First Reviews of the Acer Timeline

I recently wrote about the upcoming Acer Timeline series laptops, eagerly awaiting official reviews to ascertain if the 8 hour battery life claims were actually true. Now that two UK publications, The Register and Trusted Reviews, have released reviews of the 14″ version, it looks like the boasts were…


Granted the 8 hours+ was hit under very light load, it still translates into a sub 7W power consumption, with the 6 cell 56Whr battery. Very impressive. Extrapolating based  on system specifications, the 13.3″ version, which I am more interested in, should do just as well. Even with moderate productivity work and web browsing, 6 hours+ should be doable, all at 3.5lbs. That’s tasty.

NCIX has started listing a few of the Timelines for pre-order. Unfortunately, prices are inflated, in the range of $1000 for the single core versions. Realistically, I think the dual core versions need to be quite a bit below $1000CAD, since for less than $1200CAD, one can get a Lenovo X200 with a 9 cell battery, which gets 6-7 hours of battery life, at around 4lbs.

HP Pavillion dv2 – For a Market That Doesn’t Exist

I had a few things to say about Patrick Moorhead’s comments on the impotency of netbooks last fall, and I thought that would be that. But Mr. Moorhead obviously didn’t agree and served up another classic on his ‘blog’ in an article entitled ‘The Magical AMD Yukon-based HP Pavilion dv2 Ultrathin Notebook‘. Taken in context with his article I spoke about a few months ago, it clearly shows Pat’s care for the consumer, something he tries so hard to portray, is in reality next to nothing, instead pushing his company’s products at every opportunity.

When HP first presented the dv2, I thought, Wow, finally something cheap and useful like the Dell Mini 12, but less ugly. The new AMD Yukon platform even sounded decent, although watching high definition content isn’t anywhere near the top of my list of priorities when it comes to a cheap mobile computer. Unfortunately, after digging deeper, the whole package (at least in HP’s initial implementation) is severely lacking.

Battery Life

Power consumption is a big deal. As my mentality towards computers changed more and more towards being a tool as opposed to a hobby, I’ve placed more emphasis on portability and autonomy. Under light load, web browsing/word processing, I can get almost 4 hours of battery life with the 6 cell in my Dell XPS M1330 (with a discrete NVIDIA GPU). Meanwhile, the dv2 is rumoured to provide over 3 hours of autonomy with the integrated graphics option. Not impressive at all, given the lack of an optical drive, a much lower performance processor, smaller display, and no discrete graphics in this option.

Netbooks may have limited use cases, but with a 6 cell battery, they’ll almost universally allow 5 hours+ of productivity work before requiring a recharge. If the dv2 is intended to be extremely portable, it simply needs better battery life.


There’s a very legitimate reason why most netbook displays have been in the 8.9″ to 10″ range. Much beyond that and you run into full-sized notebook territory. Furthermore, the HP dv2’s 12″ display is surrounded by an absolutely giant bezel, pushing the overall footprint of the notebook to 11.5″ x 9.5″, which is only 1″ narrower than my XPS M1330. In terms of portability, absolutely nothing is gained by dropping down to less than half the performance of just about any regular dual core 13.3″ laptop. Even weight is only down by 0.5lb, nearly negligible in the overall scheme of things. Plus, you’re losing the optical drive.

Although AMD is showing higher performance for its Neo processor than Atom, that only means it’s only faster than slow. Tech Report did some tests on an Atom, Nano and Pentium M processor a while ago, and results showed the Pentium M 760 to be at least twice as fast as a 1.6GHz Atom overall. Expect the Neo processor in the Yukon platform to be at most as fast as the single core Pentium M.

In the end, dropping down 1″ in width and 0.5lbs for the dv2 nets you a dramatic drop in performance (and an optical bay) from a regular 13.3″ laptop. Perhaps the only thing that could save it at this point is price, which brings me to my next point.


HP announced a $699 entry price point for its dv2, but that’s for the integrated graphics version with only 1GB RAM. Factoring in the exchange rate and you’re looking at the $800-900 range in Canada. In comparison, at the $999 price point, you can get a Dell XPS M1330 with a 2.2GHz Core 2 Duo, 4GB RAM, a 320GB 5400RPM HDD, and a DVD+/-RW. That thing offers 3 hours+ battery life, a footprint barely larger than the dv2, an optical drive and performance that is way out of the dv2’s league. It’s a no-brainer which option I’d go with. Even HP’s own dv3 comes in at only $799US, but gives a dual core 2.0GHz AMD CPU, 2GB RAM, and an optical drive. Again, barely larger or heavier than the dv2. Pricing simply doesn’t make any sense when portability is no longer a major advantage with the dv2.

There absolutely is a place for a higher performing, small, cheap, and portable laptop that AMD is targeting. However, with the HP dv2, it has missed the mark. It’s too large. It doesn’t perform well enough for the price, and battery life is at best normal for a full-sized laptop. I think there’s a higher probability that Atom will scale up to this market than an AMD K8 derivative can scale down to it.

Dell XPS M1330 – A Year In

Product reviews are always a double edged sword. They are mostly written after a short amount of time (relative to the useful life) with the product, in order to inform interested early adopters. On the other hand, the short time also means there are things that can’t be thoroughly tested, like reliability. After over a year with the Dell XPS M1330, loving the laptop, blundering through a GPU failure, and having people tell me that my review should be updated with the developments of the NVIDIA GPU defect, it’s time to provide the entire ownership experience.

The M1330 was one of the most talked about Dell laptops pre-launch and even today, it remains quite popular. However, many discussions of the M1330 of late labour over the NVIDIA GPU die-packaging defect and its effect on the M1330. While Dell and NVIDIA are adamant that the defect is contained and relatively rare, my experience has indicated otherwise. Two friends own M1330’s with the 8400M GS and two friends own M1530’s with the 8600M GT. Over the past year, those two M1330’s, along with mine, have all had their mainboards replaced due to dead GPUs. The two M1530’s haven’t run into any problems thus far. I certainly don’t mean to imply that there is a 100% defect rate for 8400M GS equipped M1330’s. It simply points to some bad luck and coincidence, but also indicates a wider-ranging problem than Dell is letting on with the laptop. Statistics demands it.

When Dell first acknowledged the GPU defect via the Direct2Dell blog, it was towards the end of my summer university semester. Hoping to avoid any problems associated with the GPU, I preemptively called Dell support to see if I could purchase a warranty extension. After my explanation of the NVIDIA defect, and hoping I could get a cheap extension as a result, perhaps around $100 for a year, I was quoted $300 for a single year or a ‘promotional’ price of slightly over $550 for two years of standard coverage. Unable to control my laughter, I asked how much an out-of-warranty repair was: $250. I decided to take my chances.

My next step was to attempt a replacement of the possibly defective GPU with a defect-free one. Citing standard warranty procedures, technical support informed me that the GPU would only be replaced if it could be diagnosed as defective within the warranty period. No amount of explanation (or Direct2Dell references) was able to change their mind.

Now, fast forward to the middle of final exams, and literally two days after my warranty had expired. Poof. My M1330 boots to a screen filled with colorful vertical lines. Dell technical support forwarded me onto out of warranty repairs, despite pleas to make an exception, both due to the defect as well as being so close to the warranty window. But seeing as I was up the creek without a paddle, I decided to tough it out. I was in the middle of exams and I wouldn’t have the repair completed before they ended in any case. In the meantime, I found myself in a seriously awkward position. Being a computer engineering student, well, my computer was a priceless tool for my studies. I was fortunate enough that a friend had a laptop he could loan me, allowing me to continue studying. Clearly frustrated with Dell, I posted a stinging but professional comment at Direct2Dell, stating my displeasure.

As a result of the comment, I was contacted by a community liaison, who informed me that he would set me up with someone who could help me with my issue, despite being out of warranty. I was pleased by the turn of events and thanked him profusely.

That is, until a week passed and I had heard nothing back from anyone at Dell.

Shortly afterward, Direct2Dell posted some information about a 1 year warranty extension for systems affected by the NVIDIA defect. I was absolutely relieved that I hadn’t purchased the exorbitantly priced warranty extension and would soon have my laptop repaired through normal channels.

With warranty extension information in hand, I called technical support, and despite pointing out the Direct2Dell post, I was again denied warranty service. Technical support knew nothing about the warranty extension and would not repair the laptop under warranty. Some more emails to the community liaison turned up the fact that he’d been on vacation and hadn’t realized that nobody had contacted me yet. He assured me he’d ‘track down’ who was responsible. Then more silence.

I was seriously stuck between a rock and a hard place. It was nearly three weeks without a working laptop and I still had no indication that anyone was even willing to help, despite two potential solutions. It was at this point that I did something I promised myself I wouldn’t.

Since purchasing my M1330, I had been in contact with a product manager at Dell, who took interest in some things I’d written about the laptop. We built up a friendly relationship over the past year, which I valued. It was based on mutual respect and I didn’t want to jeopardize it by using him as a backdoor resource. Yet, given the situation, I saw little alternative. I contacted him in his official capacity as a Dell employee, voicing my displeasure.

Not expecting any less from a person of his character, I received a timely response. He had personally contacted some resources to see what was happening. Not long afterward, both the community liaison and an executive support representative contacted me regarding repairs.

There was still one more obstacle. Even several weeks after the acknowledgment of the GPU defect, it still wasn’t clear if the defective NVIDIA chips had worked their way out of Dell’s supply chain. Questions to that effect to Lionel Menchaca of Direct2Dell fame were either curiously sidestepped or simply brushed aside, with an explanation that the warranty extension would cover any issues with the GPU. The non-denial certainly sounded like the replacements would still be with possibly defective parts.

I attempted to ascertain from the support representative whether the replacement parts were defect free. All I got in response was some nonsensical explanation that GPU errata were common and that this one had been fixed. As a note, an erratum is a logic error within a computational device, something that is indeed fairly common, but causes only computational errors (which can lead to system instability and corruption). The weak die and substrate packaging material was a hardware defect that could cause physical, hardware failure, not an erratum. I was disappointed that even an executive support representative was either misinformed or thought they could slip one by the customer. Not having much choice regardless (I couldn’t even downgrade to the integrated Intel video if I wanted to), I went ahead with the repair.

Really the only bright spot of the experience was the surprisingly quick turnaround time for the return to depot repair service, which took less than a week, round trip, with both to and from shipping paid for by Dell. I’m now using the still functioning system to write this update. It’s held up okay so far and I’m crossing my fingers for the next year or so that I’ll use this laptop.

When everything is said and done, the main point here is that Dell is treating the situation as if everything were business as usual. Unfortunately with the defect, that’s simply not the case. I’d like to hear a confirmation that parts being used in new systems are defect-free. Otherwise, even with the warranty extension, the 8400M GS could still be a ticking time bomb in the M1330. I also would have liked to avoid the 4+ weeks without a laptop. I asked for a reasonably priced warranty extension due to the defect and was rejected. I asked for an in-warranty replacement of the stated defective GPU and was denied on the basis that it hadn’t yet showed symptoms. This would be acceptable under normal circumstances, but not when there’s an acknowledged manufacturing defect. Those 4 weeks without a working M1330 worked out to 8% of the ownership time of the laptop at that point. If a new car had to spend 8% of its first year with a mechanic, I’d be livid.

I’d like to see better communication between the different branches of Dell. While communications can be difficult in a large company, the disconnect between Direct2Dell, which is supposed to be an official voice of Dell, and technical support was simply unacceptable.

Finally, it’s time for Dell to stop hiding behind the problem. While there were numerous frantic bouts of finger pointing in NVIDIA’s general direction, the customer purchased the finished product from Dell. Dell needs to be responsible for the ups and downs of the product life cycle. I don’t go knocking on Synaptic’s door if the touch wheel on my iPod dies. I go to an Apple store. It’s the same thing here. One of the advantages of ordering a pre-built computer is that there’s a central point of contact for any problems. I expect that support system to be there when issues occur. Of course, it’s important to note that Dell isn’t the only manufacturer affected. HP and Apple have both acknowledged the issue as well.

The Dell XPS M1330 is a great laptop, unfortunately affected by the NVIDIA GPU defect. While I’d like to believe that the defective GPUs have worked their way out of inventory, there’s been no official confirmation either way. With the warranty extension well established at this point, you can be pretty certain that any issues will be resolved; however it doesn’t eliminate the fact that you could still run into hardware issues in the first place.

Acer Aspire One Netbook Review (XP)

Note: I originally took a bunch of unboxing and detailed photographs of the Acer Aspire One, but lost them all due to some carelessness on my part with SD card formatting. To be honest, I was too frustrated with myself to retake them all, but there are tons of photos all around the web if you want to see the Aspire One. I’ve included some press photos simply to break up the mass of words that is this review.

The Aspire One

The Acer Aspire One is an 8.9” netbook, competing with the likes of the ASUS Eee 900/1000 and the MSI Wind. It is designed as a very portable computer priced at a point that it can be purchased as a travel companion when even regular sized notebooks may be too large or bulky. It may also be used as a companion to a desktop in educational settings, with the Aspire One taking its place in the lecture hall.

Acer Aspire One

The reviewed Aspire One was purchased with the following specifications.

Intel Atom 1.6GHz
120GB WD 5400RPM
8.9″ WSVGA (1024×600)
0.3mp webcam
5-in-1 card reader
Storage expansion SD card reader (flush)
3 USB ports
3 cell battery (23Whr)

A Temporary Fix – Decisions

With my Dell XPS M1330 out of commission and a lot of commuting by train on the docket for early September, I needed a small but usable computer that wouldn’t add too much weight and fit on the small fold out trays.

Since I didn’t want to buy another full sized laptop that would render the eventually-to-be-fixed M1330 useless, I went looking for a cheap temporary machine that would still have a use after I had the M1330 repaired. The logical choice was a netbook, something that expanded the possibilities for computing on the go.

With a netbook in mind, I narrowed my choices down to the MSI Wind, ASUS Eee 901/1000 and the Acer Aspire One. Immediately the Aspire One jumped to the top of my list, solely due to price. After a repair, my M1330 would be completely usable, so I wanted to spend as little as possible. However other factors also came into play. The Eee 901 and 1000 offered significantly better battery life than the Aspire One, but were terribly expensive, to the tune of around 1.5X the price. The MSI Wind was more attractive, with a (in my opinion) better design, better keyboard and a slightly lower price than the Eee 901/1000, albeit only as the 3-cell battery version, making battery life no better (if not worse) than the Aspire One.

However, with power plugs available at every seat on the train and models readily available at both Future Shop and BestBuy locally, I decided I could sacrifice the poorer battery life for the additional savings. Furthermore, I had a chance to briefly try out the Aspire One before purchase. At the time, the only thing that made me hesitate was the bilingual keyboard. An HP Mini-Note was also on display at BestBuy, and side by side, the Acer’s keyboard was no match for the Mini-Note. MSI also seems to be shipping a bilingual keyboard on their Winds in Canada, so it would seem like with a slightly weaker channel program in Canada, Acer and MSI are both trying to keep a cap on their netbook SKUs for our bilingual country.

Acer Aspire One
I wish the keyboard were like this and not bilingual…

Netbooks at… Big Box Stores?

The purchase was made for $379 from BestBuy. I might have been able to get a better price elsewhere, but would have had to wait for shipping. For example DirectCanada has the 6 cell version for $429. On the other hand the price also wasn’t bad; Canada Computers has the same model I purchased for $420. Pricing is hovering around the $400 MSRP currently.

In terms of pricing, the $399 price of the Aspire One is very reasonable, especially compared to the $500-$600 pricing of the MSI Wind and the ASUS Eee 901/1000. Furthermore, with the 6-cell version of the Aspire One at $429, it makes the Wind Eee look absolutely expensive in comparison.

In terms of absolute cost, we’re still nowhere near the announced $199 price that got ASUS so much, in retrospect undeserved, attention when it first spoke about an ‘Eee PC’. However, the current pricing, especially by Acer will drive competition and hopefully get MSI and ASUS’ pricing more in line with reality.