Asus Eee 1201N ION Review - The Netbook. Supercharged.
HD Media, Gaming, and ION Impressions
One of the major complaints of netbooks is that they are unpowered when it comes to pulling off anything graphically intensive like playing back HD content, or even some light 3D gaming. Even with the latest Pine Trail netbook with Broadcom Crystal HD, you're restricted to the software supported and there's no real chance of playing any form of 3D games.
NVIDIA's ION on the 1201N is a beautiful thing - it makes a netbook feel less like, well, a netbook and more like a lightweight mobile PC. The fact you can stream HD video off Vimeo or YouTube, watch 1920x1080 H264 encoded content, and even put in some gaming time makes the Eee 1201N a much better solution for every day computing.
I watched Star Trek and Up at 1920x1080 and it performed beautifully with only 20-25% CPU usage thanks to ION's acceleration. Using HDMI output, all you need now is a large display and you have yourself a pretty, portable media player.
There is no optical drive, so you will need an external DVD or Blu-Ray drive if you want to play any optical media.
Gaming is possible on ION but within reason. Newer games like Dragon Age Origins and Left 4 Dead 2 produced an average of 11 FPS at super-low resolutions with the lowest possible details. Even rather simple games like Defense Grid crawled along at a paltry 11 FPS at 1280x720 on low details.
Torchlight proved to be a good performer at the native resolution of 1366x768 with medium particle and shadow details.
Older games however provided a better experience with Freelancer netting an excellent 40+ FPS at 1024x768. Even the incredibly detailed Oblivion managed 30 FPS at 1280x720, but with the shortest view distance (feels like playing in a perpetual fog) and all visual details at low or disabled.
Older games, like Freelancer, run very well.
(Freelancer was the last great space sim. Will they ever make Freespace 3?)
Photo editing is something I found lacking on the 1201N. Even with the acceleration provided by the ION, GPU accelerated features in Photoshop CS4 like image zooming and panning was laggy and sluggish. There was also noticeable input lag using brushes.
Adobe Lightroom 2.6 performed fairly well since Lightroom is geared more towards full-image operations like exposure, colour control, and tone adjustments rather than brush editing (although there are a few brush tools). For these full image filter and transformation operations, the Eee 1201N performs surprisingly well on JPG files, but was a little slower when editing camera RAW files.
Final ION Impressions
All in all, ION makes the Eee 1201N feel and perform more like a real PC, instead of a crippled netbook. Having HD content playback properly without stuttering or visual artifacts is well worth it. The gaming aspect is a bonus since many older games (circa 2008 or earlier) and newer titles like Torchlight are cheap and can be found for less than $20.