A Battle of Three Netbooks

Ah, the netbook. It’s like a fully functional portable computer, only smaller. The small size really doesn’t do anything for me; I used to use one of those early Sun SPARC “portables” back in the late 1990s, so even full-sized laptops of today seem small and lightweight in comparison.

In our household, we’ve got three netbooks, for reasons that mostly defy explanation. Since they’re all 8.9-inch models, and reasonably identical, I figured I’d do a quick review based on our experiences with them…

The first one we acquired was an Asus Eee, a model 901. It’s perfectly good at what it does, and I have no real complaints about it, nor does anyone else in the house. The screen is good, the SSDs are fast, the keyboard has function keys, the touchpad works as it should, battery life is decent, and there’s an aftermarket battery that can make it run more than six hours on a charge. It’s running Windows XP, and does so well. I think it came with 512MB of RAM, and upgrading it to 1GB was pretty easy, as I recall. The 16GB of storage is split between two 8GB SSDs, which is kind of strange, but not really a problem.

The second computer is a Dell Vostro A90, the “business-class” version of the popular Dell Mini 9. This is a very nice netbook, all things considered. The screen is good, the touchpad is good; the keyboard is okay, but doesn’t have dedicated function keys… It came with Ubuntu, which for the most part works just fine; most of the issues I’ve run into have had to do with applications that didn’t want to play nice with the screen resolution on the Vostro. It runs over six hours on an extended aftermarket battery, but the BIOS isn’t happy about the non-Dell battery. The build quality is substantially better than that of the Asus, it’s a breeze to upgrade the RAM, and if it wasn’t for the chopped keyboard, this would be unquestionably better than either the Asus or the Acer, below.

Last – and very much least – is an Acer Aspire One, a netbook-shaped object we like to refer to as the Fisher Price Netbook, and which unfortunately cost more than either the Dell or the Asus. The whole experience with this has been horrendous. First, we were sent the wrong netbook – an 8GB model instead of a 16GB model, though the box, from Acer, was marked 16GB, which ultimately prevented us from getting any satisfaction from the merchant… or Acer. Then, we tried to run the provided copy of Windows XP. Nevermind that this takes up more than 7GB of the “8GB” (really 7.4GB) SSD – that SSD is slow. The fresh install of XP took more than four minutes – four minutes! – to boot to the desktop. Seriously, it’s a joke, and completely unusable. So we decided to put a new drive in and install Debian… only the BIOS wouldn’t detect any of the five new drives of various brands we had laying around. Eventually, after two weeks of fighting with this, we gave up and reassembled the “netbook” without an internal drive; while we had it torn completely apart we upgraded the RAM to 1.5GB. Plan two was to put a 16GB SDHC card in one of the two card readers, and use that as a boot disk, running most everything in RAM. Alas, the Asus can’t boot from the card readers, so that idea was out. Eventually we just gave up and attached a 6GB USB drive – which the Asus can boot from – and installed Debian on there. Everything but the wireless worked from the beginning, and upgrading the kernel took care of the wi-fi. The screen is okay, the keyboard is okay, and has function keys; the touchpad is so completely useless we left it disconnected internally, and just use an external trackball instead. Overall, Debian runs great on the USB drive… though we’ve had a few issues using it with an external monitor… Our overall experience with this flimsy plastic piece of shit is to stay far away from the Aspire One, and probably all Acer products in general. I’d even go so far as to suggest that Asire One owners should look into a class-action lawsuit against Acer for continuing to sell what they have to know is a horrendously useless excuse for a computer. Get the gist? 🙂

In short, if you want a sub-$300 8.9-inch netbook and don’t need an aftermarket battery or function keys, get a Dell. If you want a big honking third-party battery, or function keys on your keyboard, get an Asus Eee with an Atom processor. Under no circumstances buy the Acer Aspire One. Just don’t. You’ll have nothing but regrets.

Published in: Geekiness, General | on January 1st, 2010| Comments Off on A Battle of Three Netbooks

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