The high-class ASUS N10 is a netbook above all the rest, starting a new market segment called the "Corporate Netbook." The N10 offers similar features to standard netbooks, including an Intel Atom platform and WSVGA screen, but with the addition of optional switchable dedicated graphics and a fancy design. With a starting price of $649 for models with dedicated graphics; is a higher configuration worth the price jump? In this review we explain the differences between the N10JC and the cheaper Eee PC 1000HA and tell you if you should consider the costly upgrade.There are several different configurations of the N10 series available at various online stores. Some configurations offer Windows Vista, others include a different hard drive or use integrated graphics rather than dedicated. The only reason we mention this is so that consumers are aware that there are different configurations on the market to meet the needs of different people.
ASUS N10JC-A1 Specifications:
* Intel Atom 1.6GHz processor
* 160GB 5400 RPM Hard Drive (Seagate 5400.4)
* NVIDIA 9300M GS with 256MB DDR2 memory and Intel GMA950
* 1GB of DDR2 RAM (667MHz)
* Windows XP Home operating system
* 10.2” WSVGA Glossy LED-Backlit 1024 x 600 LCD
* Ports: 3 USB 2.0, HDMI,VGA monitor out, headphone jack, microphone input, 8 in 1 SD card reader (SDHC compatible), Kensington lock slot, Ethernet 10/100, ExpressCard/34
* Webcam (1.3 MP)
* Battery: 11.1v 4800mAh 53Wh 6-cell battery
* Wireless: 802.11b/g
* Two-year Limited Global Warranty
* Size: 10.8 (W) x 8.25 (D) x 1.46 (H)
* Weight: 3lbs 8.5oz, 4lbs 2.1oz with AC adapter
* MSRP: $649
Build and Design
The N10 is designed a step above other netbooks, with a better paint scheme and chrome accents. The shape is slimmer than the 1000HA we just reviewed, but the thinner shape comes from the battery sticking out instead of down. While some people get hung up on a battery that hangs off the back of a notebook, it doesn’t really bother me since I am used to seeing it on many business notebooks which share that design element. The gold and chrome paint scheme looks very nice, giving this netbook a “normal” color that you don’t generally see on many netbooks.
Build quality is very similar to other netbooks with a feel of slight ruggedness, but generous use of cheap plastic. The two toggle switches for dedicated graphics and wireless on/off feel undersized and are difficult to switch without using your fingernail. The screen hinges feel weaker on the N10 compared to the 901 or 1000 series Eee PC, flopping the screen back when you are carrying around the netbook.
The glossy LED-backlit WSVGA display is an odd screen choice for a business oriented notebook, where most manufacturers use matte displays to reduce screen glare. Another limiting factor is the lower resolution screen; which for the price premium you might expect a higher resolution option. That said the screen is bright and vibrant and very pleasing to look at for hours at a time. Viewing angles are also better than average when compared to standard notebooks, with a broad vertical viewing angle sweet sport before colors start to distort. Horizontal viewing angles extend almost to 90 degrees, if you can actually view the screen over the reflective surface that is showing the surrounding area.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The keyboard is comfortable to type on, but somewhat confusing to pickup if you are used to other keyboard layouts. One layout decision that irks me is the second function key located next to the direction pad. On most keyboards the outermost keys on the second row are both shift keys, making it easy to blindly aim your fingers all by feel. The N10 moves the left shift key inwards, and with it already being condensed in size, makes it difficult to find while typing. The sharp edge key design is another element which I would have preferred ASUS not use, since I found the rounded edge design on the Eee PC 1000 to be more comfortable. I personally think ASUS should have used the same keyboard on the N10 as they used on the 1000HA.
The Synaptics-based touchpad on the N10 is not only larger than most netbooks, but is easier to use than cheaper touchpads now found on many "consumer" netbooks. The pad surface is glossy, sharing the same color as the shell of the netbook. The large size makes it easy to move about the screen without having to pick up your finger to backtrack. Sensitivity is great with a wide range of adjustment and there was no noticeable lag found during use.
The touchpad buttons are adequately sized and easy to depress with little pressure. Feedback is shallow with a small audible click when pressed.
The ASUS N10JC-1A is also equipped with a fingerprint scanner which is located between the touchpad buttons. Scanning your fingertip can be tricky with how deeply recessed it is, but with a bit of practice you can get repeatable accurate readings.
From the moment I received this notebook I was very interested in seeing the performance of the Intel Atom platform with a dedicated graphics card attached. Almost all configurations use the dated Intel GMA950 graphics, which slow everything down, including movie decoding. With the NVIDIA 9300M graphics, this netbook might have a shot at decoding 720p video in a very compact package that has HDMI out.
For our test we tried a wide range of high definition content including an assortment of HD movies and HD movie trailers. Sadly, even though we tried a wide range of video codecs, including CoreAVC, the Intel Atom processor didn’t have enough grunt to keep a steady decoding framerate. Depending on the bitrate the N10 working with the NVIDIA 9300M graphics only managed 10-15fps, well below 24-25fps goal.
Since HD content was out of the question we moved onto video games as another area to see where the dedicated graphics might help out. Using Steam we pulled in Half-Life 2 and tweaked the visual settings to be easier on the system. With the resolution set to 1024x600 and most settings on medium the system average 20-25fps, which was playable, but still under what you would want for smooth gaming. Heavy action scenes dropped the framerate into the mid-teens, and if you weren’t lucky, got yourself killed in no time.
In day to day use the NVIDIA 9300M didn’t do much to improve the overall speed of the N10 compared to standard netbooks which only have Intel integrated graphics. It also didn’t help out much with gaming or video playback since the Intel Atom processor can’t keep up. While it did improve limited gaming abilities, it wasn’t a big enough jump to really make anything old games work under tweaked settings. For these reasons I don’t really see any benefit to including the dedicated graphics when all it does is increase power consumption.Speakers and Audio
The Altec Lansing speakers on the N10 did sound slightly better than other netbook speakers, but were still leaving much to be desired. Bass and midrange were lacking, but volume levels were fine for average use. The headphone output was great for private listening, and with my Sennheiser HD-80s hooked up, I had no more complaints about bass or midrange. Peak volume levels through the headphone jack were well above my tolerance of loud music.
Ports and Features
Port selection was above average compared to many netbooks, with the addition of the HDMI output, ExpressCard/34 slot for external devices, and security enhancing fingerprint scanner. Beyond those devices the port selection included three USB, VGA, LAN, headphone/mic, multi-card reader, and a Kensington lock slot.
Front: 8-in-1 Card Reader
Left: Kensington Lock Slot, Switchable Graphics, HDMI, two USB, Wireless On/Off
Right: ExpressCard/34, Headphone(SPDIF)/Mic, one USB, VGA, LAN, AC Power
Heat and Noise
Thermal performance of the ASUS N10 was great, even under the stress of gaming with the dedicated graphics under load. At no time did the system fan go above a whisper level of noise. Right after gaming the palmrest and touchpad area would peak around 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Compared to the original Eee PC 701 which would heat soak and reach temperatures of 112 degrees Fahrenheit, ASUS has come a long way in terms of cooling performance.
Battery life with the screen brightness set to 100%, the N10 set to the “Quiet Office” power profile , and wireless active was 5 hours and 9 minutes before it went into standby at 3% remaining. With the NVIDIA graphics enabled under the same settings, estimated battery life was about 1 hour less.Conclusion
The ASUS N10, while performing quite well in our testing in overall performance, didn’t see much gain in day-to-day use from the dedicated graphics. While the addition nets you an HDMI port, it doesn’t help with decoding HD movies or help with many games since the Intel Atom processor doesn’t have enough power to handle those activities. While you do get a classier looking design with a much nicer paint scheme and slightly slimmer look, you pay a price premium over the Eee PC 1000.
With a price tag nearly 50 percent greater than other netbook models, even more when compared to new HP and Dell offerings, it seems ASUS might have priced themselves out of the consumer market with the N10. Of course, the price tag is still perfectly reasonable as a "corporate netbook" ... and some less demanding road warriors may desire the affordable N10 over outrageously priced ultraportables like the Sony VAIO TZ.
* Improved cooling over previous Eee PC models
* Good battery life
* Slimmer design over 10” Eee PC 1000
* ExpressCard slot for expansion
* HDMI output from a netbook
* High price tag (compared to consumer netbooks)
* Dedicated graphics don’t really improve HD video decoding or mild gaming
* Keyboard doesn’t feel as comfortable as other 10” netbooks