Thanks to its new ‘Cedar Trail’ 32nm Atom N2600 processor, Asus was able to go for a fanless design on its X101CH. Running at 1.6GHz, this dual-core CPU is the latest iteration of Intel’s low power family. However, in practice there doesn’t appear to be much of a performance jump over current generation Atoms, which is a little disappointing.
Mind you, the power envelope for the chip’s mediocre performance has gone down, which is what has allowed Asus to use passive cooling – a genuine improvement over previous and competing netbooks. Another significant advantage is that Asus’ software-based ‘instant-on’ does actually work, resuming from standby far faster than we’re used to from laptops with non-SSD storage. It’s just a shame to find a laptop in 2012 that still has trouble running anything more intensive than a few spreadsheets and a browser, though the mere 1GB of RAM supporting Windows 7 Starter is also to blame for this.
The one area where welcome improvements to Atom have been made is in HD video playback, thanks to Full HD hardware decoding. With a compatible media player, high-bitrate 1080p is no longer a problem for Atom, resolving one of our most significant bugbears with the architecture. However, 3D gaming is still not on the cards, with frame rates in the single digits for any demanding game even at low detail levels.
Naturally, the Eee PC X101CH runs very quietly, with the only noise factor being the click and hum of its slow, moving-parts hard drive. Unfortunately, this 5,200rpm, 320GB HDD – or any of the other of the X101CH’s internals – aren’t user replaceable (without voiding the warranty), as the chassis is completely sealed.
Thankfully, the battery is user replaceable. Considering it’s so small and thin, it’s no surprise to find a low-capacity 2,200mAh/23Wh/three-cell unit, and even with the X101CH’s low power internals it only just managed to reach four hours. However, this does seem to be the norm for recent netbooks, with six hours being the maximum as thinness and style are prioritised.
Value is the X101CH’s most redeeming feature. At a mere £210, it’s one of the most affordable small laptops around, and you won’t find anything much more powerful for this kind of money. Asus’ latest Eee PC may be a bit more expensive than other netbooks which start at around £170, but its attractive and thin design, relatively good connectivity, larger hard drive, virtually silent running and ‘instant on’ make it well worth the small premium.
Netbooks are arguably on the way out, but as one of the last of a dying breed, the Asus Eee PC X101CH makes for a nice finale. Performance from its new Intel ‘Pine Trail’ Atom processor isn’t a huge improvement and you’re still restricted to light workloads, but the ability to finally play Full HD video smoothly makes this netbook a far more attractive proposition than many. Throw in the X101CH’s sleek good looks, quick wake from resume, decent connectivity and virtually silent running, and we can just about forgive its average battery life and low-resolution screen.