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a Review of the Aspire AS1410

So, for those of you watching me on Twitter, I finally managed to settle on a NetBook.

My final decision was an Acer Aspire 1410. The specific model the Fry’s I purchased from was the 2810, in Sapphire Blue.

There’s a few things I’d like to talk about, with this netbook.

First off, specs wise, it’s an 11.6″, 1366×768 resolution system, with 2GB memory stock, 4GB official, and 8GB actually supported. My particular unit has a dual-core SU2300 Celeron CPU – full 64 bit, VT-x-enabled, stripped-down Core 2 Duo processor. Wireless B/G/Draft-N, GigE, VGA and HDMI-out, SD card reader, 3 USB ports, and a nearly full-sized keyboard. It was really the keyboard that sold me.

Not bad for $400, right?

Going in to the purchase, I’d done some research. Reviews were favourable, battery life a decent 4 to 5 hours on the 6-cell battery. The Celeron CPU definitely much more responsive than an Atom. Hackintosh support is iffy, at present. Claims of a multi-touch trackpad, and using the netbook in Fry’s, it did, in fact, appear to have multi-touch support.

Now, having used it for a couple of days, I’m finally at a point where I feel I can speak about the machine, how much I enjoy it, and what my next steps are.

Firstly, I made a mistake going in to the purchase – I thought I’d seen that the machine had an open Mini PCI-e slot, making it the Holy Grail of netbook purchases, one that I could upgrade with an aftermarket 3G modem.
Such would not be the case, however, as Acer does not provide the actual unpopulated Mini PCIe socket for my use. Instead, naught but bare traces meet my eye.

I have to say, this is rather disappointing. The cost to provide that extra little piece, cents of plastic and solder, was more than the market would bear.

Apparently.

Additionally, even though there’s a switch and LED installed for it, there’s no Bluetooth. A bit of Googlejuice doesn’t show much in the way of SKUs with Bluetooth installed. The box lists that there’s no Bluetooth – I assumed that there was, and the switch definitely confused me.

If you’re looking for Bluetooth in this unit, be warned that it may not be present.

Usage-wise, I love the LCD. Pixel density is just in the right range, text is crisp and clear. It could use a bit more in the vertical pixels department, for reading code, but it’s not insurmountable.

Having tested a Sony 10.1″ system at Fry’s, running the 1366×768, I can honestly say I’m thrilled that I didn’t get a 10″ netbook with that resolution. It would just be unusable.

The display is the standard glossy, LED-backlit commonly found in such machines nowadays. The LED backing is nice, but my unit has a distinct lighting imbalance, with the bottom of the LCD being approximately 1-2 brightness stops brighter than the top. This gives the display a definite washed-out look at the bottom of the display.

From a colour-balance perspective, the panel defaults to a faintly, sickly blue shade by default. Keep that in mind, if you don’t have hardware calibration available.

My ICC profile (Argyll-cms, prepared on a Pantone Huey, LAB gamma, native whitepoint) is available – email me if you’re interested.

By default, the system comes covered in stickers – Celeron, Windows 7, Hai I’m A Acer!, Hai I’ve Got A WebCam!. Please, PC manufacturers, PLEASE learn this lesson from Apple. No one wants this crap on their system.

*NO ONE.*

The keyboard, I’ve discovered, has an unfortunate “springiness” to it, in the central keys. The entire keyboard moves down perceptibly on a keystroke – just enough to be a nuisance.
Otherwise, the keyboard is gorgeous. Just the right size to the keys, with a rather agreeable layout.

The BIOS is nothing special, generic PC.

The Touchpad is a Synaptics PS/2 pad, and unfortunately is *NOT* a true multi-touch pad, regardless of what the marketing literature may state. The Synaptics drivers, in this case, are emulating multi-touch events on Windows, and the AS1410 requires some manual tweaking to get decent performance out of fake multi-touch.

Aside from this glaring marketing lie, the touchpad is lovely. It’s flush with the palm-rest, with a slightly different texture to mark its boundaries. Two distinct buttons round out the touchpad, both with good tactile response. Not too hard to press, nor too soft.
The pad is offset slightly towards the left of the AS1410, as opposed to a more central location, and suffers from the common netbook complaint of It’s Too Small, suffering from a lack of vertical space, more than horizontal.

Checking on the Acer site, the touchpad in the 1410 is called a “multi-gesture” touchpad, not a multi-touch. Be warned.

I’ve not had a chance to test battery life, yet. Unplugging the system in Ubuntu reports about 4 hours of battery life, with WiFi up.

The built-in Intel GMA 4500MHD is competent, but not exceptional – Both Aero and Compiz compositing are supported, and neither exhibit any chop or slowdown that I can see. Windows 7 reports the AS1410 having a Performance Index of 3.2.

Software

The default OS is Windows 7, with the largest pile of crap software I’ve ever seen installed. The first couple of hours post-unboxing was spent entirely removing crap software.
Being used to fresh OS installs from retail media, I was pretty startled at the OEM garbage that gets loaded.

Otherwise, it’s a Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit installation, which is fairly respectable for the AS1410. The Celeron CPU handles it nicely, and pushing the default RAM to 4GB, it feels quite snappy and usable. With the full 8GB, this will be a remarkably effective machine for ultraportable virtual machines.

Installing Ubuntu 9.10, and resizing the primary Windows partition was easy, and Ubuntu 9.10 supports all the hardware without issue – everything came up immediately. 9.04 looked to have an issue detecting the Intel wireless card.

Suspend works properly on 9.10, though both Windows and Ubuntu seem to suffer from weirdness where an Enter keypress is required to bring the system out of suspend.

The suspend switch is rather sensitive, triggering when the display is still roughly at 45 degrees from the keyboard – enough that I’ve triggered it by merely lowering the display for privacy.

The Future

So far, I’ve covered what the system is Today.
I’d like to talk a little on what I intend to do to get the system more useful.

To start, the lack of 3G, and a PCI-e slot for 3G, is really, really annoying. Not including the port at the least was a pretty crap thing for Acer to do to the AS1410.

Therefore, I’m thinking of something along the lines of the Aspire One 3G hack, or possibly rewiring it internally, and bringing a USB port into the 3G modem bay, allowing for an internal USB suitable for a USB 3G modem. This is the more versatile option, but does leave the system completely different from the base spec – Goodbye resale value?

Finding and installing a Bluetooth module might also be something to look into, but given my infrequent use of Bluetooth technology, I’m not sure if there’s a point. The only use I have for Bluetooth in my laptop today, is to tether my Blackberry as a 3G modem. Given that I’m looking at built-in solutions, should I even bother with Bluetooth?

Eventually, I’d like to get an SSD for the system – carrying around a spindle seems like a bad idea to me, and I’d like to replace that. Unfortunately, finding a decent SSD isn’t easy, and is a matter of a great deal of research.

All in all, I’m happy with the purchase. The AS1410 is a good netbook, marred by a few flaws. Definitely a worthwhile secondary machine, with caveats that you should know going into the purchase.

Desolate

Out walking in the Inglewood area of Calgary on Saturday. Lovely little area that I’ve been in the last couple of days, working out of CoworkYYC. The area is distinctly industrial, the legacy of the great rail empire strongly present.
The entire area feels like a throwback to an older time, a little town caught in the midst of the big city. Small, quirky, run-down shops catch my eye, and derelict structures cast long shadows in the afternoon sun.
Cafe Rosso caught my attention, fitting this environment perfectly. Hip and trendy, but so far out of the usual bustle. Lost in the midst of an old industrial site; if there were a bar, it’d be walking into the blasted Zone of STALKER.

The industrial essence almost feels peaceful, in it’s way. Legacies of once-great works now rusting slowly amidst the crisp brown grasses of the fall.

It’s to find these things again that I came back on Saturday, enjoying the solitude, the crisp sunlight. To feel that desolate peacefulness again.

It’s good to just walk, to enjoy the world around me. I’ve missed it.

Things I suck at

Writing blog posts.
Typing up the copious amounts of fiction I write.
Scanning my sketches.

Basically, taking anything from analog to digital.

PG West

Looking at attending PG West in October. I hope to be presenting a talk regarding repoze.who and effective ways to handle authorization in a web app environment.

The tough part, of course, is writing the talk. I spoke at East regarding Simpycity, my query-based ORM, and the difficulty of preparing a presentation was much more than I expected.

I hope to give those who attend my talk a better performance this time around. 🙂

Toys

So the other day, if you read my Twitter stream, I bought an SGI O2.

Now, for those not immediately aware, it’s a legacy workstation from about 1996, your average video and light 3D production system. In this day and age, pretty limited, but still fun to play with.

There are Many like it, but this one is mine, and all that.

There are a great many reasons why I bought such old hardware, but it really comes down to a deep, raw desire to play and explore. To quest, and in questing, learn and grow and enjoy.

In particular, this system has a SIMD unit specifically for image and graphics processing. From 1996! It won’t be the fastest, certainly, but it’ll be amazing to poke the system and see what it can really do.

Also of enjoyment will be that this system runs IRIX, a dead fork of the Unix OS. It’s old, somewhat crufty, and a lot of modern software doesn’t really work on it – due to the age of the OS, Linux-centric programming, and the lack of CPU power.

300 whole MHz. Impressive!

Most important is that it feeds one of my deepest desires, satisfies a childhood dream that I feared would never be fulfilled.

And that is a wonderful feeling.

Awesome Chicken

So, tonight I continued in my world of awesome when it comes to delicious food that I make foe myself.

To produce this awesome chicken dish, you will need:

* A chicken breast, boneless and skinless.
* a couple of cloves of garlic
* mushrooms (3 or 4)
* half a tomato
* spinach
* olive oil
* a small pat of butter
* garlic powder
* black pepper

To produce, put some olive oil in the bottom of your skillet. Dice the garlic, slice the mushrooms and tomato as well.
Add the pat of butter and the chicken breast.

Add water, sufficient to cover the mushroom slices.

Spice with garlic powder and pepper to taste. Don’t be stingy!

Cover, and simmer on medium heat until the chicken is fully cooked.

Slice chicken, add 1-2 handfulls of spinach, to taste.

Cover and simmer until the spinach is just starting to wilt.

Serve with quartered pita bread.

This served me, and was totally delicious.

Quick Hex Systems in Python

So, today I was trying to get an old, wonderful game working properly: Missionforce: Cyberstorm, one of the better mecha wargames ever shipped for Windows.

Given that this game doesn’t work very well on Vista, I went along and started setting up a VM specifically to play Cyberstorm in. I know, uber geeky. *grin*

While the VM was setting up, disks were formatting, etc., I started to think about how much fun it would be to develop my own giant-mecha wargame, so I’m not constantly balked by the fact that one of my most favourite games is 13 years old and closed-source.

It turns out that writing a simple hex map really isn’t very hard – about 45 minutes to come up with a workable design that can create arbitrarily shaped layouts. This doesn’t handle terrain or any other feature that might be desired for a wargame, nor movement logic. It’s just the first step, building a place.

The requirements are simple: You have a map of x,y size and you need to be able to pick any point and get neighbors.
The first approach I considered for this was simply, at generation time, set every hex to know exactly what its neighbors are, as it is created. Immediately, I realized that this was incredibly inefficient to do, as the requirements of building a bunch of interdependent blocks would take a lot of CPU time.

So I went and looked at some basic hex maps, and realized that, due to the hex structure, they’re always arranged in a horizontal or vertical alignment. Which means rows.
Which means we can use an array.

So we start doing this:


class hexmap(object):

def __init__(self, x, y):

self.x = x
self.y = y
self.map = []
for i in range(0,y):
self.map.append([]) # add an array to hold this row of hexes

self.map[i] = [hex_block() for r in range(0,x)]

For each row, create a length of hexes. Simple.

So now we can look everything up, but we still don’t really have a method to find neighbors, which we need. I thought about this some more, and looked at the maps some more, and realized that we can take advantage of array lookups to figure out neighbors.

As an example, in a horizontally-aligned hex map, for y,x of 3, 3, you could say that

  • My left and right neighors will ALWAYS be (y, x-1) and (y, x+1)
  • My top neighbors will ALWAYS be (y+1, x-1+offset) and (y+1, x+offset)
  • My bottom neighbors will ALWAYS be (y-1, x-1+offset) and (y-1, x+offset)

For which we are making the assumption that all odd rows are offset by 1 from all even rows.
This allows us to do a very quick and easy lookup, arbitrarily, of any neighbor that a given hex might have.

(The offset math isn’t quite right yet, I don’t think.)

Coming up, discussion on landmasses and terrain formations.