Ottawa PC Users' Group, Inc.
by Chris Taylor
spring of 2007, I was looking for a new computer. My old
desktop computer was getting long in the tooth, Vista had
been out for a little while, and I had money burning a
hole in my pocket. What better way to spend it than on a
new computer. Note that's a statement, not a question!
I decided to go with a laptop in order to gain
portability. I thought I could take it with me to OPCUG
meetings and have all my programs and data with me. I
could carry it out to the living room, connect up to my
wireless router, and use the computer while watching TV
or movies on the DVD player.
Given that it was to be my only computer, I decided to
get the beefiest computer the burning money in my pocket
could afford. I ended up with an HP Pavillion DV9000,
with 17" screen, twin 120 GB hard drives, and 2 GB
RAM. At the time, it was a pretty decently equipped
laptop. To round things out and make it easier for me to
deal with an external 22" wide-screen LCD monitor,
full keyboard and mouse, I bought the docking station
designed for it.
And I found that it almost never left the docking station
in the computer room. It is too big to haul to OPCUG
meetings and it was even awkward to take it out to the
living room. My next main computer will be a regular
desktop machine. You can still get considerably more
power for fewer bucks by going non-portable.
I still wanted a machine for portable computing. But now
I realized, for a portable, I really didn't need to have
the kitchen sink. Portability was key. I could live with
under-powered. I could live without all my data. I could
live without all my programs. The main things I needed
were a word processor and a web browser.
I started reading about a relatively new class of
computer variously dubbed ultra-portables, subnotebooks
or netbooks. One of the first really popular ones to
catch people's attention was the ASUS Eee PC, introduced
in late 2007. The original had a 7" screen (800x480
pixels), 256MB RAM and a 2GB solid state drive and came
with Linux pre-installed. Many models have come out since
then and the size and power has grow, with models
sporting 10" screens (1024x600 pixels), 20 GB solid
state drives or regular hard drives and up to 1 GB of
RAM. Windows XP is an option, but to get it you either
have to pay more, or get less, such as a smaller solid
state drive, to pay for the XP license.
With a confusing array of choices, I began sorting out
the best combo for my use. I was weighing storage
capacity, memory, screen size and cost.
I was almost ready to take the plunge. I was even set to
try out Linux and see how I liked it. After all, I was
not looking to have all my favourite Windows programs.
The free Open Office is perfectly adequate for me in
terms of a word processor and I am already a Firefox
user, so I could use the Linux version of that web
browser. And I knew the Linux/Open Source SIG could help
me out of any jam I might get myself into. I could just
hear an Asus Eee PC calling my name.
And then a most fortunate accident happened - I forgot
about it for a while.
In July, 2008, Acer released the Aspire One. Early in the
fall, both Future Shop and Best Buy carried a model I
could play with. And I was impressed.
If you look at the Acer web site, they list a whole bunch
of configurations. I will talk only about the one
configuration available at Future Shop and Best Buy -
model AOA 150-1283. The one I bought. In October, it was
going for $379. Since then the price has jumped to $399.
This model comes with Windows XP Home.
The screen is a very bright, 8.9" WSVGA screen
running at 1024x600 pixels. I had two concerns about the
screen. First, I know there is some software that expects
a minimum of 768 vertical pixels. But so far, I have not
had any problems, not even with Microsoft Office 2007,
which claims to require 1024x768 minimum. I presume
Microsoft states this because of the large amount of
space taken up by the ribbon (oh Microsoft, please give
me back my menus!)
The other screen concern was about the brightness. A
bright screen chews through the battery and I wanted the
option to turn down the brightness when on battery to
maximize the time I could use it before recharging. The
keyboard controls only allow a modest reduction in screen
brightness. Fortunately, there is a keystroke to
immediately blank the screen, so if I am desperate, I can
just keep the screen on when absolutely necessary.
The 85-key keyboard is 89% the size of a full keyboard.
If you are touch typist you might have to get used to the
slightly closer spacing of the keys. Being a three-finger
(and two-thumb) typist, I don't have any problems with
The processor is Intel's Centrino Atom 1.6 GHz, single
core, with a 533 MHz front-side bus and a 512 KB L2
cache. Main memory is a full 1 GB of DDR2 RAM. The hard
disk is a surprisingly big 160 GB.
input/output ports, the Aspire One come well loaded.
There are three USB 2.0 ports, two card readers (one
takes only SD, while the other is a 5-in-one, handling
SD/MMC/MS/MS Pro/xD), a webcam, and a built-in
microphone. There is a mic-in jack and a jack for
external speakers/earphones to complement the quite
tinny-sounding built-in stereo speakers. The external VGA
port will handle just about any resolution external
screen or projector you want to plug in.
On the networking side, there is 10/100 Ethernet and
The touchpad feels a little cheap but it seems to work
The whole package is a trim 24.9 cm x 17 cm x 2.9 cm. It
weighs in at 0.995 Kg, including the battery.
About that battery
it is a 3-cell, 2,200 mAh
battery. The specs say "up to 3 hours". I get
about 2.5, so that's not far off spec, but I wanted more.
Some models come with a 6-cell, 5,200 mAh battery, but I
had a hard time finding a source. I finally found that
TigerDirect.ca carries them for $127.70 (taxes and
shipping included). Then I found a 6,600 mAh battery.
Total cost in Canadian dollars was $125.66. I bought one
and am very happy with it. Since then, I have found
sources for a 7,200 mAh battery for US$115, shipping
One is less than half the size of a Compaq CQ-50, which
has a 15.4" screen. It is slightly thinner and just
38% of the weight. All this translates into a computer I
can easily tuck under my arm when going to a meeting,
stuff in the bag that I take to work, and grab when
moving from room to room.
Since starting to give presentations at the Ottawa Public
Library, this computer is ideal. I can walk in with this
tiny laptop, plug into their projector and give my
presentation. Very convenient.
And it turns out I really didn't have to give up power to
get convenience. This machine is no slouch. It is a peppy
little performer. From power on, I get to my Windows XP
desktop in under a minute. The Atom processor certainly
seems to be a decent performer. One GB of RAM and 160 GB
of disk space will be plenty for the life of this
In the month I have been using this wonderful little
portable computer, I have been very satisfied with it. If
you want to take a look at it, see me at any OPCUG
general meeting. It's almost certain to be tucked into my
Perhaps my next computer will be my venture into trying
model AOA 150-1283: $400
Click here to view the
full OPCUG website with frames.
Copyright and Usage
Ottawa Personal Computer Users' Group (OPCUG), Inc.
3 Thatcher Street, Ottawa, ON K2G 1S6
opinions expressed in these reviews do not necessarily
represent the views of the OPCUG or its members.
comments or suggestions to the .