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Intel's new ATOM chip + Asus EEE PC 901XP - FTW!

By Andrew Pollack on 09/09/2008 at 07:55 PM EDT

Before deciding on the new ASUS EEE PC 901 XP, I read as many performance reviews as I could find. I was trying to compare it with the VIA thin client chipset or even the Intel Celeron but none of the tests really gave me what I was looking for. See, the clock speed (the mhz or ghz of a chip) doesn't tell the whole story. If a chip has fewer base instructions, it needs a higher clock speed to do the same things. At the same time, chips with more complex instruction sets can run fewer cycles and get the same work done. Add to that the way a chip is designed to handle "floating point" math and you've got a lot of real variation -- and that's before you start looking at the speed it communicates to the memory and peripherals or the size of the on chip cache.

What I want this little mini-laptop for is as a data collection base station for Second Signal. This will replace the thin client machines I've been using. It takes up less space, costs less (about the same, but it includes the monitor and speakers I had to pay extra for), has more storage space and more ram. It runs a full blown Windows XP, and has a built in battery backup. What I couldn't tell, was how it would perform.

The ATOM chip is designed as an answer to VIA's Eden and C7 chips in low power devices. This one is running at around 700mhz (its downclocked) which is somewhat less clock cycles compared to the VIA chips I've been running. That was a concern because I'm doing a huge amount of floating point math almost continuously as part of this audio processing. There was no way to really know what the unit would be like until I tried it.

It came today and I've been very impressed. Aside from the one drawback to its size -- a keyboard smaller than either of my hands -- the machine is outstanding. In terms of "real feel", it handles Windows XP well and even feels snappy. The solid state drive is of course silent and quick, though small, and the screen real estate is of course limited. At a resolution of 1024x600 though, its certainly useable. The audio and video are excellent for a machine of this type. I'm not saying they'll set records, but they're good basic quality. The machine feels well built and there's no static on the audio jacks from poor connectors. A generous number of USB, Video, and SD Card slots are available on the outside as well.

Best of all, I've loaded the Second Signal scanner monitor software and audio relay software on it and have been running in test mode with audio fed from NOAA weather radio for several hours. That kind of constant chatter is way more than the software would normally deal with. Normally, the software is essentially idle except when someone is talking. Processing the NOAA chatter is a real torture test by comparison.

The result? In several hours of running with the laptop screen closed (I turned off the auto-sleep mode) the unit has been running at only 30-38% CPU with all that audio work. The memory has held steady without any leaks (from bad drivers) and best of all there is no noticeable heat on the laptop's outer shell or vent areas. Essentially, it could run like this for months or weeks without the slightest risk of overheating.

The keyboard size would be a major issue for me if I were going to use the machine to do typing of any kind on, but I'm not. This is going to sit closed and act as a relay station at fire departments around the country. For that use, I'm calling this one a win.

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re: Intel's new ATOM chip Asus EEE PC 901XP - FTW!By Paul Gagnon on 09/10/2008 at 08:46 AM EDT
With low heat and low cpu usage, and solid state hdd, the battery life on that
unit should be pretty darn good, You get the added bonus of this unit staying
alive long after the UPS has drained.
re: Intel's new ATOM chip Asus EEE PC 901XP - FTW!By mdmadph on 09/10/2008 at 04:52 PM EDT
Hey, good use of a small laptop like that! I had always thought these new
smaller laptops that are being sold today would be perfect for uses like this.

I'm pretty sure that the Atom chip runs at 1.6GHz as a standard, though (can't
find anything anywhere about it being downclocked) -- you sure it just wasn't
being speedstepped down to 700MHz while you were checking it?

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