⌚ April 26, 2012
Every now and then I am delighted with a product that exceeds my expectations. One such product is the Cyborg R.A.T. 7 Albino, and a recent product is the Acer Aspire One 722 netbook.
My Gateway LT2114U netbook, which is really an Acer Aspire One netbook with the Gateway branding, is a reliable companion whose operation with Linux is easy and fun. It is everything I wanted in a netbook. Seeking a netbook upgrade, can the Aspire One 722 be any better?
The Aspire One 722 and What It Can Do
Before delving into Linux specifics, let’s take a look at the netbook itself.
A few default specifications:
- AMD C60 Dual-Core 1GHz
- 2G RAM (Can be upgraded to 8G)
- WD Scorpio Blue 320G 5400 RPM SATA
- 1366×768 LED 11.6″ Display
- HDMI output for multi-head display (clone or separate)
- Multi-card reader
- 7-hour battery life
- Lightweight and thin (Less than 1″)
- Windows 7 Home Premium
- Cold boot time: 50s
- Shutdown time: 35s
Upon getting my hands on this piece of electronic joy, the first thing that impressed me was how light it felt. Am I holding a book or a computer? Even with the battery installed, the Aspire One feels lighter than the smaller LT2114U.
Comparison of the Gateway LT2114U (left) and the Acer Aspire One 722 (right).
Some information from the label.
The Aspire One is a little larger in size than the LT2114U, but it’s not too big. Anything larger would be uncomfortable.
Aspire One 722 11.25″ wide x ~8″ deep x 1.125″ tall in the back with battery
LT2114U 10″ wide x 7.25″ deep x 1.25″ tall in the back with battery
The netbook really is less than the 1″ advertised thickness, but that is without the battery, which adds an extra .125″ to the thickness in the back.
Gateway LT2114U (top) and Acer Aspire One 722 (bottom) with lids closed.
Next was the 11.6″ screen. The extra 1.5″ compared to the LT2114U 10.1″ screen makes a noticeable difference. In fact, it can seem a little too big at times for a netbook. While the LT2114U display feels cozy, the Aspire One’s display feels spacious.
The display is LED backlit. Visually, I cannot see a difference between an LED display and a CFL. Perhaps the battery will last longer powering an LED display.
The display is bright, and glossy with vivid colors. There are no dead pixels, and images appear crisp and extremely sharp at the native 1366×768 resolution.
The only issue with the screen involves finding a “sweet spot” for viewing. Look too low and the top contrast becomes too dark. Look too high and the bottom appears washed out. The screen does not have uniform contrast. This appears to be a fault of LCD technology since I have observed it in all LCD displays. However, the effect is very noticeable on the Aspire One 722 compared to a desktop monitor.
Overall, the display is excellent, and complaining about the contrast is a minor issue. The sharpness and vivid colors exceed any contrast faults, and neither is there any backlight bleeding. This really is a good display, and it lays out almost flat.
The keys are larger than the LT2114U which make it easy to type, but noticeable keyboard flex is present. Pressing keys causes the keyboard to flex inward. While not a major issue, it feels cheaply built compared to the solid, durable keyboard quality of the LT2114U, which has no keyboard flex at all.
Can I Upgrade the Hardware?
Yes. Both the RAM and the hard drive can be replaced. Opening the case is easy. Remove one screw, and the bottom lid slides off to reveal the hard drive, RAM, and the network adapter.
Bottom of Aspire One with panel removed to reveal the guts.
The hard drive is a standard 2.5″ SATA hard drive, and the RAM is a standard DDR3 SO-DIMM. SSD (solid state drives) drives are compatible for faster loading times and quiet operation. (The spin noise from the included Western Digital 320G 5400RPM mechanical drive is noticeable and almost as loud as the CPU fan.)
Is the Fan Noisy?
Let’s put it this way: While not silent, it’s more quiet than the fan in the Gateway LT2114U.
The Aspire One 722 contains one fan exhaust on the left side. Not too noisy, but still audible if you make an effort to listen.
The HDMI connector allows a second monitor for mirror or multi-display modes. Works with default display manager in Ubuntu, and it outputs in 1080i or 1080p depending upon the HDTV it is connected to.
If your HDMI display is at an odd resolution (which can make the Ubuntu panels extend beyond the screen), then there is no way to adjust it from Ubuntu.
The AMD Catalyst drivers offer better adjustments. After the AMD drivers are installed, the Ubuntu display manager no longer works as well, so use the Catalyst manager instead.
HDMI output is automatically detected. Just plug in an HDMI cable to the netbook and the second display is activated. Both displays are separate and usable together.
The netbook outputs 1080p and a variety of resolutions supported by the second display. This lets you watch video files on the big screen or stream Internet videos to a larger display through the netbook. Taking this idea further, you can use the netbook as a Blu-ray player and watch Blu-ray movies on a larger HDTV.
The netbook display and the HDMI display resolutions are kept separate. You can set the netbook to its native 1366×768 while setting the HDTV to 1080. Windows move fluidy across displays.
How Does Windows 7 Perform?
The Aspire One 722 includes Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit with bloatware…oops…I mean “preinstalled software,” some of which is practically useless because it expires in a few days — Like McAfee AntiVirus and its activation nagging. (Why not just use the free Avast instead?)
Windows 7 performs as good as it does on a desktop system. Bootup time is 50 seconds from the Acer logo screen to the desktop jingle, and shutdown time is 35 seconds. Aero transparency effects function properly providing the graphical eyecandy Windows 7 is known for.
Windows 7 runs like a charm.
On the LT2114U, Windows 7 Professional 32-bit runs, but the Aero effects are disabled, resulting in a solid appearance, and performance is as slow as Windows XP Home with bloatware.
Not so with the Aspire One 722. This netbook was made with Windows 7 in mind, and it shows. From my experience, everything runs as smoothly as on a desktop system. In fact, Windows 7 runs so well on this netbook that, if forced to choose between Windows 7 and Ubuntu 12.04 with Unity, I would pick Windows 7.
Acer also includes a fun bundle of games. One of the best included is Death on the Nile — an engrossing hidden object game with artwork and sound that fits the mood. It plays as good as on a desktop. Wait, what’s this? I’m out of free play tokens and I have to go online and purchase more to continue playing? Nooooooooo! What a sneaky trick. Much of the preinstalled bloatware operates in the same way: It is either crippled or functional for a certain number of times.
Of course, I am interested in running Linux. Why? No bloatware is one reason. The default installation consumes 19GB of hard drive space. About 13GB of this is preinstalled bloatware and registration nagware. 13GB?! (Windows 7 itself consumes about 6-7GB.) Having 13GB of uninteresting junk is unacceptable. True, I could uninstall the bloatware by hand, one by one, but that is too time-consuming. Besides, I like Ubuntu 10.10 better, and I find it easier to use than Windows 7.
The Power Cord Beep
As good as this netbook is, it is not perfect. One incredibly annoying “feature” is the power cord beep. Whenever the power cord is plugged into or removed from the netbook, the speakers make a very loud BEEP. Is the battery low? Plug in the power cord to charge it up. BEEP! Need to take the netbook with you? Unplug the power cord. BEEP! Finished traveling and ready to recharge the battery? BEEP! Whenever the power cord is plugged in or removed, the netbook beeps…EVERY…SINGLE…TIME…whether using Linux or Windows 7.
It’s as if this attention-starved netbook wants to announce to the world, “Look, everyone! I’m recharging! See what I can do! Nah, nah, nah!” BEEP! Kind of like a potty-trained toddler proud of every successful bowel movement: Gotta get everyone’s attention and show the world.
And it’s not one of those quiet, soothing beeps either. Oh, no. This is a loud, crude, primitive, digital alarm clock beep that rudely jars the senses. Are you half asleep after listening to your soothing relaxation soundtracks when the power cord accidentally disconnects for whatever reason? Too bad. BEEP!
The beeping is so annoying when it happens that it makes me want to take a pair of wire cutters and disconnect the internal speakers, but this would disable any other sound output from the internal speakers.
Worst of all, there is no way to disable the beeping through software since it appears to be a BIOS issue independent of any operating system. Whose DUMB idea was this?! Driver updates have no effect, and BIOS does not have an option to stop the beeping. That means I am stuck with this BEEPing netbook.
Not only is the beeping annoying, it’s pointless as well. On-screen indicators already tell me if the power cord is disconnected or plugged in if, for some strange reason, I cannot see the cable within 2 inches of the display I happen to be looking at.
I have scoured the Internet searching for ways to cease this senseless beeping, but no success. Other users have faced the same issue, and Acer’s only response is that the beeping is a feature that cannot be disabled.
You have GOT to be kidding!
There is no excuse for designing a great netbook such as this and then including an annoying feature that drives users batty. It’s comparable to an ugly wart marring a face of beauty and ruins the whole experience.
The only working solution without going medieval on the wires is to plug and unplug the cable when the netbook is turned off or do so with the volume muted (Fn + F8).
And yes, it beeps through the earphones too, so if you happen to be listening to peaceful relaxation music when you plug the power cord in…wow be unto thee. The first thought upon regaining consciousness was, “Ouch! That hurt.”
Rather than bogging down with boring benchmarks, let’s see how the Aspire One 722 handles tasks that truly matter: movies and games.
Tron: Legacy Blu-ray
Acer boasts that the netbook can play 1080p videos with its AMD C60 APU featuring Radeon HD 6290 graphics processing. What better way to test this claim than to try playing a 1080p Blu-ray movie with plenty of action?
Short answer: Wow!
After installing an old version of CyberLink PowerDVD with Blu-ray support, I launched the Tron: Legacy BD (you need an external Blu-ray drive since the netbook does not have an internal drive of its own).
Tron: Legacy played great in full 1080p with a sharp, crisp, clear picture. Since the display is limited to 1366×768, the picture downscaled to adapt, but the movie looked so crisp on this display it felt like I was looking through a pane of freshly washed glass.
Tron: Legacy 1080p Blu-ray playing smoothly on the Acer Aspire One 722. The picture looks sharper, clearer, and with better black levels in real life than it does in the image. (The image appears bluish, which is not what the real display looks like.)
Some high-motion scenes lagged a little, but this seldom occurred. For the most part, the netbook kept up with the pace of the movie and played smoothly throughout.
I never saw any ghosting. Apparently, the LCD refresh rate is high enough to eliminate any ghosting effects.
Tron: Legacy refuses to play using Windows Media Player (WMP) or Video Lan Client (VLC). VLC would play the sound, but no picture. PowerDVD had no problems, so this must be a codec issue.
Fallout: New Vegas
Let’s try the fun, high-performance, wasteland exploring game known as Fallout: New Vegas. How did it perform on the netbook? Installation was hassle-free. Playback, on the other hand, saw noticeable slowdown, but the game was still playable.
Fallout: New Vegas is mostly playable with fairly decent graphics. Scenes involving high action reduce the framerate to a mere slideshow. Again, the real-life display quality is sharper, clearer, and more vivid than seen in this image.
Graphics look good even though high quality settings are not possible, and the game responds well to input (an external mouse is essential). For much of the roaming and exploring, Fallout: New Vegas is completely playable, but for areas containing high activity and motion, the framerate suffers, and the game becomes hard to control. If you find yourself surrounded by a band of Raiders, you may find yourself in Game Over before you can fire a shot or run away due to too the action exceeding the netbook’s capabilities.
Again, no ghosting images. The display updated quickly with much of the action without leaving any trailing effects on the screen.
Please! Tell Me About Linux!
Now, let’s answer the question we Linux enthusiasts desire most: How well does Linux run on the Acer Aspire One 722?
Short answer: It runs fine, but installing Linux is the hard part.
Let me repeat that. Linux runs, but installation is the hard part. This is no joke. Installing Linux on the LT2114U is a breeze, but performing the same installation on the Aspire One 722 is a chore. I installed and tested Ubuntu 12.04 beta 2 64-bit, Xubuntu 12.04 beta 2 64-bit, and Ubuntu 10.10 64-bit, and in every case installation was a challenging hassle.
With the Gateway LT2114U netbook, simply install Linux and go. Not true with the Acer Aspire One 722. This netbook is made for Windows 7 and Windows 7 only. Everyone else can go roll in the mud and oink like a pig as far as Acer is concerned.
Now, this does not mean Ubuntu does not run on the Aspire One. It does, and it runs better than on the LT2114U and offers performance as good as (or maybe better than) Windows 7. But there are a few issues and workarounds to be aware of first.
The Wireless Adapter
The biggest issue plaguing the 722 is the wireless adapter, which is an Atheros AR5B125. Only newer Linux kernels will recognize it, and the wireless adapter must be set as the first boot device in BIOS or else the netbook might freeze, requiring a hard reboot.
Older Linux kernels, like 2.6.32 or 2.6.35, do not recognize the wireless adapter, so Ubuntu 10.10 cannot connect wirelessly. Installing a newer kernel, such as 3.2.16 or 3.3.3, will allow Ubuntu to detect the wireless adapter to make even Ubuntu 10.10 recognize wireless networking.
Here are my results involving Ubuntu 12.04 beta 2 64-bit, Xubuntu 12.04 beta 2 64-bit, and Ubuntu 10.10 64-bit. Due to time and hassle, I only tried these three. Other Linux distributions might work also.
Installation is performed from a bootable USB thumb drive (created with the Startup Disk Creator) to an SSD. The internal drive containing Windows 7 was replaced with an SSD for testing.
Ubuntu 12.04 beta 2 64-bit
- Detects the wireless adapter, but make sure to set it as the first boot device in BIOS.
- Install time: 13.22m SSD from USB
- Locked up trying to connect to wireless network. Even with network boot set as first boot device.
- Could not perform further testing because the netbook kept locking up due to the wireless.
- Card reader works.
Ubuntu 12.04 runs well as long as it does not try to connect wirelessly. Unity graphics and the desktop effects display fine by default at the native 1366×768 resolution. However, I experienced lockup problems when trying to connect wirelessly. As long as the wireless adapter was disabled, Ubuntu 12.04 ran fine. Not sure if this is due to the Ubuntu beta version or a hardware issue. Everything about Ubuntu 12.04 on a desktop applies to the netbook. Good performance if you like Ubuntu 12.04 and Unity.
Tron: Legacy BD does not play, but then again, no Blu-ray has ever played well in Linux for me. This is probably a codec issue and not a fault of Ubuntu or the netbook. However, other 720p video files that skipped terribly or refused to play at all on the LT2114U play smoothly on the Aspire One 722.
HDMI output is impressive. Using HDMI, you can create a dual-monitor display with Ubuntu. Many arrangments are possible. If you connect a large HDTV to the HDMI port, you can play movies from the netbook and show them on the big screen.
My biggest issue with Ubuntu 12.04 running on the netbook is speed. For some reason, it felt like Ubuntu 12.04 menus and loading times were slower than Ubuntu 10.10, Xubuntu 12.04, or Windows 7. It also took the longest to install. And this is running from an SSD. Ubuntu 12.04 performance was not as snappy as I expected.
Xubuntu 12.04 beta 2 64-bit
- Install time: 12.22m SSD from USB
- RAM used: 410MB
- Hard drive used: 3.6GB
Performance is better with Xubuntu 12.04 beta 2 than with Ubuntu 12.04 beta 2. The wireless adapter is detected, and I never experienced the freezing netbook when attempting to connect wirelessly. Not sure why since Xubuntu is a derivative of Ubuntu.
Xubuntu menus felt snappy compared to Unity, and less RAM and hard drive space was required due to the minimal Xfce footprint. Xubuntu is good but feels like too much work to use on a netbook with a touchpad since Xfce is highly mouse oriented.
Ubuntu 10.10 64-bit
- Install time: 6.53m SSD from USB
- Install time: 10.22m 7200 RPM from USB
- Does not detect wireless by default
- Install kernel 3.3.3 and wireless works
- Also tried kernel 3.2.16 and wireless works
- Multi-card reader works
- Cold boot time: 1.01m (7200 RPM)
- Shutdown time: 8s
For me, Ubuntu 10.10 continues to outperform newer versions, so I want to use this no matter what. It requires more installation effort, but once complete, it runs well with full hardware support.
By default, Ubuntu 10.10 never locks up from the wireless issue because Ubuntu 10.10 with its older 2.6.32 kernel cannot detect the newer wireless hardware.
I upgraded Ubuntu 10.10 to kernel 3.3.3 and had full wireless support. It works. Kernel 3.2.16 also works with the wireless adapter. However, it is important to set the wireless adapter as the first boot device in BIOS to avoid any unexpected issues.
Default graphics are 1024×768. You must manually download and install the AMD Catalyst Proprietary Drivers to get proper video. Once installed, the graphics, desktop effects, Compiz, Emerald, and all other eyecandy will make your eyes roll in delight.
The multi-card reader reads cards whereas the LT2114U in Ubuntu 10.10 does not. This might be a kernel issue since the LT2114U is running the 2.6.35 kernel while the Aspire One is running the 3.3.3 kernel.
Tron: Legacy BD does not play in VLC on Ubuntu 10.10, but then again, it never did. Various 720p videos with different codecs play smoothly most of the time. There are a few instances where 720p videos containing a massive amount of full-screen motion cause the framerate to drop, but it recovers quickly. For the most part, all videos play well. It seems that the codecs used to encode videos influences video playback more than the hardware.
I am extremely pleased with Ubuntu 10.10 running on the Aspire One 722. It loads faster than Ubuntu 12.04 and the menus are snappier. It does everything I want in a convenient, portable package.
After modifying /etc/X11/xorg.conf, the Cyborg R.A.T. 7 mice both run well without experiencing the unresponsive button issue.
Ubuntu 10.10 Issues
Restarting X Freezes the Netbook
However, all is not rosy and peachy with Ubuntu 10.10 on the Aspire One 722. There is a SERIOUS flaw that locks up the netbook every time: Restarting X. Pressing Left Ctrl + PrtScrn + K (or Ctrl + Alt + Backspace, depending upon your configuration) in an effort to restart X will lock up the netbook. Holding down the power button for five seconds is the only way to shut down the netbook.
Suspend and Hibernation Problems
Another issue involves suspend and hibernation. With Ubuntu 10.10, the netbook can go into suspend and hibernation modes, but it never wakes up. The netbook will power back up, but without a display. A complete reboot is required to recover from suspend or hibernation.
Skippy YouTube Videos With Flash 11
YouTube videos and other Flash-based online videos play, but full-screen performance is jerky in Ubuntu 10.10 64-bit with the Adobe Flash 11 64-bit plugin. After installing the latest Flash 188.8.131.52 64-bit Linux version for Firefox 11 and Opera 11.6, I tried playing random 1080p videos from YouTube to see if the netbook could handle it.
The result? Windowed Flash videos play smoothly at all resolutions, so the netbook handles 1080p Flash videos well. Only full-screen Flash videos are jerky. However, this is due to a problem with the Flash 11 plugin, not the netbook, the hardware, Ubuntu 10.10, or the video drivers. Flash 11 does not support GPU acceleration well in 64-bit Linux, and this is a known issue. Unfortunately, Flash is a proprietary format, and until Adobe fixes this issue, Linux users are stuck.
To view smooth full screen Flash video playback in 64-bit Ubuntu, one workaround is to install the FlashVideoReplacer Firefox addon that lets you watch Flash videos using the native Linux video players. Doing this, Flash 11 videos play smoothly at full screen no matter the resolution.
Also, the Aspire One 722 plays 1080p Flash videos smoothly in windows maximized to fill as much of the screen as possible, so this is another way to watch Flash 11 videos larger than the embedded defaults. Given what the netbook has to work with in Linux, it performs very well.
Judging by the Acer Aspire One 722, it’s clear which operating system pays the bills. Windows 7 support is flawless while Linux is tossed by the wayside. Linux works, but you are on your own and you had better know what you are doing. A Linux installation requires dedication and patience compared to the friendliness of the LT2114U, but it works well after the issues are fixed.
Ubuntu 10.10 works near-perfectly after updating the kernel and enduring the tedious installation process, but once complete, you can enjoy everything Ubuntu 10.10 has to offer with this netbook. Compiz, Emerald, wireless, HDMI output, and the multi-card reader all work great.
Despite the issues, this is a superb netbook. Acer took everything that was great about the LT2114U and improved it for the better. Lighter. Quieter. Faster. Bigger display. Better touchpad. 1080p movies. Blu-ray playback (in Windows 7). HDMI output. The list goes on. The Aspire One runs better and does more than my LT2114U, which I thought was the greatest netbook ever constructed.
In fact, the Aspire One 722 performance is so good that I see little need to invest in a full-sized laptop. Best of all, the cost is inexpensive, so there is no great loss if it gets dropped in the mud or trampled by a polar bear. I am impressed by how much power is packed into such a low-cost, useful netbook. You truly get your money’s worth and more.
Would I get another? Yes! Despite the Linux installation issues, this is a great netbook for running Linux, and definitely worth the time and money whether you prefer Linux or Windows 7.
All I can say is….Wow! And…BEEP!