Our current favorite small netbook, the Acer Aspire One, is now the #1 selling netbook according to 3Q sales numbers as reported by DisplaySearch.
We expect competition to become only more fierce with companies continuing to flood the market with new models. Over the past week we just saw major price reductions from Lenovo whose IdeaPad S10 is now going for $349. HP similarly cut prices.
At some point, there could also be a response to the netbook market from Apple, either in a smaller screen laptop, a lower cost MacBook Air, or a tablet (a large iPod Touch?). While Apple has historically stayed away from cheaper products, this is the fastest growing part of the computer market.
Despite Acer’s loads of new netbook models released over 2008 (such as the recent Eee PC 1002HA), Asus gained market share with its simpler lineup with the Aspire One. See the full results below.
The Acer Aspire One is a fun little netbook, but it’s just not fast enough to run Windows Vista. That’s why Windows XP was included instead of Vista. Right? Well, I put that to the test and found that by modifying Vista as I described earlier, Vista runs great on the Aspire One.
It actually ran more fluidly than Windows XP did. I attribute that mainly to Vista’s support of:
the Atom chipset’s hyperthreading. XP Home does not take full advantage of the chipset.
ReadyBoost, a Vista feature that uses a flash drive to cache and speed up random reads that would otherwise go to the hard drive.
See this video of my Aspire One showing the speed of opening several applications:
The Aspire One currently ships with BIOS 3301 even though there is a later version. Unfortunately, they do not provide very good instructions on how to upgrade or exactly what the new BIOS fixes. The rumor is improved fan control. To install the update, perform the following steps.
Create a FreeDOS bootable USB flash drive
Once you have your USB flash drive, be sure it is formatted FAT32. Then download the program UNetbootin. Start up UNetbootin and select the Distribution FreeDOS. Then towards the bottom select your USB drive letter and click OK. The drive should now be bootable.
Acquire BIOS 3304
You can download the 3304 BIOS here. Extract the contents of the zip file and copy them to the USB flash drive.
Boot off the USB drive and install
Start up the Aspire One and hit F12 until the boot screen appears. Choose to boot off of your USB drive and you will see a UNetbootin screen where you can select default. You will then see 5 boot options. Select #5 FreeDOS Live CD only. Once booted, you’ll be at a DOS prompt on drive A:\. Change to C:\ by simply typing “C:\”. You should then be able to see the contents of your usb drive by typing “dir”. Then type “cd ZG5_3304” if that is the directory where you put your BIOS files. Then the last step is to type “3304.BAT” to run the install script. A progress screen will appear. The install should take less than a minute.
Once the flashing of the new BIOS is complete you can reboot. You can remove your USB flash drive. Press F2 at boot to get into the BIOS and confirm that System BIOS Version says v0.3304.
If you encounter any problems, the most likely cause is your usb drive. You can try to reformat your drive or use a different usb flash drive.
Performing these upgrades are not a simple matter as you have to completely take the netbook apart. Do this at your own risk. It is also a lengthy process so be sure you set aside a good hour of time.
Once you’ve picked out your new RAM or hard drive, you’ll be ready to begin the upgrade. In addition to a screwdriver, you will need a credit card. You may also want some bowls to organize screws that get removed and enough space to place removed components. It is also a good idea to use a towel to cover the screen during the process. If you are upgrading the hard drive, you will be losing all the data on the included drive. If you are installing from scratch, then you have nothing else to do. If you want to duplicate the included OS on the original drive, you will need to run the dd linux command to copy it to your new drive. To do this, you will need a 2.5 inch external USB SATA enclosure to put the new drive in to copy to. If you are unfamiliar with this, it is a very similar process to duplicating the drive in a Tivo.
Step 1 – Remove bottom screws
Flip over the Aspire One so that the bottom is accessible. There are 6 obvious screws to remove on the bottom of the Aspire One. In addition to that, there are two hidden screws under the back rubber feet.
You will need to peel off the back rubber feet to get to those screws. I used pliers to slowly peel up the rubber feet. Try to not touch the sticky side so that they can be reapplied after. When done, they reapply rather easily. The 3 screws from the back and front are different sizes to be sure to organize them correctly.
Step 2 – Lift up keyboard
Flip the Aspire One over so the keyboard is facing up. There are three clips holding the keyboard down by the F2, F8, and Pause keys. You need to push these clips back and down with a credit card so they are no longer visible. After doing this, the clips may pop back up and need to be redone. Once they are all back, you can slide the credit card under the keyboard to pry it up. Do not put the credit card under the keys but under the keyboard. You can then slide the credit card around the sides prying the entire keyboard up.
Step 3 – Unplug keyboard and remove more screws
Lean the keyboard forward to expose where it is plugged in towards the center. This cable is held down with a clamp that is on top of it. You can flip this up to release the connector. The keyboard should now be loose and can be put aside. Right below the keyboard connection is a smaller similar connector for the trackpad. In the same manner, flip up the clamp which will release the trackpad cable.
Step 4 – Remove top panel surrounding keyboard
Towards the back left above the AC plug is the best place to start prying open this panel. Push the credit card between the panel and the base to begin prying it open. Then slide the card completely around the panel which will free it so it can be removed.
Step 5 – Unplug, unscrew, and remove motherboard
The video cable is towards the upper left. It is held down with tape so first pull up the tape and then pull out the connector. Towards the bottom middle is another cable held down with black tape. Lift up the black tape and then slide out the connector leaving the cable dangling. Towards the bottom right is the Wi-Fi card. To the right of the card are 2 cables plugged into it. Unplug these by pulling them directly up then leave them dangling. The Wi-Fi card is held in with one screw. Unscrew it and the card will be easy to remove so you can set it aside. There is a main board to the left and a daughter board to the right. The main board has just one screw towards the bottom and the daughter board has three screws. All of these screws need to be removed.
Step 6 – Replace RAM and/or Hard Drive
You can now flip up the boards to expose the underside where the RAM and hard drive are. The RAM is on the left and is held down in the typical way with prongs on the sides. Remove the 512MB card and insert your 1GB card. It is in properly if the prongs fit into the notches on the card. The hard drive is to the right and can be separately unscrewed to replace.
Step 7 – Put it all back together
By this point, hopefully you’ve kept all the components and screws well organized because you just have to do everything in reverse. When putting the boards down, be sure you have everything flush and tightened so there is enough room for the keyboard to go back in on top of it. Don’t forget to plug all connectors back in so review the above steps to be sure you do. The panel around the keyboard will snap in as will the keyboard itself by applying a little pressure. Before screwing in the bottom screws, you might want to boot up to make sure everything is working.
Acer has just started selling a new Aspire One netbook. The latest improvements in this model are an increased SATA hard drive to 160GB and a 6-cell battery which will yield a good 5 hours of use even playing movies. It includes a low power Intel Atom processor running at 1.6GHz. Many people assume all netbooks are slow but the following video demonstrates that it is more than powerful for most computer uses today. This is in part due to the SATA hard drive which outperforms the more commonly found SSD option.