Asus and Microsoft unveil Eee upgrade

New Linux and Windows versions of the Eee 900 PC will sport significant enhancements in many areas, but will be more expensive than earlier versions
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

The next iteration of Asus's highly successful budget subnotebook, the Eee PC, has been unveiled at the CeBIT technology fair in Hanover, Germany.

The Eee 900 will feature a larger screen than its predecessor, as well as more RAM, more storage and a larger keyboard. However, these enhancements will mean a slight reduction in battery life and a substantial increase in the cost of the device, relative to the first version of the Eee. The 900 will also come with pre-installed Windows XP as an option.

The screen size of the new Eee will be 8.9 inches rather than seven inches, and its resolution will be 1,024 x 600 pixels rather than 800 x 480 pixels. Its RAM will be increased from 512MB to 1GB, and its solid-state storage from the current 4GB maximum to between 8GB and 12GB. To accommodate the larger screen size, the speakers have been moved from their current position straddling the screen to the underside of the unit.

The resolution of the onboard webcam is being increased from 300 pixels to 1.3 megapixels. Optional Bluetooth or WiMax modules are also being made available by Asus, although it is not clear when or how these will find their way to market.

Presenting the Eee 900 on Tuesday, Asus chief executive Jerry Shen said the enhancements were the result of user feedback, and would help Asus "raise the number of customers who are more satisfied with our product".

"We will slightly enlarge the size of the keyboard together with our good partners at Microsoft," Shen added, possibly referring to the addition of a Windows hotkey to the keyboard.

Thomas Bauer, Microsoft's general manager for manufacturer relations in Europe, said the addition of Windows to the Eee PC, along with Windows Live Services and Microsoft Works, would offer users a "much greater choice regarding software".

The Linux-toting version of the Eee 900 will cost €399 (£305), representing an increase of roughly a third over the price of the first Eee, the 701. However, according to Eric Chen, Asus Europe's general manager, this is very much an "initial" price. The Windows version will be more expensive, although the price difference was still a matter of negotiation at the time of writing.

The Eee 900 will be made available in Asia this month, and in Europe in April. Within the same timeframe, a Windows version of the Eee 701 will also be made available in Europe for the first time — it is already available in Asia.

Asked why Microsoft was not making Vista available on the Eee rather than Windows XP — given Microsoft's desire to phase out XP — Bauer said the Eee had "other requirements". "We couldn't go the Vista route," he said. "We are in close discussions with Asus [regarding] how to take that forward… in regards to the Windows 7 Europe timeframe".

Asus claims it will sell between three and five million Eee PCs this year, with between two and 2.5 milion of those sales in Europe. According to Chen, recent stock supply problems will "be getting better" in the second quarter of this year.

At the same event, Asus announceed a partnership with T-Mobile Germany, which will see the operator distribute Eee PCs with bundled Wi-Fi minutes or HSDPA dongles.

Asus Eee 900

The Eee 900 will feature a larger screen than its predecessor, as well as more RAM, more storage, a larger keyboard, and pre-installed Windows XP
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