Monday, July 11, 2011

NETBOOKS aren't Trendy Anymore

So I have decided to get a netbook.  Even though tablets are all the rage at the moment (such as the ipad), there are features in netbooks that aren't available with these devices  such as VLC, hard drives & peripherals (such as a tv tuner). Also if I am lying in bed I don't want to be holding an ipad up. I have an ipod touch for quick stuff, such as checking email in bed or footy scores.

My netbook is a secondary laptop so I haven't got the mindset that I will be transcoding video and loading heaps of apps on it.  I can use the dvd player from my other laptop, so a lot of these shortcomings aren't important. The DVD adds bulk and I want something light that I can take with me in ease.  I will not even install Word on my netbook because Wordpad is fine. I will install the bare minimum as I want convenience. If I need to spell check, I can open the word web app or Word on my 15" laptop at home.I dont need to do editing on the road, I will leave that for a more powerful laptop or PC at home.

I also want something to quickly whip from under the bed and watch movies.  A bulky 15" laptop doesn't do this, and I use my 15" laptop as a more permanent setup at home connected to an external monitor, 1.5TB hard drive etc.

I wanted the Atom Fusion APU for the impressive WEI 5 Graphics performance so the choice was between the Toshiba NB550d and the Acer Aspire 522.  The Acer has a better screen res but no bluetooth.  Toshiba has nice harmon kardon speakers, but to be honest I use headphones on the road and connect via my airport express at home, so laptop speakers aren't that important for me.  What concerned me about the Toshiba was the screen res as it couldnt play 720p and also the inability to change hard drives as it was custom.

So even though the Toshiba NB550 looked nicer and had Wake On Lan and Bluetooth, the screen resoloution to me was more important.  Also the battery life is better with the Acer and it comes with a nice case. I am disappointed the Acer didn't come with bluetooth & WOL but I can live without it. I did have visions of putting a 750g, 7400rpm hard drive into my netbook, and using my ipod touch to send magic packets to turn it on in the middle of the night.  But you couldnt do that with the Toshy anyway as the hard drive is to small for all my music & custom sized that makes it difficult to change.

If I do listen to music with my MM100 Bluetooth Sennheiser headphones it will come from my iphone (it wont work with the Acer), at home I can use my more serious Sennheiser HD650 with the Airport Express.

So it is the Acer.  I was very impressed with the performance even with only 1 gig of ram.  The next day I put 4 gigs of ram in and Windows 7 Pro.  Putting in ram wasn't as easy as it used to be, having to remove the keyboard and a whole heap of screws.

2 or 4 gigs certainly makes a difference. With 1 gig there were plenty of blue circles and pausing etc. Whilst watching Inception as a stream, there were moments of freezing etc. But once I had 4 gigs of ram  streamed movies played seamlessly. I have been watching dvd's in bed, using VLC and accessing a wifi n network from my laptop in the room next door.  I installed Airfoil and I can now stream the audio from my netbook to my airport express that is connected digitally to a DAC that is then connected to my yamaha 2.1 speakers.

You have to synchronise VLC so the audio matches the video.  It is usually around 2 seconds, varies and can drift.  But it is oh so worth it as there are no cables connected to the netbook when you watch a movie, and you get the full surround sound experience.It is killer. The screen is fantastic for watching movies.  Even though it is only 10", the lightness of the netbook makes up for it, because a 15" laptop can be heavy whilst lying in bed . I hired Surrogates with Bruce Willis for $3 at the oovie vending machine at Safeway.  I couldnt find it on bluray so had to settle with DVD.  I chucked it into my other 15" laptop and ensured I shared the dvd drive.  I simply opened the dvd from vlc over the wifi network. I then opened airfoil so I could stream the audio and used A/V sync in VLC with the airport express.

There are occasional stutters whilst watching the movie which I will outline below.
For some reason I can only get a 65MBS connection on my wifi n network with the Acer whereas with my Dell 15" I am getting 72MBS.  The reason why it is half speed is that I run the n network on 2.4g so I can use the ipod touch with the Aiport Express. It comes in handy with the ipod touch as I can use airplay from it (particularly late at night).  With 5 ghz I have a feeling I will get better performance.  The network is only running at 20% but latency is the most important issue here.  There is more interference with 2.4ghz and this might be affecting the streaming.  I could copy over the DVD from the network to my Acer and then delete it after watching but that would be a pain.  The other option I am considering is getting a SSD.  This will help with performance boosting the HD WEI from 5.9 to 7.7.  It would also help with the portability aspect.  I dont know if I need 250 gigs, but I am thinking of using the Acer to record tv so am still unsure about getting a SSD  It is a considerable expense that increases the price of the netbook.

I just checked the battery, I have used the laptop from 100% when I started writing this article.  It is at 9 hours 22 minutes. The battery life is amazing.  This is another reason why I prefer the Acer to the Toshiba.
The keyboard is a little cramped and I occasionally hit the up arrow on the track pad which can be annoying, but overall considering the size it does the job.