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Netbooks hands-on

Written by Matti Vähäkainu (Google+) @ 15 Oct 2008 7:49 User comments (11)

Netbooks hands-on We took the liberty of testing netbooks of three of the largest netbook manufacturers in the world - Asus, Acer and MSI. The widely popular netbooks have hit the portable computing market by storm and nearly 10 models have surpassed Apple's Macbook line-up in terms of popularity. Two of the models we tested, the Asus Eee PC 901 and the Acer Aspire One 110, were as small as 8,9" and the third, MSI Wind U100, was almost as tiny at 10".
Technical specifications (more detailed specs in Hardware):

Asus Eee PC 901
-1,6GHz Intel Atom
-8,9" display (1024x600)
-Intel GMA 950
-Windows XP

Acer Aspire One 110
-1,6GHz Intel Atom
-512MB DDR2
-8,9" display (1024x600)
-Intel GMA 950
-Linpus Linux

MSI Wind U100
-1,6GHz Intel Atom
-10" display (1024x600)
-Intel GMA 950
-Windows XP

From left to right (out of scale): Asus Eee PC 901, MSI Wind U100 ja Acer Aspire One A110

The computers went through a series of tests, nothing too thorough, including a general hands-on mapping the overall look and feel of the devices, video playback test with various file and compression formats, battery life and wireless use tests and last but not least: usability and durability tests. This article summarizes the technical specifications of each of the three netbooks and gathers some of the main results of the test.

Each of the three seemed and felt more of a quality product than we expected, considering the price range from $400 to $550(£230-330). However, slight differences could be noticed in favor of MSI and especially Acer. Netbooks really are tiny compared to standard laptops, and the smallest of the pack, the Acer Aspire One 110, weighs only 2,1 lbs (under a kilogram) and even the heaviest, MSI Wind U100, at 2,65 lbs (1,2 kg) can't be considered a burden.

Battery life of six and seven hours is exceptional in both Asus and MSI with their 6-cell Li-ion batteries, but the 3-cell Acer lacks behind considerably with 3 hours - a common battery life for supermarket laptops.

Asus with a larger, more powerful battery is slightly thicker than the tad wider Acer

In terms of performance the netbooks are closely matched. Each has a 1,6GHz Atom processor and Intel 950 graphics chip, and so the deciding factors will be whether you want an SSD or standard HDD for storage, half a GB (Acer) or 1GB (Asus and MSI) of Memory and a Linux (Acer) or Windows (Asus and MSI) operating system. All models sport three USB ports, a VGA output and ethernet port, as well as a 1.3 megapixel webcam.

Let's continue with a wrap-up of the test results. First of all we played several video files with VLC on each of the systems. Both Windows netbooks, Asus and MSI, were able to play DivX-encoded video in the AVI container up to 720p, Acer with Linux topped at 960x544 resolution XVID. None of the machines managed 720p/1080p MPEG-4 AVC. Even though gaming laptops are far more powerful and rarely feature smaller than a 15-inch display we took the little time we had to try both of the Windows netbooks with some not-so-resource-hungry games. Asus seemed to cope fairly well with the recently released FIFA 09 demo - be it only on minimum details - and even though we couldn't get EA's games to work, for an unknown reason, on the MSI Wind we could get demo version of WALL-E to run, and it did so with a pretty good framerate. Unfortunately we didn't have enough time to try out games on the Acer Aspire One. All in all the game ran smoother than we expected regardless of the Intel 950 graphics chips.

In a more netbook-friendly tests we looked into what makes a good netbook. We managed to get distinct differences between the devices by focusing in usability of the keyboard and touchpad, the start-up speed and WiFi range.

Acer with the Linpus Linux was way ahead of the two Windows netbooks in start-up speeds, while Asus and MSI weren't sluggish by any means. When it comes to usability there were big differences in keyboards and touchpads. Acer's keyboard was definitely the best, topping the MSI's bigger and Eee PC's disappointing keyboard. However, the tables turned as we inspected the touchpads. Acer's had a strange button placement and the touchpad of Eee PC seemed to lag a bit, both of them though had a touchpad scroll function. Even though MSI was the only one not to feature touchpad scrolling by default the precision of the touchpad won us over.

In WiFi range we saw slight differences between MSI and Acer in favor of Aspire One, but nothing major. Instead the Eee PC was the only WiFi chip supporting the 802.11n and that lead it to a clear victory in the range contest as well.

From bottom up: 15" HP, 12" iBook, Acer Aspire One A110, Asus Eee PC 901

Thanks to our partners: SERV-IT MSI Asus

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11 user comments

115.10.2008 10:13

Last I heard, you could install RAM upto 8GB. The Acer obviously has surpassed that hasn't it, what with 512GB of RAM :P

215.10.2008 12:34

My brother has one, its pretty nice.

315.10.2008 13:49

Writers - I think that it's SICK, that you are doing reviews and I really enjoyed reading it

Keep up the good work, and i hope to see more in the future

415.10.2008 15:24

as far as the acer aspire goes, you can upgrade the ram and get a hdd i believe.. up to 80 gigs. something like that.. maybe its 60.

515.10.2008 19:55

My Dell Rep just gave me one of the Dell Inspiron Mini's and I must say you should really evaluate that one as well. I know it is pretty much the same as the rest from features to price but I have been comparing it to Asus Eee PC 900 that my boss purchased and the Dell feels more solid and looks more professional. The Dell cost slightly more at $429 because it had windows on it but all the other specs were the same as the $379 Asus Eee-PC he bought with Linux.

615.10.2008 21:23

Wondering why you'd review the lower-spec Acer Aspire One.

I just picked up an Acer Aspire One with 160GB HD, 1GB Ram, Windows XP, and a 6-cell battery (brand new) for $400. I'm sure the performance on that one would have been much higher :)

721.10.2008 11:10

I also just bought an Acer Aspire one but with a 120gb hd with XP home installed, 1gb ram, 6-cell battery, brand new aswell for $500 CDN after shipping and tax on Love the thing, it's great for college. the leather case that came with it was a surpirse too.

821.10.2008 19:27

I personally bought a Acer Aspire One with windows xp home, and have found it to be not very reliable. I have had several issues with it.

First, I find the touchpad too precise. When I hold the left click down and use the scroll bar I find if you dont keep it right on the bar it loses focus of the scroll bar. The touchpad scrolling is difficult to use as well, sometimes I find my cursor is flying around because it wont scroll.

Second, the front left speaker is already blown. I don't use it with full volume and yet it still malfunctioned. Also windows media player would lock up on me and give me the blue screen of death. I have upgraded the audio driver with hopes that it might fix the problem with wmp.

I will most likely exchange the netbook with a new one due to the bad speaker, with hopes the exchange will perform better than the first one.

Acer Aspire One
Intel Atom@ 1.6ghz
1gb ram
120gb hdd
windows xp home

922.10.2008 11:30

I researched and tried the Acer and Asus. However the Asus was the newer PC1000 and it handily was the best. Now with a slightly larger screen and keyboard (10 inch) the feel and ease of use have leapfroged over the Acer. You can easily open it up and add another Gig of RAM and so far the battery life is as advertised. The Wifi is outstanding and the small things like the sound quality and clever touches on the keyboard, and a split HDD, sold me. It comes with what you need in software and adding programs without a disc drive is a snap by first copying to a memory stick. So far no complaints.

105.11.2008 16:47

I recently purchased an Acer Aspire One, the Linux version with 120GB hard drive and 1GB of RAM, with the intent of wiping it and installing XP Pro and then dual-boot it with Linpus or a.n.other flavour of Linux.

Wiping and installing XP wasn't too tricky, found a handy tut (on youtube of all places) for booting the Aspire off a USB stick. No problem with drivers for XP, didn't take too long to install everything. Wifi wouldn't work in XP (well doesn't connect to my WDS network), guessed this was down to the Atheros chipset - give me Broadcom any day. Tried Linpus as the dual-boot, also tried TinyMe release 7 and TinyMe 2008.0. Tried an old version of Puppy and then settled on MiniMe 2008. Haven't yet finished setting up the MiniMe side of things as have been using the netbook in XP mode for days on end (the Acer's tiny hard drive is quite fast and the netbook certainly has more than enough grunt for torrenting!). Ethernet works
stably as expected.

Anyways, the wifi in XP does work at a.n.other address but for some reason the ethernet won't work there - what on earth is going on with this netbook ?... i'm sure i'll figure it out one day.

Web pages are actually very usable on the 1024x600 screen, though it's infinitely easier if you plug in a USB mouse.

All in all i'm very impressed indeed, quite a powerful machine in a very tiny chassis. The mousepad isn't the easiest thing in the world to use, plus the keys are (as expected) very tiny but the keyboard does give a very good tactile feedback). Of course the keyboard is perfect for the kids to use, they love this machine too.

Will have to edit this post once i get around to finishing off the MiniMe setup.

1123.7.2009 23:29

try this netbook [ ]it will beat of these and is better priced

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