A week ago I went searching for a small netbook. My requirements were pretty simple; it needed to be cheap, and be able to dual boot Linux and Windows 7. Because I'm in New Zealand, the first place I checked out was Dick Smith Electronics, which currently had a great special running on the Acer Aspire ONE D255E (**$399 NZD**, roughly $300 USD). Now the specs listed on the site were actually false, but the actual specs of the laptop are higher.

The machine uses the Intel Atom N455 processor, which is a dual core CPU running at 1.66GHz. It has 1GB of DDR3 memory, a 250GB Hard Drive (non-SSD of course), 10.1" LED LCD at 1024x600 (which is tiny, but well suited to a window manager such as ratpoison. The VGA port also handles my 1920x1080 display with no trouble), and comes with Windows 7 Starter edition. These specs seem reasonable to me, and I'm used to getting the most out of my hardware. For interest sake, the machine also has a built-in webcam, 2-in-1 card reader, 802 11b/g/n Wifi (Atheros), a Synaptics touchpad that has basic multi-touch support, and a 3-cell Li-ion battery that gives roughly 4 hours of battery life (can also upgrade to a 6-cell). This particular machine has no bluetooth, although it seems to be an optional extra (along with internal 3G), and of course no optical drive.

The first thing I did when I unboxed this machine (after installing the battery) was format the hard drive (*Windows 7 starter is plenty capable, but it's not for me*). After getting a hold of an external optical drive I proceeded to install Windows 7 Ultimate on it, giving Win7 about 60GB of space, using a single partition only (there's a trick to getting rid of the System Reserved partition, but it's a pretty simple one). Once installed, I booted the machine up, and surprise surprise, there's pretty much nil driver support for this thing using the built-in Win7 drivers. Even VGA was limited to 800x600. Luckily I have an extra machine on standby that I was able to use to download some drivers. Unfortunately this system is new enough that the drivers are only just hitting the net, and I wasn't able to find the correct ones on the Acer site itself (If you want the names and download locations, ask in the comments). But after spending a couple of hours finding the correct ones, it was up and running smoothly.

Next on the list was getting Debian installed. For this I used the non-free net-install Debian Testing ISO, which is great because it includes non-free Wifi firmware. The downside is that the Debian installer doesn't support WPA encryption, even though it is available after. So I was forced to use the ethernet port for installing. I had some issues with Grub but I think that was down to user error, not a fault of Debian itself. Debian was also given 60GB to play with, split 50/50 between / and /home.

Unlike Windows, Debian either detected or had the appropriate drivers handy after a first boot which was great. After installing X with the Intel driver, KMS appears to be working, and everything else works great including wifi (using the ath9k driver), battery, and temperature status. Suspend/resume seems to be set up correctly, although I haven't actually tried it out yet. The Synaptics touchpad needs some tuning in Xorg.conf to work, but once that's done it works better than it does in Windows, and you can even set up circular scrolling and coasting, yee-haw!.

Overall the system isn't as fast as what I'm used to, but it is very capable and is perfect for what I will use it for (web development, and Scheme hacking). Plus it's the perfect size for a CarPC (I'm in the process of writing a nice MusicPD client now) ;)

I would definitely recommend the Aspire ONE D255E to anyone else on the hunt for a cheap netbook.

While I'm at it, if anyone has some suggestions for Scheme (or PHP) tutorials they would like to see then let me know in the comments (you can see them by clicking on the post title). I love putting them together but I find it hard to decide what to write about.


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