Since then, Acer has released newer netbooks, such as the Acer Aspire One 756, so, in the never-ending quest to find a better mousetrap, I had to give the 756 a try!
Having acquired a 756 model for myself, it was time to find how it compares to the reliable, time-tested, (mostly) Linux-friendly 722. Have the annoyances been fixed? What is the netbook’s build quality like? Is the 756 faster than the 722? And most importantly, how well does it run Ubuntu 10.10 (my favorite Linux distribution of all time)?
Well, this turned out to be a surprise, leading to several issues I was not expecting. Newer is not always better, and this is a prime example. This review documents my experience and thoughts regarding the Acer Aspire One 756 netbook.
Why the 756 Model?
First of all, there are two AO756 models. One features a Celeron 877 CPU running at 1.4 GHz, and the other uses a Pentium 967 1.3 GHz CPU (AO756 4G RAM 500G HD model for full details). A speed increase is always welcome. With their specifications nearly identical and the price difference minuscule, I opted for the Celeron 877 model since its CPU speed is over double the speed of the AMD C-60 CPU used in the AO722 netbook, and it is (reportedly) slightly faster than the Pentium 967 model.
Another important reason is that the 756 contains two SO-DIMM slots that allow the memory to be upgraded to a whopping 16 GB using two 8 GB SO-DIMMs. Even though the reviews and the manufacturer only quote an 8GB limit, many reviews have demonstrated positive success running 16 GB of RAM. Yes!
Finally, the 756 uses the Intel chipset, not the AMD APU. AMD/ATI has never offered good Linux support for its graphics cards compared to Nvidia and Intel, so I wanted to get away from the Catalyst drivers needed by AMD APUs.
Even though Catalyst 12.8 installs fine in Ubuntu 10.10 without needing to modify source code like the 12.4 driver requires, it would be nice to abandon AMD entirely in favor of a more Linux-friendly combination.
About the Acer Aspire One AO756 (Celeron 877)
- CPU Celeron 877 1.4 GHz (Dual-core)
- 2G DDR3 RAM on a single SO-DIMM
- 4-hour battery life
- 320 GB Hard drive
- No USB 3.0 ports. All are USB 2.0
- Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
There are a few different models available depending upon the amount of RAM and hard drive capacity. I chose the lowest spec model possible since I planned to upgrade the RAM, battery, and hard drive with better parts.
Good reasoning in theory, but not in practice.
How Does the 756 Perform Out of the Box?
Before moving into the annoying details of the 756, let’s take a look at how it is built and how it performs.
The first thing that is noticeable is the lid when closed. The 722 has a ripple effect molded into its lid, but the 756 is flat and smooth.
The color of the 756 is a dark black while the 722 is more of a dark brown or off-black. The case molding of the 756 feels to be of a higher quality than the 722, and lends a sturdier, less “bendable” feel.
Bottom view. 722 (left) and 756 (right).
The guts. 722 (left) and 756 (right). The 756 has two RAM slots. The red X marks the second RAM slot.
Dimensions and Weight
The 756 is almost the same size as the 722, only lighter. If you are comfortable with the size of the 722, then you will feel at home with the 756. The 756 does seem slightly thinner than the 722, and it weighs less. However, the lighter weight is due to the lighter 4-cell battery of the 756 while the 722 uses a heavier 6-cell battery.
When I removed the batteries from both netbooks, the netbooks both felt like they weighed the same–very light. I could not tell a difference in weight. It’s the battery that makes the difference.
Windows 7 runs superb on the 756, and I could tell that the 756 was designed with Windows 7 in mind. Boot, loading, and shutdown times are the same as the 722, but running CPU-intensive programs was definitely faster on the 756 than on the 722. The faster CPU makes a difference.
However, the advantage in speed with a faster CPU is lost with a slow 5400 RPM hard drive. In the end, I saw little improvement over the 722 when opening programs or performing file transfers. In fact, the 722 with a faster 7200 RPM hard drive (containing a larger drive cache) felt faster than the 756 in this area.
Just like the 722, the 756 features a bright, brilliant screen. The screen has a glossy finish, which makes images appear colorful and vibrant. It’s great! The screen is probably one of the few perfect features of the 756 netbook.
Blu-ray and High-Definition Videos
The 756 plays Blu-ray and high-definition video flawlessly. Of course, so does the 722, but the 722 exhibits slowdown during high-action scenes.
In Windows 7, I played the same problematic videos on the 756, and all played without any slowdown. The scenes from the videos that caused still pictures and stuttering on the 722 played smoothly on the 756.
The 756 keyboard is completely different from the 722, and it feels more solid and responsive. There is no keyboard flex on the 756 like there is on the 722. The keyboard is more enjoyable to type with, and the keys feel better to the touch.
Power Cord Beep
Before moving on, let’s address one of the most annoying “features” present on the 722: The dreaded power cord beep.
On the 722, whenever the power cord is plugged into or unplugged from the netbook, the netbook makes a very, very loud beep audible from rooms away. There are ways to turn the sound down or mute it entirely within Windows 7, but there is no way to disable it completely since it operates at the BIOS level and there is no way to disable it in BIOS. The beep is aggravating beyond belief, and it is probably the single biggest deal-breaker of the 722 for those who dislike such noise.
Does the 756 possess a power cord beep?
Sadly, yes. However, it is not as annoying as the 722. The 756 beep is softer and shorter, but it is still present and with little means of disabling it–at least, I never found a way that was immediately apparent. Whoever decided to include the irritating power cord beep must have thought it was a good idea to include it again.
Mysterious Folders and Windows
When the 722 lid is closed while the netbook is turned on, the low-quality, flexible plastic casing causes the lid to press into the area around 722’s touchpad. This results in windows opening and new folders being created. Opening the lid often shows several “untitled folders” on the desktop as well and various windows.
This never happened with the 756 due to the firmer plastic case. There is hardly any case flex. When the 756 lid closes, the netbook does not litter the desktop with empty folders.
This is new. If you look closely at the pictures of the 756, you will notice that there are no buttons under the touchpad. Everything is accomplished by performing gestures and pressing into the touchpad itself.
This new style requires relearning, and you will have to adjust the way you are accustomed to using a touchpad. The new touchpad became a major problem that made Ubuntu unusable on the 756. (More on this later.)
Given how much I enjoyed the 722, I bought the 756 with great expectations and visions of an even better netbook. I was disappointed beyond belief in under three hours. I wanted so much to like the 756, but some things were just not meant to be.
Here are the reasons why…
One of the most important reasons for acquiring a netbook is portability. When a netbook is on the move, it is operating from its battery. (Yes, this is basic, but we need to lay a foundation that Acer seems to have overlooked when combined with a hot, power hungry CPU, such as the Celeron 877.)
The 756 includes a battery with an advertised life of about 4 hours.
“No problem,” I thought. “I can always upgrade the battery to one with a longer life.”
I was soon disappointed. There are no higher-capacity replacement batteries available for the 756–at least, not yet or through channels available to me. The 756 uses a different battery that is not compatible with the 722, and the only 6-cell battery I could locate cost almost half the price of the 756 netbook itself. Too expensive for my purposes.
“Isn’t four hours enough? Just recharge it!”
This strategy will not work for me because recharging is not always available. I need a longer-lasting battery. However, the more serious issue lies with the Lithium-ion technology itself. Every Lithium-ion battery deteriorates with time, resulting in reduced battery life after only a few months.
For example, the 722 originally included a new 6-cell battery that gave the 722 netbook a life of about 7 hours. This was great, and it really did last that long on the go. However, after about six months of usage, the same battery gave a life of only about 4-5 hours because it had weakened with time.
It does not matter whether Linux or Windows is used. Battery life dwindles with time, and this has happened with every netbook I have used. My LT2114U netbook originally had a battery life of 9 hours, but after a year of usage, the same battery would barely hold a 2 hour charge.
Now, take this into account if the new battery’s life is only four hours. After 6 to 8 months of use, the battery should deplete to only a 2 hour life–barely enough time to watch a movie on the go.
Of course, I took this into account when I bought the 756, but little did I know how hard it would be to find a higher-capacity battery for the 756. Maybe the 756 is still too new? Maybe better batteries will be available in the future? However, that does not help me now.
There is also another story regarding the 4-hour battery life: Real-usage battery life. The advertised four hours is only partially true. If you do nothing but open text files, check email, and change the desktop wallpaper with the display brightness set to its minimum, you can expect 3 hrs 57 min of life from a fully-charged battery.
In both Ubuntu and Windows 7, a fully charged battery always reported 3 hrs 57 min to 4 hrs 12 min. Closing the lid and putting the netbook into sleep mode would probably extend the battery life, but then, what is the point of that? Also, I obtained the faster CPU to do faster things that benefit from a faster CPU, not to browse text files.
And this is where the “4-hour battery life” quote falls apart. The Celeron 877 likes battery juice. I ran this netbook through my everyday use, and in the end, I could only expect a life of just under 2 hrs 30 min. Playing high-definition movies lasted, at most, three hours, and others wore down the battery at two hours–barely enough time to finish the movie.
And this is with a new battery. Imagine the life left when the Lithium-ion battery deteriorates after eight months…
The touchpad works works well in Windows 7, but not in Linux. Personally, I found it easy to adapt to the new usage style, but I would have much preferred to have a button bar below the touchpad. Movement was too slow for my taste, and pressing the touchpad itself often caused the cursor to jump to other locations and open something else instead.
The touchpad is a different beast, so it will take some time to adjust. However, I obtained this netbook to run Linux, not Windows 7, and this revealed a fatal flaw: The touchpad only moves the mouse cursor in Ubuntu.
After installing Ubuntu 12.04.1, I quickly found out that Ubuntu needs a button bar. Movement on the touchpad moves the mouse cursor in Ubuntu 12.04.1, but there are no buttons. No right-click. No left-click. The only way to get a left-click is to tap the touchpad. At least that worked. I eventually had to plug in a USB mouse to get full mouse functionality. In Windows 7, pressing either the left or right side of the touchpad handles the left or right clicking, but this does not work in Ubuntu.
This may be due to Ubuntu not supporting the newer hardware of the touchpad, so a driver update might fix the issue. However, I never had a chance to try that option.
Power Cord Beep
It’s still present, but worth mentioning again. With a 4-hour battery life, you will be charging the 756 more often than the 722. So, expect to hear more beeping. BEEP. BEEP. BEEP.
The 756 contains an internal fan used to cool the CPU. There are large air vents on the sides, and they exist for a reason. The CPU gets hot, runs hot, and stays hot.
When the 756 is powered on, it is silent. Dead silent. Even the 5400 RPM internal drive is silent. It puts the 722 to shame in the noise area–for the first 20 minutes. After that time, or when anything is opened that requires more processing power, the fan ramps up, and it is very noisy. In fact, it is much noisier than the 722 fan. In listening tests, the 722 is actually quieter than the 756 when the 756 decides to air condition the testing room. Even watching videos sets off the fan, and when it starts, it likes to run as loudly as it can. I placed the 722 and the 756 side by side, and the 756 fan was clearly the louder of the two while running Ubuntu.
On the other hand, I noticed quieter fan operation in Windows 7. For example, Windows 7 would eventually quiet the fan when idle, but in Ubuntu, the fan ran continuously.
But the worst was yet to come.
The 756 fan had a disturbing rattling noise in my unit. The fan emitting a clicking noise similar to that heard when a fan is about to die. It was the same sound heard when sticking a piece of tape into a fan and listening to the blades click against it.
It was so loud, that the rattling was audible from over 4 meters away in a quiet room. The fan noise was even worse up close, and I could hear it through headphones while watching a movie or playing music on the netbook at comfortable listening levels.
Worse still is that the fan would change its noise and frequency and become louder whenever the netbook was tilted. Titling in one direction caused the fan to emit an even louder, higher-frequency pitch, and tilting in another direction made it louder but at a lower frequency. I thought it was grinding hamburger meat inside. I even turned the netbook upside down hoping the new position would alleviate the noise, but no effect. The fan continued to grind with various loudness as the netbook positions altered.
“No problem,” I thought. “I’ll just replace the fan inside with a quieter model.”
Sadly, this was not the case since the cooling system involves a custom copper heat pipe arrangement, and the fan is not user-replaceable. This means you are stuck with any fan noise that exists.
I absolutely could not stand the fan noise, and it made using the 756 an unbearable experience. No wonder it only ships with a 4-hour battery. Anything longer would make the user go insane!
7mm Hard Drive
Now, this one was a total surprise! I had (incorrectly) assumed that I could swap out the cheap internal hard drive for a faster one with a larger capacity and greater cache. This is why I opted for the lower capacity 320G model.
“No problem,” I thought. “I’ll just replace the hard drive with a better one.” (Do you see a pattern here?)
I was disappointed again.
The internal drive is a 320GB 5400 RPM Seagate Momentus Thin hard drive with a height of 7mm. It is almost completely silent, so hard drive noise is not an issue.
However, 320 GB is not going to cut it for my ambitions, and I wanted to replace it with a larger capacity 7200 RPM drive. Not going to happen. It is not a matter of compatibility since the 756 uses a Serial ATA interface, but rather, it’s a matter of dimensions. Any drive with a height greater than 7mm will not allow the back cover to fit back into place.
I tried using regular laptop drives, and they performed well without any problems. Even SSD drives work. However, you would have to run the 756 without a back plate or tape it in place, but that looks sloppy.
The real problem with 7mm hard drives involves their cost, speed, and capacity. Currently, the options are sorely limited. They are more expensive, slower, and limited to 500 GB. This makes finding a suitable replacement much harder.
Ubuntu 10.10 64-bit
Now, it is time for the grand question: Does the 756 run Ubuntu 10.10?
The grand answer: No.
Booting the Ubuntu 10.10 LiveCD (using an external USB optical drive) quickly lead to a blank display. I could hear the CD-ROM spinning and going through the load procedures, but there was no display and nothing turned it on. Not even a console worked.
To get a working display, I had to set the boot option to vga=711 at the menu. This enabled the most primitive of displays, but it worked. Ubuntu 10.10 installed while watching degraded graphics.
However, even after installing, there was no way to recover the display when booting into the operating system itself. No matter what options were changed at the GRUB boot menu, Ubuntu would load to the login screen (I assume), and the screen would remain blank.
This is probably due to the Ubuntu 10.10 display driver not supporting the newer 756 hardware, so it might be a fault of Ubuntu and not with the netbook. There is probably a boot option to fix this, but after hours of fruitless trial and error, I gave up.
Ubuntu 10.10 was unusable. A serious deal-breaker for me.
Ubuntu 12.04.1 64-bit
Ubuntu 12.04.1 installed and ran without problems. Apparently, it was an outdated video driver issue that caused Ubuntu 10.10 not to show a display.
However, Ubuntu 12.04.1 was usable because the touchpad made operating the netbook almost an impossibility since no right-click existed by default. I had to plug in a regular USB mouse to use Ubuntu properly.
Besides that, I would never use Ubuntu 12.04.1 anyway due to the horrendous GNOME3/Unity GUI. I would rather use Windows 7 than to submit myself to the mess known as GNOME3 or the dumbed down junk called Unity. Both get in the way of using the computer.
Linux or Windows?
When netbooks were first introduced, Linux was the OS of choice. Nowadays, that has changed, and finding a netbook that runs Linux well is a matter of trial and error. And even then, Linux has issues.
Again, it is clear which OS pays the bills at Acer. The 756 is made for Windows 7, and it runs it extremely well. However, if you want to run Linux, then you will need a recent distribution–and then cross your fingers and pray that it works.
This is a shame, because Ubuntu consumed fewer resources and felt like it ran snappier than Windows 7 using the same hardware. Windows 7 on the 756 felt no faster than Windows 7 on the 722. However, Ubuntu 12.04.1 was definitely faster on the 756 than on the 722. For example, menus were more responsive and image thumbnails generated (slightly) faster.
A factory fresh installation of Windows 7 on the 756 consumes 26 GB of hard drive space. Of course, much of this is bloatware.
My 756 only had 2 GB of RAM installed, but Ubuntu 12.04.1 made better use of it than Windows 7. In fact, Windows 7 filled practically 900 MB upon a fresh boot at idle whereas Ubuntu only consumed 540 MB. Considering only 1.8 GB is actually usable, that means there is less free RAM available in Windows 7 than in Ubuntu 12.04.1.
Windows 7 Startup Recovery Failure
During my use of the 756, Windows 7 somehow worked itself into a non-bootable state that could not be repaired. Usually, Startup Recovery tries to fix this, but it never did. Booting the 756 in Windows 7 always led to a failed recovery that prevented any further action.
Linux always provides a way to recover a system, but not Windows 7 in this case. After trying everything I knew to do without any success (no, Windows recovery mode had no effect), I had no choice but to completely reset the netbook to its factory defaults by reinstalling the system state from the recovery DVD-ROMs–a process that took a mere 5 hours. Even then, Windows 7 did not fully recover, but at least I could get a desktop again.
How fast is the 756 compared to the 722?
Using System Profiler and Benchmark, I ran a few CPU tests on both the 722 and the 756 to see which netbook CPU produced better numbers. The three tests were,
- CPU Blowfish
- CPU CryptoHash
- CPU Fibonacci
Acer Aspire One AO756: “The netbook I wanted to like, but couldn’t.” Using the 756 made me appreciate my existing 722 even more and reinforced the adage, “Newer is not always better.”
This is true here. The allure of 16 GB of RAM and the faster Celeron 877 CPU were too tempting to pass up, so I had to give the 756 a try. However, there were some serious deal breakers for me that made this netbook an unpleasant experience:
- Noisy Fan (Unbearable)
- Touchpad (Windows-compatibility only. No left-click or right-click in Ubuntu)
- 7mm Hard Drive (7mm limits upgrading options)
- No Ubuntu 10.10 (Unforgivable!)
- Short battery life (No upgrades at the moment)
In the end, this netbook will be returned. Despite the issues, this really is an excellent netbook, and it feels like a faster refinement of the 722. The build quality is better, the keyboard is better, and the screen is crisp and vibrant. Those who wish to run Windows 7 will be more than happy since this is a netbook made with Windows 7–and ONLY Windows 7 (and possibly Windows 8)–in mind. Linux users are on their own to fix any issues.
I never had a chance to test wireless, microphone recording, Compiz effects, and other things in Ubuntu since other more important issues, such as the short battery life, the quirky touchpad, and the fan noise, were making the 756 an unpleasant chore to use.
The Acer Aspire One AO756 feels like one step forward and one step backward, but it is still a good netbook for those who can live within its limitations.