The term survival of the fittest doesn't only apply to living species. In the world of technology too, only the strongest and the adapters survive. No wonder then that with the growth of Ultrabooks and tablets comes the inevitable decline of the netbook. Just about a year ago, netbooks were still strong contenders in the PC market. Primarily because of their size and long battery life: all contributing to their portability. However as tablets have evolved to become more functional, it looks like the humble netbook is on its last legs. In spite of this, Intel is pushing its Atom processors which have traditionally been the top choice for netbooks. Last year, it announced its new Atom processor, N2600, popularly known as Cedar Trail. One of the first netbooks to run Cedar Trail is the Acer Aspire One D270.
Acer has long been a forerunner in the netbooks space. Last year, it's colourful ‘Happy' series of Aspire One netbooks got a lot of curious stares, but unfortunately performance failed to impress many – probably why it's been discontinued by the company. The Aspire One D270 is practically identical to the Happy series in many ways, including the droplet design on the cover and the keyboard and trackpad on the inside. Acer has avoided the fruity, tropical-inspired colour options and gone for a more subdued range instead. The netbook is available in black, white, blue and a more interesting ‘balloon' colour option.
The island-style keys are quite spacious and are springy and responsive. The trackpad, although small is very responsive and offers multitouch gestures like pinch to zoom, tap to zoom, rotate and scroll. The single click button at the bottom is thin but accurate, unlike some of the Asus Eee PC's I've used.
The display is unchanged too; you still get the 10.1-inch WSVGA LED screen with a resolution of 1.024x600 pixels. It comes with a 320GB hard drive, also unchanged. Ports are aplenty and are distributed on both sides. They include an Ethernet port, VGA port, three USB 2.0 ports, a multifunction card reader, 3.5mm headphone and microphone slots and a Kensington Lock slot. The only addition here is a full-sized HDMI port.
Performance and usability
The Aspire One D270 runs Windows 7 starter which is quite basic. The Happy series of netbooks had offered an Android dual-boot option. In fact, the Happy 2 netbooks had upgraded to an Android 2.1 OS from the Android 1.6 that was offered on its predecessor. Acer has done away with that option so you'll have to make do with only Windows.
Since the biggest change in the Aspire One D270 is the new Atom N2600 processor, let's look at how much performance has changed.
The N2600 retains the number of cores (2), clock speeds (1.6GHz) and cache sizes (512KB L2 per core). This basically means that performance is largely unchanged, and you still get the same sluggishness you found in netbooks running on the older Pine Trail Atom processors. However, the Cedar Trail dual-core Atoms consume the same amount of power as the single-core Pine Trail processors, which means they are more power efficient.
Graphics speed has also gone up from 200 MHz to 400 MHz, which includes support for H.264 video decode acceleration. In simple terms, it means that you can playback HD YouTube videos without much frame dropping. To test this out, I watched some 720p HD videos on YouTube. Frame-dropping was less exaggerated than before, although it was by no means smooth. When I amped this up to a 1080p video of a Bioshock Infinite walkthrough, frame-dropping became highly exaggerated and the video was quite unwatchable. Considering the display's resolution though, you probably won't need to watch videos in Full HD. Frame dropping is not an issue if you're watching a video that's on your hard drive, and the few HD videos I watched on VLC Media Player ran quite smoothly.
Atom processors have always been great with battery life, and I did feel that there was a slight improvement on that front too. I got about 7 hours of usage, which is an improvement from previous Acer models.
Cedar Trail is certainly an improvement from the previous-gen Atom processors, but as of now the difference is nowhere near as gamechanging as it should be. Netbooks need to become faster and slimmer than they are now if they want to compete with Ultrabooks and tablets. Intel's architecture update for Atom is due next year, but that might be too late for netbooks. However, if you are still looking for a portable machine with good battery life, decent looks and improved performance, the Acer Aspire One D270 is a good, affordable option.
Love: Improved graphics and battery life, HDMI port
Hate: Unchanged design, sluggish performance