Apple Air versus Asus Eee: A Comparison

I think we all agree: The Macbook Air is a gorgeous machine. During his keynote presentation, Steve Jobs whipped the entire Macworld audience into a fervor with his trademarked Apple enthusiasm for this new member of the Macbook family. With the Air we have an insanely light computer that still manages to fit in a 13.3″ screen and a screaming fast Core 2 Duo CPU.

airvseee

But while it’s undoubtedly a singular machine, is it really worth the $1799 price tag when you can get much of the same functionality with Asus’s $400 Eee? I understand that the Air is more in competition with Sony’s TZ line that Jobs mentioned in his keynote, but it seems foolish not to compare this sleek new laptop to Asus’s wunderkind subnotebook.

[Note: Please take notice that this article was written in January 2008 and is a comparison of the original 7" Eee, not the later models. Although I would argue the later models prove my case even further.]

Here’s a quick rundown of how they compare:

Macbook Air

Asus Eee
Size
(H x W x D)
0.16” – 0.76” x 12.8” x 8.94” 1.38″ x 8.82″ x 6.5″
Weight 3lbs 2lbs
Display 13.3″ LED-backlit LCD 7″ LED-backlit LCD
CPU 1.6-1.8Ghz Core 2 Duo 900Mhz Celeron Mobile
RAM 2GB 512MB
Hard Drive 80GB 1.8″ (or 64GB solid state flash) 2-4GB solid state flash
OS Mac OSX Leopard Custom Linux Distro
Price $1799 $300-$400

Let’s go over some of these topics to further inspect the differences between these two tiny titans.

Size

The Air is being advertised as “the world’s thinnest notebook”, and for good reason. The machine is certainly going to draw its fair share of stares when it starts popping up in coffee houses in a few weeks. Its paper-thin design has set new standards for industrial design, which is not at all unusual for Apple. Unfortunately, that thinness has also led to all of the compromises that Apple has had to make for the machine.

The Asus Eee is nowhere near as thin, but its smaller screen allows it to be significantly smaller than the Air overall. When it comes to choosing ultraportable computers, the key of course is portability. The Air, while thin, is still going to require you to carry around a laptop sized sleeve, case, or bag throughout the day. Its thinness can also be a problem if you’re carrying it in the same bag as heavy textbooks.

The Eee, on the other hand, can be treated more like a paperback. Its small size means you have far more options when carrying it around, and as we’ll discuss later, it also has many hardware features which should make you worry less about jostling around your bag all day.

Weight

Here’s one area where the Eee has a considerable advantage over the Air. It’s also something that may make a significant difference to someone considering an extremely portable laptop. While it may not sound like much, the difference between 2lbs and 3lbs in your backpack is the sort of thing that’s noticeable over the course of a day.

Display

This may end up being a deal-breaker for some. The Eee admittedly has a small screen which may be too difficult to use for some users. It also has a tiny resolution compared to the Air, which means it would be less ideal for multitasking and working with photos and other media. Still, for web browsing, word processing, and other productivity-related tasks, the Eee’s small screen is adequate.

If you absolutely need a high resolution display, either for watching movies or for the breathing room when working with media files, then the Air is the clear choice for you.

CPU

The processor differences is another area where the Air has a clear advantage over the Eee. Sporting a custom Intel Core 2 Duo processor that is the “width of a dime” and “as thick as a nickel”, the Air packs a lot of power into a minuscule package. While it’s nearly a full gigahertz slower than the chips in the Macbooks and Macbook Pros, it’s still fast enough to handle media encoding and high-definition video playback.

The Eee, on the other hand, has a processor that’s often belittled among technophiles. The Celeron was never a very strong chip, but what it lacked in processing capabilities, it made up for in low power usage and cost. For the simple purposes of the Eee the Celeron chip is more than enough. In addition, using this chip is one of the best cost-saving decisions Asus made when developing the Eee.

RAM

The Air comes with 2GB of RAM standard, compared to 512MB of RAM with the Eee. The Eee is upgradeable to 1GB of RAM, however. While these numbers may sound like the Air is trouncing the Eee memory-wise, the truth is not that clear cut. The Eee needs less RAM to perform optimally than the Air due to its Linux operating system, whereas OSX Leopard eats up quite a bit of memory on the Air.

In addition, I’ve stressed that the Eee is meant to do less than a fully-decked out laptop or desktop. Since the practical use of the Eee is more limited than the Air, it’s a given that less RAM is required.

Hard Drive

The difference in hard drives is another wide disparity between the Air and the Eee. The Air uses an 80GB hard drive that is also found in Apple’s 80GB iPod Classic. There is an optional 64GB solid-state flash disk available, but at a $999 premium, it’s not worth the cost just yet. The Eee uses a 2-4GB solid-state flash disk, depending on which model you buy.

The size difference is certainly significant, but as I’ve stressed already, the Eee’s purposes are very different than the Air. For working with small documents, the Eee’s solid state disk is more than enough space. In addition, you can always expand the amount of available space by using a separate USB flash disk. With the rise of online office suites, I also suspect we’ll start keeping far less data on our computers than before.

The other benefit of the Eee’s disk is that it has no moving parts, which means less of a chance for data corruption when traveling around with the computer. In addition, the Eee’s flash disk is a much faster storage solution than the Air’s 1.8″ hard drive. As this Tom’s Hardware article shows, there is a significant performance penalty in using these sorts of hard drives.

While the Air seems like a clear choice for multimedia work because of the larger hard drive space, its 1.8″ hard drive may end up being too slow for people looking to do advanced multimedia editing and encoding.

Operating System

The Air is running Apple’s latest operating system, OSX Leopard. The Eee is running a customized version of Xandros Linux. There’s a lot written online about Leopard already, but simply put, if you’re a Mac lover your mind is probably already made up. If you want an operating system that’s well-known and compatible with a variety of popular hardware and software, then Leopard is the clear choice as well.

Asus’s chosen operating system, on the other hand, is more fine-tuned to take advantage of the particular strengths of the machine’s hardware. It consists of open-source applications like Mozilla Firefox and Open Office, and other useful software like Skype. You can install some other programs using the Eee’s rudimentary package manager, but it appears as if the choice of new applications is currently slim.

Both the Air and Eee are capable of running other operating systems as well. Techie types can still use Boot Camp to run Windows on the Air as well as take advantage of Mac Linux distributions. As for the Eee, you can easily wipe out the included operating system and install any version of Windows or Linux that you’d like.

Price

Here is where the Eee clearly triumphs over the Air. For a smaller, albeit less powerful, computer, you end up spending at least $1300 less for the Eee than you would for the Air. The Eee is clearly a much better value, especially if you only need basic computing capabilities in an ultra-portable format.

The Air’s $1799 retail price also puts it in competition with Apple’s own Macbook and Macbook Pro. For $1099, you can get a Macbook with a faster processor, faster hard drive, and a weight gain of only 2lbs. For $1999 you can get an even faster overall machine, the Macbook Pro, with a dedicated 3D graphics card, bigger and faster hard drive, and a weight gain of only 2.4lbs.

In short, it seems that the Air is a bit of a luxury item that I honestly wouldn’t recommend to any of my friends on value alone. On the other hand, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the Eee to someone looking for a cheap ultraportable laptop.

In the Air’s defense, it is priced competitively with the lowest priced Sony TZ ultraportable laptops while offering a bigger screen.

other considerations

I’ll throw the Air a bone and take some time to discuss its features that don’t fall into the above categories. Perhaps most importantly, the Air features a full-sized keyboard, which is a rarity among ultraportable laptops. While I know I can get used to typing on the Eee’s small keyboard, I could see it being a showstopper for some folks.

And let me just be frank about the Air: It’s a dead sexy machine in ways the Eee could never hope to be. If you’re the sort of person with money to spare and a penchant for high fashion, I’m sure you’ve already preordered your Air. The Eee is a cute machine, but it simply does not exhibit the sort of commitment to industrial design and drool-worthiness that Apple has built its reputation on. Then again, the Eee is also a truly amazing machine in its own right given what it offers for the price.

The multitouch trackpad is also another noteworthy feature of the Air, but I assure you it will be popping up in future revisions of the Macbook and Macbook Pro. If that is at all a major factor in your decision to purchase the Air, then I suggest waiting a few months until it’s transitioned to the other members of the Macbook family.

Final Words: Eee for value, Air for style

After comparing the Macbook Air and the Asus Eee, it’s clear that Apple’s new notebook is not that great of a value compared to Asus’s surprise hit. The Air wins in overall sex appeal, raw horsepower, and a bigger screen. At the same time, the Eee is simply a more practical machine for those who only need a secondary machine to word process and browse the internet on the go.

CrunchGear is running a great article on the “uselessness” of the Air which boils down many of my issues with it succinctly:

The MacBook Air is not a subnotebook. The Eee and Everex, and Redfly are subnotebooks. They are tiny, basic, and are designed from the ground up to be micro-sized and limited. The Air is trying to be a regular notebook but failing – what Apple has done is take a regular notebook and flatten it (very well I might add), while simultaneously crippling it.

In addition, it doesn’t fair that well compared to other ultraportable laptops like the Sony TZ series because it lacks an optical drive, and many connectivity options.

I’m a practical person, and the Air is simply not a practical choice. Your money is better spent with the Macbook, or Macbook Pro if you’re looking for a dedicated computer. And if you’re just looking for something to accompany your desktop, then the Asus Eee is by far the superior choice.

Update: Battery Follow-Up

It’s been pointed out countless times that I forgot to compare the battery differences of these two machines.  Silly me:

In the comments below, Wing pointed out the biggest difference between the two battery-wise:

One big thing that some sites mentioned was that the Air doesn’t have a user-replacable battery. [Emphasis mine] It can be switched by an Apple tech but that’s only for when it dies. The eee on the other hand has a user-switchable battery. I can imagine it being very useful when you;re on the road (where you will be taking these things) and need an extra battery or two. Asus is also coming out with six-cell batteries which will probably last quite a bit.

It sounds like Air users will run into the same inconvenient issue as iPod users whenever their batteries die.

As far battery life, this Laptop Magazine review of the Eee reports that it gets around 3.5 hours of uptime. Ars Technica reports 5 hours for the Air, which seems to be on par for other ultraportable laptops. Since the Eee’s battery is user replaceable though, you could easily take along an extra charged battery for double the battery life. This is a common strategy among road-warrior types and is unfortunate for Apple since they’re also the perfect target market for the Air.

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68 Comments

  1. Pebby
    Posted January 22, 2008 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    @Tommy:
    Install Vista on your eeePC? Why the hell would you want to do that to yourself?

    So, you can install Leopard on your air. Is Leopard worth 1400 dollars to you? I dunno. Me? No thanks!

  2. Posted January 25, 2008 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the chart and detailed comparisation: just what I needed, although the Eee is launching in Q4 of 2008 in Finland :(

  3. krow
    Posted January 26, 2008 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    Ok, so I only got half way down this page, and I already got sick of all the cheap jabbing going on here.
    The Eee and Air are compared because they are 2 ultraportable laptops that came out relatively at the same time, because they are both huge names currently in the computer world due to their unique designs, and because it is actually a choice to think about for a consumer.
    My choice is the Eee pc, because I just need something I can bring around with me to class and things. I could go out and get a Blackberry, but it would be mighty hard to do my Java programming on one now wouldn’t it?
    It’s true, the Air is a more powerful, sexier machine, however I don’t see why I should have to pay so much extra for a better looking machine. If you’re looking for something that is meant for the same thing as the Air, go look at other ultraportables.
    I completely agree with the point that laptops should not be meant to replace desktops. Laptops have always been, and will continue to be for quite a while, inferior to desktops. And since when did your computer become a fashion statement? Isn’t the point of a computer to “compute”? If you want to carry around something that looks pretty, go get yourself a designer handbag. It will probably cost less than the mac.
    Don’t get me wrong here, I love the look of the Air and of Mac OS, but I just can’t justify paying almost $2k for a sleeker look, especially when the Eee is far more customizable (Linux, upgradeable RAM, replaceable battery).
    All you Mac fanboys out there, just get a MacBook. Far cheaper, far more functional. Windows fanboys *looks under some rocks* go get one of the other fine ultraportables. The people who want a laptop for what it is meant to be for, get an Eee pc. Leave the Air for Paris Hilton. I’m sure she can shove her dog over 1.38″ to make room in her handbag.

  4. Ah
    Posted February 18, 2008 at 3:14 am | Permalink

    LOL, looks like little black penguin wants to eat an apple, sorry mac fanboys ^____^

  5. Prez
    Posted March 2, 2008 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

    The value in EEE is the 3 usb ports, the ethernet, the RJ45 in case of being in the middle of nowhere, the VGA, the kengsington, the SD card reader, and the mic plug.

    The screen is 7″, so what? If I want to watch a movie, I take my not-so-portable Asus A7T (a very good laptop), and I do so.

    If I want to check my mails in less than 1 minute, I take my EEE.

    At least, Steve Jobs gave me a great fun instant when I discovered all the mighty things we can do in a Air without WIFI… And I’ve kept it for jokes time with pals.

  6. Rob
    Posted March 20, 2008 at 4:31 am | Permalink

    I own 3 Eee’s, the 2g Surf 700, 4g 701, and 8g 702 respectively.
    I used the 4g 701 all last quarter for taking notes in my community college classes. It works beautifully, holds up well to the book bag thrashing, battery hangs in there like a champ, and it fits comfortably on those nasty little desks, swivel stands, and is great in the wifi hotspots. The tiny footprint, tiny price, and ability to mod, swap os’s (Ubuntu 7.10 with Compiz runs smoothly) makes this an easy choice for those of us using them for academic work. /shrug or you can spend $1800 and not have room on your desk for anything else, but you will look great, even if you can’t make rent :)

  7. morq
    Posted April 14, 2008 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

    Holy frig.
    I really wish I could make those wanker apple fanboys just vanish.
    This whole “apples to apples” piece of crock; it IS a valid comparison! The macbook air is considered a piece of shite compared to a macbook or macbook pro, right? It’s designed to be a system you use for some small tasks while traveling. So the EeePC does the same types of travelling tasks, but is cheaper, stronger, and more open.
    It also has 3 USB ports for those roll-up keyboards, external mice, and usb sticks for when you’re off the plane and in your hotel room.

    For business users, having something like a VGA port is pretty nice when you want to use a projector… And ethernet for the secured wired networks in boardrooms when you can’t get the wireless passwords.

    Also, the next generation of the eeepcs will have a 9 inch screen, 12G of hard drive space, and a faster processor. Not to mention a larger track pad with multi-touch gestures.

    You can also change the operating system to whatever you like, and when you install the modified eeepc ubuntu, you get a more functional desktop with better eye candy.

    I’m sorry. If I want to watch movies on the go, I’d . . . still not get a macbook air. I’d get a portable dvd player. But for the basic functions you need when traveling, the Air is a bad compromise.

  8. djohn
    Posted August 25, 2008 at 2:19 am | Permalink

    who the hell wants to bloat their laptop with vista anyways? thats like getting a sports car, and loading a couble lead bars into it just before riding it! and vista on a mac is even more ironic :-D

  9. Posted February 15, 2009 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

    i luv your blog :), you are on my rss reader now

  10. Posted September 12, 2010 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    The air is a very small laptop, agreed – but why not compare it to a NORMAL laptop.

  11. Posted December 13, 2010 at 6:40 am | Permalink

    Nice blog.Everything is clear.
    Thanks for sharing i

  12. Posted December 17, 2010 at 4:26 am | Permalink

    The volume should be higher than Macs: It's cheaper and performs many of the same functions.

  13. Posted December 18, 2010 at 5:06 am | Permalink

    The mac book air definetly wins this one!!

  14. Posted January 4, 2011 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

    I cant believe that one is even trying to compare an apple product to Asus. Blows my mind.

  15. Posted April 4, 2011 at 2:12 am | Permalink

    One of the most widely used models. is performing very well lately. Apple always brings in a more forward-pointing systems.

  16. Behr Palomo
    Posted November 29, 2011 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    Seems like everyone comments here with a chip on their shoulder and are already either big fans of Mac, Linux or just anything that ISN'T Mac. 

    Try pretending there are no brand names on either of these devices.  One is about half the size of the other, has lesser processing power and practically non-existent HD space (though you can use your SD cards or an external HD, currently about $150 for a TB) and it sells for about 1/5 of the price of the larger model.

    There is no doubt that the larger and faster model is a better performer and will be the envy of more people.  If it is worth the price to you then get it.  If you are more frugally minded and realize that you can get by with a smaller model at a fraction of the price, go for it; save over a thousand dollars.

  17. Posted July 9, 2012 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    I think the Apple Air is more nice compare to the Asus Eee. For me Apple is the all time great company and I am always trust on it.

  18. Posted March 19, 2014 at 8:05 am | Permalink

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