Some manufacturers have ceased producing netbooks, other continue, not least because there is still a market for ultra-portable, low-priced Windows machines. Asus has released the Asus Eee PC 1011CX , packing in a third-gen Cedar Trail N2600 processor – a 1.6GHz dual-core hyper-threaded chip with GMA 3600 integrated Intel graphics. Four execution threads should mean a significant performance boost from the early netbook days of N270 chips, some of which offered hyper-threading on their single cores, also clocked at 1.6GHz. The DDR3 RAM found in the Eee PC 1011CX also boosts performance. Bad news is the RAM is soldered in – no upgrade from the default 1GB. Why not just put a 2GB module in for the extra $5?
For storage the 1011CX boasts a pretty roomy 320GB hard drive. Price-wise the new Asus Eee PC 1011CX sells for $330, which means it’s competing with chicer, more portable tablets all the while for anyone not fussy about operating system. Build quality is good, and the seashell design is quite charming, if a bit sharp-angled. The 1011CX comes in black or white, unlike most Asus netbook lines, which have usually featured an array of colours to choose from.
The 10.1-inch 1024 x 600 pixel matte display can also use an interpolated resolution of 1024 x 768 pixels, the traditional CRT resolution which is much more suitable for browsing, and the 240-nit brightness is above average and inky blacks make for a good display overall, with similarly above-average viewing angles.
Keyboard input is much better than on the original netbooks thanks to chiclet-style keyboards, and travel and feedback are both good, although shorter travel is a feature of netbook keyboards.
The lightly-textured touchpad falls down with the lack of any space between the mouse buttons and touchpad base, giving rise to accidental cursor movements and worse still hellish dragging-and-dropping of windows.
VGA and HDMI interfaces, a trio of USB-2 ports, card reader, single audio jack and Ethernet port constitute a pretty minimal port selection. We would have expected a pair of audio jacks for Skyping or speech-to-text functionality, and it’s about time USB-3 connectivity was made more available on netbooks. WiFi-n is included, but the Atheros Ethernet connector is limited to a 10/100 Mbit effort, and frankly, that justy ain’t good enough.
That CPU, complete with 1MB of L2 cache has brought a 15% performance improvement compared with the 1011CX’s predecessor. The DirectX 9.1-compatible IGP supports HD playback though we aren’t even going to mention current games in this review. The CPU is ultimately only about as powerful as the older N270, N450 and N570. The Dell Latitude 2110, packing an N470, outperforms the 1011CX by more than 10%, and the Sony Vaio VPC netbook thrashed the Asus by a good 30% in benchmarks. Yet in general use, backed up by benchmarks to test system performance, the new Cedar Trail N2600 does outpace the old N570 by 15%+ yet user experience is unaffected. Data transfer speeds of 85MB/s are quite respectable for a low-end notebook/netbook. Audio is poor, with even mid-ranges faint and bass notes almost non-existent. External speakers necessary. The 6-cell 47-Wh battery delivered almost nine hours of moderate, WiFi-surfing service – fine.
But taken as a whole, the 1011CX netbook is a let-down almost across the board. Processor-wise, nobody should buy anything less than the 1.86GHz N2800 chip in a netbook – its GPU is clocked faster too, and it offers a good 30% improvement over any other Atom chip to date. 100Mbit Ethernet is poor, and while lack of USB-3 connectivity is just about pardonable, 1GB of maximum RAM is not. That should be a deal-breaker for everyone – 2GB RAM is the one thing that can lift a labouring Atom processor to another level. Anything less is an insult to consumers.
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