Reviewed September 14, 2009 by Lisa Gade, Editor
It seems like an eternity ago that we reviewed ASUS' first Windows netbook, the Eee PC 4G, that started the netbook rage. It was cheap and it looked cheap but it brought affordable ultra-portable computing to the masses. Fast forward to today and we've got the slick (literally and figuratively) Eee PC 1005HA, a 10" netbook that looks much nicer than the original Eee PC and sports a host of tweaks and improvements. The 1005HA-P model we're reviewing is the latest addition to the 1005HA "seashell" line and it's at the high end with the new Intel Atom N280 CPU, a 10.5 hour six cell battery and WiFi 802.11n rather than the slower b/g variety. Other 1005HA models run on the Atom N270 with an 8.5 hour battery and have the slower WiFi 802.11b/g. Best Buy stocks some less expensive variants that may have lower capacity batteries and no Bluetooth (read those specs before buying!).
ASUS cranks out new netbook models faster than bunnies at a rabbit farm, and it can be hard to figure out who's who in the zoo given the longish string of alphanumeric characters that names them. The Eee PC 1005HA is the second "seashell" netbook line from ASUS (the even slimmer 1008 was the first), and it gets that name because it tapers in thickness. Honestly, we don't see the resemblance but it's a handy way to distinguish lines. The netbook is thicker at the back to accommodate the high capacity 10.5 hour battery, hence the taper. The design is more unified than the battery hump sticking out the back approach used by Lenovo on the S10-2 and the Toshiba mini NB205. Though the Eee's gloss finish is slippery, and more than once we've wished for the protruding battery that provides a grip.
The Eee PC 1005HA-P is available in black and blue and both have a gloss finish lid that looks lovely but attracts fingerprints like mad. The bottom and side surfaces are every day matte black plastic and the ports are uncovered (ASUS experimented with covered ports on the 1008 seashell to smooth the netbook's lines). Unlike the 1008 seashell, the 1005HA has a removable battery and easily accessible RAM, though getting at the hard drive isn't for the faint of heart.
The machine has 3 USB 2.0 ports, a VGA port, 10/100 Ethernet and an SD card slot. The fan vents on the the left side and the machine doesn't get very warm during average use (web, MS Office, email). CPU temperatures typically stay at 21 to 35 centigrade. When gaming, CPU temps rise as high as 40 to 59 centigrade and the machine feels warm, though not burning hot. The fan, when it comes on, isn't intrusive. The lid's bottom edge tucks behind the notebook so the display doesn't look quite so tall. The drawback is that the display can't be pushed near flat back.
Fancy stuff for a netbook: the 1005HA-P has a multi-touch trackpad that supports pinch zoom, 2-finger scrolling and gestures. We particularly liked the way it works under Windows 7 beta with Synaptics' drivers installed. Like many netbooks, the Eee PC has a single bar that handles both left and right clicks. The trackpad is a decent size and its surface is integrated into the wrist-rest deck (it's all one piece of plastic). The trackpad has a dimpled surface so you can tell when your finger has wandered onto the smooth area outside the pad. The trackpad doesn't offer the near-notebook experience that the Sony Vaio W does but it's quite decent and the button bar isn't overly stiff though it's a little difficult to keep it pressed down when click-dragging. There's a button on the upper left of the keyboard deck that enables and disables the trackpad (you can also hit Fn3 to do the same).
The keyboard is wonderful: it uses the entire width of the netbook so the keys are plenty roomy for a netbook. Though it lacks the Sony Vaio W and Toshiba NB205's discrete key design, it's nonetheless a pleasure to use. The keyboard has some spring and bounce since it's held in place only by plastic clips and double-sided tape. The shift and enter keys are oversized and in general key sizes mimic a full-sized keyboard's.
The display is the usual 10.1" LED backlit 1024 x 600 pixel display. Brightness is adequate though not impressive and clarity is good, particularly under Windows 7 whose fonts are sharper and clearer. Those with computer-weary eyes will likely feel some eyestrain under Windows XP after a few hours of use. That said, netbooks are intended for short bouts at web browsing, email and the like. The HP Mini 2140 (pricey), Lenovo S10-2 and Sony Vaio W have the edge for display quality over the 1005HA, though the 1005HA wins on the CPU and WiFi fronts (except against the Sony but it costs over $100 more).
ASUS, always fond of tweaking, has a tray utility that allows you to change from standard 1024 x 600 resolution to 1024 x 768 (with panning) and 1024 x 768 compressed (no panning required but the non-native aspect ratio causes some compression of text and graphics). The compressed mode is very handy for applications that require 1024 x 768 as minimum resolution (games, and even our benchmark program). When doing benchmarks, we noticed a performance hit when running in compressed mode, though we didn't see that same problem when running with a 19" external monitor at an even higher 1280 x 1024 resolution. Strange.
Wireless: Better than the average netbook
The vast majority of current netbook models, regardless of price, have WiFi 802.11b/g which is slower and has shorter range than WiFi 802.11n. The Eee PC has Atheros WiFi 802.11b/g/n , but not dual band like the Sony Vaio W and most recent full-size notebooks. That means the Eee operates only on the 2.4GHz band, so if you have a dual band 2.4/5GHz router and are routing N only on the 5GHz band, you'll have to change your wireless network setup to use the 1005HA-P on 802.11n. Besides much improved range and speed for the Eee PC, 802.11n means that your home or workplace router won't have to drop down to 802.11g-- single band routers drop to the lowest common denominator-- if one "b" or "G" devices connects, everyone on the network will have their connection dropped to that speed.
In addition the 1005HA-P has Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR. Many netbook manufacturers make Bluetooth optional (every penny counts in the extremely low margin netbook market), so we're glad to see it here. Bluetooth is useful if you want to use your cell phone as a wireless modem for the Eee, if you want to do wireless file transfers with mobile devices and if you want to use Bluetooth mice.
Battery Life: insane!
The first netbooks ran 3 hours at most. Low capacity batteries are cheaper and make for a smaller netbook. As the platform matures, it's become clear that folks want to use netbooks for extended periods of time rather than making brief visits to the Net and quick email checks. So we've gone from 3 cell to 6 cell batteries in several brands and models, among them our own Eee PC 1005HA-P, the Lenovo S10-2 and the Toshiba NB205. ASUS describes the 6 cell, 63wh Lithium Ion battery as their 10.5 hour battery and it's standard on the 1005HA-P (Best Buy's custom models may differ). That's ASUS' highest capacity netbook battery and it rivals the never-say-die Toshiba for battery life. We typically saw 8.5 hours of battery life under Windows XP using ASUS' auto-power saver setting, and that's with the display set to 80% brightness and both WiFi and Bluetooth on. Sweet! We managed similar runtimes under Windows 7 RC after we installed ASUS' ACPI (power management and more) driver and SHE (ASUS Super Hybrid Engine that offers several power settings). It took a little work to get these installed (we're sure ASUS will have Windows 7 versions available by the time Windows 7 is released) but it works well with BIOS versions up to 0730. The netbook managed over 5 hours of video playback using locally stored video.
ASUS power management and SHE automatically set the netbook to auto power-saver when unplugged and auto high performance when it's plugged in. The charger is very compact and though there have been some reports on the Net of the charger running very hot and doing a temporary thermal shutoff, ours remained quite cool when the notebook was off and only moderately warm (in the range of average for an AC adapter) when the netbook was turned on and charging. The battery is removable unlike the first seashell 1008 that had a sealed battery.
If you feel like all netbooks sport basically the same specs, that's because they do. It's not that manufacturer's don't want to jazz things up, but rather Intel has their rules about how much RAM can be included with an XP netbook running on the Atom CPU (1 gig) and max display resolution, and Microsoft has their rule about max hard drive size for netbooks (160 gigs). Once in a while, manufacturers negotiate a rule break (for example the Vaio W has a higher resolution display) but nearly all run on an Intel Atom CPU (a single core, hyperthreading low power CPU designed for netbooks) with 1 gig of RAM, Windows XP (because Vista is too piggish for netbooks) and a 160 gig hard drive. Variation comes in the cosmetics, wireless, display quality and software.
ASUS does very well in the software arena, with a good bundle of applications that actually make the machine more usable rather than bloating it. They include an updater that will download and install the latest drivers and BIOS for you. They also include the aforementioned Super Hybrid Engine for controlling the CPU and bus clock speeds and they update drivers and the BIOS with good frequency. Their heritage as a performance motherboard company means they understand tweakers and overclockers, which we like. There's also 10 gigs of Eee storage (online storage hosted by ASUS), voice command and easy access to online streaming radio and video (handy since the hard drive isn't exactly high capacity for media storage). Skype is pre-installed and configured to work with the machine's mic and 1.3MP webcam.
Speaking of tweaks, it's incredibly easy to upgrade the machine to 2 gigs of RAM, which is the max. There's a small door on the netbook's underside for the RAM module and there's one slot, which means you'll toss the included 1 gig module to install your standard DDR2 667MHz SODIMM. The hard drive is extremely difficult to upgrade and requires near compete netbook disassembly. You'll remove all the screws, release the tabs that secure the keyboard and raise the keyboard up (it's also secured by very strong double-sided tape, which releases more easily when the machine is very warm-- stream YouTube or Hulu videos for 20 minutes to heat it up). After that, there's plenty more disassembly. If you're not experienced at taking apart notebooks, you probably won't want to do this. It also involves removing a warranty sticker inside the machine. Happily, ASUS uses a fast and quiet 5400RPM SATA hard drive, so you'll probably be happy with the stock version unless you require more storage (ours was a Seagate Momentus). If you're determined to install a larger hard drive or an SSD drive but aren't comfortable with tearing your machine apart, consider the Toshiba mini NB205 or Lenovo S10-2 which have easy access doors for both RAM and the hard drive.
ASUS partitions Eee PC drives into 2 equal size drives (C: and D:). This is perfect for us geeky types who like to set up dual boot systems running Windows XP and Linux or Windows 7. Even if you don't wish to run a second OS, the partitioning makes it easy to separate OS and applications from data. There's also a restore partition on the drive and a driver CD is included.
The RAM door.
The Eee PC 1005-P (we assume "P" stands for performance?) runs on the new Intel Atom 1.66GHz N280 CPU which is slightly faster than the older 1.6GHz N270 and uses less power. The N280 has a 667MHz FSB vs. 533MHz for the N270 and our benchmarks generally show a modest improvement in the N280. We noticed that little boost when playing Flash video which uses only the CPU and not the graphics chip. Like all N270 and N280 netbooks currently on the market, the Eee PC uses Intel GMA 950 integrated graphics which is enough to runs Windows XP and Windows 7 with Aero just fine. It won't rock your hardcore gaming world but it can run older games like Diablo II fine as well as current casual games like puzzles, card games and the like.
We use PCMark05 to benchmark netbooks in Windows XP and the Windows 7 Experience Index when running Windows 7. The Eee PC 1005HA-P hit the top position in PCMark among several recent netbooks we've reviewed but that margin is slim since there's relatively little variation in CPU, RAM and hard drives used in these machines. The Atom N280 made for good CPU scores and ASUS includes a fast hard drive that scored best among the netbooks we've reviewed. For PCMark, we hooked the netbook up to a 19" 1280 x 1024 pixel monitor to meet PCMark's minimum resolution requirements.
Take the Eee PC 1005HA-P for a test drive and it's easy to understand why ASUS is still at the top of the market. The low price for a feature-rich (if one can say that about a netbook) machine, fantastic keyboard, fast performance, good driver support and on-board utilities make the 10005HA-P a top pick. The netbook is attractive and the 10.5 hour battery means you really can go all day away from AC. We only wish that it were easier to access the hard drive-- open up the netbook and it's a cramped mess of cables, circuit boards, ribbon cables and double-sided sticky tape holding the keyboard that doesn't smack of high quality build methods. That said, it isn't plastered with tape on the inside as is the Eee PC 1008 and most folks will never open up their machine to appreciate (or not) the internal aesthetic.
Pro: Great features for the price, attractive, solid external build, fast and power-frugal Intel Atom N280 and WiFi 802.11n.
Con: It's nasty business upgrading the hard drive. WiFi 802.11n is 2.4GHz-only, not great if you're running a dual band WiFi router.
Warranty: 1 year warranty, no bad pixel guarantee (if you have just 1 bad pixel you can exchange it).
Display:10.1" LED backlit color gloss LCD. 1024 x 600 resolution. Intel GMA 950 integrated graphics.
Ion rechargeable 6 cell 63wh 10.5 hour battery standard. Lower capacity battery configurations are also available (8.5 hour 6 cell 48wh and 3 cell 4 hour 23wh). Battery is removable.
Atom N280 CPU (on the -P model reviewed here). Non -P models are N270. Intel 945 Express chipset. 1 gig DDR2 667MHz RAM, 1 SODIMM slot, max capacity 2 gigs RAM. 160 gig standard SATA 2.5" notebook drive, 5400RPM (ours was a Seagate Momentus). Hard drive has recovery partition (press F9 three times in a row during boot to start recovery). HD is partitioned into C: and D: drives of equal size.
Size:10.3 x 7 x 1 inches. Weight: 2.8 pounds with 6 cell battery.
in stereo speakers, digital array mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone
jack and mic jack. Realtek HD audio.
Networking:Integrated Atheros AR9285
WiFi 802.11b/g/n (2.4GHz band only), wired Atheros AR8132 10/100 Ethernet and Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR (Widcomm/Broadcom drivers).
XP Home Edition.
SD (Secure Digital) slot, 3 USB 2.0 ports, VGA, Ethernet, 3.5mm stereo headphone and 3.5mm mic jack.