A day with Asus’ EeePC 900a. Verdict: Cheap, capable, compromised

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Asus’ EeePC 900A, $300 at Best Buy, soon presents a question: what did they cheat on to get the price that low?

As the smallest netbook going that has both a 1.6 GHz Atom CPU and 1GB of RAM (the older cheap Eees had a battery-munching 900 MHz Celeron and 512MB) you’d think it would be more expensive. With a gorgeous 8.9″ display inside a 9.5″ by 6.7″ form, it’s tiny but still big enough to type comfortably. It’s an antidote to the netbook segment’s sneaky upwards creep in sizes and profit margins.

But in use it falls a little short of the experience suggested by those specs. It’s a game of spotting the corners cut.

That it’s a linux model with a 4400mAh 4-cell battery and just 4GB of storage is clear on the box. Those things aren’t that big of a deal. They also took out the webcam and bluetooth: that’s fine, too. But a little research also reveals that the flash drive used in the $300 Eee 900A has extremely low write speeds, which makes that component a prime suspect for the slow web performance, mouse jumping and irritating second-long lockups.

To complain seems almost greedy, given that it’s an Atom netbook at an almost disposable price (Target’s own $300 EeePC, for example, is a junky last-gen model with only 512MB RAM and that older Celeron CPU) but its presence in brick ‘n’ mortar stores is a try-before-you-buy opportunity that shouldn’t be skipped.

Pros

* $300 is a steal for a 9″ netbook with an Atom CPU.
* 1GB of RAM
* 3 USB ports
* Small and very light (2.2lbs), but not so much it makes typing a UMPC-style annoyance.

Cons

* Slow 4GB SSD has only 350MB of free space out the box
* Stingy 4400mAh battery
* Can’t take Eee Surf/7xx or 900 batteries
* No bluetooth or webcam

Conclusion

It’s portable and powerful, but the EeePC 900A’s slow-coach drive is the likely culprit for frequent, irritating dips in performance. Though great for basic netbooking, those who’ll be putting their machines to work should bear in mind that for another $50, they can get a the excellent Dell Mini Inspiron 9 with 1GB and XP, or the EeePC 900HA with a 160GB hard drive, XP and webcam.

Update: Looks like Best Buy is now selling the MSI Wind U100 in black for $350, too. – Joel [Best Buy]

About Rob Beschizza

Rob Beschizza is the Managing Editor of Boing Boing. He's @beschizza on Twitter and can be found on Facebook too. Email is dead, but you can try your luck at besc...@gmail.com
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16 Responses to A day with Asus’ EeePC 900a. Verdict: Cheap, capable, compromised

  1. chris says:

    to all those trying to put linux ubunto on your 900a’s, try liux ubuntu netbook remix, worked for me, although from that experience i am no longer a linux fan, i even frown upon my ps3 now as it runs on linux, lol jokes

  2. Anonymous says:

    4GB? You’ve got to be joking. At that point they should skip the builtin storage altogether and opt for an SD card slot (or two); Sandisk has 32GB SDHC cards right now, and they’re only going to get cheaper/GB.

    Though maybe it’s just an opportunity for a cool instructable: how to swap out the builtin 4GB SSD for an SDHC slot :)

  3. Orky says:

    That slow SSD really seems like an annoying problem with this machine. Also, it doesn’t seem that cheap to me, here in Europe. Prices usually translate at about the rate 1 USD => 1 EUR, so I would expect to see this machine in the retail stores priced at around 300 EUR. E.g. the Asus EEE 701 was first sold here for 300 EUR.

    That’s not good.

    For less than that I could buy the Asus EEE 701 (about 200 EUR, but small screen). Better would be the Acer Aspire One, whose cheapest edition (with SSD) costs a bit less than 300 EUR.

    So I’ll pass on it, thank you very much.

    Personally, I wonder when Intel’s huge backlog of 945 chipsets is finally going to run out, at which point they will hopefully couple the Atom chip to a more modern energy saving chipset. Oh, and 100% Ubuntu out-of-the-box compatibility, that’s pretty much a requirement for me too (WTG Dell on this one).

  4. Rob Beschizza says:

    RoyalTrux, I can configure the Dell Mini with 1GB and XP for $354!

  5. Anonymous says:

    “what did they cheat on to get the price that low?”

    You mean besides the wages of the factory workers who put the things together?

    Bruno

  6. Anonymous says:

    http://my.ocworkbench.com/2008/asus/EeePC_901/g4.htm

    Benchmarks of the Celeron M at 900MHz against the Atom in the 901 and the Wind. The Celeron loses big on multimedia but narrowly wins on SuperPi.

    The Atom is geared for media, not math – even with the clock speed advantage, in some tasks, it’s even with the Celeron in performance. And even though the Atom runs away with the energy efficiency advantage, the tiny 900a battery can’t take advantage of it.

    As always, buy the right computer for the right use. There are better Atom Eees, much less netbooks, than this one, at a marginally higher ($25-$50, without sales or rebates) price.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Just brought my second 900a back to Best Buy. Both died within 4 days of using them. Only thing I did was install Ubuntu EEE on them. And yes, the fan and power saving were functioning. The lights would come on, but the screen was totally dead. No amount of resetting, ac only, no battery, external monitor testing made any difference.

    It was a cute little system, but either I hit the statistical lottery with two bad machines, or they are so delicate they can’t handle a OS upgrade.

  8. royaltrux says:

    Rob, I can’t. Don’t know what I’m doing wrong :( The cheapest I can make one with XP and one gig of RAM is $424.

  9. jaakennuste says:

    Its good to see, that Asus is back on track with affordable eee-concept. It felt that they move to next pricepoint with 900 and 1000 models.

  10. TobyFee says:

    Hey guys I bought this asus eee 900, which I always refer to with a high pitched “eeeeee” when my old ibook died.

    right away I installed Ubuntu eee, a lovely, slim build of the OS

    I’m in love, the weird little lags are irritating but once firefox is up and running or I’ve got a video playing, I’ve got no troubles.

    Notably, while I’ve only used it for snapshots, I do beleive that the camera on it is a ‘webcam,’ is there some distinction?

    oooh I see this is the 900a

    Okay so the 900 has the same slow-write-speed issue with the ssd, but like I say it really doesn’t seem a big deal, I use it to watch downloaded TV, run GraphicsGale with wine, and do everything I want to do on Firefox. I use the built-in speakers often and they sound okay, though I certainly wouldn’t want to rock out to them they are great for watching TV.

    After a week or so I’ve even got my typing speed way up.

    The biggest irritation is the low quality of the built-in mic’s feed under Ubuntu eee (I don’t know if the shipped OS recorded sound any better) and the too-hard mouse button that demands I hook a mouse up to it.

  11. Anonymous says:

    A user with some tech knowledge can config the system to minimize the amount of writes.
    That can get rid of most of those delays. But that does not cut it for the buyer who does not have the config skills. And eventually the consumer should not have to carry out that work, but rather Asus, before shipping the model.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Update: It’s available at bestbuy B&M for $200. I picked it up and added a runcore 16GB for massive SSD sweetness. It’s a lot faster now and has plenty of elbow room.

  13. michaelportent says:

    After seeing somebody overclocking an Eee PC to play WoW smoother than my old machine at home, $300 is a freaking steal for this. Can’t wait to rock one of these puppies on the train ride home.

  14. Rob Beschizza says:

    RoyalTrux: Dell having different prices for different time zones/customers/IP ranges/whatever is a Known Problem. You can also get different prices by going to the small business store instead of the consumer one, and vice versa.

  15. Anonymouse Anonymous says:

    My eeePC 901 has also died after almost a year, again with 4 lights displayed, the battery light flashing. Very unimpressed. Have tried resetting using the hidden hole at the back, starting on battery, starting without battery but on mains… nothing. I also had ubuntu installed for a while, but can`t believe that would have caused the device to die, especially after it had been running XP again for a month or two. Possibly the most expensive brick I have ever purchased. I`ll be avoiding Asus in future.

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