As the company credited with practically inventing the netbook category, it's no surprise that Asus makes some of the most popular mini laptops around -- chiefly the machines in the Eee PC 1005 series. Combining low (but not the lowest) prices with great battery life and good overall design, the 1005 series has become the netbook reference design for the entire industry.
The newest version, the £290 Eee PC 1005PE, which will be available at the end of January, is the first netbook to reach our labs with Intel's new Atom N450 processor. It's the long-awaited sequel to the Atom N270 and N280 CPUs found in nearly every other netbook.
Thanks to the re-engineered Atom platform, the 1005PE is extremely efficient, running for more than 8 hours in our gruelling battery-drain test. That's extremely impressive, although the N450 was more of a mixed bag in our performance tests, beating other netbooks in some categories, but matching or falling slightly behind in others.
The 1005PE's design is very similar to that of previous 1005 models we've looked at, with a slight taper towards the front lip and gently rounded edges on the lid. While the battery fits the lines of the chassis without sticking out, it's very dense, causing the entire system to be heavily weighted towards the back.
The flat-topped, widely spaced keys are typical for a netbook, but the surface area of each key is smaller than we've seen on some recent models, and certainly a big difference from what you'd find on an 11-inch model. Still, typing was relatively easy, and none of the critical keys are overly miniaturised.
The touchpad, however, is in need of a revamp: it's the same small one we've seen on every 1005-series Eee PC, built right into the wrist rest and demarcated by a rectangle of tiny raised dots. Combined with a thin rocker bar for the left and right mouse buttons, it's a far cry from the big pad and buttons that we've seen on other systems.
The 1005PE eschews most of the recent trends in netbook design, sticking with a 10.1-inch, 1,024x600-pixel display, 1GB of RAM and Windows 7 Starter. We've become accustomed to the high-definition, 1,366x768-pixel screens found on 11-, 12- and even some 10-inch netbooks (such as the Sony Vaio Mini W), so this lower resolution feels cramped and dated in comparison. Nvidia's Ion GPU is also becoming a go-to part for upscale netbooks, but it's not included here.
The new Atom N450 promises both lower power consumption and enhanced performance. In part, that's because the platform has been simplified by moving the graphics and memory controller onto the processor itself and pairing it with a new NM10 chipset. The N450 runs at 1.66GHz, the same clock speed as the previous N280 version.
Evolution not revolution
In our benchmark tests, we found the 1005PE's overall performance to be slightly better in some tests than machines with the previous N270 and N280 Atom CPUs, but not in a way that's going to radically change anyone's understanding of what a netbook does.