM.  Though it will be sold in some countries with the N2800 and it’s not certain if it will be the soldered in that version or not.

        A real shame considering the N2800 can accept up to 4GB of RAM and uses the slightly faster 1066 instead of 800 MHz.

        However, this may be due to the immature drivers for the new GMA and Intel is focusing on getting those ready for Windows 8.  So we may see better configuration options offered once that occurs.

        On the other hand, the review units of the 1025C and 1025CE that have been shown off so far indicate that while they still have fans that it’s so quiet that you can only hear the hard drive.

        There will also be older models being updated to Cedar Trail, 1011CX for example, and they may still have RAM slots but no HDMI or display port as the trade off.

  • gman

    Love the review. I had no idea about the single speaker. Might be a stupid question, but I’ll ask anyways. There is a headphone jack? That would be stereo? Just wondering that because of hooking up external speakers and will that give you stereo sound. Might be stupid to ask, but I will. J’ai deteste mono speaker and sound.

    • toronado455

       There is a combo mic/headphone jack on the right side.

    • http://www.liliputing.com Brad Linder

      Yep, audio from the headphone jack is stereo and sounds pretty good (assuming you have a decent pair of headphones). It’s just the built-in speaker that’s mono, not the audio processing hardware. 

  • Tom

    This is the one for me. The light weight seals the deal.

    I hope someone will figure out a doable hack to get 2GB of RAM in there anyway.

    How much might Win 7 drag the performance down? I wonder how it would perform after switching to Lubuntu or another light weight Linux version. But I guess that would mean losing ASUS instant on. Or does instant on support Linux too?

    • CyberGusa

       There isn’t full support for the GMA drivers yet for Linux.  Much like the issues experienced with the old GMA 500, the new Cedar Trail GMA 3600/3650 are also based on Imagination’s PowerVR GPUs.

      So you can get linux to run but won’t have much you can do graphically. At least until someone managed to get the driver fully working or at least as well as they’ve managed with the GMA 500/600 now.

  • Chase Baggett

    If the resolution were a bit higher on the screen it would be perfect.

    • Dave

       the vga out displays 1024×768…
      but with latest intel gma driver (.1075) 1280×1024 ! (on monitor)

  • toronado455

    Same question as SamTrenholme. When you say “attached” and “affixed” in the review, do you mean soldered?

    However, as-is, I’m thinking this might make a nice little energy-efficient, space-efficient, and low-cost home server of sorts. Especially if you ran a Linux distro that doesn’t require a lot of RAM, or maybe even Windows XP.

    The low resolution screen and small keyboard would be adequate for occasional server administration functions, and would eliminate the need for a keyboard, mouse, and monitor that you would normally need for a desktop-based server.

    The lack of fan and vents should make for a dust-free machine, and depending on how difficult it is to access the hard drive, it might be possible to have a silent machine as well if one could substitute a quieter drive or SSD.

    Something I’m considering. Any opinions?

    • CyberGusa

       The GMA 3600/3650 are based on Imagination’s PowerVR SGX545, similar to the GMA 500 that was based on the SGX535.  So there aren’t any good drivers for Linux for these new GMA’s.

      There are those working on it though but not likely to come out with anything but basic support for the time being.

      • toronado455

        Thanks for the info. So by “basic support” what do you mean? Will Linux run OK on this computer at the native screen resolution of 1024×600?

      • CyberGusa

        Basic support means like booting into a computer in safe mode.  It’ll work but you won’t get the full performance of the GMA with Linux right now and not everything will work.

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  • http://severeanomaly.wordpress.com/ SEV

    Nice, detailed review.
    I have been looking at getting this for my wife, she wants a cheap netbook with as low weight. Of the lot I’ve looked up, this is the only one that weighs under 2.5 pounds (I hope that is with battery) — even the 1025C is 2.7 pounds. One might think that the 0.5 pounds shouldn’t make a big difference, but we checked out a Best Buy.. and that 0.5 pounds makes itself felt (we tested by carrying laptops of different weights for ~30secs-1min).

    My question is: I believe the N2600 supports upto 2 GB of RAM. If I was to use an SD card of 1GB and turn on Ready Boost, how much of an effect will it have on the netbook performance? Or has Asus/Win7 Starter somehow disabled this or something? Per my reading this shouldn’t be the case, but I wanted to check.

    Thanks!

    • http://www.liliputing.com Brad Linder

      It *should* work… but I wouldn’t expect much of a boost. In my limited experience ReadyBoost is no replacement for RAM. A solid state disk upgrade would probably be more effective, but you’ll need to find a SATA SSD that fits in the case… and be willing to disassemble the netbook and void your warranty. 

      • http://severeanomaly.wordpress.com/ SEV

        I was planning an SSD upgrade depending on how good/bad/ugly my wife finds it during a test period of a week or so :)

        Inability to upgrade RAM is a bummer, that was something I was really hoping for.. ease  of such hackery was a big selling point for me on the eeePC series. I guess you pay a price for fanless design.

  • Scandi_upnorth

    Thanks for another great review!
    And thanks in general for your balanced writing, covering possibilities as well as limitations.
    It almost seems to be trendy to detest and hate netbooks nowadays – but I find that many people are criticizing netbooks for not being something they were never meant to be, for not doing things they were never designed to do.
    The Asus netbooks (and others too!) are actually performing impressingly well for basic computing tasks, taking into considereration the small size, light weight and unbeatable affordability.
    My netbook is a trusty companion on all the adventures where I would never risk bringing a fancy top-shelf ultrabook. :)

  • Mike

    Thanks for your quality reviews, Brad.
    After spending the same amount of money on a 1015PEM with RAM access and 10hr battery, I just cannot imagine the limitations of a 3 cell battery and 1 GB RAM! Sure fanless and quick wake-up are nice but not when you sacrifice essentials.  

    Long live netbooks!  .. but not like this!

    • Dave5544

      1015PEM no HDMI output!
      X101CH can drive HDMI @ 1920×1024, VGA @ 1280×1024

  • http://laptoptabletreviews.com laptoptabletreviews

    overall, it good netbook with affordable price but unfortunately, the battery only gives three hours of battery life.

  • JOHN

    Nice netbook but only 1GB of RAM!!!??? AYKM??? A WASTE OF MONEY!!!

    • Ladislav Ezr

      Then don’t use that resource hog called Windows :P ;)

      • drspastic

        totally correct! windows is not and never will be a suitable os for any netbook, unless its winCE of course. its just that between idiot marketers and idiot consumers, the world thinks it needs windows like it needs oxygen. considering the dumb ass things most people do on a pc such as updating their stupid twitter or facebook with more boring personal info, playing solitaire and watching youtube, even that peice of crap called android could keep up. as for real power users of computers; they used to run unix in the old days and now they run linux.

  • chonts

    great review.
    just for clarification, you mention adobe flash. call me slow, but are you saying it will not work on this netbook? Is this a good netbook for streaming films or tv shows?
    other than that its the one for me!

  • pops

    I got this laptop last month. Great laptop. But the guy that
    installed windows 7 used windows ultimate instead of windows starter…will that
    make a difference in how it runs? some times it freezes for about 15 seconds out of no where…is that because it has windows ultimate installed on it?

    • drspastic

      yes, the better the version of windows, the slower the pc will run. try running puppy linux slacko off a usb stick in live mode and your machine will speed up tenfold

      • lina

        can you plz give more details… what will this software actually do?

  • Lina

    it is he first time i am reading one of your reviews and it’s great.. Well done. Too bad that ram cannot be upgraded.. :(

  • lina

    since i cannot upgrade and windows get stuck sometimes will it be ok if i try LINUX on this netbook? Is it possible?

    • Jhon

      Yes, it is possible, so can install Ubuntu 12.04 LTS ver. I have tried it and it works greatly. Ubuntu runs pretty good on this netbook than Windows 7 Starter.

  • Lukasz

    How did you manage to get Windows Experience Index of 3.2? My X101CH makes 1.7.

  • tony54

    Don’t buy one of these, my 12 week old Asus x101ch has got a screen fault where two thirds of the left hand side of the screen has got the vertical lines syndrome.
    Asus say they won’t replace it under warranty until they have tested it because it might have been malicious damage. I know they will say it is malicious damage and charge me an arm and a leg. Also it was very slow and one had to press the keys quite hard for them to register which is a sod when putting passwords.
    I knew these machine were rubbish but it was an insurance replacement for my stolen Dell mini 10 which I believe aren’t being made any more.

  • Asus Bussiness Seller

    I’ve got one for sale £150 – used – Verry good condition including Charger, guide book, box and much more