Executive Summary:
Priced at about $250, the ASUS Eee PC 900A netbook provides the same processing power as more expensive netbooks. The 900A's strengths are its multitouch trackpad, compact size, and quiet operation. Limitations of the Eee PC 900A are its small storage capacity, low battery life, and, for Windows users, the netbook's use of Linux.

Unlike most computer hardware, with netbooks you don't get more processing power if you spend more. Check the specs on one of the high-end netbooks that cost more than most notebooks, and you'll find a 1.6GHz Intel Atom processor and 1GB of RAM. Check the specs on a $250, year-old netbook model, and you'll find a 1.6GHz Atom processor and 1GB of RAM. You do have to make some compromises with low-end netbooks like the ASUS Eee PC 900A, but as far as raw power is concerned, the least expensive netbooks can do everything the most expensive ones can.

 

ASUS Eee PC 900A netbook

Low-End Netbooks with Linux
So what do you give up with an inexpensive netbook? One difference you might see is that low-end netbooks often come with some variant of Linux instead of Windows XP. In the case of the 900A, it came with a specialized Xandros OS. That OS was great as long as all I wanted to do was run a web browser and do some basic document work. When I tried to tinker with the OS and install other software, however, I found Xandros frustrating and limiting. It's Linux, so you can't install your Windows applications, but the OS attempts to hide most of Linux's complexity and ends up hiding most of its customizability. I then installed a netbook edition of Ubuntu Linux and was more satisfied because it provided standard Linux features such as a package manager to install new software and more extensive control panels to customize the OS.

SSD Storage
The 900A I tested came with a small solid state disk (SSD) instead of a standard hard drive, which is both a strength and a weakness. This low-end model came with only a 4GB SSD, so you're essentially required to use the computer's Secure Digital (SD) card slot if you want to store anything beyond the OS and some basic applications. On the other hand, without a hard drive platter, the computer is nearly free of moving parts. The fan is all you'll hear when using this computer, and it's quiet most of the time. The SSD also supposedly helps with battery life, but the 900A's small battery gives only about three hours of typical usage.

Small Keyboard, Great Trackpad
I found the 900A's keyboard a bit small—I wouldn't want to type more than a couple paragraphs on it. Its trackpad, on the other, hand, is so good that I rarely wished for a mouse for web browsing and other tasks. Its secret is multitouch. If you use two fingers on the trackpad, it acts as a scrollwheel, three fingers tapping is a right-click, and two fingers spread apart is a middle-click. The left- and right-click buttons under the trackpad are actually just one long button and feel flimsy, as if they might break if you tried too hard to both right- and left-click simultaneously, but you rarely have to use them once you get used to the multitouch trackpad.

The 900A's 8.9" screen is too small for many purposes, but most websites look fine on it. Like other netbooks, it lacks an optical drive, so you can't play DVDs, but video played on screen looks fine.

Eee PC 900A
PROS: Small; light; inexpensive; same processor and RAM as more expensive netbooks; excellent multitouch trackpad
CONS: Tiny storage space; unimpressive battery life; included Linux OS has some problems
RATING: 3 out of 5
PRICE: About $250
RECOMMENDATION: If you know that you'll be using it mostly for web access and will usually be near an outlet, the 900A is a great deal. But be certain you can live with its limited storage, relatively short battery life, and Linux OS.
CONTACT: ASUSTek Computer • (888) 678-3688 • www.asus.com

 

Good Value--with Limitations
I enjoy this netbook. As a portable media player and web browser it works great, but its severely limited storage, Linux OS, and unimpressive battery life make it hard to recommend to everyone. If you know you can do everything you want on your netbook with Linux and you'll usually be near an electrical outlet, an inexpensive netbook like the Eee PC 900A provides great value. If you aren't willing to live with these limitations, though, you might find the 900A disappointing and should look at a higher-end netbook or a standard laptop.