Executive Summary:

The Acer Aspire One is a lightweight, low-cost, capable netbook, available in two models: one with Windows XP, and one with Linspire Linux.


The arrival of the netbook—a small, portable computer that falls somewhere in size between a smartphone and a traditional laptop—has had a profound impact on the portable PC market. Sales of more expensive laptops have slowed, while sales of netbooks have been booming. While netbooks have found a willing customer base with consumers, how has the netbook fared with IT professionals?

The Netbook in an IT Environment
If the TechEd 2009 event in Los Angeles was any indication, IT pros have embraced netbooks in a big way. Many show attendees we spoke with sang the praises of their netbooks, pointing out the benefits of their small size, low cost, and extreme portability. Windows IT Pro contributor David Chernicoff recently sang the praises of his Dell Mini 9 netbook, and described how he uses his netbook's built-in support for Bluetooth to access his cell phone provider's Internet connection for remote access. (Read "Netbooks: Can They Bridge the Gap Between Mobile Phone and Notebook?" here).

The Aspire One: Windows XP or Linux?
I recently spent some time with two versions of the Acer Aspire One: one model with 1GB RAM, a 120GB HDD, and pre-installed with Windows XP Home Edition (reviewed here); and another with 512MB RAM, an 8GB SSD drive, and running Linux (see the sidebar, "Acer Aspire One with Linpus Linux"). Both are diminutive devices that sport 8.9" LED backlit LCD screens with 1024 x 600 resolution and integrated web camera. The Aspire One tips the scale at around 2.2 lbs, which is comparable to the size and weight of a hardcover book.

The fit and finish of the Aspire One is impressive, with smooth, beveled surface edges and a bright, legible LCD screen. The netbook is densely packed with components to maintain the tiny form factor, and it feels solid and weighty despite its tiny dimensions. The keyboard features reasonably-sized keys, although the cursor keys are a bit smaller. I found it to be fine for typing out emails and a page or two of copy here and there, but it's somewhat cramped for longer periods of use.

System Specs and Ports
Despite its small size, the Aspire One manages to pack a fair amount of computing power into a small space. While the lack of a dedicated graphics processor and a dual-core CPU may preclude this netbook from attempting demanding computing tasks like editing video or 3D gaming, it has more than enough power for most business tasks. Both variants of the Aspire we tested ship with an Intel Atom Processor with 512KB L2 cache running at 1.60GHz, teamed with a 533MHz front side bus (FSB), and relied on the Integrated Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 950 for graphics. Other features included an all-in-one card reader that could read and write MultiMediaCard, Reduced-Size MultiMediaCard, Memory Stick, Memory Stick PRO, Secure Digital, miniSD, and microSD memory cards.

There are a surprising number of additional ports, including a VGA port, headphone/speakers/line-out and microphone ports, an RJ-45 LAN connector, and three USB 2.0 ports. The included 30-watt power supply seems a bit flimsy, but the cord length seemed to be more than adequate.

In Operation: Battery Life Woes
I tested the Aspire One on the road and in an office environment, and it ran most of what I threw at it without problems. This version of the Aspire came with a trial version of Microsoft Office 2007, but I was able to install and run OpenOffice 3.0 without any trouble. The Aspire One excels as a travel companion, being much easier to manage in those cramped airline seats. One major gripe, however, is with the battery life, particularly if you’re using the default 3-cell lithium-ion battery.

At best, I could get a bit over two hours of life out of the standard batteries, which is pretty anemic, especially when compared to full-size laptops that give you two to three times that. Third-party 6-cell battery upgrades are available, however, and should be one of the first accessories you purchase if you end up buying one of these. (See "Add more battery life to your netbook" to learn more.)

Acer Aspire One
PROS: Lightweight; small, efficient hardware design; surprising performance and flexibility; could be a good laptop alternative for many IT pros
CONS: Anemic battery life; cramped keyboard may be cumbersome for some users; more expensive than some comparable netbooks
RATING: 3.5 out of 5
PRICE: $300–$400
RECOMMENDATION: The Aspire One is a good choice for IT pros seeking a device to handle basic mobile computing needs, as long as you upgrade the battery or don't mind being tethered to an outlet for prolonged use.
CONTACT: Acer • (403) 533-7700 • www.acer.com

A Valuable Companion
After spending many weeks with the Aspire One, I'm convinced that netbooks are here to stay. Netbook manufacturers are already hard at work on the next generation of netbooks, with new products like the Lenovo IdeaPad S12 (teamed with Nvidia's ION graphics processor) promising to address some of my gripes about weak video performance.

But what about the Aspire One? It's arguably one of the finest netbooks on the market today, and capably fills the functionality gap between a smartphone and a full-sized laptop. It may not replace more powerful systems at your disposal, but it can be a valuable addition to your computing arsenal. Are you using a netbook in an IT environment? Let us know what you think by taking our netbook quick poll.

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