Want XP on the Acer Aspire One? Buy the XP version (or why benchmarks can be misleading)

Q1up_crystalmarkDue to personal challenges over the past week, I haven’t spent nearly the amount of time I would have liked with the Acer Aspire One I purchased. Sadly, I’ve spend enough time with it to decide that I’ll be returning it for a refund, minus the 15% restocking fee. How can I make that determination without truly reviewing it for a majority of my time over the last two weeks? There’s a few key reasons… and bear in mind that they only apply to me, or people that have similar computing needs to mine. The Acer Aspire One can be a great solution for folks that want a simple and quick out-of-box computing experience; in fact, it excels in that case.

Let me start with my initial impressions of Windows XP on this device since I’ve already mentioned how I find the implementation of Linpus Lite to be lacking for most mainstream consumers. Yes, folks that have a good understanding of Linux or those that want to hit up the web for great resources won’t have issues, but the consumer masses don’t fall into those two categories just yet.

Installing XP was straightforward of course, but Acer doesn’t have the XP drivers front-and-center. They are available on an Acer FTP site, which I found out from the AspireOneUser site. They all installed without a hitch and I then ran Windows Update. First up was Service Pack 3 for XP… when it took over 3 hours to install the SP, I raised an eyebrow with caution. My fears and low expectations were then met once I started using XP on the device. I don’t know how else to say it other than this way: the experience is the slowest XP experience I’ve ever had on a mobile device. Even my original Samsung Q1 UMPC in May of 2006 ran XP faster out of the box from what I can recall. Clicking on something can take anywhere from one to four seconds before the unit even responds. I often click again because I’m not sure if the click wasn’t recognized or if the system is still "thinking".

Of course, it’s not fair to condemn the entire device without looking at the cause. Clearly the slow SSD module is the major bottleneck here since we’ve seen many Intel Atom systems running XP without a sweat. That led me to install CrystalMark, a benchmarking tool that I’ve used in the past for all of the Samsung Q1 UMPCs.

Here’s where it gets interesting because folks that just look at the main benchmark numbers alone will get the absolute wrong impression of the device. Let me show you why with the overall numbers for all of the devices:

Wow, at first glance, it looks like the machine with the 1.6GHz Intel Atom holds its own against the 1.33 GHz solo. If you went on that alone, you’d expect a very solid experience, no? Of course, the devil’s in the details and in this case, the hard drive numbers for the AAO are relatively abysmal in comparison.

Since the CrystalMark numbers are closest between the AAO and the Samsung Q1UP, let’s compare the hard drive benchmarks for both:

Samsung Q1UP with 80 GB hard drive

HDD    2824
Read   23.23 MB/s (929)
Write   20.87 MB/s (834)
RandomRead512K   12.12 MB/s (484)
RandomWrite512K    8.82 MB/s (352)
RandomRead 64K    2.68 MB/s (107)
RandomWrite 64K    2.97 MB/s (118)

Acer Aspire One with Intel 8 GB SSD flash module

HDD    4358
Read   37.20 MB/s (1488)
Write    3.06 MB/s (122)
RandomRead512K   36.70 MB/s (1468)
RandomWrite512K    1.77 MB/s (70)
RandomRead 64K   30.01 MB/s (1200)
RandomWrite 64K    0.26 MB/s (10)

You can see the vast difference here in the write times, showing how slow the SSD module is when writing data. While the read times are faster for the SSD, in some cases, the write times are 90% slower when compared to the traditional hard drive. Aside from the memory configuration then, the only aspect that would matter between the XP version and the Linux version of the Acer Aspire One is the storage: hard drive vs. SSD.

While I could use Linux on the Acer, either Linpus Lite, Ubuntu or some other distro, I’m going to return the unit. For $20 more, the XP model offers double the RAM and the higher capacity, faster hard drive when compared with the model I purchased. I know I could easily use the device right out of the box because I’m comfortable with living my on-line life within Firefox. However, I don’t want to be tied down to Linux only on the unit. If I want to install and use XP, I’d like to have that opportunity and have it run well. Instead of spending the time and effort to mod the unit myself, it’s far more efficient to drop the extra $20… especially now that the pricing of the device is $50 lower.

From a design and hardware perspective, I really like the Aspire One. And if I was sold on solely using Linux with it, I’d keep it. Well, I’d actually take the receipt to Circuit City and try to get $50 back due to the recent price drop. My ultimate point here though: if you plan to run XP on the Acer Aspire One and don’t want to modify the hardware at all, just grab the XP model to begin with. You’ll be much happier with the performance and you’ll still have the option to run Linux if you choose to do so.

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