December 16, 2008 at 9:03 pm | Posted in Computers, Design, Hardware, Software | 11 Comments

Portable computers have been around for some time. I began carrying a “Palm Pilot” over 10 years ago. It supplanted my Daytimer but also added all sorts of things like spreadsheets, eBooks, current tides, star charts, games, a music player and so forth.

I was never a fan of models like the Treo, combining phone and computer as I usually needed to look things up while on the phone. They also have to give up things to make it fit – sacrificing screen size for functions, for example. Recent offerings like theiPhone add a great interface but hold the same issues and puts you using iTunes to manage your schedule. Yuck.  iTouch is the model without the phone and the same issues. Cool but a little proprietary and closed shop for my tastes – whats the point of accumulating all that data if you loose access when the device is discontinued?

I’ve never been impresed by the bloat of Windows Mobile and the expense of the solutions. I ran over 54 apps on my Palm – only a few cost anything.

My reliable old Palm Tungsten has finally bit the dust so I’ve been shopping around for a new solution. None of the few and expensive Palm models now available here meet my needs. Then I began to notice Netbooks . They were about the same price but quite a bit larger than a Palm and I’d need to migrate to other solutions for managing schedule and such. But I realized I’d taken to carrying the Palm in my bag anyway. Add the folding keyboard and you start hitting the same size.Thunderbird and Lightening look to almost solve the main requirements, along with OpenOffice.

The netbook adds some new advantages – no special tools for syncing data and schedule. Standard wireless. A screen size more legible for my aging eyes. And built in features you didn’t see on a laptop not so long ago. There is the boot speed difference from a Palm, but Linux based models can boot in 12 seconds.

First I explored the Dell Mini 9. Nice. Then I wandered into a local shop and found the Asus Eee, the Acer Aspire One, and an HP model. The HP model was pricey and not quite the direction I wanted to go in. Several reviews favoured the Acer and Asus models, depending on your needs. A friend of mine got the Asus for Xmas (a little early) and I helped a client set up a top model Acer for their accounting practice. Secure wireless setup on both was easy, unlike Vista on a laptop (buggy).

Note that none of these puppies have an optical drive – not enough room. Music? Put it on Memory cards or a Thumb drive. I was doing that already for my MP3 player. (cards are the way to have unlimited song capacity)

I’m leaning to the Acer Aspire One. It comes with the typical 9″ screen, built in wireless, web cam, card reader, VGA port for a large monitor, NIC, speaker/headphone jack, mic jack, and 3 USB ports.

On the Acer with the solid state drives, it has 2 memory card slots. The back one adds space to the boot drive, so expanding drive space is as easy as sticking in a card. Thus you can double or triple+ the 8 GB boot drive. Solid state drives are smaller but hardier. As I don’t plan to use it for a ton of pictures or music – and can use cards for that anyway -that’s the way I want to go. The other option is a 160 GB hard drive.

Decision 2 is RAM – base comes with 512 MB. 1 GB is better and gives you the XP choice. Also steps you out of white and into a choice of several colours. Even brown or pink. You can upgrade later to 1.5 GB.

Decision 3 is the OS. Base uses Linux Linspire which would be fine but they’ve rather locked it down. The boot screen is in effect the Start menu with 4 sections. On board is a surprisingly robust range of software to update office documents or web site, edit photos, play games and more. If you just want to boot and work, this may be your solution. No need to learn Linux. As I like to customize and as the point for me is easy sync with the desktop,XP looks to be the choice for me but I loose the short boot time.

They don’t appear to sell XP on the solid state drives so that may be a do it yourself project. I’ve noticed a few tutorials online on migrating to XP afterward – if you have a spare XP license. And some time to minimize the size and services of the OS.

Decision 4 is battery size. This is partly determined by OS choice as XP needs more. They have 3 cell Li-ion  (3 hour) and 6 cell (5.5 hr). I may get a 3, see how it does for me, and pick up a 6 later as a second.

Other desired accessories possible:
– small wireless mouse
– big SD card to expand the boot drive (especially for custom XP)
– SD card for large files and collections, or a USB stick
– case
– external DVD burner

Looks like fun….

A followup note on the desired accessories:
– the small laptop mice were too small for my hands.
– the SD card does not add to the boot drive in XP – just Linux. But a smaller build of XP as outlined in the Windows Flash post (link below) makes it all happy.
– neoprene cases are readily available in stores now but sold out.


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  1. I’ll do a post a little later when I make the build for zee custom netbook


  2. Here’s someone with a dual boot Eee – Linux on the base partition for fast boot, XP on an 8GB SD card.


  3. This guy put XP on an HP netbook, then put Linux on another partition.


  4. The hardware, software, and drivers are all gathered and I’ve drafted a guide to installing XP on my Acer SSD.
    I’ll now follow it to do the install. I’ll update it based on experiences, then post here.


  5. XP is now running on the Acer nicely. Just running update, then will install software and report.


  6. […] 2009 at 1:30 am | In Computers, Hardware, Internet, Software, Technology | Recently, I wrote about Netbooks and my decision to get an Acer Aspire. I wanted the model with a solid state drive (SSD) running […]


  7. I’m really enjoying the netbook. With a solid state drive, I can write on the bus. When I get to my stop, I just close it and get off. No need to wait for the hard drive to wind down. (bumping an active platter drive is a great way to kill it)

    While the keyboard is pretty much full size, so I can easily type at my usual pace, I am noticing it requires a heavier touch than I’m used to. I notice missing letters scattered through the typing. So I’ll have to adapt to that…


  8. A number of shops carry cases for the netbooks. I got a nice neoprene one for padding. Curiously, even the fancy ones with pockets and shoulder straps are half the price of the similar notebook ones.


  9. […] Netbooks An overview of netbooks, my choice to go with the Acer, and some of the options to consider. […]


  10. I’ve noticed that Dell has recently cut prices on their “Mini 9”, making them much more competitive. Seems to just be sale prices though. The models have a 4 cell battery making them a little longer lasting and have 16 GB SSD option with WinXP Home.

    Hmm – on the base model, they charge $30 or more for a colour other than black. They also don’t offer a RAM upgrade above 1 GB. Bluetooth is an upgrade. And a decent webcam is also an upgrade.

    To get an equivalent model aside from the hard drive, you’d have to go top line.


  11. Over time, a few of the keyboard keys have become poor responders on the Acer. This interrupts the flow of typing or causes a lot of unnecessary correction. I took a look at cleaning the keys but the contacts are sealed. Finally got around to contacting Acer support on it and they tell me it’s out of warranty and $199 to fix – a major % of the original cost. Guess I should have dealt with it sooner.

    I’ve got a flexible keyboard I use for traveling I’ll use instead – that was only $20. But for a writer who loved the portability it’s a disappointment. A flaky keyboard in such a short time means I’d no longer recommend them. The Asus units are also well recommended.


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