A silent PC is one that makes absolutely no noise, and by necessity has no moving parts (including fans). Such systems usually use very low-end hardware limited to trivial tasks such as running a cash register. The system introduced today, a Solid-State PC (SSPC) is a powerful quad-core i5 PC which runs most software faster than the majority of modern PCs, yet uses less than 25W idle.
The Asus 1008HA Eee PC netbook is one of the sleekest netbooks on the market. I first previewed the Asus 1008HA “clamshell” in June, and I called it an inexpensive miniature MacBook Air. The 1008HA comes with your slightly enhanced Intel Atom N280 processor, Intel GMA950 chipset, 1 GB RAM, 160 GB 2.5″ hard drive, Bluetooth, 802.11n and 10/100 Ethernet, SDHC flash slot, 10.1″ LCD screen, and Windows XP. Street price for the Asus 1008HA is in the range slightly north of $400.
For this particular review, I’m not going to get into the performance aspect of this netbook in terms of video playback capability since it’s identical to the Asus 1000HE. I explain in detail how well a netbook with this type of CPU and chipset configuration works in this Asus 1000HE review.
The size, shape, and weight of the clamshell netbook was simply amazing. It’s something you can just toss into a backpack or purse and it doesn’t even feel like you’re hauling a laptop around. There are no breaks in the contour and even the Ethernet port uses a collapsible opening to follow the flow of the clamshell. Even the power port is tiny so that it doesn’t ruin the contour. For a netbook this light with a small and light battery, I was shocked that it was still possible to achieve nearly 6 hours of web surfing over Wi-Fi. It’s one thing to achieve 6 hours with a bulging heavy battery, getting it in such a light weight form factor is a great engineering achievement. The edge to edge keyboard is almost full size and they actually give you a full size right shift key (though I’ve long trained myself to only use the left shift). The slight keyboard flexing problem I noted in my Asus 1000HE review doesn’t affect the 1008HA keyboard and it is fairly easy to type on.
The beautiful clamshell design does pose some interesting compromises. For one thing, there’s no immediate VGA port on the netbook because it’s too tall to fit into the side. What you do get is a dongle that connects to a miniature port hidden behind a contour cover on the side that’s tucked away underneath the 1008HA. It’s quite a clever design that makes it so that you won’t lose or forget the VGA dongle like you would on a MacBook Air, but it does take some delicate work hooking up the dongle and VGA cables. This is why I can’t wait for the day that we can drop the DB-15 analog VGA port altogether for a simple small and consolidate audio/video HDMI port, and that trend seems to be happening already with some of the newest netbooks.
The other challenge of the clamshell is that just plugging in a headphone requires you to flip open the side panel and leave it open while you’re plugged in. The power plug is so tiny that I’m sometimes afraid that I might bend or break the plug although it seems to be fairly sturdy so long as you handle it with finesse.
Every product has bad points, and the Asus 1008HA is no exception. But what kills me is that every netbook and even some notebook makers are doing the same thing. For one thing, the glossy screen just makes it hard to see in a brightly lit room or one with many windows. I know this is the trend these days, but the Asus 1000HE had an absolutely gorgeous screen with almost no glare. Why the industry is hell bent on putting in a “feature” that might look nice and shiny when the netbook is turned off is beyond me. I guess until consumers stop buying netbooks and notebooks with glossy screens altogether, our eyes will continue to be assaulted. So for this reason alone, I would declare what I would otherwise consider a great product a bad buy. I’m almost loathed to give any positive review of this netbook because I hate glossy screens that much. It is possible to put a coating on the screen or an anti-glare sheet, but it’s still not as good as a screen that didn’t have the glossy surface to begin with.
The other show stopper for me is the single bar mouse button. Reviewers and consumers alike almost universally hate this “feature”. It’s almost as if some idiot product manager decided that they wanted to emulate the look of a single-button MacBook, but the fact that you can’t actually push down the middle of the button makes these trackpad buttons unusable. There’s nothing more frustrating than pushing down the middle of the button only to find out that it’s not going anywhere. The actual area you can push is only along the left and right edges of the bar. The Asus 1000HE had it perfect and I don’t know why Asus felt it was necessary to ruin a good thing.
I don’t care much for the glossy body but that isn’t a show stopper for me. But between the crappy mouse button and the blindingly glossy screen, it stopped me from buying a 1008HA. So if you don’t like glossy screens and single bar seesaw buttons on the trackpad, this netbook is not for you. Now I understand that Asus isn’t the only guilty party here and most other notebook makers are following some of these same nasty design principles. All I’m saying is that I’m fed up with these bad design choices and you should be too.
The great battery life
The Asus 1008HA uses a non-modular lithium polymer battery that is molded to fit into the chassis to exploit every bit of space. Most laptops use lithium ion batteries that are modular and quickly detachable, but lithium ion can’t be shaped as easily and they have to be cylindrically shaped which makes them bulkier. More importantly, lithium ion has a much shorter life span and you can expect to lose around 7% of your battery capacity every year. Lithium polymers cost more and they lack modularity, but they are more compact because they can take any shape. Lithium polymer batteries also last twice as long as lithium ion which is probably good enough for the useful lifespan of the netbook.
The power consumption of the Asus 1008HA was surprisingly low. I was able to achieve 5.82 hours while refreshing two websites every minute using a Wi-Fi connection and having the LCD set to 40% brightness. With a 31 watt*hour battery divided by 5.82 hours, that translates to an average power draw of just 5.33 watts which is nothing short of amazing. By comparison, this HP DV2 netbook based on an AMD Neo platform consumes 20.1 watts under a similar workload and similar LCD brightness which forces it to sacrafice significant battery life even while carrying a larger heavier battery.
Note: This 5.82 hour result comes in slightly short of Asus’ 6 hour advertising claim which shows that Asus is very honest with their battery life claims. With the Wi-Fi off and LCD set to minimum brightness, I could achieve 8 hours of document editing or reading time which is a valid use case for business travelers on airplanes. However, I think the more common usage scenario is Wi-Fi enabled web surfing and I think Asus’ claim of 6 hours not only meets legal requirements, but it matches user expectations.
For a netbook of this class with a standard Intel Atom N280 and GMA950 graphics chipset, it almost seems that Asus was able to drop the total power consumption by 25% when compared to other netbooks with the same CPU and chipset. The Asus 1000HE which uses an identical CPU and chipset can drop down to around 5.5 watts while idling with the screen at minimum brightness. The 1008HA somehow manages to drop power consumption down to 3.9 watts. Even during standard definition DivX/XVID video playback with the LCD set to 40% brightness, I was able to achieve slightly over 4.5 hours which means the unit was drawing 6.9 watts of power on average. I didn’t think that was possible to go that low until we got to the next generation Intel PineTrail-M platform.
- Very good looking and desirable form factor with the exception of the bad glossy display and bad single bar mouse button.
- Keyboard is very nice, possibly nicer than the Asus 1000HE because there is less keyboard flex.
- Battery life was outstanding considering the small lightweight battery you’re carrying. The Asus 1008HA is probably the smallest netbook you can find that gets close to 6 hours of honest to goodness usable battery life.
- It performs like any other netbook with this type of hardware, and 720P video playback works fine so long as you’re using efficiently coded software.
There’s a new candidate for the best netbook on the market as far as I’m concerned and it is the Asus Eee 1000HE. Had it come with the GN40 chipset like many of us thought, it would have taken the top spot but it now shares the honors with the Dell Mini 12. $375, it sets a new bar in features per dollar. I’ve posted a guest article here on notebooks.com and you can read all about it.
One interesting note is that after visiting Fry’s Electronics tonight, all of the Acer Aspire Ones have dropped about $40 in price. The entry level One costs $260 and the mid-end model comes in at $300. This makes them competitive again but the price of netbooks will continue to decline and the features continue to improve.