Netbook Review: Asus Eee PC 1000HE

Users’ needs and vendors’ hardware configurations are different enough so that you rarely hear someone try to pick a single “best” desktop or notebook PC. But the netbook category is so clearly defined — with so many compact, convenient mini-laptops with cookie-cutter specifications — that there’s a battle for bragging rights constantly rocking the red-hot market segment.

The champ as of this writing? It’s the system seen here, the $399 Eee PC 1000HE from netbook pioneer Asus. By the time you read this, or a week or two later, it might be something else … in which case, all Asus would have to do is cut its price a tad, and the 1000HE could be the winner once again. It’s that good.

The 12.1-inch Dell Inspiron Mini 12 and Samsung NC20 and new 11.6-inch Acer Aspire One beckon shoppers with larger screens, but the netbook sweet spot for now is a 10- or 10.1-inch display size. Indeed, Asus is so sweet on this spot that our first word of caution about the 10-inch model 1000HE is to make sure you’re not getting one of its glut of near-twin netbooks — the Eee 1000, 1000H, 1000HA, 1000HD, 1002H, or 1002HA — by mistake. (Asus has just announced an eighth entry in this class which we’ll get to in a moment.)

When we say cookie-cutter, the 10-inch, 1,024 by 600-pixel screen is just the start of the recipe: Add an Intel Atom processor and integrated-graphics chipset, 1GB of RAM, 160GB hard disk, WiFi, and Windows XP Home Edition, and you’ve got one very familiar netbook spec sheet. (Like all netbooks, the Eee has no onboard optical drive.) So what, if anything, differentiates the 1000HE from its closest competitors?

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