Sunday, February 9, 2014

Acer Aspire v5-122p Ultra-Thin Touchscreen Notebook

Acer Aspire v5-122p-0825 
Ultra-Thin Touchscreen Notebook


CPU: AMD A4-1250 Dual Core @ 1GHz
GPU: AMD Radeon HD 8210
RAM: 4 GB DDR3 Low Voltage (2GB on board + 2 GB SODIMM)
HDD: Western Digital 500GB 5400rpm SATA3
LCD: 11.6" Glossy Widescreen Multitouch LCD
Audio: RealTek HD
Network: Qualcomm Atheros AR95x 802.11 b/g/n + BlueTooth
Peripherals: 83-key non-backlit keyboard, touchpad, 2x USB (1xUSB3, 1xUSB2),  CrystalEye webcam, SD/MicroSD Card-reader
Battery: 3-cell Lithium Ion

Although I own a bevy of tablet- and laptop computers, when I expect to work away from home, I tend to bring my trusty netbook along for the ride. Tablets are wonderful media-consumption devices, but absolutely terrible if you want to do any real work, and laptops just can't compare with the portability and battery life of a a net- or ultra-book. Unfortunately, my 5-year old Dell Inspiron Mini10T - with its limited 1GB RAM and 1GHz Atom processor - was proving incapable of handing the demands of modern operating systems and applications. Don't get me wrong; I loved my little Dell but after waiting five minutes for it to boot MS Windows 7 and load up a single document, I realized it was time for an upgrade.

Netbooks are becoming a rare breed these days, with their niche largely taken over by tablets. What few exist tend to be either underpowered and cheap, or rival laptops in both performance and price, but very little between the two extremes. But - having desktop powerhouses at home - I was more concerned with price than performance and ultimately settled for the Acer Aspire v5-122p.

My demands were simple: I wanted a machine that I could carry around everywhere, and one that would let me get to work almost as soon as I opened it up. A slightly larger screen would be welcome too. Raw power and battery life were secondary concerns.

The Aspire v5 is no powerhouse; my gaming PC is roughly 20 times in every category of the 3DMark benchmark. When it comes to modern games, it is a complete failure; some won't even start and for those that do, the frame-rates are in the single-digits. But it shines for those ordinary, mundane tasks: word-processing, email, surfing the web.

Most impressively is its boot-time, although that might have as much to do with Windows 8.1. Still,

going from pressing the power button to the desktop in less than 30 seconds without an SSD is still an impressive feat. Applications open fairly swiftly as well (9 seconds for LibreOffice, 8 seconds for Firefox*, 7 for Thunderbird). The interface remains snappy throughout, thanks to the dual cores and Windows 8's improved threading. The Aspire v5's performance is in no way jaw-dropping - compared to other PCs, it's average at best, if not a bit pokey - but it is still fast enough that you end up grinding your teeth waiting for it to chug through basic tasks.

The rest of the hardware is fairly mundane. The 500GB hard-drive is spacious enough to hold most of the data you will need "on the go". The Radeon 8210 HD is adequate for apps and playing video (it even handles BluRay-quality movies with aplomb). Audio is handled by RealTek HD integrated audio; the speakers - located on the bottom of the chassis - are surprisingly loud and clear although, due to the size of the netbook - channel separation is difficult to make out. The CrystalEye webcam is nominally HD but - while functional - still outputs grainy, low-res video. The glossy widescreen LCD is a bit dim; adequate for indoor work but difficult to use outside in the sun. It features 10-point multi-touch capabilities though, should you have any desire to smear up your display pointlessly. On the other hand, it has a fairly wide viewing angle so I wasn't constantly struggling to keep my head perfectly centered lest the image appear washed out.

The entire computer weighs in at a barely noticeable 3.3 pounds. Made of thin plastic, the chassis does feel a bit frail, and I worry it might not stand up to excessive wear. It features a 3-cell Lithium Ion battery with a 3-hour life. The battery is non-removable, although it can be extended with the addition of an optional second battery ($99). The case features only a minimum of ports: two USB  ports, a slot for an SD/MicroSD card-reader, a headphone jack and a port for a proprietary expansion dongle. The dongle that comes with the laptop only has a VGA port, but a more robust dongle adds an additional USB port and an Ethernet jack ($35). I do sort of miss having an integrated Ethernet jack since I like to use my netbooks to troubleshoot routers - which is best done when wired - but I can understand why it was dropped from newer machines. Anyway, the dongle does allow me to have the best of both worlds, even if it is a bit of a kludge.

The power button is somewhat inconveniently located on the side of the computer. The widely-spaced 83-key keyboard is somewhat reminiscent of the chiclet keyboards of years past, but is surprisingly useable (still, I recommend interested buyers stop by a store and see how it feels first; it is definitely a love-it or hate-it thing). Like most ultra-small laptops, the touchpad is far too inconveniently located and I strongly recommend getting a wireless mouse and disabling it entirely.

The Aspire v5-122p comes preloaded with Windows 8.1, which is only slightly less horrid than Windows 8.0. Unfortunately, driver support for older versions of Windows is difficult to come by. On the other hand, with the use of software such as Classic Shell and Windows Update Notifier (not to mention third-party applications such as Irfanview for images, SumatraPDF for e-books and LibreOffice for word-processing), the dreadful and unintuitive "Modern" interface can be practically obliterated, leaving you with a Win7 or WinXP look, if you so desire. The machine comes pre-installed with the usual useless bloatware, including McAfee Antivirus, Norton Online Backup, a 30-day trial for Microsoft Office 2013 and a host of mostly useless Acer apps (all of which utilize the "Modern" app interface and were thus immediately banished from this machine). Disappointingly, the Skydrive desktop app no longer works with Windows 8.1, so - unless you use your MS Live ID to log-in to your PC - you will be forced to use your web-browser to access Microsoft's cloud storage (I just installed Dropbox instead).

This little ultra-thin netbook is not exceptional piece of hardware in any area, but it is servicable computer. Extremely lightweight, it is easy to carry around anywhere, and its fast boot-time means you can jump right into your workflow with a minimum of wait. It is also fairly inexpensive - I picked up mine for just over $300 - so it won't set you back too much. If you need a portable computer to  complement your primary desktop or laptop, it isn't a bad choice so long as you understand its limits. It's a great machine for surfing the web or doing a quick bit of writing or programming on the road, but if you are interested in gaming or work with CPU-intensive programs you are going to want to look somewhere else.

* without any extensions. With my normal complement of 20 extensions, including Adblock and Ghostery, Firefox takes up to 25 seconds to load. Blame the extensions, not the CPU.

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