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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.