To PC Advisor, the ultra-small, ultra-lightweight computer remains the Holy Grail. Unfortunately, you generally still pay a premium for miniaturisation. The £220 Asus Eee PC 701 shatters that perception, though.

For a fraction of the cost of competing ultramobile computing devices, the Asus Eee PC 701 delivers a highly functional portable that might appeal to road warriors and students who want an unobtrusive and inexpensive computer for basic web surfing, word processing and email.

See also: RM Asus miniBook £169 laptop PC review

But, let’s be honest here. With a list of components that tend towards the modest, the Asus Eee PC 701 isn’t for everyone. The unit is saddled with a small 7in low-resolution display. The on-board storage is virtually non-existent, giving you just 4GB of solid-state memory – and of that, the system snags 2.4GB, leaving just 1.4GB available for the user. The 512MB of memory is low at a time when laptops typically come with a minimum of 1GB. And the Intel Mobile Processor doesn't even merit anything more specific than that designation in the system information screen.

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Oh, and there is one more rather significant factor. Upon first boot of the Asus Eee PC 701, we were greeted not by the familiar chime of Windows but by a licence agreement for the Linux-based Asus Desktop OS. Dell has set a trend for Linux operating systems in PCs, and we can expect to see increasing numbers of systems using these as a cheap (particularly in terms of hardware) alternative to Windows-based machines. But it is worth pointing out to the unaware that a Linux experience can be very different from using Windows.

Having said that, Asus has done its best to make the Asus Eee PC 701 as easy to use as possible. The new operating environment mimics much of Windows' functionality (for example, a Home button where the Start button would be, a Taskbar that shows open apps and apps in memory, and window minimise, maximise, and resize controls). A nice addition is the happy face icon at the lower right for Asus Eee PC 701 usage tips, and the green SOS icon (hover the pointer over the icon to figure out what it is) to show you which apps are open in the background - and how to close them. We were confused by the tiny row of icons at the bottom of the display though, and we often opened apps without realising, sapping the already limited memory and cluttering up the Taskbar.

You can install Windows XP on the Asus Eee PC 701 if you choose, but only business travellers might need it. With applications like Mozilla Firefox and Thunderbird for web browsing and email, and OpenOffice.org for word processing and spreadsheet needs, you'll be able to continue being productive. We had no problems opening PDF files, MP3s, WMV Video or high-resolution JPEG photos, and using USB flash drives was easy. It can take time to load files, and some of the programs (the Music and Image Managers, for instance) are rather inelegant, if fairly functional. You can multi-task though, and we were able to happily browse an Excel spreadsheet while listening to an MP3 playlist.


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