Saturday, August 01, 2009

Hail The Netbook!

A couple of weeks ago, the wonderful folks over at Woot had a nice deal on an Acer AspireOne netbook. If you aren't familiar with netbooks, they are ultrasmall, ultralight, and ultracheap laptops. The trade off is in performance and usability: the hard drives are usually miniscule; the processor is bare minimum, and the keyboard is usually tiny. The result is a small, fast and light laptop that's good for general net surfing, with maybe a little left over for some music.

I've been fascinated with these, since Asus started the craze with their Eee PC. So much of what I do now is "in the cloud:" I don't tend to use traditional software these days. Instead, I use web based versions. Microsoft Office? Ditched it for Google Docs. Bittorrenting TV shows? Hello, Hulu and The list goes on, but you get the point. I do a lot of traveling, so a small laptop that runs for 5-6 hours on a single battery, has full wifi access, a built in webcam for Skype, a slot for an SD card, and more seems so appealing. Yet everything I read warned me:
  • Performance will be a problem. These netbooks barely start up. Watching streaming video? Good luck.
  • Only get the solid state hard drives (16 GB or so). Regular hard drives are dog slow on these.
  • Whatever you do, get the Linux version. Windows XP on these things is a complete choker. If you have to have Windows, use Windows 7 Beta.

So, forewarned, I held off, until this tempting Woot. You can see the specs on what I picked up. In essence, everything everyone said not to get. And what did I find? So far, everyone was wrong. My Acer AspireOne has Windows XP, a 160GB hard drive, and a powerful 6 hour battery. As you can see, it's pretty tiny, but the keyboard is 89% the size of a regular one, so you can actually type on it. Screen resolution is low, but for what I am using it for, it is not an issue.

The performance is great: I have not seen it choke yet, even when streaming HD video from Hulu. Skype videoconferencing is crisp and fast. And I watch my Slingbox over wifi with zero hiccups.I use LogMeIn to work remotely at times; I was able to use it for hours with no issues. I threw some video on a 4GB SD card, and plugged it in: played perfectly with no performance problems. Starting up and shutting down are fast and efficient, and this sucker goes forever without charging. The only thing I dislike about it is the sound card: it comes with a "virtual surround" driver that I can't get rid of from Realtek. The result is, when plugging in headphones, you can't hear the vocals unless you turn the balance all the way to the left or right. Works fine with speakers, but not headphones.

Overall, I'm very pleased with the AspireOne. For under $300, I get a Windows XP machine that has enough horsepower and memory to do what I need, while being able to go for 3x my laptop. It's small and light enough for me to even throw it in my pack on the bike, and it means no need to haul the laptop on trips. If you are considering a netbook, I recommend the experience, and don't necessarily listen to the detractors.

1 comment:

Tim Kilroy said...

The Acer is a nice machine. I have eeePC 901, and the keyboard is just too small. My macbookair, while on the big side, in light enough to carry anywhere. So, netbook or notebook? get a light enough notebook or a fast enough netbook and you have a go anywhere computing machine...