The Death Of The Netbook? Good!

March 24, 2013
3 mins read

MY ACER ASPIRE One Netbook has served me reasonably well. At least the first one did. It spent nearly a year on the road with me, crossing the globe and doing its job, except for its tragically lacklustre performance, which was an ongoing source of frustration. Then I loaned it to a friend who needed a PC for a few days, and one of her colleagues stood on it with a high heel shoe. Goodbye, faithful but slow netbook.

WDF-dead-netbookBeing a good sort, she replaced it with the same model, a brand new Acer Aspire One, with a bigger six-cell battery and a larger hard drive. What a win, I thought. Not so. The new unit has been troublesome from day one, with a display that flickered every time the trackpad was touched. With one of Apple’s stupendously good 13-inch MacBook Pro’s on hand I hardly used the Acer, but after one of my regular update sessions (one has to keep a PC updated or all hell will break loose), I noticed that the flickering had become more strobe-light than occasional annoyance.

Acer’s technical support division was helpful, and after insisting I restore the unit to its factory defaults (which did nothing), they had me send it back for repair. It arrived back this week in what seems to be a repaired state, and I’m currently loading anti-virus and anti-malware programs while Windows runs through the usual endless series of “critical” updates.

Now this unit, like the first, ships with a pathetic 1GB of RAM installed. The Atom processor is no speedster, so the performance sucks (to be kind). This is noticeable every time I use it, but it’s never more obvious than when the unit is trying to install updates, when it behaves more like one of Gutenberg’s printing presses than a modern computer. Samsung’s current crop of mobile phones has 2GB of RAM installed but that’s not actually remarkable; the meagre 1GB of RAM in a full-blown computer like this is.

Which begs the question: “What kind of nefarious troglodyte allows a Windows-based computer to ship with only a Gigabyte of RAM?” That laughable amount hasn’t been enough to run Windows properly for ages. Even with an SD card permanently installed in the SD card slot and configured in ReadyBoost mode, this damn thing is as slow as a sloth in winter. Basically, it’s crying for a memory upgrade.

Which begs another question: “What kind of anti-social type designs a computer that pretty much has to be upgraded, and then deliberately makes the upgrade difficult?” You’d think that a simple screw-open panel on the base of the unit that allows easy access to the RAM module would be a logical design choice. But no, that would make too much sense. Instead, let’s force the user to remove the keyboard, fiddle with a bunch of screws and then pop open the back to get at the RAM. Genius! I used to do IT sales and support for a living, so that upgrade wouldn’t take me long but Mr. or Mrs. Average is probably going to have to fork out for someone to upgrade it for them, and they’ll have to cough up for a 2GB memory module because the installed 1GB module has to be chucked.

Why on earth wouldn’t Acer and other PC manufacturers ship these damn things with 2GB of RAM? The cost at a factory level would be negligible but the user experience would be dramatically improved. Rather drop the size of the hard drive and increase the RAM – after all, external storage is both cheap and easy to implement.

It’s cavalier manufacturer behaviour like this that makes me glad that Apple came along and slashed the living daylights out of the Netbook market with the iPad, and hopefully pummelled the PC makers in the process. Netbook sales have plummeted in recent years, with the downward trend initially reflecting in developed markets and then moving into the developing world. Most people just don’t want a Netbook when they can have a tablet instead.

At some deeply bitter and twisted level, I regret the fact that Apple couldn’t fend off the slavish Android-based iPad impersonators with some kind of all-powerful global patent, if only to teach some of the corner-cutting PC manufacturers a lesson.

At least the operating systems found on tablets tend to be less resource intensive than Windows, and their applications much leaner than Windows programs, so tablets run properly on their specified hardware. I guess I’ll keep my Netbook as a back up, and I’ll upgrade the RAM to give it a fighting chance but it’s definitely time to get a tablet. One thing is for sure, even though I can’t single Acer out because they’re all guilty, I won’t be considering anything they make. They owe me for all the time I’ve spent waiting for their Netbooks to catch up. ASHLEY KRAMER

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