Asus Eee PC 1215N netbook

The Asus Eee PC 1215N is a netbook that doesn’t look like a netbook.

Like its predecessor, the Eee PC 1201N, the 1215N offers a bright 12.1-inch LCD display with a native resolution of 1366 by 768 pixels. That moves the Asus from netbook to entry-level ultraportable, but the internals are all netbook-class components–albeit a high-end netbook.The CPU is now the Intel Corp. (NASDAQ: INTC) Atom D525, a dual-core processor supporting Intel’s hyperthreading technology, typically found in small “nettop” desktop computers. It allows the system to handle up to four simultaneous process threads. The clock rate is also juiced up slightly compared to older Atoms, to 1.8GHz.

Although the D525 is a 64-bit-capable CPU, Asus ships the 1215N with a 32-bit version of Windows–Windows Home 7 Premium, which is a step up from most netbooks. Using a 32-bit OS makes sense in light of the 1215N’s 2GB of memory, even though the D525’s memory controller can support up to 4GB of RAM.

Asus builds the 1215N on top of an Nvidia Ion chipset, which offers more robust graphics capability than the integrated Intel GMA 3150. Graphics switch automatically between the Intel integrated graphics and the discrete GPU thanks to Nvidia’s Optimus technology. Despite having a faster, dual-core CPU and Ion chipset, the 1215N’s battery life lasts 5 hours, 24 minutes, over an hour better than that of the older 1201N.

The keyboard is also quite good, with the typing keys nearly full-size. Even better, each alphanumeric key has a slight depression, easing touch typing and making this one of the better keyboards I’ve used in this class of machine. The trackpad is another story. The pad itself is twitchy, and causes the mouse cursor to jump around, seemingly completely at random. The pad buttons require excessive pressure. You might want to get a laptop mouse if you will be using the 1215N extensively.

The larger display is great for normal desktop use–the higher resolution helps considerably when creating or editing documents. However, video proved to be disappointing. The Nvidia Ion graphics are capable of handling high-definition video quite well, and the HD video clips I viewed looked great, as did standard-definition video. But when I looked at video sequences with lots of action–sports, for example–the motion smearing on the LCD proved highly distracting. Viewing angles are also typically bad, but most users will be sitting in the sweet spot, anyway.

Audio turned out to be a pleasant surprise. As you might expect, the speakers offer zero bass content. But the overall tonal balance was mostly clean on vocal and acoustic instrumental content. Volume levels were quite loud for a small laptop as well. For more serious audio, you’ll still want headphones, but the speakers seem a cut above most small laptop speakers.

Performance is pretty much on a par with most netbooks, except for the scores on PC World’s game tests, which were boosted by the Ion graphics. Still, this laptop is good only for casual gaming, at best.

The unit includes plenty of ports. Two USB 2.0 ports and fast (10/100) ethernet and audio jacks are on the right side. A third USB 2.0 connector, plus VGA and HDMI, are on the left side. The 1215N also includes 802.11n, making the Wi-Fi connection theoretically faster than wired, but actual throughput depends on router load and distance.

In the end, the Asus 1215N blurs the line between netbooks and lower-end ultraportables. The bigger screen and solid keyboard give it an edge over most netbooks, but it’s also bulkier and heavier than most (it weighs 3 pounds, 6 ounces without the power brick). Performance lags behind many thin-and-light laptops, yet the price is higher than most netbooks (just under $500, as of 11/22/2010). The Asus 1215N really defies easy categorization. Users looking for long battery life, a decent display, and a great keyboard will be happy. Those looking for better performance–and willing to spend more–might take a look at ultraportables instead.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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