It’s another year and I’m deploying next week. One of the few perks that entails is VAT exemption at PC World. I had decided some time ago to retire my Acer Aspire One A110L, this seems a sensible opportunity. I need the following:
- Very good battery life
- No solid state disk (SSD) – they’re too small and were a bottleneck on the Aspire One
- Under £300
- Must have a microphone, web-cam and reasonable speakers – Skype is an essential
Restricted to what PC World stocks, it came down to three choices – Acer 531, Samsung NC10 or Toshiba NB200. The NB200 dropped of their stock list sometime between Christmas and New Year and they only had the NC10 in stock when I got to the store so I guess that narrowed it down.
It’s a Windows XP home system although Windows 7 Starter is available if you pay more. With 1 Gb of RAM, Intel Atom processor and 160 Gb hard disk, it has a 1.3 mega pixel web-cam and a comfortable keyboard and touch pad, the latter resplendent with buttons beneath the pad. They quote a nine hour battery life and all for £249.99 (although, with discount this was a ridiculous £212.49).
Battery life is excellent. I couldn’t expect more. There are three modes of operation, cycled through with a Fn+F8 key combination – silent, normal and speed. I’m in normal now and have been since I started typing this post, the fully charged battery is now showing 8:28 remaining. This is fairly stable too, and the system is perfectly responsive for writing, surfing and so on. Without doing tests, this is subjective but I had the system on normal earlier with my Blackberry, MP3 player and and external Western Digital hard disk connected to USB and got four and a half hours from the system. It’s a relief to see that Samsung didn’t opt to use a shiny screen – these drive me crazy, especially when the back-light is low. I’ve a lamp behind me at the moment and there’s no bright reflection.
Generally, I find Windows systems come with so much cruft preinstalled that a clean install is needed. I also tend to lean towards Dell hardware as they provide installation disks rather than restore disks and I’m glad to say I can add Samsung to this list. The restore disk is slip-streamed Windows XP Home SP3, although it’s a shame that there isn’t a utility provided to push this on to a USB disk.
Preinstalled software consists of Samsung’s software and a trial McAfee license. I removed the preinstalled McAfee as I have a licenced copy through my ISP. Samsung software is OK, focusing on improving XP’s failings – such as managing display, audio and WiFi, managing backup and updating drivers.
Anyway, how does it fair with Ubuntu?
I used an Ubuntu 9.10 live USB session to see what was working. I was pleased to discover that it appears to be everything. Wireless, bluetooth, correct resolution, touch pad and keyboard. Battery life is not noticeably different to Windows either. The only minor criticism is that although the screen is rotated, the mouse is not but I’m sure that’s something that can be addressed with some poking around.
It is refreshing to see hardware working out of the box and is becoming common. This might be down to Samsung’s choice of hardware but probably not as their website mentions only Windows 7. Checking the community documentation, it would appear that some configuration was needed with 8.10 but there is nothing entered for 9.10. So I think its not an unrealistic conclusion to say that work done on the kernel in the last year is responsible. The ath5k kernel module has been significantly improved since kernel 2.6.27 – this is the same chip set that the Aspire One A110 had.
I’m relieved to see such improvement in such a relatively short space of time. We can have all the bells and whistles but its the out of box experience that most new users will judge us on, right or wrong. I know it’s unfair that a clean Windows install supports far less hardware but many of our users are unaware that they have a restore CD. With Vista being a farce and Windows 7 starter being an uncertainty, I hope we have a chance to let Ubuntu shine through on these devices.
As an aside I had a curious conversation with someone about Windows. He suggested that Windows 7 was unnecessary on a netbook, as XP was less resource hungry and you only need video playback, VOIP, web browser and word processor. Logical enough I suppose, however I suggested that the same was true of Ubuntu, only to be told that it’s too different and that it doesn’t run games (despite this not being a requirement). Maybe we can’t win but for those who venture in, if everything works then its one less thing for naysayers to argue.