Compared to the rest of the technology world, progress in the Intel-based netbook market can at best be described as conservative. Since the original Atom processor made its way into netbooks (with the award-winning Eee PC 901 20G), it seems very little has really changed. Atoms have gone dual-core, but still run at the same - or even a slower – clock speed, there is still no digital video output, and in general Full HD video playback is still not on the menu. Of course Nvidia's ION solution (as found on the Samsung N510) did a lot to address this, but we haven't seen it in as many netbooks as we would like. Asus' new Eee PC 1215N changes all this.
Asus hasn't been at the cutting edge of netbooks as it once was, but now the company is once again out in front with a netbook that not only features ION2 graphics but also a new, faster 1.8GHz dual-core Atom, and doubles the usual paltry 1GB of RAM to a far more useful 2GB. With a HD Ready screen to enjoy the benefits on, is its new Eee PC 1215N the best netbook ever?
It's certainly the most powerful Intel-based netbook we've encountered. The N525 Atom CPU should handle Full HD Flash video and multi-tasking with ease, while ION2 will let you play smooth 1080P, high-bitrate video, accelerate some applications and even play undemanding 3D games (though not in 'true' 3D like the recently-reviewed Acer Aspire 5745DG).
2GB of RAM helps significantly in all of these scenarios and indeed with most usage. Another significant advantage the 1215N enjoys is that rather than the hobbled Windows 7 Starter, it comes with the full-fat Windows 7 Home Premium – so just for starters you'll be able to change desktop background at will. Thus all the weakest areas of the average netbook have received a shot of nitro.
Only the 5,200rpm, 250GB hard drive is bog-standard. It's supplemented by a generous 500GB of online storage, but this is only a one-year trial, after which you have to pay for the service.
Connectivity isn't as inspiring as this Eee PC's specifications, since USB 3.0 is optional on the 1215N and hasn't yet made it to the model available in the UK – if this is an essential feature for you, Asus' Eee PC Seashell 1015PEM is still one of the few choices out there.
However, when it comes to video outputs the 1215N is certainly a cut above, as in addition to the analogue VGA output found on most netbooks it sports an HDMI output courtesy of ION2. This will of course allow you to output Full HD video digitally to a television or monitor.
Aside from these you'll find three USB 2.0 ports, a memory card reader supporting SDHC and MMC, 3.5mm headphone and microphone jacks, and an Ethernet port. The wireless front is well-covered by both Bluetooth 3.0 and Wi-Fi N.