ASUS Eee PC 1015PEM Review

(Specifically, I got the 1015PEM-PU17, but the only difference is the bigger battery.)

So, I just got a new netbook, with the next generation in hardware and thirteen hours of battery life!

It didn’t come with thirteen hours, of course. A lot of people will choose storage space over speed, and so most netbooks these days will come with a slow and power-hungry HDD. I upgraded mine immediately to a 60GB OCZ Agility III, which is supposed to run below 1 watt at idle.
I also upgraded the RAM to 2 GB DDR3.

Most reviews try to tell you everything about a machine, but a good design is supposed to go unnoticed. Instead, I’m going to tell you everything wrong with it.

The keyboard is crappy, at best. The keys come up through a grid of plastic. This plastic sometimes catches on the keys a bit, and makes them hard to press. The chiclet keys are also a bit small because of this, which usually isn’t too detrimental.

One thing I liked about my HP Mini was the small, wide arrow keys. On this Eee, the arrow keys are so narrow I can’t get all three fingers on them side-by-side.

The Shift key is to the left of the Up arrow key, which is completely unintuitive. To the right of the arrow key is an extra Fn key. Because of all the keys right there, the ‘/’ key is very thin.

There are no lock indicator lights, so if you accidentally hit CAPSLOCK you won’t know until you try typing something. There’s a little utility that pops up in your tray to tell you if it’s pressed. I’m not even sure why Caps is needed on today’s systems.

The touchpad is some crappy Elan thing, and tries to do a buggy implementation of multitouch. Gestures tend to jump around a lot. The regular mousing is more or less fine, but a bit gummy — there’s a barely-perceptible lag when moving the cursor. No support for areas or anything, like Synaptics has.
The touchpad is set out as an area somewhere in the vicinity of the clicky buttons and two thin strips to the left and right. If you finger the pad a little, you find out that there’s no response in the first 6mm from the left and a few from the right and bottom.
It’s active right at the top edge, which is incidentally right under the keyboard’s space bar. If you press the spacebar the wrong way, you’ll end up clicking the mouse, and your cursor will go flying about.
I never have problems with my thumbs resting on touchpads, and this isn’t quite the same problem. Most people type with their thumbs mostly horizontal, so when they press this spacebar their thumbs will contact that leading edge of the touchpad.
I might be able to physically move the touch sensor by opening the case, but the only external solution I can think of is to put some sort of tape or other obstacle so that I’m not constantly touching the pad when pressing space.

When I close the lid, the touchpad starts basically going wild across my screen. I was playing a radio show in VLC, and it was jumping all over and changing the volume. It seems the electrical signals from the screen are enough to trigger the touchpad. Changing the sensitivity may help.

The screen is fairly bright at maximum, but it’s also fairly bright at minimum. Considering that when you put it on minimum you want A) a darker screen or B) better battery life, it doesn’t make sense that you can’t turn these down further. Consider also that screens are one of the biggest power-drains on your system.
This one takes between 1.5 and 3.8 watts, depending on the brightness. I could get four extra hours out of this battery by turning the backlight off completely, but it sounds like the only way I can do that is to use some version of Linux. I’ve searched for hour and hours on how to turn the backlight off in any version of Windows, and haven’t found anything.
The screen is semi-transreflective, so angling the sunlight a certain way will light up the screen beautifully. It’s like popping back into the Gameboy days. You just have to have the light coming in 30 degrees or so from the left, with you in front.

This has pretty good wi-fi, but it’s not as strong as my HP netbook.

‘User-Settables’ in general
When it comes to the speakers, the disply, and wi-fi, the users should really be in control. If I want to save power, I’ll turn my speakers low or off, turn my backlight low, turn my CPU down, and tune down or disable my wi-fi. If I’m docked, though, at full power, I’d want my screen to be the brightest possible, and my speakers to be loud, and my wi-fi to reach over great distances. There’s no reason to limit us so much.
ASUS helped a little with their Super Hybrid Engine, which lets you overclock a bit or reduce your CPU multiplier with a couple clicks.

ASUS’s Expressgate: useless
It takes just as long to start up as Windows, doesn’t support any programs, actually uses more battery, and is nearly impossible to set up without crawling through menus for half an hour. All in all, it’s useless in every way.

The netbook opens about 130 degrees, which just isn’t enough for everything. If it’s on a flat table or angled backwards, the screen is fine or you can close it a bit, but if the computer is angled forward, there’s no way to open the lid any more to get a good viewing angle on the screen.

At its thickest point, the netbook is 38mm (1.5″). At its thinnest, it’s about 4mm. There’s a whole lot of wasted space at the front, in the thinnest spots, and the back of the machine contains 50% of the weight. As such, you can’t open it with one hand, because it tips backwards. It’s also hard to set it on a surface while open, because the weight is in a weird spot in relation to its back feet.

The keys all have an open back, so anything spilled on the keyboard will immediately drip inside. There’s a bit of plastic backing, but there’s not much protecting the important bits.
The bottom is covered in holes. There’s a vent immediately over the RAM, and there are slots in the front for the speakers. You don’t want to carry this around in the rain.

Speaking of those speakers, it’s terrible trying to listen to things while it’s on your lap. If anything gets in front, of if you tip it forward a bit, the sound is muffled. I’ve had a few systems with speakers out the front, and I can’t understand the design choice.

I don’t know why the RAM is limited to 2GB. Back in the days of Windows XP netbooks, Microsoft mandated that they could only use that operating system if they had 1GB or less, and had screens of 1024×600 or smaller. These restrictions were eventually loosened, and there’s absolutely no reason why a machine running Windows 7 should have these.
Why won’t a 4GB DIMM fit in here?

USB 3.0
ASUS originally shipped the 1015PEM with two USB 3.0 ports, but they decided a little while later that they would just put USB 2.0 ports from then on. A lot of resellers didn’t pick up on this, and still advertise USB 3.0. Don’t be fooled.
Those two USB ports are on a daughter board that would be easy enough to upgrade if you can find a 3.0 version later.

Specifically good:
The battery life is amazing. It brings you into a completely different mind-set when you look at the indicator and see that you have ten hours remaining.
Throughout the day, I never have to worry about charging.
As I sit here, I’ve got 17.2% battery with about 2 hours remaining. It’s 8:30 PM, and I’ve been sitting here since 12:00 PM. I had the wi-fi on most of the day, too. 10-13 hours is pretty good.

The wi-fi range is pretty good. Not the best.

The screen is nice and bright. The transflectance is a bonus. I’ll have to look at the color gamut, because it seems more vibrant at some points but then red seem darker at others.

The 2.5″ drive bay is wonderful, because I can actually have a real 2.5″ SATA SSD, for the first time. I’ve gotten it down to a 20-second boot.

This model has VGA, so I can finally use external monitors. I was getting tired of my HP’s inability to work with anything more than 1024×600.

And now for some power things.

Due to the nature of new CPUs and C-states, the battery life flickers around dramatically. I find that the entire system tends to run at anywhere from 4.5 W to 7 W at desktop with the screen low. If it’s constantly at 7 W, a restart usually helps it get back down to 5 W.

With a 61.5 Wh (actual capacity) battery, as reported by BatteryBar:
3.5 W – 17.5 h – Screen and wi-fi off, sending music to amp
4.7 W – 13 h – Screen low, wi-fi off, basic text editing
6 W – 10.5 h – Wi-fi on and brightness low
10 W – 6.2 h – Brightness low, wi-fi off, overclocked, running Minecraft.
14 W – 4.4 h – Brightness high, wi-fi on and active, overclocked, running Minecraft.

If you were planning on getting the MU17 with smaller battery, you can take the Wh of that and divide by the W above to get your own hours.

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