I needed a cheap netbook to replace my old 7-inch Asus eeePc, already semi-broken, part of its display permanently dead, some keys not working anymore, others pulled out. It is our kitchen computer, used by wife and kid, and main criteria was to be as cheap as possible, so I wouldn’t have to despair if it gets its keys extruded, or milk spilled over.

Asus Aspire One D255 (single-core Atom) is the cheapest netbook around, although others aren’t much more expensive, all sharing similar features - single core Atom processor, 10-inch screen and 160GB hard drive. When deciding which one to buy, main concerns were around number of USB ports, and quality of keyboard and touchpad. At one point I was also hoping to be able to buy it with Windows, and then reuse the license on another computer, but I found out I am not allowed to do that, so it didn’t matter which OS it came with, as I would reinstall Ubuntu anyway.

Aspire One is available in around a dozen different variants, slightly different casing, different OS’s and hard-drive sizes. I heard there are two-core variants, but I haven’t see any of them offered in Serbia.

This D255 comes with bare minimum of features, 160GB hard drive, 1.66 N450 Atom, 1GB of RAM and 3-cell battery (most of the time, the computer is attached to mains, so I didn’t care much about the battery life). Nice thing are 3 USB ports (2 on the left, one on the right side), so I wouldn’t worry about attaching mouse, external keyboard and a USB drive at the same time (an issue I hate with insanely priced Macbook Pro, for example).

So, here are my impressions after installing Ubuntu and working on it for a while:

Keyboard is big enough to comfortably work on (as much as physical size of the netbook itself allows), but the keys are strangely shaped: their surface seems wider than the basis, crosscut resembling letter T. This probably means that it’s easier to accidentally pull out the key while typing (say, if your finger or a fingernail gets stuck between keys). I had similar problem with macbook’s keyboard, and this one seems even more prone to the problem. I’d give it 3/5.

The touchpad is big enough, concerning the space constraints below the keyboard. I dislike the fact that it’s not separated more clearly from the surrounding surface (only two thin lines which can barely be sensed under a finger), so it’s easy for your finger to get outside the sensitive area. Left and right click are performed using a single button, also a bit hard to hit precisely. Also 3/5.

The screen is glossy but of poor quailty - you can see vertical stripes between pixels on a light background. The backlight is LED and it’s uniform across the whole screen, that’s ok. 3/5 again.

The rest of the features are pretty standard so there’s no point in discussing them separately. Atom is powerful enough to surf and play some movies and music. Single core means that the machine can get stuck sometimes.

It has integrated video card, but it works ok for basic needs: Compiz works outside of the box, and there are no visible glitches during video playback, both in a window or fullscreen.

During a normal work, the machine doesn’t get hot at all, the bottom is pleasantly warm to the touch.

Speakers are placed a bit awkwardly - below the palm rest, but turned downwards, on the bottom of the casing. This means that if you place the computer on a soft surface (say, your lap), the sound will get damped. I am not sure if other netbooks use the same idea, but it doesn’t look right to me.

Now - the software. It comes with the Linux preinstalled (I think some variant of Moblin, or Linpus). It looked interesting, quite unusual for a Linux, but I didn’t bother to investigate it much, I just was a bit annoyed that I couldn’t find a button for shutdown or a restart. I installed Ubuntu 10.10 right away. I used a USB flash drive as the netbook doesn’t have optical drive. I had some problems with grub (Error 17), but it resolved by updating grub manually.

Maverick Meerkat runs smoothly on Aspire One, the only thing doesn’t work is card reader (I will try to find a solution and post about it later). Oh, I haven’t tried webcam at all, I don’t know if it works.

That’s about it, here are general impressions:

Pros:

  • Price
  • Runs Ubuntu smoothly

Cons:

  • Keys seem fragile
  • Vertical stripes visible on screen
  • Inadequately placed speakers