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Not really a web design related post, but it’s certainly relevant to my work, and I know there are an awful lot of Acer Aspire One 751 owners out there who, though they love this charming little netbook, have encountered problems similar to the ones that have affected my machine recently.

Acer Aspire One 751First of all, a little background: The Acer Aspire One 751H is a sleek, lightweight netbook with an 11.6″, 1366×768 pixel display, Bluetooth, wireless networking, virtually full-sized keyboard, 1Gb RAM and 160Gb (or larger) hard disk. When I bought mine in December 2009 it was available from Amazon UK for well under €400 (in Malta, of course, prices were more than 50% higher – but that’s part of Malta’s charm). As someone who often spends time at clients’ premises, and also loves to travel, it seemed a good choice for a web developer due to the screen resolution and price.

What I’ve done to it

My 751 had Windows XP Home pre-installed, which was fine for my needs at the time, so after creating factory disk images I didn’t change the operating system. I did, however, remove all the pre-installed bundle software (antivirus, Microsoft Office trials, daft games, etc).

Even after doing this, I found it to be quite sluggish (it only has a single core Atom processor, after all) so I replaced the 1Gb of RAM with a Corsair 2Gb unit (the largest that can be fitted). This brought the speed up to respectable levels, certainly good enough for my purposes.

About two months ago, after I had used the 751 for maybe 6 months, I decided that it was time to see if it could run Windows 7. I did my research like a good boy, and found that it should run Windows 7 without any problems, though the graphics firmware would probably not run the Aero special effects. Not a problem.

Acer Aspire One 751I wiped the hard disk, clean-installed Windows 7 Ultimate (32-bit), added all the appropriate drivers from the Acer support website, and found that I had gained even more speed. Until I tried switching Aero on, which actually did work but was too jerky for regular use. But nevertheless, this machine runs Windows 7 (without Aero) slightly faster than Windows XP Home.

With all my applications and data, the hard disk (which reports 140Gb formatted space) runs on average at about 65% full.

Other things I’ve done to it… let’s see. Maltese summers are very hot and humid, so it’s probably been running at the upper end of its tolerance for a lot of the time. And Maltese roads… have you seen Maltese roads? It’s like driving on the moon. So even though I have treated it, and its padded sleeve, very carefully, I have to acknowledge that it’s in one of the toughest parts of the world to keep a notebook alive.

What it’s done to me

Initially it behaved impeccably – running quite warm but not uncomfortably so, no crashes (apart from the occasional XP bug), and no freezes, both with the original 1Gb RAM and the 2Gb replacement stick.

Then, after about 5 months’ use, it froze on me. Twice. In one week. I found that it seemed a little warmer than usual, though to be fair the summer had started, and I did some Googling. I quickly found this epic thread on the independently-run Acer Aspire One User Forum.

At the time I first read it, the forum thread was discussing RAM quality and heat as two possible diagnoses. I dismissed the RAM idea, as I had run with the Corsair stick for 4 months without a problem, and decided to tackle the heat issue. I found a lovely little utility on the web called AA1FanControl, which works for various Acer Aspire One netbooks and allows you to set the temperature at which the fan will be forced to come on. After installing this, I found that my machine was frequently running with CPU temperatures of over 65°C before the fan came on. I quickly adjusted the settings and for the next few weeks, no freezing.

Then, after I installed Windows 7 in June, I found the freezes started coming back. Just occasionally at first, then with more alarming regularity. The machine hadn’t seemed to be overheating after installing Windows 7, so I hadn’t reinstalled the Fan Controller. But before doing so, I went back to that epic thread.

There were a lot of new posts about motherboard problems under heavy load, and a lot about BIOS version issues. There were also quite a lot about the extreme ineptitude of Acer customer service staff, which was to be expected.

One thing I found interesting was that a number of people reported that the freezing stopped after they disabled most of the advanced power management options, such as automatically switching off the hard disk or network controllers after a period of non-use.

However, my machine was now freezing only at the office (it sits on a passive netbook cooler at home but not in the office), and each freeze seemed to be preceded (like an earthquake warning) by a failure of the wireless network controller. Hmm, I thought, there still must be an issue with heat. So, I decided to tackle both issues at once. I reinstalled the Fan Controller (which works fine on Windows 7 even though its web page doesn’t mention it), and tweaked the power management settings so that while running on mains power, no components would ever be switched off or disabled.

Fingers crossed…

The CPU is now veering between 55°C and 60°C, and it hasn’t frozen again yet. However, the AA1FanControl is set to turn the fan on when the CPU reaches 50°C, and to turn it off when the CPU drops to 40°C, so it seems clear to me that the fan itself is of an inadequate size for Malta’s climate (and of course it’s now running all the time which will shorten its life). Also, even though the CPU itself is running somewhat cooler, the graphics chip, RAM and wireless controller could still be running pretty hot, and I’m probably still at risk for future freezes.

So I plan to buy a couple of active fan-based netbook coolers, one for home, one for the office, leave the Fan Controller installed, keep the power settings as they are, and hopefully get a lot more enjoyment out of this little machine before I replace it in 2012 (I tend to replace each of my computers every 2 to 3 years).

In conclusion

Would I buy another 751 or recommend that you buy one?

No. Although I hope I’ve solved the problems with my machine, the 751 clearly has faults that are integral to its design and/or construction.

Would I buy another Acer of any kind?

Yes, certainly. I have two other Acer machines already (a larger Travelmate notebook and an Aspire One Revo nettop), neither of which have given me any problems whatsoever.

32 Comments

  1. Good review. Acer makes some good netbooks. Sad to hear that you had some good and bad experiences with this laptop. I’m sure it has built up some sort of sentimental value for you. Windows 7 once again proves that its faster than its previous counter parts.

  2. UPDATE: My 751 is now sitting on a twin fan notebook cooler, and the CPU temperature has dropped to an average of 50°C. No freezes in the last 10 hours of use. Once again, fingers crossed.

  3. The best review is the one that is really experienced. I am planning to buy a laptop soon and am planning on acer because I think it’s the best brand out there. And after reading your post I will certainly veer away from the 751.

  4. Thank you for the nice review. I had always liked acer for its affordability and durability. I am actually planning to buy another acer laptop in a month’s time. Certainly another model…

  5. It will be tough to run aero on any single core – non-ion netbook. If you can run it without freezes in cooler weather than props to you.

  6. The laptop looks sleek but sad to hear about the performance issues. Good review. Hands on is always the best.

    Off topic : 55°C and 60°C, and you talk about being frozen hehe

  7. Thank you for the nice review.

  8. Anyone thinking about buying this laptop please think twice!! It has the worst freezing problem I’ve ever seen. I bought it for my girlfriend about 4 months ago and all it has done is given me headaches and trips to Acer support. They’ve already changed my motherboard once and my HDD twice!

  9. Very useful and informative review thanks. I was considering buying this laptop, but now i might reconsider :P.

  10. Never been an acer fan but your review is great!
    Thanks for the info.

  11. Post script: a few days after I wrote this piece, the freezing came back, and the wireless networking failed. A restart would sometimes solve it, but it would freeze again as soon as I tried to access the wireless networks list.

    After backing up all my data and updating the BIOS (to no avail), I did a factory reset using the Windows XP recovery DVDs, but as soon as I had completed Windows Setup and tried to access a network, it froze again and now won’t boot at all.

    My assumption is that the wireless network card has fried, but whatever the cause, it’s going back to Acer as soon as I can get them to give me a return authorisation.

  12. I own an acer netbook with 1GB RAM, its a little bit slow , but overall its a great netbook!

  13. I have owned a bunch of Acer products over time.
    And if you keep in mind that they are for the most part simple “base” systems without many “bells” then I think they do ok for what they are ment for. Which is just simple basic “get you working on a computer” hardware. Not high end gaming or business apps.

  14. Thanks for the review and sorry to hear about the troubles you went through with the 751. Though they are cheap I don’t know if I can be convinced to get an Acer.

  15. I have had both ACER laptops in my Family and HP laptops and now an Emachine. believe it t not I had worse problems with the HP’s overheating then the Acer! Now this was back around 2005-2007. I have not had another HP laptop since so I can’t tell you if they fixed their problem or not.

    Buit you are on the right track with the laptop cooler.

    Worth mentioning that my Emachines was $297 on sale at Walmart (True) is a dual core processor and has not had 1 problem in the 3/4s of a year that I have owened it!

  16. Thank you for the review.

  17. Well written review.

    I’ve found similiar issues with laptops from Acer in my travels, mainly the overheating problems that were mentioned. Thankfully as it’s cooler here for most of the year then Malta, it’s not as large of a concern, but that and performance would probably have me pass on this one.

  18. Thanks! That was a very educational post that you shared with us about acer laptops. I am now considering other options about owning a laptop! Now I know the troubles it can give me.

  19. Man, you’re still lucky to have a netbook with an 11.6″, 1366×768 pixel display, mine is a 10″ with only 1024×600 pixel display. And it’s very painful to my eyes to see that small size screen, especially for them webmasters who wants to making websites with resolution more than 800×600 pixels, really inappropriate.

  20. If you’ve had that much trouble with it, is it worth it?

  21. Honestly I find anything south of a 13.3″ display to be very hard to view – maybe that’s just me, my propensity for migraine headaches or my spoilt 42″ plasma youth.

  22. Been looking for a laptop for a while now. I’m staying away from HP as my last HP Pavillion burnt up after being on for more than 2 hours.
    Thinking of a Samsung as there are some good reviews of some of their models.

  23. Great post about laptop and the comments are helpful too. Thanks.

  24. Had exactly the same heat issues with my old notebook (Toshiba). Now I own a Asus which was only 400€ on Amazon and so far I am more than happy with it. Doesn’t get hot at all so it is ok to keep it on your lap.

  25. Very useful and informative review thanks

  26. Ya I’ve found when I purchased my laptop a few years that looking at anything with a screen smaller then 15.4 isn’t’ worth it. And since then my eyesight as removed laptops from my options entirely. :(

  27. I guess it depends on when and where the computer was made. You get the luck of the draw with anything these days. And the new motto is Built to Break..

  28. Sorry to hear it eventually died on you – and not long after you wrote the article either… hope you get the return sorted out.

  29. I also own this netbook since almost a year because i needed a replacement for my samsung nc10. I also noticed the freezings which occured the first time on initial start up (Vista configuration (Mine was delivered with Vista, 2 GB Ram). So i called the swiss product service and they made me to send it back to them. 4 days later it came back, replaced motherboard and a Atom Z 530 (instead of the 520) which is supposed to run at 1.6 Ghz. Of course they didn’t wrote a special bios so mine is running at 1.33 Ghz. Since then the freezing problem is solved. So my experience with the AO751h is great because now it runs really smooth (overclocked it with setfsb) on win7 with aero

  30. I’m sure it has built up some sort of sentimental value for you. Windows 7 once again proves that its faster than its previous counter parts. Now I own a Asus which was only 400€ on Amazon and so far I am more than happy with it. Doesn’t get hot at all so it is ok to keep it on your lap.

  31. sure the acer looks sleek but performance isnt good enough for me.
    Good read.

  32. Nice review, acer is a good brand with products at the right price.

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