ASUS EeeBook X205TA Review: $199 Windows Laptop
Performance and Conclusion
While the Intel Core M has become a pervasive (and largely underpowered) solution for many new thin and light notebooks ranging from the ASUS ZenBook UX305 to Apple’s newest MacBook, this ASUS X205 is powered by a quad-core Intel Atom Z3735F. While this is an even lower-powered chip than even the base Core M it only makes sense that a notebook that retails for only $199 would have less powerful hardware, although if it serves basic productivity and entertainment needs this isn’t as important.
Perhaps more significant than raw processing power is the 2GB RAM limitation and 32GB onboard eMMC with this notebook, which puts this on par with the computing power of inexpensive devices such as the Intel Bay Trail powered ECS LIVA, though the X205 should have a distinct advantage with its quad-core CPU. Like the Core M devices this X205TA is passively cooled, one advantage of hardware that has more in common with a tablet than a traditional notebook PC.
I would describe the performance of the onboard eMMC as "acceptable", but I'm again making concessions based on the laptop's low price. Booting up Windows and opening applications was OK, but the drive was painfully slow at times. In this example I was able to get the drive to crawl by simply unzipping a file in Windows Explorer, which looked like this when the folder was being copied to its new location:
Yep, those are KB/s
One of the biggest issues I've encountered when trying to adopt less-powerful hardware (such as mini-PC's) is an inability to play Flash video, which eliminates a lot of good content online and makes a device a tough sell as a primary computer. However, I’m happy to report that streaming HD video was smooth with the X205 using the latest version of Google Chrome and Adobe Flash Player. My testing comprised of primarily Vimeo music videos of popular recent songs, and I left all HD playback settings at their defaults (as I assume many casual users would). No, I would not (and did not) attempt very high bitrate HD video files, certainly nothing at 1080p/60 or the like, but in my experience internet HD Flash video played smoothly at default (typically 720p) settings. Given the very low power Atom CPU this Flash playback experience is a major win for this laptop in my opinion, and makes me hopeful of future low-cost computers (like mini-PCs) in their ability to handle web video.
Update: Battery Life
Somehow missed before the initial publication of this article, this is obviously a huge component of the overall experience with a notebook PC. So how did the X205TA perform? Extremely well. The Atom Z3735F processor targets just 2.2 W and it certainly shows, as I was able to get nearly 8 hours (7 hours, 48 minutes) of contiuous use with the demanding PC Perspective battery test. This is particularly notable as I had the screen brightness cranked all the way up to 100% during the entire test. This is of course a worst-case scenario but the screen is actually on the dim side so full brightness is how I used the laptop during all testing. With this kind of longevity I don't doubt the numbers I've read (10-12 hours runtime) for normal use, making the EeeBook X205TA an all-day portable option.
Considering how close this $199 laptop is to a really good product I would be interested in seeing what ASUS could get with a slightly more expensive model. ASUS made some waves recently with introduction of their ZenBook UX305, a slim $699 notebook with a Core M processor, 8GB of memory, 256GB SSD, and a full 1080p IPS display. Though quite impressive (and unheard of at that price) those specifications are overkill for the type of casual/productive use that a laptop like the X205 is geared towards. A slightly more expensive model than the X205 could allow for an IPS screen and larger onboard storage than it currently offers. 4GB of memory is the magic number for a modern machine and 128GB of solid-state storage has become the baseline. The X205 is competing with the Chromebook market on price (and specs), but for $100-$200 more we could have something that would make not only a compelling alternative to a Chromebook, but to the 11.6-inch MacBook Air as well.
Even with its limitations, which again are completely understandable based on its asking price, I found the EeeBook X205TA to be a surprisingly good laptop. For anyone on a budget this would make a perfectly serviceable option, and far from the embarrassing (and painfully inadequate) netbooks from a few years ago this EeeBook is quite stylish and actually has enough computing power for basic productivity needs. My biggest complaint is the odd way in which ASUS handled the screen hinge and back feet, as the hard plastic points under the screen can scratch the surface of a table when the screen is opened past 90 degrees (as it probably always will be). This oddity aside, I’d have no problem recommending this as the easily best laptop I’ve used at this price - though I've only had Chromebooks to compare it to thus far.
Bottom line: Even if you're content using Google apps and web storage the ASUS EeeBook X205TA is a solid Windows-based option in the ~$200 notebook market. There are a couple of areas where I'd like to see improvement (beyond the display) such as the screen hinge and slow eMMC storage, but on the other hand it offers adequate performance and has great battery life. Overall it's very hard to fault a complete system of this quality that sells for $199.