Aspiring yuppies all have seem to them these days. 2008 gave us a whole rash of these sub-notebooks; laptops with tiny keys and piddly screens became the must-have accessory for the trendy coffee drinker and train commuter. It’s been awfully hard to get a coffee around here without having to wade past the gauntlet of expensive-looking micro-computers adorning every table. I’ve even seen them in McDonalds.
Just what are all those people doing, looking busy with their mocca-frappucinos and super-hectic lifestyles, anyway? I presume they are making very important life-or-death executive decisions and are not simply checking their eBay auctions and updating their MyFaceSpace page.
Assuming you’re a super-busy coffee-drinking executive with no time to read articles like this one, I’ve put the conclusion in the title especially for you. You can stop reading now and go out and buy one.
In January, ASDA (That’s Wallmart for the Americans) ran a rather unpublicised offer where they were selling the 150Ab model of the Acer One for just £150.00 (210 USD/170 EUR). This model was the 120Gb HD model (no SD drive in this one), running a specially modified Linux operating system, and 512Mb of motherboard built-in shared RAM. Since the summer of 2008 and the general availability of the powerful new Intel Atom CPU, several manufacturers including Asus (who make the EeePC), Samsung (with the NC10) and Acer have released portable net books. Generally speaking most of these net books are comparable with similar specifications. All are powered by the Intel Atom 1.6 GHz CPU on the Intel 945GSE Express Chipset. All are available with either tiny solid state drives or large mechanical drives and with a choice of either Linux or Windows XP.
The going rate at the time of purchase starts around £230 for the EeePC and £270 for the Samsung NC10. The Acer One is the only Intel Atom-based sub notebook under £200. And that’s great value for any computer, especially a sub notebook.
Competitors: Asus Eee PC 901 and Samsung NC10
What’s in the box?
The obligatory packaging shots:
It’s a box. It holds the laptop, a rather nice smooth-felt laptop glove and a bunch of accessories. It’s worth noting that the power supply brick is tiny. Really tiny. Compared to any other laptop power brick I’ve used this one is by far smaller. The power cable is also thinner and much more flexible too. If you use this laptop on the couch or in bed, you’ll notice the benefits of a thinner wire straight away.
- 1.6GHz N270 Intel Atom Processor
- 512Mb DDR2 533MHz (I upgraded this to 1.5Gb – see later in the article)
- Linux (but I installed Windows XP after booting from a USB hard drive)
- 8.9″ 1024 x 600 WSVGA glossy LED backlit display
- 120GB 2.5″ 5400RPM Hitachi Hard Drive (with SDHC storage expansion slot)
- 802.11b/g Atheros Wireless
- 3-Cell 23Wh battery
- Size: 9.75″ x 6.625″ x 1.28″
- Weight: 2lb 5.0oz
The build quality of this netbook is truly exceptional. The screen is held in place by strong (but not overly firm) joints. It is available in a selection of colours, but this one is a gorgeous metallic, almost mica, blue. It’s has the dimensions of a small book, making it worthy of the phrase, “Netbook”. It has three USB ports, TWO memory card readers, an Ethernet port, VGA port and ports for external microphone and headphones. It has two built in microphones (for noise cancelling) and a webcam in the lid.
The One is about an inch wider than the Eee PC 901 but is thinner. It weighs 995g, so it’s lighter than the 1.1kg Eee PC 901. The extra width Ok, it has a smaller battery
Booting up – or not?
There are other articles which spend time going through the benefits of the supplied software. I played with the software for about five minutes before getting bored, it’s a very small Linux operating system that has all the basics covered but doesn’t meet my needs. At first I wanted Windows XP on it, but Microsoft have just released a public beta of Windows 7. So, killing two birds with one stone I wanted to install Windows 7. But first, I had to upgrade the memory as 512MB of RAM isn’t enough for any modern Microsoft Operating System.
Here’s the biggest drawback, and the main reason why people buy EeePC’s and NC10’s. Upgradability.
This Acer netbook was £150, as I found out because it comes with a limited amount of onboard RAM. I need more, but didn’t want to pay the extra. I already have two spare 1Gb 533Mhz Samsung memory modules spare and I destined these for the netbook. See the picture of the bottom of the netbook above? At the bottom right is a plate with two screws. The purpose of this plate on almost every laptop ever built is to allow the savvy user to install their own RAM upgrade at a later date. If you remove these screws and pop off the plate, you’ll see that Acer have un-thoughtfully welded a metal plate here, preventing easy user access to the RAM upgrade slot. Nasty.
If you want the rest of the review, please skip this next section …
Upgrading the Acer One. (Or: How to add RAM to the Acer Aspire One Netbook)
You have to take the entire machine apart. Yes, you heard that right, you need to take the entire machine apart, to its constituent parts and rebuild it, just to upgrade the RAM. The Acer One will accept one up to 1Gb 533Mhz (max – and recommended) DDR2 SODIMM module which takes the overall system memory to its theoretical maximum of 1.5Gb. That’s enough to install Windows 7. So the machine had to come apart, less than an hour from its un-boxing.
Step 1: Remove the battery and eight screws from the base. Two of the screws are located underneath the rearmost rubber feet.
Step 2: Using a *very* thin screwdriver, remove the keyboard by pressing the three switches (located at the top of the keyboard).
Step 3: Disconnect the keyboard and the ribbon cable.
Step 4: Unscrew and remove virtually everything on the motherboard.
Step 5: Insert the RAM onto the >back< of the motherboard.
Step 6: Reassemble!
While you’re digging around inside the One you’ll notice a SIM card reader, but no electronics interfacing with said reader. Don’t bother putting a SIM card in there, because it won’t work. It could be an indication on what Acer are working on next though…
Ok, now you’ve done that, you’re ready to install Windows XP or Windows 7. Do this in whatever way seems best to you 🙂 (I used a USB hard disk drive which I unpacked the Windows 7 ISO to and booted from USB on the netbook).
Using the Acer One
Once I had Windows 7 installed, the Acer one was a delight to use. Seriously, this little netbook ran Windows 7 and had Outlook 2007, Word 2007 and several web browsers and other windows open at once, with full aero graphics enabled without any perceivable slowdown. The LED backlit screen is beautiful and very clear, with a slightly glossy and reflective coating. I haven’t tested this outside yet (it’s still Winter in the UK) but hopefully it will see some coffee-shop time in the near future (there’s a Starbucks opened just 30 meters away from my house!). I have used the EeePC, and the screen on the Acer blows the Asus away.
The keyboard is great and as it’s 95% the size of a full keyboard, it can be used for extended periods without being too difficult to use. The enter key is rather small (it’s about the width of a normal key, which is confusing) but otherwise good. I found, by comparison the EeePC keyboards (all of them) to be far too small and unusable for two handed typing. The HP Mini-Note deserves a mention here, it is the only netbook to come with almost full sized keys and it feels wonderful to type on. However, it’s let down by the absolutely terrible VIA processor, so it’s out of consideration just on that point.
The touchpad is responsive and usable, but the mouse buttons are too small for comfortable use. Luckily you can tap the pad to signal your intention to click (and drag) and for extended periods I would highly recommend an external mouse.
I still cannot believe how light this netbook is, it’s much lighter than my ultra-portable Dell M1330.
The speakers are pretty good good. Better than I expected, although they are not particularly loud. You’ll need a set of external speakers if you listen to much music. The inbuilt speakers render sound very well without any breaking or distortion.
Wireless is “G” (54mbps) and not “N” (100mbps+). No big deal; it’s very sensitive at picking up wireless signals which makes up for it a bit. It doesn’t have an optical drive, which is great. I mean there is absolutely nowhere that could be engineered to contain a CD/DVD. The netbook can boot from LAN and USB and as I doubt anyone would have one of these as a primary machine, you can share drives across your network or use a tool such as Daemon Tools to host a “virtual drive” for your ISO (CD/DVD image) files without needing a physical drive.
Acer avoided releasing an early netbook. This means that most of the problems associated with the early net books (poor battery life, poor CPU performance) are not an issue here. The Acer One has everything you could want from a netbook. It has a smorgasbord of connectivity options as well as being super attractive and lightweight. It’s also one of the cheapest, and if you already have a Windows XP license (or want to try the public Windows 7 beta), don’t bother with the solid state drives and buy it with Linux instead.
As far as I’m concerned, this device beats the EeePC completely, across the board – with the exception of the new 6000maH battery that’s available for the EeePC (compared to 2000maH for the Asus One), if you’re not planning to use this on an eight hour flight you’ll be fine. But since this laptop is lighter and easier to carry than an EeePC you’ll have space for an extra battery or two in your bag, and the spare cash left over to buy them anyway.
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