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Thread: My review: Acer Aspire One & Ubuntu Netbook Remix

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    A shadowy flight. MSIC's Avatar
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    My review: Acer Aspire One & Ubuntu Netbook Remix

    (I will add pics over the next 24 hrs or so...)

    Review of Acer Aspire One (known from here as the ‘One’) with Ubuntu Netbook Remix.

    http://www.acer.com/aspireone/

    Version bought: A150 AB
    (comes with 512MB RAM soldered to motherboard plus 1 DDR2 RAM slot free, 120GB hard drive, Linpus Lite OS).

    Bought from: PC World, £199

    Day 1: Unboxed it, like the package, not a lot in it but very smart looking. I like the carry slip, the power charging lead seems small but fairly standard, very few extras in the box.
    Turned on, quick to boot into the OS, it instantly saw all the wireless signals in my area and was able to log on to my home network (WPA-PSK2) with my password.
    The installed mail reader also (impressively) was able to download my yahoo webmail with only username and password, having pop / smpt details already available! Nice.

    Installing my digital camera’s SD card worked flawlessly too, and I had immediate access to viewing and/or copying & saving the photos to the One.

    However (being the tinkerer that I am) I wanted to do more, to install more, to customise more, so I added the advanced menu and applied all of the updates, however it still wasn’t enough. It also, truth be told, wasn’t as familiar to me as Ubuntu, which I was beginning to miss by this point.

    Day 2: I persevered with Linpus Lite, but was considering upgrading to the latest version.
    That does look more modern, however I read that it had some compatibility issues with some aspects of the One. (With hindsight, these are probably only the same issues that I’ve had with Ubuntu since, however Ubuntu has a large base of help). I did have some success adding certain applications, however managed to disable the sound (I think I mixed up something to do with ALSA and pulse audio) and all in all was getting a bit frustrated. I couldn’t work out how to upgrade firefox 2 to 3, and I also just didn’t like the idea of it being run on Fedora 8 when the current version is 10. Nothing that I could exactly put my finger on, but just… not quite there…

    As an aside, for those wanting to persist with newer fedora flavours on it, there is a dedicated page here:
    https://fedoraproject.org/wiki/Acer_Aspire_One

    Day 3: I got my hands on an 8 Gig USB stick, and using Windows and the instructions here I got Ubuntu 8.10 onto it, booted into the ‘LiveCD’ mode (although obviously not an actual CD), a decided to wipe the linpus lite installation plus the one or two photos etc that I’d put on as a test. Seemed too much like hard work to try to dual boot it

    Less than half an hour later (and maybe only 15 minutes), after deleting the original, and using the ext3 filesystem I was up and running. As a note, ext2 seems to be encouraged for solid state drives. As another note, the very latest linux kernel has ext4. I couldn’t tell you why it’s better, but it’s 4 instead of 3, so there’s a part of me that wants it!!!

    This was all very nice, but there were a few things that didn’t seem to want to work straight away – wireless, the webcam, the SD card reader and the wireless on/off indicator.

    Everything on this Ubuntu help page however was very useful to get all but the wireless indicator working, which I can live with, it’s no biggie.

    The real delight however has been in the Netbook add-on interface. My initial mistake was to have wasted time looking for the dedicated Netbook Remix ISO to download in the first place, and though I’m sure it’ll arrive at some point, at present the thing to do is simply add the interface on top of regular Ubuntu.

    https://launchpad.net/netbook-remix

    Alternative installation advice here:

    http://markusthielmann.com/blog/inst...untu_hardy_804

    The advice that I read and followed however was to avoid installing the maximus module, although I couldn’t tell you why.

    Ars describes his Netbook Remix experience (from June 2008) over here.

    Thankfully since his review Ubuntu has lost some of the “faecal brown” and I actually really like the Intrepid Ibex picture/wallpaper hazed in the background.

    I’ve added all the useful codecs (mp3, mp4, ac3, a52) etc needed to play the various audio files, avi’s, and yes even 720p mkv’s (which the machine plays perfectly smoothly and look lovely, even though it has to scale the resolution down a bit to fit the screen).

    What else has been useful to add? Skype of course (I had to muck around a little to find which audio devices were the correct mic and speakers, via trial and error out of a list of about 5 devices). VLC I assumed would be better than Totem however in truth, Totem plays mkv files a lot smoother, whereas VLC introduces some artifacting. Am not sure why yet. WINE has gone on for me to see if I can give Diablo 2 a whirl. Songbird also has now come of age, and given that the hard drive is 120GB, I can add a variety of my favourite tunes, audio books etc without worry. Songbird also works generally well streaming directly from my ipod if I want, although has an annoying habit at the moment of re-jigging my playlists from nested folders into simply an alphabetical list .

    Highlights

    Pidgin has proved itself to be brilliant as always.

    Firefox 3 is of course the one and only, and I’ve found that by a judicious use of the ‘F11’ key to maximise screen space (which applies to nearly all applications), 1024 x 600 is actually quite useable, once you aren’t dealing with screen-eating task bars all over the place.

    Size / portability / weight – It’s not quite pocket sized, like, say, a paperback book. And my jacket does have large pockets for paperback books. However it fits into my regular backpack with ease, and the keyboard is very easy to get used to. I can type away at my hearts content, with occasional use of the delete key.

    As for the battery life, it’s true that I only seem to be getting somewhere between 2 ½ and 3 hours between charges, however for me I that’s ok as I’ll probably leave it plugged in to the wall quite a bit anyway. More battery would be nicer in principle, but it doesn’t seem to be bothering me so far in practice.

    The screen - i know that 8.9" isnt for everyone, and maybe 10" really is better. However i dont have the 2 side by side, i've adjusted to what i have (after all, plenty of people use iphones and get used to that), and find the display to be sharp, bright, and easy to read.

    Annoyances

    I think that the Netbook Remix still has at least one glaring bug – launching certain applications seems to create a small rectangular box appearing in the bottom / middle of the screen, which persists until the app closes. Thankfully it doesn’t always (re)occur but is annoying.

    Wireless – the button on the One to enable / disable seems to take an age to register in the OS, maybe 30 seconds, and since the lights don’t work either you can spend a while flicking it on / off / on / off unsure what state it really is in. I’ve decided to just leave it on and disable wireless in the OS if I want.

    Boot time – one of the great things about Linpus was a really quick boot. Ubuntu now takes approx 30 – 40 seconds to fully load with the Remix interface and wireless signal locked on and working. It’s still quicker than Windows on most machines though!

    The fan – it’s reasonably quiet, and if I have the TV on, and am web browsing from the settee then it’s a non-issue. But there is quiet, and quiet, and I wouldn’t try to use it in bed whilst my wife tries to sleep. I’ve read that an application is available for use in Win XP to control / stop the fan speed, so fingers crossed…

    The trackpad – I’m slowly getting used to it, a bit, but trying to drag and drop files is a real pain, and one finger on the left click button often tends to lean over onto the track pad, sending the pointer off into the screen corner by mistake. I think I’m going to get a travel mouse.

    The RAM upgrading – I originally intended to give this a go. After all, it’s only got 512MB on board, and supports another 1 Gig Stick of SO-DIMM DDR2, and we all know that 1 ½ Gig is better than ½ a Gig, especially when it’ll cost so little money. Looking at the youtube videos of trying to do this however seems that you have to move heaven and earth to get to the slot, and the process looks very time consuming and very fiddly… Except that 512MB is absolutely great. I have no slow downs that I’ve noticed, and everything just works. Maybe it’s because I have the hard drive version and the SSD has slow read/write speeds which would really need more RAM, but I’m happy now with what I’ve got.

    Overall

    I’m really content, both with the machine, and with my own journey to date.
    For £199 I have a highly portable device which I mostly use around the house for Instant Messaging, Skype, Facebook and general web-browsing, music playing if I want (although in all honesty my ipod does a better job), quick photo displaying (really invaluable at Christmas when family wanted to see some of the snaps I’d taken) and equally video displaying.

    I can’t see myself ever wanting to try anything like video editing on it or even photo adjusting, as my main desktop is for that purpose.

    Maybe at some point it’ll be useful for some low-power torrent downloads (I know that I’m going to keep on obtaining the latest Linux distro going, I just want to tinker the whole time!).

    For a while I strongly considered getting the Samsung NC10, however now I have no regrets. I saved £100 (well the NC10 is actually being sold for £322 in PCWorld and i quite liked just walking in and picking it up, rather than waiting for CityLink to deliver as usual), it’s really portable, and does everything that I could ask of it. Plus since that comes with XP, i might not have bothered trying out the Remix OS.

    My wife can use it so simply without any real need to learn anything, since it’s all icon driven. Want to go on the internet? She already knows firefox from her XP machine. Skype? The same. Downloads a word file sent from her boss? Open Office Writer loads automatically, and she stated “oh it comes with Microsoft Word then does it?”. No, it doesn’t, but that doesn’t matter.

    Kids can use this, my mum could use this, and it’s keeping the inner geek in me satisfied so far… although I’d quite like to compile the newest kernel update
    Last edited by MSIC; 14-03-2009 at 12:24 PM. Reason: Ammended the hardware description
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    Re: My review: Acer Aspire One & Ubuntu Netbook Remix

    Nice review. I almost bought one in comet the other day for £215 with 1GB having missed the 1GB for £199 on amazon (which is still there but out of stock).

    Decided against it (as per my other post) due to the noise it apprently makes and that the keyboard and screen were a little small for me in the end.

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    Re: My review: Acer Aspire One & Ubuntu Netbook Remix

    Just an update to this review, having now owned it for 3 months.
    I was able to download a very kewl, simple little update for the fan noise, so it's essentially never on and i have a silent machine. The only exception is when I'm stressing the CPU out (like trying to make it play high-def content )

    The trackpad remained rubbish, but a purchase of a £10 Logitech wireless travel mouse sorted that out perfectly.
    I'd still like the idea of upgrading the RAM, haven't done so yet, and there are times when apps take a noticeable amount of time to load (ie when running firefox plus Skype, and i try to load up Songbird it can take over 10 seconds).
    Pidgin, whilst great at first, has struggled to keep up with the ever-constant updates that Microsoft makes to live messenger, so isn't so useful any more. The annoying thing is, it's all Microsoft's fault
    Oh, and the battery could be better i suppose, i get around 3 hours ish, however i simply leave it plugged in most of the time.

    It remains a great purchase, and i still haven't seen it for as cheap as that since i bought it.
    I'm commenting on an internet forum. Your facts hold no sway over me.
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    Re: My review: Acer Aspire One & Ubuntu Netbook Remix

    I was sent home from work the other day with the A150 to play with, learn about then put Windows XP on it for the boss so he could buy it for his wife so she could use it.

    I like these little machines, its a pitty I can't look at the screen on it for more than half an hour or my eyes begin to ache. I did find the Linpus distro very very limited, although if you just want to use whats on there its absolutley fine for the basic tasks, surfing the net, knoxking up a few documents etc.

    Found it much faster than the 110 (which MSIC Has) that 120 gig HDD really does make the difference.

    As for putting XP on it, that was a bit of a pain to be honest. I looked at doing it using a USB stick, couldn't be bothered with all the hassle and just butchered my old icy box HDD caddy seeing as that was in a state for the USB interface and did it with an old CD Rom drive on the USB port.

    Quite a quick little machine, even with 512 megs of ram, but after spending time using it made me realise something that small isn't for me.

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    Re: My review: Acer Aspire One & Ubuntu Netbook Remix

    I should add some things here.
    My flat mate bought a One, it's let me do a side by side with my eeepc 901

    He got the SSD version, he didn't need the extra space (he uses it mainly for typeing doc's) and prefured the SSD for the added portability (shock proof)

    The Linpus Lite OS is fine as long as you don't want to fiddle with it in any way or install additional software. Probably the worst netbook OS for tinkering with.

    Size wise it's the large 11" case which allows for the silghtly bigger keyboard, which I must say is nice over the smaller keyboard of the 10" case (case size is roughtly 1" larger the max screen res btw)

    Side by side the One's screen is nice, not quite as good as the Samsung NC10 but still good and better than the eeepc screen (whites are a bit muddy on the eeepc)

    It's not quite as solid as the eeepc but still pritty robust feeling.

    The battery life is pants, however this does give it a nice weight advantage, it's far lighter than the eeepc901 or NC10

    Oh and btw MSIC, you better check but I'm pritty sure you'll find it's the same as other netbooks, it only has one memory slot not 2.
    You can however buy a 2gb stick to replace the 512mb it comes with.

    You can also get higher capasity battries, but they are not cheap and add quite a bit to the weight.

    EDIT: Oh and yes the touchpad is not very good.
    That's one thing the eeepc 901 is overlooked on, probably the best touch pad of any netbook I've used so far.

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    Re: My review: Acer Aspire One & Ubuntu Netbook Remix

    Cheers for that chaps
    I'm commenting on an internet forum. Your facts hold no sway over me.
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    Re: My review: Acer Aspire One & Ubuntu Netbook Remix

    Update: I've spent ages a week ago with my mate taking this bugger to pieces to install a 1 Gig RAM stick. I'd read that there was only 1 slot, so i'd assumed i'd have to replace the 512 in there...
    The good thing was that the 512MB already there was actually chips soldered on to the motherboard, so the 1 Gig stick i had just went straight in, giving me a Gig and a half (i sound like a cadbury's advert LOL).

    So....what do i think now?

    I'm a little underwhelmed, truth be told.
    If i have firefox and Skype open, and then want to open songbird also, it does open the app quicker than it used to. A bit.
    Has it changed the way it feels? Not really. Maybe the slowness comes from the hard drive, or the Atom, i'm not certain. It was fine before, it's still fine.
    The 1 Gig RAM was free from my mate, so didnt cost me anything other than time, which was interesting just to see the inner working of the whole thing (there are loads of youtube vids).
    I still cant believe that the slot is on the underside in a fairly normal place, but they have no actual hatch cut into the plastic case....
    I'm commenting on an internet forum. Your facts hold no sway over me.
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    Re: My review: Acer Aspire One & Ubuntu Netbook Remix

    handy wee review there and i guess the advise could apply to any wee laptop. I've gota dell mini 9 and plan to replace the installed version of ubuntu with the standard 8.10 with netbook remix

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    Cool Re: My review: Acer Aspire One & Ubuntu Netbook Remix

    Quote Originally Posted by hardflipman View Post
    handy wee review there and i guess the advise could apply to any wee laptop. I've gota dell mini 9 and plan to replace the installed version of ubuntu with the standard 8.10 with netbook remix
    Yep, I'll agree with you there - nice review.

    One small suggestion however on the 8.10 remix hardflipman - now that 9.04 is out why not try a spin with that? I've had that on my AAO (1GB RAM 120GB HDD) for a couple of days now and it's getting more and more impressive. Okay, the major faff I had trying to get 8.10 onto a Shuttle SFF kinda put me off that revision - so I freely admit to not being a fan of 8.10 (my other Ubuntu system - a Dell D620 - runs 8.04).

    In fact if it wasn't for the fact that the AAO's battery only lasts 75-90 minutes I'd be tempted to let it replace the Dell for my extended internet sessions. (The D620 has the extended battery, and runs for about 3 1/2 hours on a single charge).

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    Re: My review: Acer Aspire One & Ubuntu Netbook Remix

    I like the look of the Acer netbook but think the screen is too small for me. Mind you, the 10" Sony one looks nice!

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    Re: My review: Acer Aspire One & Ubuntu Netbook Remix

    Quote Originally Posted by crossy View Post

    One small suggestion however on the 8.10 remix hardflipman - now that 9.04 is out why not try a spin with that?
    As it happens i had put off changing ubuntu until the other day when firefox stopped working properly and i just downloaded 9.04 and used that. everything worked straight away - perfect!

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    Question Re: My review: Acer Aspire One & Ubuntu Netbook Remix

    Quote Originally Posted by MSIC View Post
    and yes even 720p mkv’s
    Could you please elaborate on the steps you took to get 720p MKV files playing smoothly in Ubuntu Netbook remix for the Acer Aspire One? So far, the only way I've been able to get these to play smoothly is with CoreAVC, in Windows (bleh).

    I've followed the Comprehensive Multimedia & Video howto over at ubuntuforums dot org, and regular videos play fine, but 720p MKV's are still extremely choppy in both Totem Movie Player and VLC. I haven't been able to get Mplayer to work, and I think that it is a known bug with Netbook Remix, see bug 370246.

    Searching google many times for netbook remix mkv, your post seems to be the only one that I've been able to find confirming that 720p mkv's play smoothly inside Ubuntu Netbook Remix on the Acer Aspire One. If you could outline exactly what you did I'm sure a it would make a lot of people happy

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    Re: My review: Acer Aspire One & Ubuntu Netbook Remix

    Quote Originally Posted by industrai View Post
    Could you please elaborate on the steps you took to get 720p MKV files playing smoothly in Ubuntu Netbook remix for the Acer Aspire One? So far, the only way I've been able to get these to play smoothly is with CoreAVC, in Windows (bleh).

    I've followed the Comprehensive Multimedia & Video howto over at ubuntuforums dot org, and regular videos play fine, but 720p MKV's are still extremely choppy in both Totem Movie Player and VLC. I haven't been able to get Mplayer to work, and I think that it is a known bug with Netbook Remix, see bug 370246.

    Searching google many times for netbook remix mkv, your post seems to be the only one that I've been able to find confirming that 720p mkv's play smoothly inside Ubuntu Netbook Remix on the Acer Aspire One. If you could outline exactly what you did I'm sure a it would make a lot of people happy
    I'm very sorry to say that i now cannot replicate my original success, as any new 720p .mkv's are choppy It might be that i originally tried a very low bitrate one first, and will try to replicate this, and post back.
    I'm commenting on an internet forum. Your facts hold no sway over me.
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    Re: My review: Acer Aspire One & Ubuntu Netbook Remix

    please do, and post the specs from the video file if you can.

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    Re: My review: Acer Aspire One & Ubuntu Netbook Remix

    Hi there, i've got the info for you.

    My Acer Aspire One, with a 1.6Ghz Atom running Ubuntu 9.04 (now) can indeed play 720p .mkv video!
    Basically it comes down to bitrate processing rather than resolution as such.

    A 90 min film that totals 2.2 GB plays well and smoothly. A 90 min film at around 3.5GB does not.
    The tricky part is finding what sort of footage can be so easily compressed without loosing detail - i have one video of my wife and I skiing (i ski whilst filming, she skis in front of me), and when you lower the bitrate too much alot of the moving snow in the background just becomes blocky and looses cohesion. You need to up the bitrate to keep the detail, but the Atom processor then struggles at 720p resolution.

    I would imagine that easier stuff like, say, animation should compress more and still look good.
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