As the initiator of the netbook craze that's taken the tech sector by storm with its original Eee PC 701, we're constantly hoping Asus will inject some desirability back into the rather staid netbook market. And while visually not much has changed from the 1005PE, the company's new Eee PC Seashell 1015PEM has quite a few neat tricks up its slender sleeve, including such highlights as a dual-core Atom CPU and USB 3.0 connectivity. Is it enough to lift this netbook above its peers?
Like other higher-end netbooks (now there's an oxymoron if ever there was one), the 1015PEM uses Intel's N550 Atom processor, offering dual cores that run at 1.5GHz. It still won't give you even close to the same performance as a mid-range laptop CPU, but does facilitate smoother multi-tasking and (non-HD) Flash video, as well as undemanding 720p material.
Unfortunately, the rest of its internal specifications are par for the netbook course. This means weak, integrated Intel GMA 3150 graphics with no digital video output, 1GB of RAM, and a 250GB hard drive. There's also a generous 500GB of online storage - though this is a one-year trial, after which you have to pay for the service.
However, on the connectivity front it's a different story. Wi-Fi is up to the fastest N speed and Ethernet is of the Gigabit variety, while Bluetooth is version 3.0 (which supports a data rate of up to 24MB per second compared to its predecessor's 3MB). Best of all, two of the 1015PEM's three USB ports are USB 3.0. For the impressive benefits this brings, you should have a read of our comprehensive look at USB 3.0. Suffice to say that for external storage enthusiasts, it's essential.
Other connections are what you would find on any netbook, including an analogue VGA output and USB 2.0 port on the left. The right side houses microphone and headphone jacks, and a memory card reader supporting SD/HC and MMC.
However, there are a few other clever touches that set this netbook apart from the crowd. One of these is a physical shutter for the 0.3 megapixel webcam, operated by a small switch set above it in the screen's bezel. Some might consider this a pointless addition, but especially for less technically proficient consumers it's a great way of absolutely ensuring you're only being filmed when you want to be (cough, American Pie, cough).
Another nice touch is a small rocker switch above the keyboard. One side is a dedicated wireless button, which alternately turns Bluetooth and Wi-Fi (or both) on or off, confirmed by a dynamic on-screen icon. The other side toggles Asus' Super Hybrid Engine, which Asus has nicknamed SHE. This will switch between Power Saving, High Performance and Super Performance, adjusting parameters to favour either battery life or speed. Again it's confirmed by an on-screen icon so you're never in any doubt as to which mode you're in.