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MachinistBlog.com

Plans, projects and how-to's for home machinists

A New Netbook With An SSD

I haven’t added much to this blog lately because I’ve spent an enormous amount of my spare time in the last two weeks researching, buying, setting up and tweaking a new netbook to replace my two-year old 11.6-inch Acer Aspire, which was really starting to annoy me with its slowness. If I’d known what I’m about to tell you I could have probably extended its life for another year or two by replacing its hard drive with an SSD.

Update 04/16. I spent some time on the phone with HP this morning. My new netbook won’t turn on and they think it has a defective motherboard. Stuff like that happens and electronic devices are most likely to fail when they’re new. So I’m not going to criticize them about it. 

They wanted me to send it to them for repair but I told them no. I specifically bought it from Amazon.com because I’d heard they make it very easy to return defective laptops or even ones you don’t like. That appears to be very true. It only took a few minutes to print out a UPS shipping label for free return shipping. I then went to order a replacement but found that in the last two weeks the price had gone up $35 to $410.

So I called Amazon. Actually, they called me in 5 minutes just like their web site said they would. They’re going to do an even exchange instead and they paid for overnight delivery so I get my replacement tomorrow. The call only took about 3 minutes and I obviously talked to someone located in the U.S. instead of India. Guess who made a very loyal friend today :-)

I’m not as knowledgeable as I used to be, but I’m still a genuine computer geek and very picky when I buy a new laptop or build a new desk top computer.

My old Acer Aspire netbook was small and light so it was easy to keep it with me most of the time. And I didn’t feel embarrassed to pull it out in a diner and do some writing if inspiration came to me while I was having lunch. So I wanted to continue to own a small and light netbook.

I also wanted a very long battery life. I’d had a very bad experience with my first laptop, which I’d really struggled to buy when I was was young and poor. It was nearly useless because its battery lasted only 40 minutes even though it was advertised to last for 2 hours.

I’ve also been very bored while waiting in airports and on airplanes because I had a laptop with a dead or dying battery because I couldn’t an find an electrical outlet or they already had laptops plugged into them.

And lithium-ion batteries start losing their storage capacity from the very moment they’re manufactured. The amount varies but a good rule of thumb is they’ll lose at least 10% of their remaining capacity each year and it can be as much as 40%. The higher the temperature they’re used or stored at the faster they’ll lose it.

The battery in my old Acer was good for a solid 10 hours when it was new and after 2 years it will still last for at least 6. So I’ve never had to worry about finding an electrical outlet to plug it in to.

I also liked my Acer because the bottom of it didn’t get hot from the CPU. It ran so cool that it didn’t even need a cooling fan. I expected that a new netbook with much more computing power would need one but I wanted to be sure it wasn’t going to be loud and annoying. In meetings I can often hear the high pitched turbine whine of some laptops from 8 feet away or more.

And finally, I wanted a reliable netbook that had a nice bright screen with good viewing angles and a decent keyboard.

I only wanted to spend about $500 but I came perilously close to spending $900 to $1200 on an “ultrabook” for two main reasons:

  • Some of them had slightly larger 12 or 13-inch screens.
  • Instead of conventional hard drives they had SSDs (solid state drives) which greatly increased their performance and battery life.

But then I realized several things:

  • I could install my own SSD at a reasonable cost.
  • Almost any netbook that didn’t use a Atom processor would have enough computing power for my needs because I don’t play games or do video editing.
  •  I’d never had a problem using my Acer’s 11.6 inch screen even with my older eyes. And many of the best and most expensive ultrabooks only have 11.6-inch screens.

So, after doing even more research I purchased an HP Pavilion DM1-4142nr netbook for $375 (now $400) and a Crucial 128 GB SSD for $150 (often on sale for $130). Lenovo’s Thinkpad x120e came in a very close second.

The DM1 meets all my requirements except for its battery life, which is only about 6-hours even with the SSD installed. I think that’s enough but if I change my mind I can buy a spare battery from HP for $70 or from another supplier for $40.

The DM1′s low cost allowed me to buy a 3-year extended warranty WITH accidental damage protection from SquareTrade for only $69 during a 30%-off sale.

Ordinarily, I think extended warranties are a waste of money. Especially for laptops because I’ve never broken one or even had one that required service. But I have a 10-year who’s going to want to use it. And I know from experience that netbooks tend to get handled differently and used in much more risky places than bigger laptops, which often spend much of their existence sitting on a relatively safe desk or table.

I’d also thoroughly researched SquareTrade a couple of years ago. Not only do they sell extended warranties for much less than their competitors but they seem to have an excellent reputation for customer service. The only significant complaints I could find occurred during their early years. I have several warranties from them now (for a Roomba, iPod Touch and my laptop) but I haven’t had to file a claim and I’d like to know your about your experience if you have.

Even with a 5400 RPM hard drive my new netbook’s performance was very good. But it was astounding after I installed the SSD. Windows is completely ready to use about 18 seconds after I push the power button. It wakes up from sleep in a split second and programs load in a fraction of the time they used to, instantly in many cases.

I’ve wanted to try an SSD for awhile but I thought the 60GB drives were too small and I couldn’t afford one with 120GB or more. But prices have been dropping quickly and you can now get a good 128GB drive now for as little as $110 if you keep your eyes open.

120GB may not seem like much space but my old netbook was only using about 65GB.

Installing my own SSD gave me a 500 GB hard drive (the original) that I can use for making backups. Plus my SSD is covered by a 3-year warranty instead of the 1-year warranty I would have gotten if HP had installed it. And if I do need to use the warranty it’ll almost certainly be much faster and easier to get a replacement from Crucial than from HP.

Installing it was pretty simple. If you buy one I highly recommend spending a little more ($15-$25) and getting one with a transfer kit for moving the data on your old hard drive to the SSD. The kits consist of a USB to SATA adapter cable and some software. I didn’t buy one because I had adapters and I thought there would be some free some software I could download.

That was a mistake. It’s harder to clone a SSD and be sure that you’re getting the maximum performance and life out of it.  All the free solutions I found were complicated or had some risks. And I wasn’t going spend $40 on Acronis’ software.

So bought a 32GB flash drive for $25 and used a utility from HP to create the recovery disks on it. Then I put my new SSD in the netbook and used the recovery flash drive to recreate the factory image. I had to customize it again but I’d only been using it for four days and most of my data is kept in “the cloud” with multiple backups on two desktop PCs.

Windows 7 is great at configuring itself to work properly with an SSD. So by doing it the way I did I was pretty sure my new SSD would work properly and I wouldn’t have to worry about “alignment,” TRIM and some other things.

But just to be sure I decided to check  and I came across this excellent Windows 7 Ultimate Tweaks & Utilities Guide which will will help you speed up Windows 7 even if you don’t have SSD.

I really like my Pavilion DM1 and I’ll tell you more about it if you want me to. The only thing I really dislike is its black finish which makes fingerprints very noticeable. I just noticed while adding a link to this post that it’s suppose to be charcoal and pictures of it show it being a dark gray. I’m not sure what to do. I bought it from specifically from Amazon so it would be easy to return if didn’t like or if it was dead on arrival. But I’ve also got a lot of time invested in getting it setup the way I want it and all its software updated.

4 comments to A New Netbook With An SSD

  • David Roll
    April 13, 2012 at 11:37 AM | Reply

    Impressive article until you mentioned Windows

    Linux/GNU run my computing world.

  • Rob
    April 13, 2012 at 12:06 PM | Reply

    I have a very favorable opinion of Linux. But I also have to live in a Windows environment because of my job and because there still aren’t good Linux alternatives to some of the programs I use.

    Yeah, I know I could spend hours getting them to work with Linux by using WINE. But I don’t want the hassle. I already spend far more of my time sitting in front of a computer monitor than I’d like to. Time is precious and I want to spend as much of it as I can in my workshop and doing other things that I find enjoyable. :-)

  • David Roll
    April 13, 2012 at 3:15 PM | Reply

    Rob,
    Your website looks really, really good.
    Nice layout.

  • Dave
    September 25, 2013 at 4:48 PM | Reply

    Did you consider buying a Mac Book AIR? Run windows in a VM if you have too but enjoy the stability and hassle free nature of Mac OS the majority of the time.

    I don’t post this lightly, Up and until 208 I ran Linux on multiple machines but switched to a Mac and haven’t looked back. It is just a far more relaxed way to get your computing done.

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