On My New Acer Aspire E15

Acer Aspire E15 So, right up front I want to say, I’m not trying to sell this as the most amazing machine ever or anything.  I mostly just want to give some thoughts and sort of initial impressions.  I’ve been previously using an HP 311 Netbook as my laptop.  I would argue, at the time, that it definitely was “The best Netbook”.  It’s like 5-6 years old now, it runs like complete crap despite my best efforts.  I’ve replaced the battery and power cord on it 3-4 times, it has all sort of flakey issues with the trackpad and keyboard that start to crop up after it runs for a bit, it’s just, definitely showing its age.  I’ve updated it recently with an Acer Aspire E15.

I’ve been trying and working towards a replacement laptop for a few years now.  I’m awful about saving up large chunks of money given my other hobbies and saving for a laptop is quite a chunk of change.  It also doesn’t help that I keep within my own personal spending budget, and a lot of any “extra income” over the years went to household needs and outfitting everyone else in the family with laptops.

My other problem was trying to decide just what I wanted.  Ideally I wanted something nicer, say, closer to $1000 or so than $500, but saving to that point is kind of a huge hurdle.  I wanted something capable of running games all right, I don’t need or want “highest settings perfect framerate” but I wanted something that would run smoothly for the games I like to play.  These sort of requirements presented a few issues.  Most of the more expensive laptops push form over function, so they would probably work all right for my needs but the higher price mostly means I’m paying for “fancy” looking.  Anything that’s a “Gaming” laptop in that price range is probably overkill for what I want and would be a 40 lb slab of computer.

I also have lost track of “what makes a computer good” several years ago.  Mostly because computing power really plateaued for general use a few years ago.  There’s not a huge difference in computers now than 3-4 years ago aside from power consumption, which is kind of minimal.  In the old days it was simple, more mhz, more ghz means it’s better.  The only real “requirement” I had for processor power was i5 or i7, no i3.  I wanted a decent chunk of RAM, say 8GB+ and some sort of discrete GPU.   Just having some sort of GPU vs “Intel Integrated Graphics” would meet my gaming needs.

Acer Aspire E15I also decided that at some point I needed to stop waffling on what I wanted and just pick something.  I did some searching around on Amazon, filtering specs and such to get less and less selection.  I had kind of been hoping to find a Lenovo Thinkpad but none of them in my price range meet my Graphical desires and they are all brickish.  The brick part wasn’t such a turn off as the integrated graphics.

I eventually settled on the Acer Aspire E15.  It’s a relatively new release (seems to be 2016), it met my desire on specs, it looked fairly nice design wise, it has a ten-key pad.  It was also within my current budget at around $550 dollars.  I did some checking online for reviews and chatter on Reddit and it seemed to be a pretty well liked machine.

I ended up finding it for a $100 less on NewEgg as well, with a 1TB 5200 drive instead of a 256GB SSD.  Now I had a choice to make, way more storage, at a much slower speed, or keep the nice quick SSD.  I even considered ordering the 1TB version and buying an SSD to put in it, essentially giving me a free 1TB drive to use for, whatever.  In the end, I opted for the SSD, for more money.  Having the extra 1TB drive is actually less useful to me than it sounds, I have something like 8-10 TB easily already going in the house across several machines, and I wanted the performance boost of the 256GB SSD.  Also, the hassle of figuring out the best way to install the OS onto the SSD, while not hard, was more trouble than I cared to bother with.  The whole point of upgrading is performance boost over my old laptop.  The most frustrating part of my desktop is I’m still using shitty 5200 RPM drives in it, and it’s the main bottleneck for sure.

Acer Aspire E5-575G-53VG Specs

  • Screen Size: 15.6 inches
  • Screen Resolution: 1920 x 1080 pixels
  • Processor: 2.3 GHz Core i5 6200U
  • Hard Drive: 256 GB flash_memory_solid_state
  • Graphics Coprocessor: NVIDIA GeForce 940MX (2GB)
  • Operating System: Windows 10
  • Item Weigh: 5.3 pounds

Acer Aspire E15So, onto the actual laptop on some initial impressions.  I’ve been using it for a few weeks now.  It is definitely a nice improvement over my old netbook.  I like having Windows again, though I still like Linux, I like the keyboard with its chicklet keys, I’m satisfied with the size and ports.  It’s even got a USB-C port, which I didn’t notice before buying it.

The 256GB drive is a little tight.  I mostly just need to keep myself more limited to things I’m actually going to use but I’ve installed World of Warcraft, Skyrim, Minecraft, Wildstar, Photoshop, Diablo 3, Office 2010, and a handful of developer apps and I’m already down below 100GB free.  It’s a bit too close for my comfort but I’ll learn to deal with it.  Also, everything runs nicely as expected, though the machine does start to get pretty hot after running Wildstar and Skyrim for a while.

It’s not a touch screen either.  Back when Windows 8 was the hot thing, I would have been all over a touch screen, Windows 10 took us back to a more traditional interface and so the touchscreen is less necessary.  It’s still something that’s kind of neat if it’s there, but it’s less required.

In general, it does seem like a pretty good all-around machine for the price point.  That said, you could probably drop down a bit in price if you don’t want something with a discrete GPU.

The Build Process

I got a stack of boxes last Thursday, somewhat previously discussed.

I already owned the case.  It’s this one here.  It’s basic, holds a shitload of hard drives, and has several huge quiet 120mm fans.  I also already had a 1TB SATA drive to use.

It’s been a while since I have built a PC, but, in general, it’s pretty simple.  The hard part is picking out the components really, which obviously, I’ve already done.  He was not around for the build but my son asked if I thought I would be done putting my computer together within a few months.  He seemed surprised when I told him it would take maybe an hour, once I had all of the parts.

The only real key is making sure the heat sink on the processor makes good contact and works, since otherwise, you’re liable to burn up an expensive component.

The place to start is the Motherboard.  Here it is, removed from the box and placed on its static bag.

This part is essentially the central nervous system of the computer.  It connects all of the other parts together and lets them communicate.  It does a few other things but at it’s core, that’s what it does.  The Motherboard can’t do math for crap though, which is why the next step is to add the Processor, which more or less only does math… very very quickly. 

It’s small, maybe an inch and a half square.  This one runs at I believe 3.3 Ghz, with 4 cores, which essentially means it does 3.3 Billion calculations per second and can do four calculations at a time.  This chip costs more than any other individual component in this computer.  Because it works hard and runs everything, it also gets hot quickly.  Which is why the next step is to add the heat sink. 

Ok, so a little story on this humongous heatsink and fan.  The last time i bought a processor, it did not include a heatsink of it’s own.  Heatsinks, personally, a pretty generic and unless you’re overclocking the CPU, you really don’t need much.  So I threw the “Number one selling CPU Heatsink on Amazon that was only like $20 anyway” on my order.  The pictures on Amazon make it look like a standard chunk of metal that sits on the CPU with the fan on top.

Turns out the chip came with a heatsink and fan.  It also turns out that the one I bought was like four times larger than expected.  I decided that since it was cheap, I may aw well use it rather than return it.

Hence, gigantic heat sink.  Fortunately, the case I’m using is pretty large.

The last step before bolting the Motherboard assembly into the case is to stick the RAM in.  It’s nothing particularly exciting other than I had to consult the manual to figure out the optimal slot placement.

After the board is in the case, the power supply can be strapped in as well.  The manual suggested putting the PS in first but my experience has been that often the PS obstructs access to the Mother Board.  It didn’t in this case (pun intended) but I waited anyway.  I also stuck the hard drive into the drive bay and reinserted it.

While the view is still relatively clear, I also wired in all of the front panel controls and lights.  Just a side note, I ended up putting all of these in reverse, which meant opening the case later and flipping them all over.  No biggie.

Finally, the Graphics card is inserted.

The desire to upgrade the GPU was a heavy driver in my decision to build a PC to begin with.  This one can be expanded to a second card using some ATI technology that I forget the name of if I want to add a second one.  It’s huge and pretty impressive to look at.

Finally, everything is assembled and it’s time to power things up.

I go through and describe the build Process for a home desktop PC.

Aside from the flipped button leads, I also had a bit of a worry when turning it on with the cooling.  The PS fan doesn’t power up unless it’s needed, so it didn’t immediately spring to life as expected.   This wasn’t helped by rear fan, which it turns out is dead.  I’ve since bought a replacement for it though I have not installed it yet.

I also ran into a slight snag when I went to install the OS.  I don’t own any SATA CD/DVD/BluRay/Disc drives.  Fortunately, I have a USB DVD drive for my netbook, which functioned just fine for this use.

I also had to wait a day for my Monitor to come in and later realized I don’t own a second USB Keyboard or Mouse (no PS/2 Ports).

It’s been running just fine for several days now.

I can run all of my games on super uber graphics mode with no stutter or slow downs.  It boots up very quickly, despite the non SSD hard drive.  Basically, it’s everything it’s supposed to be.

Building a New PC

I am extremely familiar with the insides and mechanics behind build a PC from scratch.  I’ve put together several machines for both personal use and at (my old) work.  I also have done numerous upgrades to hard drives, RAM, GPUs, etc over the years.  I’ve wired up cases for better cooling and upgraded a PC so much that I rebuilt the original PC with all of it’s original parts.

I’ve never ever bought all the parts at once to put them together as a cohesive whole at the same time.

In the recent move, I’ve gained an office space.  Part of my desire for this office space is that it’s not going to be where the kids hang out to play on the computer.  Unfortunately, I can’t just stick them with one of my extra older PCs, it’ll never work out.  So I’m using the opportunity to build myself a new gaming rig.  Computer components have gotten so ridiculously confusing these days.  The last time I seriously build a PC it was simple.  If the processor speed was higher, it was better.  A 2 GHZ PC was pretty much always going to be better than a 1.8ghz PC.  Unless it’s a Celeron, then it just sucked no matter what.

Now it’s all Cores and i7s, and i3s and Phenom IIs and crazy numbers that are mostly just ePeen related.  Fortunately I am aware than GPU means more to a PC than CPU.  That’s why I started with GPU.  My old machine actually performs much better than I would ever expect considering it’s only Dual core and it’s a stock Dell machine with a new GPU and some RAM.  The key was, I picked out a good GPU when I bought it.

So I did some research on benchmarks and performance and came up with a Sapphire AMD Radeon HD 6850.  It’s not a top of the line card but it ranks very highly and costs about half as much as the cards ranking similarly.  I’m still being budget conscious with my choices and trying to get the best value I can.

I then did move on to processor.  As I said, modern processors confuse me, so I started off looking into the AMD chip recommended by Amazon to go with the GPU.  It was a place to start more than anything.  I’ve had a lot of AMD CPUs and always liked them.  They used to be the top dog but I was pretty sure Intel had come back to the lead.

Some Google searching suggested that it’s not real great unless it’s overclocked and I’m not really interested in trying to overclock anything.  It’s not that I don’t think I could do it, it’s more than I don’t want to have to buy another $150 processor when I fuck it up.  One thread I found on this chip had several recommendations for the Intel i5 2500 3.3Ghz.  It’s a Quad Core chip.   I did a bit more research and decided to go for this chip.  Mostly my research was into i5 vs i7, but this i5 is supposed to be pretty decent.  Besides, CPU is less important and I’m going to better value with a good punch.

On a side note, I also am hazy on the details but I also know that more cores doesn’t always mean better.  4 cores doesn’t make this a 12 Ghz processor, not every application uses multiple cores.  However I do a fair amount of Photo editing with Photoshop and I do a fair amount of editing with Adobe Premier, BOTH programs I know benefit from using multiple cores.

At this point I threw on a compatible fan nothing fancy, it was cheap and ranked 1st in fans on Amazon so I bought it.  I also threw on a 500W power supply to run it all.  I have a 500W power supply but it’s got some bad bearings in the fans and runs loud.  I could probably fix it but electricity scares me and I am pretty sure power supplies can be dangerous even when un plugged.

all that was left was to tie it together with a motherboard.  I picked up one from the list of recommended ones, it’s listed as Gigabyte Intel Z68 ATX DDR3 2133 LGA 1155 Motherboard GA-Z68A-D3H-B3 and is very Blue.

So, because it coordinates, I picked up 8 GB of Blue RAM with flashy cooling fins to go in it.

I didn’t need to get a case, I have a very large and nice case I bought last time I built a machine.  it is absolutely boring as hell in it’s designs but that was what I wanted, something that “wasn’t curvy and swoopy and neon and looked like a Riced up Honda PC”.

I’m not showing this thing off for looks.

I also already have some hard drives.  I have a 1 TB that I’ll probably stick in it out of my current machine.  It keeps disappearing from the OS, but I am 90% sure it’s because that stock Dell Power supply sucks and can’t handle running 3 hard drives and a GPU.

I also don’t need a Monitor.  I ordered a decently large LCD a week ago when I thought I was going to be running a different older machine in the office.

Anyway, I’m pretty stoked.  I also went in for the Amazon Prime trial so everything should be here by Thursday.

The HP Mini 311 Review – Part 3 – The How

This is the last part of my multipart “review” of my recently acquired HP Mini 311.  This is probably the most difficult to put down since at this point, it’s changing on a regular basis.  The How, is how things are going to be done, and how things are being done.  For example, i am currently typing this using windows Live Writer in Windows XP on this machine.  However I’ve spent MOST of the time using this machine in Ubuntu.

So I’ll start at the top with Windows Live Writer, since I already brought it up.  This is a program I’ve been wanting to use ever since it was first released.  The beef I always had was, keeping everything organized in one place.  Probably the primary reason I wanted a computer like this in the first place was for writing.  So far it has proven to be an excellent tool for this.  Now, i will give you that, because I use a “two fingered method” of typing, the transition to the slightly smaller keyboard hasn’t been much of an issue.  If you’re used to touch typing on a full sized keyboard, you may have some issues.

It is perfect for this use however.  It’s light weight enough that I can carry it anywhere in my bag.  Which means, for example, if I’m out eating somewhere, or at the park during lunch or whatever, i can easily pull it out if I feel like typing something up.  This has, so far, only amounted to a translation to writing more blog posts for my various outlets for such activities.  I plan to try to transition this into more long form writing.  It’s something i used to do that I do enjoy and have lots of good ideas for, but I can generally never find the time.  Being able to type virtually anywhere is a blessing for this.

Part of this type anywhere ability, I’ll admit, is the battery.  Not the battery size or anything, just that it’s there and works.  I’ve had a few used laptops over the years and none of them had a decent battery.  So using the computer say, while sitting in bed, required I dig out the cables and find a spare outlet nearby etc.  It was a hassle.  At this point I’d estimate that I plug this machine in maybe once a day for an hour or so, usually while it’s sitting on my office desk.

Back to Windows Live Writer.  It was probably the first program I installed since it’s an excellent tool for blogging.  The interface is intuitive, the ability to easily attach multiple blogs is great and in general, it’s something Microsoft should be proud of. Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be a Linux equivalent.  There are Linux blogger tools that are similar, but none of them are quite as robust.

Which leads me to the second part of the How, Ubuntu.  I’ve got a long and sordid history with Linux.  I do use it fairly regularly however… sort of….  Most of the Linux based set ups I “use” are “set it and forget it” style set ups.  An FTP server for work.  A file server at home.  Occasionally I log onto these machines via VNC and putz around with settings or play around with CURL but for the most part, they are autonomous creatures,  I’ve tried using various flavors of Linux “full time” but generally I have little long term success.  The other issue is that I’m not going to inflict that general irritation on my family with say, my main home machine.

This is where the personal portable, touch it and die Netbook is handy.  I can dual boot with ease.  I’m still not really ready to go all in and wipe out my XP install or anything, but I do use Ubuntu way more than I do XP. 

Again… sort of….

I’ve also been experimenting with VirtualBox to run a virtual session of Windows XP on top of my Ubuntu install.  Can you wrap you head around that?  I have an “underpowered” PC that can boot to either Windows or Ubuntu, and inside Ubuntu, it can also run Windows.

This allows me to do things I can’t do with just Ubuntu, like run Windows live writer (eventually).  Or play DOS based games like Diablo 2 or Grand Theft Auto.

Ubuntu however should get a post all of it’s own so I’ll save more of the details on that for later.

The HP Mini 311 Review – Part 2 – The What

So I wrote up a rather lengthy “review” or at least partial review last week for this new machine I’ve been using.  The thing to note is that, for the most part, I didn’t mention much actually pertaining to the device.

That’s where this post comes into play.

After careful consideration, I went with the HP Mini 311.  In my research, I’ve found that for the most part, most Netbooks have essentially the same specs.  There are quite a few options if you’re willing to spend more than $500 but for anything less you’re going ot get more or less the same formula.

  • N270 or N280 processor
  • 1 GB of RAM
  • 160 GB hard drive
  • Windows XP SP3 or Windows 7 Starter (DON’T GET STARTER)
  • Webcam
  • 3 USB Ports
  • VGA Port
  • 9-10” screen
  • Etc.

The Mini had two main advantages that swayed me to pick it and one minor advantage.  The minor advantage is really minor, I like the way it looks.  It has a nice two tone black and silver chassis that isn’t obnoxiously colored but isn’t too boring.

The major advantages come in the visuals.  Firstly, it has an 11” screen.  This makes it slightly larger than your average Netbook but not as humongous as a laptop.  The footprint is almost identical to a standard 8.5”x11” sheet of paper.

Secondly is the nVidia Ion Chipset.  Basically, instead the of integrated Intel graphics chip most Netbooks have, this has a separate chip made by a company that more or less specializes in graphics chips.  According to CNet’s benchmarks, this machine scores a massive factor (think hundreds to a thousand) times higher than most netbooks in the graphics department.  A bit of research actually suggests the Ion is a rebranded downsized version of the GeForce 9400 chipset, which is conveniently the same card i use in my desktop machine.

So what does this mean?  Two things.  Firstly, it runs video better than most Netbooks.  Secondly, I can play some 3D games.  No, I’m not going to be playing with screaming FPS and ultra graphics settings but it’ll still work.  I’ve already tested this with the two most graphically intense games I play, Team Fortress 2 and Second Life.  TF2 will need some settings tweaks (I only spent like 5 minutes testing it out) but it’s doable for a quick game.  SL is definitely usable and reasonably smooth is less busy areas.

As for other aspects, the wireless rage is decent, much better than my old laptop.  The speed is good, I’ve loaded this thing down fairly heavily and haven’t seen a huge dip in performance (more on this in Part 3).  I’m even dual booting with Ubuntu, though there was a bit of a hassle making that work smoothly.  Battery life is decent and works for 3-4+ hours easy.

In short, I’m pretty satisfied with my experience so far.  I’ll go into more detail on exactly what that experience entails however in the next post…