My experiences with an Acer Aspire One A110/ZG5
I'd been looking at netbooks for some time, for use while travelling, but none of them were exactly what I wanted. I did an install of Fedora 11 onto an Acer Aspire One for a user at work, however, and that gave me enough experience to decide it was usable.
I ended up buying a black 8.9" model (ZG5) with 1GB of memory and an 8GB SSD, as well as an 8GB SDHC card (Transcend class 6).
Installation and Configuration
My first step was to remove the Windows stickers. (I really wanted to buy a model with Linux, but Microsoft has so cowed netbook vendors that I could get an AAO with 1GB and XP for $50 less than a 512MB version with Linux. Windows clearly has negative value!)
I then did a Fedora 11 install following Jorge's detailed notes The Road to Elysium: Fedora 11 on the Acer Aspire One. I built the acerhdf module (for fan control) on my desktop (with the same kernel) and just copied it across. The only hardware feature that doesn't work is the wireless activity LEDs.
I have my home directory on the SDHC card, encrypted, following these instructions. So losing the laptop won't mean exposing my personal data. (And if anyone wants to search my laptop at the airport, I can just pull out the SDHC card, leaving some empty home directories for their perusal.)
Performance and Problems
Writing to the SSD is slow, especially for writes of many small files. (The Fedora 11 install took forever, and installing updates is painfully slow.) Read times are ok, however, and booting was fast once I fixed udev by editing /etc/sysconfig/udev and turning on the MAKEDEV cache. I'm using either GNOME or XFCE (started from my .bash_profile depending on which virtual console I log in to). I'm not sure if having my home directory on the SDHC card (as suggested by bikethetam) speeds things up that much (and the encryption will slow them down a bit).
The AAO has pathetic speakers, and the sound level is very low. It's fine for listening to simple audio at night, with no background noise, but not much good with high ambient noise (and too crappy to do justice to music). Using headphones is the way to go.
Suspend and hibernate don't work. Hibernate doesn't work without swap. And suspend was corrupting my SDHC /home (and now seems to lock the machine up completely).
As far as ergonomics goes, the AAO with the standard 3-cell battery weighs in at just 967 grams, but has the biggest keyboard of the 9" netbooks. On the downside, the trackpad with the buttons on the sides is a bit clumsy and will take some getting used to. And the 1024x600 screen is a far cry from my 1920x1200 desktops!
Power consumption is just on 9 watts idling (with wireless active but screen on mininum brightness). With the 3-cell battery that will give me 2 to 2.5 hours in practice - less if playing video. Disabling wireless saves 0.5 watts. Blanking the screen saves 2 watts. I've disabled cpu speed throttling, as there seems to be uncertainty about how much it helps and my normal workload hardly uses any cpu anyway.
I plan to carry the netbook in the backpack which I take everywhere, so I'm looking for a rigid plastic case of the right size to hold it.
It might be worth getting a second 6-cell or 9-cell battery for long plane flights. They're only about $70 from Hong Kong on ebay. I might get a second power adaptor, too.
Replacing the standard SSD with a Super Talent 1.3" IDE ZIF SSD might speed it up, though I'd want to see some benchmarks of the latter first.
I think something with this form factor could be made into my ideal netbook.
- the screen could be made slightly bigger - there's a lot of bezel around the current one
- the trackpad buttons could be moved so they're less awkward to use
- the slow SSD could be replaced with a really fast one - it doesn't make sense to put a $500 SSD into a $400 netbook, but they will surely get cheaper
- a 3G card could be fitted (there's room for it in the current model)