Geeks.com, home to cheap laptops and discounted netbooks sent us over the Acer Aspire One AO751h for a review. The AO751h is in-between of a small laptop and a netbook and so it makes it an interesting item to investigate.
The model we received comes with the following general features:
# Black color
# Microsoft Windows XP Home Edition pre-installed w/CoA
# Intel Atom Z520 1.33 GHz processor
# 1 GB DDR2 RAM (easily upgradeable to 2 GB)
# 160 GB hard drive
# Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 500 (GMA500)
# Integrated audio with built-in speakers
# Integrated 10/100 Fast Ethernet
# 802.11b/g wireless LAN (Atheros)
# Built-in webcam and microphone
# 4-in-one card reader
# Full size keyboard, Synaptics touchpad
# 11.6-inch HD WXGA CrystalBrite LED-backlit TFT LCD display (1366×768)
# 3 USB 2.0 ports
# 15-pin VGA
# RJ-45 Ethernet jack
# Microphone jack
# Headphone jack
# 1.0 x 11.25 x 7.75-inches (H x W x D, approximate)
# 2.75 lbs. with 3-Cell battery pack (approximate)
Since my 12″ 867 Mhz G4 Powerbook is too slow rendering most of the web these days, I tried a number of solutions to replace it: from going big to 15″ laptops, down to 9″ netbooks. Nothing seemed to strike the perfect balance of “small, but not too small” though. Handling this model of the successful Aspire One series, at last it brings a feeling of fulfillment. The laptop is thin, light, with a small form factor, while at the same time it sports a full size keyboard that’s very comfortable to write on, and with a very spacious screen resolution. While flash storage is “in” lately, I personally dislike the performance hit that usually comes with it, so the 160 GB hard drive included in this model was a welcome feature for me.
The laptop comes with Windows XP SP3 pre-installed. After logging in for the first time I had to do a bunch of updates to bring it up to speed (overall, about 4 reboots). With the laptop also came a bunch of other software, like the (pretty irritating) McAfee suite, Cyberlink DVD player (even if there’s no internal DVD player on this model!), about 15 game demos, a webcam app, and some Acer utilities.
I contemplated on re-sizing the NTFS partition and installing Ubuntu 9.10 Karmic Koala in it too, but I stopped short of doing that because of the GMA500 graphics chipset. While Ubuntu has some cursory support for the specific chipset, its Linux support in general is pretty poor, as its driver is not updated promptly for new versions. The reason for this is because the GMA500 has a PowerVR core and not an Intel Graphics one like all other Intel chips. Even on Windows XP, with the latest drivers drivers installed, dragging windows around was not smooth (there was more tearing than on other PCs). The pre-installed game demos did play smooth though.
Everything on the laptop worked as advertised: ethernet, wifi (very speedy on connecting back after waking up from sleep), mic, webcam. The screen is bright and with has a wide angle of view. The VGA webcam is acceptable — definitely better than my HP netbook’s — but not better than the one on Macbooks. Sleep and hibernation were flawless too. The laptop supports up to 2 GBs of RAM: upgrading the RAM is an easy affair as you can access the RAM bay on the back of the laptop.
The CPU is a Z-series Atom 1.33 Ghz Intel. The specific CPU is meant for MID devices and not laptops, but Acer took a bold step by using that chip. The price we have to pay for this is low performance. In essence, the Z-series CPUs are slower than the N-series Atom CPUs (which are already pretty under-powered). I didn’t run specific benchmarking tests since other reviews has done so already and all agree about the low performance. My other HP N-series Atom netbook at 1.6 Ghz running Ubuntu feels significantly faster on casual usage. To give you an idea how slow this is: Vimeo and Youtube’s NON-HD (VGA) MP4 Flash videos barely play in real time (sometimes you’ll have to wait for the VGA video to completely buffer before you get real time), while 720p HD Flash video is unusable (~1 fps). Playing back 720p h.264 videos via a media player also yields a bad performance, and one has to use a super-optimized codec, like CoreAVC’s, to get away with it (and even then it’s barely real time). Nevertheless, performance for normal browsing and casual usage is more than adequate.
You might think that the low voltage and low performance CPU will offer better battery life, but the 3-cell battery that the laptop came with didn’t manage over 3 hours of battery life. It’s a good battery performance for a just 3-cell battery, but it’s still just 3 hours, like any other netbook out there. Acer sells a 6-cell battery too, which should double the battery performance though.
Finally, there’s no Bluetooth support. The Wifi card is easily accessible and upgradeable though, so it would be nice if there was a replacement card for it that included 802.11 “n” support, Bluetooth 2.1, a SIM slot, and why not, a GPS chip too.
Overall, this laptop came the closest to be “the” replacement I was looking for my G4, or for a casual laptop usage, but the low CPU performance and lack of Bluetooth spoiled the recipe. Good performance for h.264 720p video playback (with Flash and without) is a must-have for me, so this made the deal a sticky point. The GMA500 is one of the few modern Intel graphics chips that Adobe’s upcoming Flash 10.1 won’t support with hardware acceleration for decoding, so this makes this laptop a hard sell to my eyes.