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One of the Better Netbooks for the Price
on July 13, 2011
Netbooks have never really thrilled me mainly because of processor limitations and cramped keyboards but I decided to give the Acer D257 a shot mainly because my local Walmart was pushing the out the door for less than $230 to make room for a new supply coming in (odd since mine is date stamped for less than a month ago).
From the outside first appearances will tell you it's a netbook just like any of the others out there, but looks are deceiving.
Your first hint that something is different is in the top lid design. What appears to be a ripple design is actually embossed and can be felt when running your hand over it. For those of you that like to put cover stickers on top, you can kiss that idea goodbye.
Most will immediately notice the weight, or lack thereof. With the 3 cell battery installed my postal meter shows it coming in at 2 pounds, 3 ounces. Add another 8 ounces if you opt for the 6 cell battery (and you probably will, more on that later).
You've seen the specs before -- 1.66 Intel Atom processor, 1GB RAM, VGA port, card reader, 10.1 inch TFT screen, Windows 7 Starter, 3 USB ports, blah, blah.
Again this is deceiving but even I didn't spot the differences until I started using it. The first difference is the DDR3 1GHz RAM. Most other units tone down their RAM to either 800HMz DDR2 or use slower DDR3 variations.
And this does show in performance, but it's still a little light. 2GB is more appropriate but I'll discuss that issue later. Due to issues with upgrading RAM I went ahead and installed a 4GB flash card in the slot and told Windows to use it as extra RAM.
Overall, RAM usage stayed in the 60 to 70% range when surfing and/or watching videos. This doesn't leave much horsepower for anything else but what else do you plan to do on such a small unit?
The second obvious difference is the processor. Yes, it's an Atom dual core, but it also appears to support hyperthreading, something that is usually lacking. I discovered this upon installing the desktop widget that monitors the CPU. Instead of showing dual cores, it shows a quad core setup. This means it rarely pegs 50% CPU usage and is usually down in the low 20% for most work.
As an experiment I installed Corel WordPerfect and Dragon Naturally Speaking. The latter program is famous for making computers with low specs cry uncle and I added Corel just so Dragon would open it, too (thereby creating a double whammy stress on resources). My previous netbook would give up an die about the time I opened Dragon.
This Acer didn't. Dragon and Corel opened up just fine and, in fact, I'm using both right now to dictate this review.
As for video playback I received another pleasant surprise with this unit. My previous netbook couldn't and wouldn't play any video above 240p and was choppy at that level.
Although this unit defaults to 360p you can go ahead and crank it up to 720p without hesitation or stuttering. Rather impressive, although the Windows score is rated at 2.0 because it lacks 3D and some video support (those in the know ignore this figure anyway).
As for speed, it's just as quick as my Lenovo laptop with 7 Professional and 8GB RAM, but Starter undoubtedly has something to do with this. Without all that extra Aero jazz and background interference, Starter is bound to be a little quicker.
Oddly, it does boot to a usable desktop within 1.5 minutes or less, about half a minute quicker than my Lenovo.
But speed and video capability do come at a price. Battery life is somewhat abysmal, especially with the 3 cell battery. It can and does conk out after about 2.5 to 3 hours and the purported claims of 4 hours must be at idle while doing nothing; however, my 6 cell battery returns nearly 8 hours of time on a charge. The really adventurous can get a 9 cell battery that alleges 12 hours of use but also adds nearly another pound to the package.
For those opting to travel with the plug keep in mind that Acer still uses the standard power cord and users have to attach the power plug assembly for their country. In the U.S. this is a standard two prong connector but using one power cord with different connectors means extra bulk. In fact, the power assembly weighs nearly 3 times as much as the battery and could easily be smaller.
Users wanting something different can also find versions running MeeGo Linux or Android along with Windows but I haven't been able to get more than one OS to run at any given time. Most in the U.S. at this time appear to be Windows based although EBay does have a few international versions with different OS.
Also, contrary to belief, Starter is not completely stripped. It does come with Windows Media Player (some reviewers state it doesn't) and you can open more than 3 programs at once (that was an old MS limitation). True, you can't change the desktop background but I'm usually busy doing other things to look.
So, cutting to the chase here are the good points:
* Lightweight. Sub 3 pounds with 6 cell battery and barely over 2 with standard 3 cell
* Thin. I swear it can't be more than an inch thick
* 250GB HDD instead of the usual 160GB
* Oddly quiet. I have to strain to hear the fan running most of the time. Usually netbooks are noisy and even the HDD is quiet in this unit
* Wireless includes N. Most stop at G.
* It can sense with the power connector is loose and will beep to let you know it's not connected all the way (but only if the connector is still making partial contact).
* Dual core processor with hyperthreading is unique. Most stop with just the dual core and leave it at that
* DDR3 RAM, although limited to 1GB, is sufficient for the tasks I've put it through
* Unique cover design
* Solid construction with no creaking or cracking and limited screen flex
* Decent performance, especially video
* Cheap compared to tablets that are taking over the market. $240 for an ultraportable is nearly unheard of and a similar computer just 10 years ago from Dell or the like would have set you back $2,000.
* Keyboard that is actually pleasurable to use. I rarely had a mistype.
* Mouse/trackpad with the same pinch and squeeze features found on Apples. At least Acer got away from previous designs with the buttons on the side. While these finger movements may seem minor, they do come in handy for when screen print is small.
Not everything is perfect and there are flaws:
* Bottom firing speakers mean tinny and muffled sound
* Even Acer is confused with this model. The website states it's a single core model when it's actually dual core (and, yes, I did get the right model variation).
* No HDMI port for those desiring such nor is there Bluetooth capability
* Changing RAM or hard drive requires the removal of 6 screws on the bottom (2 of which are covered by the rubber feet), removal of the keyboard, yet another 6 screws and a metal plate. Screw any of these up and you're out of luck.
* Quirky battery life, at least with 3 cell. Prone to dropping a half hour after just a couple minutes use so it's really difficult to gauge when you need to find an outlet or call it quits.
* The two right side USB ports and next to each other. Fat dongles need not apply
* Surefire fingerprint magnet on the cover although keyboard surfaces are roughly finished
* Incredible amount of bloatware including anti-virus and Microsoft Office trials plus 22 Acer games that had to be removed.
* My unit is date stamped June, 2011 (the 19th to be exact) and today is the 12th of July so why did I already have over 250MB of updates waiting in the pipes?
* Watching videos turns up the heat to the point the bottom is really hot. Since most of the vents are bottom firing you can see where this presents problems. Adding the bulk of the 6 cell battery elevated the rear end and kept the heat done somewhat.
Overall, I give this unit a high rating but those interested might want to act quickly. Netbooks are a dying breed and may be replaced by tablets in the near future (might also explain with the prices are dropping, too).