Introduction and Design
Can Atom and Ion Remain Relevant?
You don’t hear much about Atom these days. It’s still there, still kicking, still being stuffed inside an endless stream of netbooks. Yet it’s also not very exciting, and hasn’t created much buzz. This isn’t a case of a journalistic blind spot; Atom just hasn’t been update. The original was released in 2008, but Intel hasn’t released a major performance upgrade since. By comparison, the performance of mainstream mobile laptop processors has, in some benchmarks, doubled over the same time-span. The processor performance of Atom, measured relative to the power of an average $600 laptop with a Core i3 dual-core, is actually becoming worse over time.
Yet Atom has still dominated the laptop market because of one reason; there was no other alternative. For the first time, however, that’s changing. AMD has released its Fusion APUs, and we recently reviewed two different laptops with two different versions of that technology – the single-core E-240 in the Toshiba Satellite C655D and the dual-core E-350 in the Sony Vaio Y.
Generally, we found that AMD’s Fusion was somewhat better than Intel’s Atom, with the primary advantage being graphics performance. However, we last received an Atom netbook for review just over a year ago, when we took a look at the ASUS Eee PC 1201N. Since then, Atom has received some clock speed increases and Nvidia has released a new generation of Ion technology. ASUS has harnessed these improvements to create the ASUS Eee PC 1215N, the successor to the laptop we reviewed a year ago. Let’s take a look at the guts of this machine.
The ASUS Eee PC 1215N was actually released into the wild a few months ago, but it remains at the cutting edge of Intel Atom netbooks. The Intel Atom D525 processor housed inside it is the most powerful Atom currently available, and is generally found in nettops and all-in-one PCs rather than netbooks (the “D” prefix ostensibly stands for Desktop). Most Atom processors are still saddled with Intel’s GMA integrated graphics, which is grossly underpowered by today’s standards. The inclusion of Nvidia’s Ion is a big selling point, and one that puts the ASUS Eee PC 1215N light-years of ahead of the average Atom powered netbook – but with AMD’s Fusion APUs now available, the Atom+Ion combo has a fight on its hands.
While this will be an interesting review from a performance standpoint, the Atom processor isn’t the only product on trial here. When the Eee PC 1201N was reviewed a year ago, we praised its design and performance, but found it stuffed from an awkward position due its price of $470, just a stone’s throw away from budget ultraportables. The ASUS Eee PC 1215N is currently listed on Newegg for $489.99. Does this new model succumb to the same pricing issues as the original?
The ASUS Eee PC 1215N uses the company’s clamshell design language, which amounts to little more than the excessive use of rounded corners to make a netbook appear somewhat smaller and slicker than it really is. The Eee PC 1215N is worthy of such a treatment, as it measures 1.4 inches thick at the rear. The junk in this netbook’s trunk is a large battery that’s impossible to hide, but the clamshell design does its job; the Eee PC 1215N feels only slightly thicker than your average netbook.
Most of the netbook is plastic, but the material quality is top notch. Despite a price that undercuts the previously reviewed Sony Vaio Y by over $50, the ASUS Eee PC 1215N is substantially nicer to touch. The lid and the palmrest of our review unit were coated in a matte maroon finish that seemed to change colors completely under different lighting. Out of the box it was dull red, but under brighter light it seems to turn pink, while dim lighting brought out a rusty orange hue.
While certainly attractive, don’t make the mistake of thinking you won’t have to worry about fingerprints because of the matte finish. The material seems to absorb the oil from your hands quite readily, resulting is discolorations and dull spots that linger until buffed away. I do have to wonder how this netbook will look after a year of use. I suspect that the spaces most commonly occupied by your palms will become permanently discolored.
Potential smudges aside, the Eee PC 1215N looks and feels like a netbook that is all grown up. The matte finish is professional, and the chassis itself is quite sturdy. The lid does not deform significantly under pressure, and the gaps between plastic panels are small. Upgrades could be better handled, however; while the plastic lid that covers the RAM is secured by just one screw and easy to remove, there is no easy access to the hard drive.