ASUS EeePC 1201T Review or How I Used To Hate Netbooks

I never thought in a bajillion years I would ever entertain the thought of purchasing a netbook. To me they were mere toys, underpowered playthings, that only the fashion-conscious crowd desired. That was a few years ago. Enter the year 2010 and more importantly the ASUS EeePC 1201T. This model, one of the latest from the reknowned EeePC line-up jumped out and screamed “Buy me!” from one of the websites I was browsing. And so I did for a meager Php 21,500.

Ok, to clear things up, the reason I even started looking around for a netbook was I found out that Serato Scratch Live works perfectly on these babies even with their not so astounding processing power. I used to DJ with Native Instruments Traktor Pro or M-Audio Torq coupled with my M-Audio Torq Xponent DJ Controller. To make things short, that Xponent gave me nothing but headaches because the internal audio interface was glitchy and then to top it off the MIDI signals being sent were getting all mixed up (my right pitch fader started controlling the library view). In any case all I’m saying is that the reason I switched over to Serato is because it’s economical with computer resource and I won’t need to bring any controllers for gigs anymore.

Now on to this blasted review then.

First off are the aesthetics. I’m really not a fan of the 1201T’s rather bland, all black, glossy plastic look.  The whole damned thing is a proverbial fingerprint magnet but I’m guessing this design choice was to keep costs down. (Note: the MacBook Pro-looking images you see of the 1201T on the web is actually its significantly more expensive sibling the 1201N.) Once you open up the lid, you see the unit’s biggest draw looks-wise in my opinion, the excellent chiclet-style keyboard. Nicely-spaced out, great tactile feel, and just so pretty to look at. [Edit: After a week or so Ive notice the keyboard flexes a quite a bit on the left portion, near the W,E,R keys.] On the left side of the 1201 you get a VGA-out port, the AC adapter port, and 1 USB port. The right side has an ethernet port, 2 USB ports, the mic and headphones ins, and an SD card reader. Sufficient yes but I was later to discover that the headphone port is a tad too close to one of the USB slots so when I plugged in my USB key drive and tried to jack in my headphones next to it, it got a little too crowded for comfort. The back of the unit is port-free since it only has space for the 6-cell battery to slot in. It’s well worth noting that the left side of the netbook is where the heat vent is and it gets pretty damn warm. Not too hot that you’ll end up with charred pants but still alarming at first.

Now on boot-up, the uninformed might faint at the sight of ASUS’ proprietary Express Gate screen instead of Microsoft Windows. When first advertised, the 1201T was to ship with Windows 7 Starter but it seems this was changed last minute to keep its retail price to a minimum. Since netbooks’ slim profiles prevent the inclusion of any internal optical drives, I was forced to purchase a separate external DVD drive so I could install a copy of Windows 7 myself (not a biggie since the Samsung drive I got only cost Php 3,000 and I needed one anyway for my other laptop). So after the trouble-free installation of Windows, I rebooted the system and timed its overall boot-up time. From power-on to Windows 7’s log-on screen it took a measly 17 seconds. Nice. Finally,I installed the necessary drivers for the trackpad, soundcard, and the like, from the included ASUS DVD, again without a hitch.

Now I never learned to use and understand the usual benchmarking tools for computers such as PCMark and 3DMark and I’ve solely relied on Microsoft’s own Windows Experience tests to see how my rig fares. So according to the tests, the Asus 1201T garners a base score of 3.1. Not too shabby, I thought, considering my Core 2 Duo 1.7Ghz ASUS F3JR scored 3.7. Here’s breakdown of the individual scores for the 1201T

I’m surprised the ATI Radeon HD2300 got a relatively high score of 4.6 but since I don’t plan to install any games I’ll never know how good it really is. It’s also worth noting that when the 1201T was first announced, it was to utilize the AMD Congo dual-core processor. It seems this too has been replaced with a modest single core Neo version. Well the 1201T is advertised as being capable of playing 1080p videos so I downloaded a sample video from Microsoft’s website to see how true that claim is. The video played pretty well on Windows Media Player 12 but then started stuttering about 40 seconds in. To save face I tried playing the clip through RealPlayer and VLC Player and the video stuttered the exact same way in the exact same spot so I’m guessing the video file itself is corrupted. I shall grab another sample video soon to further test this. I have to say too, that the 16:9 LCD screen is pretty awesome but also pretty shiny so if you’re the gung-ho outdoorsey type then expect many-a-head-dodging as you try to move your reflection out of the way of your work.

So after about a day of continuous use, the ASUS EeePC 1201T hasn’t disappointed. It’s a very reasonable priced, mean, little machine. The only thing left is to find out in a few weeks at Deep Fried if it can last a whole DJ set. And if my stint with digital DJ-ing has made me vinyl-retarded.

Edit: A feature I forgot to mention was the trackpad. Most trackpads on netbooks I see these days are sufficiently sized and almost on par with the larger notebook counterparts. The 1201T’s however is still on the smallish side. I guess I really am just not used to the overall size of netbooks but I find that the trackpad buttons sit too close to the edge of the unit and I struggled during the first few hours of use to get used to them.  Anyway the trackpad is probably the biggest hurdle I’ve had to overcome so far.

Edit 2: So I got to use the 1201T at Deep Fried and it actually performed rather well. A friend helped me adjust some settings like switching the processor scheduling to be best for Background Services to allocate more power to the Serato Scratch Live software. He also tinkered with a few settings within the Scratch Live software to lessen the burden on the AMD Neo CPU. All in all the 1201T didn’t let me down. I hate blaming the tools but the only times I had trouble was when the turntable needles gathered dust and instead of the usual skipping, it actually slowed down the record (mp3 in this case) which made cue-ing a chore.

shameless plug: Deep Fried – proper house and tech – Feb 13. Route 196, Katipunan Ext, QC

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