Acer Aspire One Review

by Kevin O'Brien Reads (1,095,873)
  • Pros

    Pros

    • Very low price, undercutting nearly all Intel Atom-based netbooks
    • Good performance
    • Dual card readers
    • Responsive Synaptics touchpad
  • Cons

    Cons

    • Hard to take apart for upgrades
    • Noisy cooling fan

Quick Take

For those looking for an even lower cost budget netbook, the Acer Aspire One is a worthy candidate to think about.


by Kevin O’Brien

The Acer Aspire One is a 8.9″ netbook with a starting price that is aimed to undercut nearly all the current market competitors. The base Aspire One, which includes an 8GB SSD and Linux starts at $329, which is far under anything else that has the Intel Atom processor. The big question running through everyone’s minds is if this model is built like a budget computer, or if it has what it takes to go up against some models that sell for nearly double the retail price. In this review we cover all aspects of the Acer Aspire One, and let you know if this is a netbook you should consider purchasing.

 

Our Acer Aspire One specifications:

  • 1.6GHz N270 Intel Atom Processor
  • 1GB DDR2 533MHz
  • Windows XP Home SP3
  • 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


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Build and Design

The design of the Acer Aspire One is very sleek with softly rounded edges and a smooth glossy surface that is comfortable to hold when closed. The look is fairly basic, but it does have a few chrome accents here and there which add a bit of spice into the look of the netbook. Glossy plastic is found on the top of the screen cover, as well as around the entire LCD. At times the reflective boarder does get on your nerves if you are in a brightly lit room with many sources of glare.

Build quality looks solid for a subnotebook and the construction feels strong enough to handle being tossed around inside a bookbag without much concern for its safety (well apart from the glossy surfaces). Holding it while it is folded in half is similar to holding a hard cover book, having a good amount of rigidity to resist flex and compression. The screen cover feels especially strong, which is important for protecting the relatively fragile LCD panel.


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From an upgrading perspective, the Acer Aspire One is a very difficult netbook to make enhancements to. The case does not separate as easily as others to access vital components like RAM or the hard drive. While most users won’t touch the insides, it is worth mentioning it for those thinking about upgrading to Vista which enjoys additional RAM, or something looking to install a faster drive. Another disappointing aspect about the Aspire One is the open Mini-PCIe slot which is lacking any connector. This area is prepped with a SIM-card port for obvious 3G features, but unless you can solder on your own connector you are out of luck.


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Keyboard and Touchpad

The keyboard is spacious as far as netbooks go, since the Aspire One is a 9″ netbook inside the body of a 10″ model. You have the slight disadvantage of having huge screen borders, but you get some much needed keyboard real estate. The keyboard is cramped compared to a fullsize notebook, but is easy to get the hang of with enough practice. The typing surface feels strong with no keyboard flex and individual keys feel strong with no wobble. One aspect that I really enjoy about the keyboard layout is the dedicated page up and page down buttons. For scrolling through long webpages, especially with mini touchpads, page up and page down keys can provide a more accurate way of navigating a webpage or document at a fast pace.


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The touchpad design is slightly unique compared to other netbooks and notebooks in general, with the buttons on each side of the touch surface. The only other notebook we have seen with this layout is the HP Mini-Note 2133. The layout is a bit tricky to get used to, as you click on the hard palmrest surface, and try to scroll on the touchpad button. The surface is easily to slide your finger on and the sensitivity easily tracks your finger with light pressure. If you are able to get used to the touchpad button layout ends up not being that bad at all.


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Display

The LED backlit display on the Acer Aspire One is very bright and vibrant. The white levels are very clear, leaning towards the cooler or bluer side. Colors look excellent with the glossy screen, but at the cost of increasing screen reflections and glare. The screen might be bright enough to view outside, but with all the bright reflective surfaces outside, the screen is nearly impossible to view comfortably. Viewing angles are better than average, with a broad sweet spot. Horizontal viewing angles are excellent, to the point where you could be looking almost perpendicular to the screen and still see accurate color. Vertical viewing angles are good, but they do find their limit at +/- 15 degrees forward or back.


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Performance

This Intel Atom based netbook won’t be breaking any speed records, but it performed more than adequately for normal activities. Internet browsing, word processing, and even photo editing tasks were handed in a very snappy environment. The most surprising thing from a reviewing standpoint was this subnotebook giving benchmark results in every program we could throw at it. This is not par for the course though, as many other netbooks have limited resolutions or other odd quirks that prevent most of the standard benchmarking programs to give valid results.

PCMark05 measures overall system performance (higher scores mean better performance):

Notebook PCMark05 Score
Acer Aspire One (1.60GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 950)  1,555 PCMarks
ASUS Eee PC 901 (1.60GHz Intel Atom)  746 PCMarks
MSI Wind (1.60GHz Intel Atom)  N/A
ASUS Eee PC 900 (900MHz Intel Celeron M ULV) 1,172 PCMarks
HP 2133 Mini-Note (1.6GHz VIA C7-M ULV) 801 PCMarks
HTC Shift (800MHz Intel A110) 891 PCMarks
ASUS Eee PC 4G (630MHz Intel Celeron M ULV) 908 PCMarks
ASUS Eee PC 4G (900MHz Intel Celeron M ULV) 1,132 PCMarks
Everex CloudBook (1.2GHz VIA C7-M ULV) 612 PCMarks
Sony VAIO TZ (1.20GHz Intel Core 2 Duo U7600) 2,446 PCMarks
Fujitsu LifeBook P7230 (1.2GHz Intel Core Solo U1400) 1,152 PCMarks
Sony VAIO VGN-G11XN/B (1.33GHz Core Solo U1500) 1,554 PCMarks
Toshiba Portege R500 (1.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo U7600) 1,839 PCMarks

 

wPrime processor comparison results (lower scores mean better performance):

Notebook / CPU wPrime 32M time
Acer Aspire One (Intel Atom @ 1.60GHz)  125.812 seconds
ASUS Eee PC 901 (Intel Atom @ 1.60GHz) 123.437 seconds
MSI Wind (Intel Atom @ 1.60GHz) 124.656 seconds  
ASUS Eee PC 900 (Intel Celeron M ULV @ 900MHz) 203.734 seconds
HP 2133 Mini-Note (Via CV7-M ULV @ 1.6GHz) 168.697 seconds
ASUS Eee PC 4G (Intel Celeron M ULV @ 630MHz) 289.156 seconds
ASUS Eee PC 4G (Intel Celeron M ULV @ 900MHz) 200.968 seconds
Everex CloudBook (VIA C7-M ULV @ 1.2GHz) 248.705 seconds
Fujitsu U810 Tablet PC (Intel A110 @ 800MHz) 209.980 seconds
Sony VAIO VGN-G11XN/B (Core Solo U1500 @ 1.33GHz) 124.581 seconds
Sony VAIO TZ (Core 2 Duo U7600 @ 1.2GHz) 76.240 seconds
Dell Inspiron 2650 (Pentium 4 Mobile @ 1.6GHz) 231.714 seconds

 

3DMark06 comparison results:

Notebook 3DMark06 Score
Acer Aspire One (1.60GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 950)
122 3DMarks
Sony VAIO TZ (1.20GHz Core 2 Duo U7600, Intel GMA 950) 122 3DMarks
HP dv2500t (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS 128MB) 1,055 3DMarks
Sony VAIO FZ (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100) 532 3DMarks
HP dv6000t (2.16 GHz Intel T7400, NVIDA GeForce Go 7400) 827 3DMarks


3DMark03 Graphics Performance Benchmark (higher scores indicate better performance):

Notebook 3DMark03 Results
Acer Aspire One (1.60GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 950)
751 3DMarks
MSI Wind (1.6GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 950) 589 3DMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.16GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T4400, ATI X1400 128MB) 4,622 3DMarks

 

 

HDTune for built-in Hard drive:


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HDTune for SDHC in multi-card reader:


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HDTUne for SDHC in SDHC expansion slot:


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Gaming performance is limited with the low-end Atom-based system, but some games can still be operated at decent framerates. The original Half-Life at 640×480 runs at 20-40FPS, which is more than playable, and a great alternative to just playing Solitaire on a boring day.
Using the latest Xvid codec and Media Player Classic we tested out multiple ripped video sources. The average load on the processor was 10-14 percent. With this type of load, battery life was decreased enough that watching a movie barely more than two hours might be pushing it.

HD video content was also out of the question, even with highly optimized video codecs such as CoreAVC. Dropped frames and slower framerates were noticed in some movie trailers that we tested, and high action scenes were out of the question completely.

One unique feature of the Acer Aspire One is the dual card readers, which one is aimed for storage expansion. While the extra SDHC-only reader doesn’t show up as installable space for an operating system, it is handy if you have one card for storage and another that you just pulled out of a camera. You don’t have to swap back and forth; you can just use the open slot.

Speakers and Audio

The speakers on the Acer Aspire One make lowend notebook speakers sound great. Peak volume levels are low, and there is no hint of anything but higher frequencies coming from the small speakers. Trying to pay attention to dialog in a game or video was difficult enough that I just brought out my headphones after a few minutes.

The headphone jack on the Aspire One worked very well, driving my Senneiser HD280 headphones to above comfortable listening levels. No static or other noise was noticed through the jack besides imperfections in the audio source itself.

Ports and Features

Port selection was better than average for a netbook, with two card readers, plus the standard three USB ports, LAN, VGA, and audio jacks. My only complaint was the removable of the additional Mini-PCIe slot which could have been used for future 3G upgrades without purchasing a completely new machine.

Front: Wireless On/Off


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Rear: Battery


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Left: AC Power, VGA, CPU Exhaust, LAN, one USB, SDHC Storage Expansion


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Right: Headphone/Mic, two USB, Multi-Card Reader, Kensington Lock Slot


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Heat and Noise

Nearly all of the Intel Atom-based netbooks fall into the reasonably warm while running category, and the Acer Aspire One is no different. Under normal conditions such as surfing the web, typing a document, or chatting on an instant messaging client, surface temperatures stay within reasonable levels. The keyboard maintains a temperature a bit above room temperature and the bottom is slightly warmer. The temperatures in the images below are listed in degrees Fahrenheit:


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Noise is the one category where the Aspire One stands out, and not in a good way. Almost as soon as the netbook is turned on the cooling fans starts at a low droning speed. It barely moves any air out of the device, but it is louder than fans found in full-size notebooks. As the One warms up and needs more cooling the fan speed increases to a very annoying level. It stands out in a busy office setting and in a quiet classroom would get even the teachers attention.

Battery

With our official battery test with screen brightness at 60 percent, wireless enabled, and mild website browsing taking place, the Acer Aspire One managed 2 hours and 23 minutes before it had to shutdown. This is with the commonly available 3-cell model, which seems to be common for Intel Atom devices on the market right now. Acer does have plans to release a 6-cell model with a larger harddrive for an additional $50, and the additional battery life would be worth every penny.

 

Conclusion

For those looking for an even lower cost budget netbook, the Acer Aspire One is a worthy candidate to think about. This computer has solid build quality to handle being tossed around in a backpack or purse, and modest performance to handle common software applications with ease. Battery life isn’t the best with the 3-cell model, so if you spot the 6-cell/160GB version in stock, it is highly recommended that you pick that. While it is not the easiest netbook to upgrade, it does offer a large storage drive to start with and an SDHC expansion slot. Starting as low as $349 it is no question that it blows the socks off the current competing models, which are priced at $499 and up.

Pros

  • Very low price, undercutting nearly all Intel Atom-based netbooks
  • Good performance
  • Dual card readers
  • Responsive Synaptics touchpad

Cons

  • Hard to take apart for upgrades
  • Noisy cooling fan

 


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