Asus Eee PC 1000HE Really Shines

I’ve been working with various Windows 7 beta builds for about three months now, starting with Build 7000, which Microsoft unleashed in January 2009. Along the way, I’ve worked with builds 7048, 7057, 7058, and 7068 as well. One of the things that has impressed me most has been how well my tiny little Asus Eee netbook has done with Windows 7, especially because the only beta version currently available (to me, anyway) is the Windows 7 Ultimate Edition that includes Media Center plus all the other bells and whistles that come with this edition.

A Blue 1000HE, from left, showing RJ-45, 1xUSB, headphone/mic jacks.

A Blue 1000HE, from left, showing RJ-45, 1xUSB, headphone/mic jacks.

These are the only changes I made from stock to this unit:

  • I upgraded the RAM from 1 GB to 2 GB (for a total cost of $19!). Rear panel access was really easy, and required removing only two small machine screws — a small magnetic Phillips head will come in really hand here —and swapping the built-in 1 GB noname DDR2-667 module for a 2 GB counterpart.
  • I purchased an eSATA/USB 5.5″ external drive bay, so that I could mount a DVD burner, to use for installing the OS from a bootable ISO image (MS’s current preferred method for distributing Win7 betas; total cost $60).

It tickles me no end to see Windows 7 running nicely on this minimal computer. As the following CPU-Z stats show this netbook is pretty typical for PCs of its kind.

All the basic speeds for the Eee PC 1000HE are...well...pretty basic.

All the basic speeds for the Eee PC 1000HE are...well...pretty basic.

The Eee PC 1000HE normally runs at 1.6 GHz max on battery, but a special booster kicks in when running off the wall socket (via AC/DC converter) to kick it up to a maximum of 1.76 GHz (10% higher than stock). The Atom N280 is hyper threaded so it shows two cores on the Performance tab in Task Manager.

Although the N280 is single-core, its hyperthreading makes two CPU displays appear in Task Manager.

Although the N280 is single-core, its hyperthreading makes two CPU displays appear in Task Manager.

I love it that it normally runs only between 40 and 50 processes, and that memory consumption routinely hovers between 700 and 750 MB. In fact, the only time I ever encounter slow-downs is when antivirus or antispyware scans run — so I schedule them for the wee hours of the morning to encourage them to stay out of my way. I’ve used this machine to open half a dozen or more Web browser tabs (though it has also made me appreciate how svelte and fast Google Chrome really is), read e-mail, take notes (Notepad), and write documents (MS Word 2007) without running into any serious stumbling blocks.

This process list is less than 2/3 that for Vista at similar load.

47 processes for Win7 vs. 79 for Vista at similar load (click image to enlarge)

I’m still puzzling over how to benchmark notebook PCs. They’re too underpowered for a lot of the standard benchmarks (SysMark, MobileMark, and so forth) to really tell you much. Obviously some other kind of standard workload is called for. For now, however, all I can offer is my own anecdotal experience that working with the Eee PC 1000HE is at least tolerable, and often better than that. I especially like my ability to remote into the unit from my desktop PC (thanks to Win7’s support for Remote Desktop Connection) where I can access its content on a bigger screen.

So far, my beefs with this machine are few, and relatively minor:

  • The keyboard is OK, and reasonable for typing. I’ve used the machine to take notes in the field on numerous occasions and it does the job. My only real issue is that the right Shift key is a bit smaller than I like and positioned lower and more to the left than my fingers expect. I often hit Enter instead of Shift, which can be a problem when surfing and/or filling out forms of any kind.

    1000HE keyboard (note small shift key at far lower right)

    1000HE keyboard (note small shift key at far lower right)

  • The screen is small and the resolution likewise (1024×600). It’s quite legible and the color and brightness are good. But the lack of real estate makes Web surfing a bit more tedious than I like: too much scrolling! But that’s inherent to the netbook form factor…
  • The Intel i945GSE graphics are good, by and large, but any time on-screen animation is called for the display is subject to fits, starts, and jerks. Vista and Win7 users will do well to limit or turn off the slicker Aero effects. Be aware also that even modest games (Backgammon, Solitaire, Hearts, and so forth) aren’t terribly smooth or fluid. Again, this is inherent to the usual netbook circuitry…
  • No ExpressCard slot means no easy upgrade to 3G wireless LAN technology for this unit. Too bad!
  • Only a modest collection of ports and connectors is available: VGA, 3 USB 2.0, headphone/mic min-RCA, Kensington lock slot, and a 4-in-1 memory card reader (SD, SDHC, Memory Stick, and Memory Stick Pro).

    1000HE from right, showing card reader, 2xUSB, VGA, and AC jack.

    1000HE from right, showing card reader, 2xUSB, VGA, and AC jack.

  • I have a thing about touchpads: they often seem to lag behind my motions, and this one seems subject to that (to me) annoying flaw. Feel is OK, and buttons work well and aren’t too horribly situated at front right and left of keyboard deck, but I added a Logitech Nano V550 to my unit immediately upon purchase.

On the other hand, there is a lot to like about this machine, as long as you can live within its limits

  • It’s absolutely tiny (about 10.5″ x 7.5″ x 1.625″ at the rear, 1.375″ at the front) and very light (3 lb 2.7 oz) , even including its extra-strength 6-cell battery. The neoprene carrying sleeve included with the unit makes it very easy to pack and schlep in an ordinary briefcase or knapsack. The design is both sturdy and attractive, though the glossy black plastic picks up fingerprints like crazy.
  • Networking is fabulous on this unit. The built-in Atheros GbE wired network interface runs just as fast as my RealTek and Marvell GbE desktop interfaces (jumbo frame support, even). The Atheros 802.11a/b/g/n wireless interface also works very well (a special hack is available that greatly extends this driver’s range and fidelity from laptopvideo2go.com; be sure to grab and use this version).
  • With added memory, it runs Win7 like a champ, and doesn’t do badly with Vista, either (though I recommend using VistaPE to build a more minimalist runtime image, as described in various postings at VistaPE.net and WinBuilder.net).
  • The Seagate ST9160310AS 5400.5 Momentus SATA drive included with the unit is surprisingly fast and capable, despite its low 5,400 RPM speed and modest 8 MB cache. I bought the unit fully intending to replace the drive with something like the 320 GB Momentus 7200.3  ST9320421AS (about $80 best price) but lost my desire to do so after observing how well the current drive performed. Should I need a performance boost in future, I may still buy one, but for now, the current drive is more than OK: it’s fine. I’ve seen other reviews (most notably notebookreview.com) ding the drive, but it hasn’t caused me noticeable slowdowns except when scanning for viruses or spyware.
  • On battery, this unit remains cool (most temps under 45 ° C) and quiet (no fan noise at all) which makes it well-suited for “true laptop use” (on your lap, that is). On external power, the power boost function means it does get pretty warm (drive at 42-45 ° C; CPU socket at 50-60 ° C; underside case temps 45-50 ° C).

There are still a few things about the unit that I haven’t really dug into yet. I’m hoping to find the opportunity to rectify and report on these in a follow-up soon:

  • I haven’t yet mucked around with the SD card reader built into the unit, but I may spring for a 16 ($30) or 32 ($80) GB SD card to see if it works at all well for paging file and temporary file storage. My gut feel is that it might help a little, but probably won’t help a lot, if at all.
  • I haven’t yet been in a situation where I have to run exclusively from the battery for an extended period, except for testing. In the lab or at my desk, the battery offers a substantial 4-6 hour time window for ongoing work, more on the low end of that range when watching video or doing more demanding tasks, and more toward the higher end when doing only light reading, text-entry, and basic productivity stuff (spreadsheet, PowerPoint, and so forth). I’ll be traveling to Pittsburgh next week, and plan to put the unit through its paces to see how it does.
  • I haven’t ripped a DVD to the drive for in-flight viewing yet, and am curious to see how headphones and viewing work under those conditions. Thus, I also plan to rip some pre-recorded TV material to the unit to watch while on my upcoming trip as well.

I bought my Eee PC 1000HE on advance purchase through ProVantage in March for $375 plus S&H (total out-of-pocket costs just under $404). I spent another $80 on appurtenances (2 GB RAM, USB DVD burner/player). So far, I’m very happy with this purchase and have found the unit to be useful, highly portable, and reasonably productive for work use. I’m in agreement with the many reviewers who’ve named it among the best of the current crop of notebooks, and am glad I waited until product offerings were a bit more mature to pick this one up.

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