Asus EeePC Review: Can Microsoft Stage a Comeback vs. Chromebooks?

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The new Asus EeePC X205 is a small laptop that runs Microsoft (MSFT) Windows 8.1 on a quad-core Intel  (INTC) processor, retails for less than $200 and looks like it's big competition for Google's  (GOOG) Chromebook initiative. It could start another PC revolution - especially at its Black Friday selling price of $99.

In 2007, Asus introduced a small, lightweight and, most important of all, inexpensive Windows notebook computer called the EeePC. Although much copied and ultimately short lived, this early "Netbook" set the stage for super-affordable laptops. Almost immediately netbooks from Asus and others began siphoning sales from larger. more expensive portables. With evolutionary improvements in software, cheaper hardware and similarly priced tablets over the years netbooks lost favor with the buying public. Asus stopped production of the original EeePC line in early 2013.

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But, PC manufacturers never lost hope in super-low-cost computing. Intel processors have advanced over the years - both high-end models as well as the more affordable Atom line of chips. The company's latest, a 1.33 GHz, quad-core Atom processor was designed for great performance and 12-hour battery life per charge when mated to small (less expensive) amounts of memory. You can find the same processor in a number of new, low-cost computer designs such as the $99 E-Fun Nextbook 8 tablet ( our review here). In the case of the X205 the processor runs along side 2 GB of RAM and 32 GB of internal storage. There's also a microSD card slot for as much as 64 GB of additional storage. The little compute also comes with two years of 500 GB free cloud storage from Asus plus another 15 GB of perpetual storage and 500 GB for two years from Microsoft's OneCloud system. 

The Asus Eee PC is small and relatively lightweight, weighing 2.16 pounds. It has an 11.6-inch (16 by 9) non-touchscreen, HD display providing 1366 by 768 pixels. The operating system, known as Windows 8.1 with Bing, is a full 32-bit version of Windows with a reduced price tag from Microsoft. It runs third-party Windows programs and runs them quite well.

This modern-day EeePC communicates with the outside world via Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n) and Bluetooth 4.0. There are two USB 2.0 ports, a combination earphone-output/microphone-input jack and a microHDMI connnection to watch the laptop's output on a larger screen. The audio is handled by a pair of stereo speakers on the bottom of the unit and while there's no real bass to speak of, the sound quality is otherwise pretty great.

Any device's specifications are meaningless if the unit doesn't deliver performance-wise -- luckily, the X205 does with every ounce of its being. I didn't ask this laptop to do any supercomputing tasks, but I did have it handle a number of everyday tasks such as surfing the Web, email, word processing, Skype calling, streaming music via Tidal and video via Netflix (NFLX) and YouTube. I even tried JRiver's excellent software for high-quality playback of high-resolution audio files. In every case the Asus worked flawlessly. Pretty amazing, actually squeezing all that performance from Windows 8.1 with only 2 GB of RAM.

And, while we found the new EeePC with the new Intel chip provides great battery life (more than a full day's worth of computing), we did find a few things to complain about. The unit's keyboard could be better, as it feels somewhat cheap. The touchpad is quite large and sometimes it was difficult to locate exactly where to click or double-click. The dark blue plastic casing is attractive right out of the box but turns out to be great at highlighting fingerprints. Again, this is made to be an inexpensive notebook computer and we can overlook some teething problems.

Asus is not the only company designing these new, inexpensive Windows PCs. HP (HPQ) has introduced its Stream line of laptops starting at $199 for the 11-inch model and $229 for devices with 13-inch screens.

At $199, the new Asus EeeBook is a very good deal and at $99 it's a no-brainer. As part of its Black Friday sale Staples (SPLS) was selling the X205 for less than $100. Its value as a stocking-stuffer can't be questioned. Its value as a super-portable, fully-functional Windows 8.1 laptop is surprisingly terrific and I highly recommended.

Overall Score: 8.3/10

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-- Written by Gary Krakow in New York.

To submit a news tip, send an email to tips@thestreet.com.

Gary Krakow is TheStreet's Senior Technology Correspondent.

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