Last week, I bought an ultra-compact notebook computer known as a netbook. They are distinguished from regular laptop/notebook computers by their size (roughly that of a hardcover book) and their limited features (most do not have an optical drive).
After doing considerable research, I went with the Acer Aspire One. There are a huge number of other netbooks on the market. HP’s Mini 1000 was the only other model I seriously considered. Ultimately, I went with the Acer for the extensive battery life and the solid reviews.
The Acer utilizes the new Intel Atom processor. It is a single-core, 1.6 gHz processor that uses less energy, does more and is practically microscopic (hyperbole). The processor really is extraordinary. It is light years ahead of the Centrino single core processors that it replaced as Intel’s smallest processor.
The Acer Aspire One comes with two basic RAM configurations – 512 MB or 1GB. I opted for the 1GB model. It takes standard DDR PC2-5300 SODIMMS, which operate at 667 MHz. It’s not the fastest laptop RAM on the market, but it is certainly adequate for the task.
Right out of the box, I started putting the processor and RAM through their paces. I was concerned that the netbook might have limited capacity when it came to running video while multi-tasking or reading media while doing other things. I also run a pretty RAM intensive Bible library software (Libronix DLS), so I brought that up while doing everything else.
The Atom processor responded marvelously to everything I could throw at it. Obviously, I don’t expect a single core machine to handle World of Warcraft (which I don’t play anyway), but it handles all my usual tasks without any delays or problems.
The Aspire One has an 8.9″ 1024 x 600, LED backlit screen. It is extremely bright and quite crisp. A few reviews I encountered during my research did not care for the LED lighting, but I find it much easier on the eyes than the typical fluorescent screens. It is also much more energy-efficient.
Thus far, I have had no problems with the on-board video or the shared RAM. The monitor is a bit on the Liliputian scale, but you get used to it.
There is a problem with plugging the computer into an external monitor. Obviously, the onboard video is not designed to power a 1680 X 1050 22″ monitor, so if you hook it up, expect a bit of a performance dip. When I did hook it up, response times definitely were not what they are when it the card is just running the much smaller screen.
Hard Drive & Storage
OK – you don’t have an optical drive. That’s a given on a netbook; and frankly, I don’t really need one. I was able to install Office XP (my 03 license is used up) from a shared CD/DVD drive on a desktop; and I copied all my files right off the shared folder.
The hard drive in my Aspire One is a 160GB 4200 RPM. It is not phenomenally fast, but for what I use it for, 4200 RPM is fine. Again, I’m not gaming or doing movie editing. Some earlier models came with just a 8 or 16GB solid state hard drive. I decided to go with the standard disk drive because 6 hours is plenty of battery life and standard drives are cheaper.
The computer features a storage expansion slot for an SD card, which I use for my music. This is separate from the card reader, which is on the other side of the computer and is for photos and things. The separation is nice.
Networking and WIFI
The Aspire One absolutely shines when it comes to networking. The internal WIFI card is actually much better than the card I had in my last laptop – a $1600 Toshiba. It also uses the standard Windows XP wireless manager rather than some proprietary software – a trend among manufactures that drives me absolutely batty.
One issue I had (and you’ll hear more later) was that when it was running on the battery, the computer would not go into standby or recover from not going into standby. I was baffled until I discovered that the WIFI card actually has a power management feature, and for some reason when it is running, it blocks standby and hibernate. I downloaded the updated drivers for the wireless adapter, but the problem still exists. That’s an annoying bug that Acer will have to fix.
What can I say about the power management on this computer? It is astounding.
I purchased the model with the 6-cell battery because I spend a lot of time riding my bike, away from power outlets. The battery lasts 5-6 hours when I am doing word processing, email, blogging, and doing research on Libronix. If I listen to music at the same time, it comes down to 4.5-5.5 hours. I’m not kidding or exaggerating.
It also charges quickly. Usually, if I take the battery down to 25% (which on my last computer meant ‘start saving things and plug it in’), I still have an hour worth of work time left and if I hibernate and plug it in, the battery will be charged in about 2 hours. Can’t complain about that.
The AC adapter is small and unobtrusive. It is also light. It’s not like dragging around another laptop in my backpack. At 2.25 lbs, the computer is extremely light; and that is WITH the battery. The adapter probably adds another pound or less.
Working on It
I was afraid of going to a netbook because earlier models had tiny keys that were difficult to use. The reason I only considered the Aspire One and the Mini 1000 was the keyboards. Ultimately, the Aspire One has a much more natural feeling keyboard although the Mini’s is slightly larger (as is the screen, but it has the same resolution).
All the right keys are all in the right places. There is a little bit of a learning curve for the Home/End keys, which are function keys, but other than that, there was no problem.
I have to hand it to Acer. Their scrolling features on the touchpad are FIRST RATE. Because of the small screen, they have added new ways to scroll. You have to play with them to get used to them, but you can scroll small sections of the screen, auto-scroll, and even zoom in and out – all on the touchpad.
Some reviewers did not like the placement of the buttons on the touchpad. They are on the sides instead of the bottom. Maybe it is because I’m left-handed, but I love the buttons there. They’re easier to click than being on the bottom of the touchpad, and I don’t bump them constantly when I rest my hands.
Putting the computer into power saving modes does have a few quirks. It doesn’t always work. There are a couple of things to remember. 1) Standby does not always work if the WIFI card is on power save; 2) remove the flash drive, and 3) update your BIOS. You can update the BIOS from Acer’s support page. When I did it, the current version was 3309. It also will fix a problem with the fan that earlier reviewers noted with disdain.
I love my Aspire One. It was the best $379 I ever spent on a computer. It does not have all the bells and whistles, but for what it is, it is the best there is.