Business netbooks: IT revolution or contradiction in terms?

InfoWorld sifts the wheat from the chaff in the current crop of enterprise-oriented netbooks

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My next beef is with the Aspire One's build quality. Like the MSI Wind U123 -- also a consumer-focused device -- the Aspire One features way too much cheap plastic. The case feels flimsy and the hinge action nearly gave me a heart attack when the lid flopped open rather violently during an ill-advised leg shifting exercise on a crowded train. The icing on the cake was when my test unit's hard disk decided to go belly-up in the middle of my evaluation. Fortunately, I was able to extract a complete set of benchmark results just prior to the failure. However, when combined with the unit's poor overall construction, the death of the Aspire One's hard disk did little to boost my confidence in its business suitability.

Circling back to the topic of speeds and feeds, the Aspire One is again a kindred soul of the MSI Wind U123. Both systems feature 802.11b/g support (versus the HP Mini 2140's a/b/g and draft-n), and both have the slower 10/100 Ethernet port (the HP has a GbE connection). There's no ExpressCard slot. And, of course, the Aspire One's hard disk would no doubt have benefited from the inclusion of a free-fall sensor like the one in the HP; I was left with the sneaking suspicion that the previous reviewer might have inadvertently dropped the unit during their evaluation engagement.

[ Dive deep into next-gen mobile with InfoWorld's 20-page PDF featuring hands-on reviews, analysis, and insights from our editors. ]

In terms of performance, the Aspire One was roughly on par with the MSI Wind, turning in an OfficeBench completion time of 117 seconds. Battery life during OfficeBench rundown testing was approximately 5.5 hours with the six-cell (46 watt) battery, which was somewhat disappointing in light of the 6-plus-hour showings of the other units. Acer does offer a larger, 57-watt battery.

One surprising feature of the Aspire One is its multitouch touchpad. Unlike the other roundup participants, the Aspire One supports touchpad input using more than one finger -- for example, pinching to zoom in. But my favorite side benefit is circular scrolling. I got hooked on this capability with the Dell Precision M6400. Basically, it allows you to scroll vertically in a Web page or document by simply "drawing" in a circular pattern on the touchpad. To scroll down, you move your finger in a clockwise direction; to scroll up, you move it counterclockwise. It's a huge time-saver and makes working with long documents or pages on the Aspire One's tiny 1,024-by-600-pixel screen that much easier.

Another selling point for the Acer Aspire -- though one of dubious value to corporate IT -- is the availability of bundling plans with various wireless providers. AT&T, for example, is offering the Aspire One for as little as $99 with the purchase of a mobile broadband card and activation of one of the company's data plans. (Verizon offers a similar solution featuring the HP Mini 2140's consumer cousin, the Mini 1000.)

For smaller organizations with a highly mobile workforce, the existence of these bundle offers may prove to be an incentive to pick the Aspire One over a full-priced competitor. However, larger IT shops would do well to ignore these "deals" and instead focus on true suitability to task. And in this regard, the Aspire One comes up woefully short. Its horrific keyboard, coupled with a lack of enterprise-class expandability (that is, no ExpressCard slot) and wired/wireless connectivity, should be incentive enough to send your RFQ elsewhere.

Business netbooks by the features

Acer Aspire One AOD150Asus N10JcHP Mini 2140 MSI Wind U123
ProcessorAtom 270 (1.6GHz)Atom 270 (1.6GHz)Atom 270 (1.6GHz)Atom 280 (1.66GHz)
Disk160GB 5,400 rpm320GB 5,400 rpm160GB 5,400 rpm160GB 5,400 rpm
DisplayWXGA (1,024 by 600)WXGA (1,024 by 600)UXGA (1,366 by 768)WXGA (1,024 by 600)
Graphics processorIntel GMA 950Intel GMA 950/Nvidia 9300M GSIntel GMA 950Intel GMA 950
OfficeBench (seconds)117123/115**113118

Notes: * Tested with 1GB of RAM. ** Results under Intel GMA 950 and Nvidia 9300M GS respectively.

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