There has never been a more affordable time to purchase a computer; that much is obvious. The question for me was, how much can you do with a sub $300 laptop? And what are you giving up to get the price that low?
When the time comes to buy a computer for a child who is starting to learn basic programming, word processing, maybe a little Minecraft and the like, how much is enough?
Thus begins my journey comparing inexpensive laptops for a youngster just getting started with the previously mentioned tasks. After doing some comparison I settled on the Acer ES1-512-C88M which is retailing for $269.99 on Amazon.
Acer ES1 Specs
The ES1-512-C88M comes with:
|Screen Size||15.6 inches|
|Max Screen Resolution||1366 x 768 pixels|
|Processor||2.16 GHz Intel Celeron|
|RAM||4 GB DDR3L SDRAM|
|Hard Drive||500 GB SATA|
|Graphics Coprocessor||Intel HD Graphics|
|Number of USB 2.0 Ports||2|
|Number of USB 3.0 Ports||1|
|Average Battery Life (in hours)||7 hours|
On paper it doesn’t look too bad – and looked forward to getting it in to put it through the paces and get it ready for the kiddo. I received it a few days later and commenced with the unboxing ritual.
Initial setup was uneventful, however it did have a slew of pre-installed software that were promptly removed. That is pretty much par for the course with pre-built machines. The gotcha with this one was that because “Windows 8.1 with Bing” is a separate item than straight 8.1 – I was unable to use the license embedded in the BIOS with Windows 8.1 which I’ve been able to do with several other machines in recent days, so there was no real option to do a fresh installation without the bloatware. Again, this is an inconvenience more than anything, as all the added software was quite easy to uninstall.
So now that it’s all set up, how is it performing? For most tasks it’s perfectly serviceable, actually. Firefox runs well, Eclipse (being used for a Minecraft Modding / intro to Java programming course the kid is taking) is pretty snappy after the initial load time (more on that in a moment), and even Minecraft runs halfway decently once some of the settings have been toned down, I’m looking at you anti-aliasing. The display is relatively high quality as well, for a 1366 x 768 one. The view angle is better than I expected and the colors are very good for a laptop in this price range.
Build quality is quite good. There is little flex in the body and the screen hinges are smooth and seem like they will last for the long haul.
The keyboard is a “chicklet” style with good key spacing for my admittedly large hands. The home row is easy to find thanks to pronounced tactile markings on the J and F keys. I did find the keys had a lot of “travel” and were a bit soft feeling; you have to be pretty thorough with your keystrokes – it’s not a touch-typist’s keyboard.
The touch pad is a “no dedicated buttons” affair. It does allow for two finger scrolling and a two finger click is equivalent to a right click, as per industry standard. Over all the touch pad works quite well, though the primary user of this machine is using a mouse for most pointer work.
The video on this was, as expected the weakest point. The CPU is actually quite capable, astonishing speeds from a CPU that has a TDP of 7.5 Watts.
Speaking of power, this laptop has very solid battery life, thanks to the low wattage on the CPU. After 6 hours of word processing and web browsing with the screen on about half brightness it was at 20% battery; not bad at all for a 3 cell battery.
The hard drive is also, not surprisingly, has quite an effect on the overall performance of the machine, but as an entry level PC, I expected this so it’s not really a downfall.
As previously stated, for web browsing and LibreOffice use performance is spot on, it even does a fair job at multitasking with several tabs open and several documents as well. It’s only when you get to 3D graphics or drive-speed intensive that you run into any real hindrance.
The biggest upgrade I will be doing to this is at point will be a small SSD. When that time comes I will probably be installing Linux Mint 17 on it. For the record, I booted Linux Mint 17 from a USB stick and it runs markedly more responsive than Windows 8.1 with Bing does off the hard drive. Everything seemed to “just work” as well, though it was a limited test so I noted WiFi and Bluetooth working and called it good after firing up Firefox and hitting a few websites.
All in all this little machine should prove to be a capable first computer for quite some time.
If you’re in the market for a cheap laptop to browse the web, do word processing or really any other non-GPU intensive task, this little laptop actually is very good value for money. There is the $250 little sibling which I would only recommend if you had the express intention of removing Windows and putting Linux on, as it only has 2GB of memory and Windows is really in the realm of “4GB is the real functional minimum” now.
I have no regrets about this purchase, I had a pretty good idea of what to expect and the machine lived up to each of those expectations. This is the perfect machine for a first computer or normal light web browsing, Office apps and light development.
It’s available via several online retailers, I purchased mine through Amazon.