A few months with Acer’s Aspire 1810TZ budget ultraportable notebook

About a year and a half ago, I bought an Eee PC 1000HA as an experiment of sorts. Both batteries for my aging 14″ notebook were on their last legs, so I figured the time was right to see whether a netbook could suffice as my only portable PC. Plus, I was curious whether I’d like having an ultraportable enough to justify splurging on a more powerful one should the Eee PC’s Atom CPU prove too anemic for my needs.

Well, the Eee PC turned out to be a capable writing tool, a competent web surfer as long as I avoided Flash-heavy sites, a great standard-definition video player, and even a decent MAME gaming platform. I also fell in love with the marriage of excellent battery life and ultraportability, which encouraged me to use the system far more than I’d used previous notebooks.

In fact, I ended up using the Eee PC so often that I began to want it to do more than the basics. I craved a screen with enough pixels for a proper desktop, not just a single application window. I desired more CPU power to handle multiple Flash-heavy tabs in Firefox with a side order of light multitasking. And I longed for a GPU that wouldn’t limit my gaming to World of Goo and old-school arcade emulators. 

My search for a new notebook began last fall, which proved a good time to be looking. Intel’s Consumer Ultra-Low Voltage mobile CPUs were all over the market, promising just the sort of horsepower upgrade I was looking for without pushing system prices much above the cost of premium netbooks. Most CULV CPUs found their way into 13-15″ notebooks, but after a year of enjoying the Eee PC’s ultraportable dimensions, even thin-and-light 13.3″ systems feel bigger than they need to be. Fortunately, Acer started putting CULV chips into 11.6″ Aspire 1410 and 1810 Timeline ultraportables. The 1410 instantly caught my attention with its netbook-like $400 price tag, but I ultimately settled on an 1810TZ, coughing up an extra $150 for a faster CPU, more memory and hard drive capacity, Bluetooth, and most importantly, a bigger battery.

I’ve been using the 1810TZ as my primary notebook ever since the unit arrived in November, and wow, what a difference. The first thing that struck me about the Aspire was the fact that it really is an ultraportable. It’s a little thinner than the 1000HA and can even squeeze into the neoprene sleeve that came with the Eee PC. Plus, at round about three pounds, the Aspire is light enough to carry around with ease.

The Aspire’s slightly larger size allows Acer to equip the system with an 11.6″ screen that has a 1366×768 display resolution. This is a huge step up from the 1024×600 display on the Eee PC, and the extra pixels make all the difference in the world for me. Having only 768 vertical pixels still feels a little short, especially with Windows 7’s pudgy taskbar, but moving it over to the left-hand side of the screen helps tremendously.

As far as display quality goes, the Aspire’s screen is as average as you’d expect from a budget system. The transreflective coating is too glossy for my tastes, but you can overpower a lot of its reflectivity by cranking the LED backlight’s ample brightness. Color reproduction is decent enough, and while the viewing angles aren’t particularly good, I only know that because I just checked. When I’m actually using a notebook, I tend to be looking at the screen dead on.

I spent a good five minutes buffing up the Aspire before snapping pictures of it for this post, which is why the system’s glossy plastic exterior has a nice sheen. But it never looks this pristine in the real world; the lid’s always covered with fingerprints and smudges, as is the bezel that surrounds the screen. Recently, I’ve also noticed that the screen will occasionally pick up a little bit of finger grease from the keyboard. This only seems to affect the very center of the screen, which when the system is closed, just so happens to line up with what looks like the slightest of peaks in the middle of the keyboard.

As a writer, I’m particularly picky about keyboard quality. The Aspire’s is nearly full size, which provides plenty of room for my meaty paws to type at full speed. There’s plenty of key travel, too, and spirited strokes hit with a satisfying dull thud. However, the keyboard feels a little mushy overall, and its tactile feedback isn’t as good as that of the Eee PC. I can deal, and folks who aren’t so anal about such things may never notice a problem.

Below the keyboard sits a Synaptics touchpad that, with the latest drivers, offers all sorts of useful multi-touch scrolling schemes and gestures. The touchpad’s surface is perfectly smooth, too, facilitating silky smooth tracking.

Under the hood, my particular Aspire model has a dual-core Pentium SU4100 1.3GHz CPU, an Intel GS45 Express chipset, 3GB of RAM, and a 320GB 5,400-RPM hard drive. While hardly a performance monster, the system nevertheless feels nice and responsive, even when multitasking. High-definition video plays back smoothly, Flash doesn’t bog down the system, and the integrated GMA 4500MHD graphics chip is potent enough for Audiosurf, Darwinia, and Geometry Wars—all I need to keep myself entertained while traveling. This is really an entirely different class of performance than a netbook.

I actually made the Aspire a little bit faster by swapping in an Indilinx-based Super Talent SSD. Not that it feels much faster—just more chuckable, since I’m not worried about jostling bringing a mechanical hard drive to a grinding halt. Kudos to Acer for making it easy to access not only the hard drive bay, but also the DIMM slots and Wi-Fi card.

While the SSD swap has probably improved the Aspire’s battery life to some degree, its run times were already excellent with the mechanical drive. In my experience, the six-cell battery is good for 7-9 hours of Wi-Fi web surfing, writing, and video playback. And the battery lasts even longer if all I have open is a Remote Desktop Connection to my primary PC.

The elements that underpin the Aspire 1810TZ may be modest at best, but Acer has struck a nice balance between robust performance, excellent battery life, adequate screen real estate, and easy portability that’s just about perfect for my needs, especially since I only had to pay $550 for the privilege. Intel’s Consumer Ultra-Low Voltage platform deserves a lot of the credit here, and so do netbooks, without which we might never have seen CULV processors, let alone found them squeezed into budget ultraportables.

CULV-powered systems like this one may ultimately push netbooks further into niche territory. I think there’s still room in the market for Atom-based systems, but only at lower price points than those currently occupied the ultraportable CULV crowd. And pint-sized CULV systems may become even cheaper if Ultra-Low-Voltage Core i5 CPUs migrate into smaller notebooks than the 13.3″ models we’ve seen thus far. Only time will tell, but in the meantime, I’m going to thoroughly enjoy my Aspire 1810TZ.

For more pictures of the Aspire, see the image gallery below. Also included in the gallery are pictures of Scott’s grey 1810TZ, a black Gateway EC1430u that’s virtually identical to the Acer system, and a few comparison shots that stack the Gateway on top of Samsung’s NC20.

Comments closed
    • Jambe
    • 10 years ago

    Nice writeup.

    Now… will Westmere-based chips eventually become a new generation of CULV notebooks?

    • Plazmodeus
    • 10 years ago

    I bought the 1810T ‘Olympic Edition’ in December fot ~$600 CDN. Mine came with Win7 X64 and 4GB 2+2 ddr800. I love this laptop. Previously I had tried an Acer netbook that belonged to a friend, just as an experiment, and could not stand the slow speed of the Atom.

    The best feature of the 1810T is the processor + large HDD. I’m a photographer and I actually run Lightroom on this. It doesn’t replace a powerful desktop for real photo work, but it allows for enough in-the-field photo editing to be useful for cataloging and light manip. Battery life is a dream and its really nice to not have to worry about it.

    The best way to think about an ultraportable like this is as the perfect mini computing device. If I need to do any ‘heavy lifting’, I’ll head to a desktop or full sized laptop. This machine is for checking out a webpage while you’re on the couch watching TV, writing email in bed, or watching 30 Rock on a flight. I was recently in San Francisco for work and I took the 1810T to Union Square and worked for several hours whilst watching the lovely ladies of the city stroll by in the sun. I’ve yet to feel like the machine is underpowered at all, maybe because I haven’t asked it to do any power work. I’m not sure I would want this as an only computer, it really functions as an excellent 2nd machine, an accompanyment to a more powerful, more cumbersome comp.

    My only complaint is the keyboard. Its large enough, but I”m not 100% thrilled with the key configuration, its cramped and overcrowded. I also would have liked backlighting as this thing gets used in some dark places. It’s a tolerable keyboard but not perfect, and I’m not quite able to get full speed typing out of it. That said, my main use for this comp is for writing and I’ve been prolific enough that I haven’t switched to something else. I saw the keyboard on a comparable sized Asus ultraportable and it just seemed a bit simpler and better layed out. The synaptics touch pad, on the other hand, is a real star on teh 1810. With the fancy drivers it really increases the functionality and I’ve been 2-fingering it around Win7 just like my iphone.

    Like Dissonance, I’ve been very happy with this machine. Its got the right delta of performance and usability features. When I hear people cooing about the coming of the iPad I scratch my head and wonder why I would want that limited functionality device over this thing which does all that and so much more.

    • tcunning1
    • 10 years ago

    Excellent review–you really laid out the benefits as well as the compromises of this notebook, which I think I would be able to live with. I’m more interested, though in the Acer Timeline 1820P, which is the tablet version, but I haven’t seen anything about it since an announcement last October. Any idea where this thing is?

    • echo_seven
    • 10 years ago

    Has anyone had a problem with the 1810TZ and games like the original Counterstrike? Theoretically, the MHD4500 shouldn’t have any problem with that game, but out-of-the-box, my 1810TZ had performance issues (stuttering, got reaaallly slow during flashbangs and smoke grenades). Read online about it wanting matching DIMMs or whatnot, so switched out the 2+1 GB of DDR2-667 with 2+2 GB of DDR2-800. Completely fixed the problem, but I’m wondering why such an upgrade was needed in the first place.

      • bthylafh
      • 10 years ago

      Onboard video without dedicated RAM is faster with dual-channel memory. Memory access in general is faster as well, but only by a few percent.

    • End User
    • 10 years ago

    I’m impressed by the performance of my 1201n running Ubuntu x64. The fact that it can play 1080p content is pretty cool (thanks to ION and VDPAU).

    • bthylafh
    • 10 years ago

    I’m really pleased with my Aspire 1410. About all it won’t do was run ZSNES to my 720p TV with HQX filters – was too choppy. Keyboard’s good once I got used to it, the trackpad’s nice, and the screen is just about perfect for a system this size.

    Can’t complain about the battery life either.

      • indeego
      • 10 years ago

      Agreed. Our 1410 here at work is very popular and I’ve had zero issues with it since purchaseg{<.<}g

    • mattthemuppet
    • 10 years ago

    I have the bigger brother 3810TZ and I don’t think it’s ever made me wish for a more powerful laptop. Not having to worry about the battery running out if I’m away from a power point for more than 3h is the main selling point. Everything else is good or great, other than the speakers which are woeful (even by laptop standards) and the mouse bar (hard to use with the side of my thumb as it’s recessed), but it’s the battery life which is the biggest deal. 6 1/2-7h of normal usage with wifi and bluetooth on is just amazing.

    • andrew225
    • 10 years ago

    I have the 1410 and enjoy using it very much. I bought it from Amazon (JR) at a very attractive price ($399) although the CPU is SU3500 instead of SU4100. It is more than enough for web surfing and watching video online, and it is especially useful when we travel around, I will play a cartoon movie for my 7-year-old daughter in the plane, it’s just great.

    • ChrisDTC
    • 10 years ago

    I have the 1410 in that same blue color and I love it. I waited and waited and passed on so many Atom powered systems and I’m so glad I did. When I was finally ready to buy in late October I was debating between the 1410 and an MSI that had an AMD CPU, but I ended up going with the 1410. Now my wife is constantly stealing it from me and using the HDMI output to play downloaded TV on our 32″ 720p TV. Which I guess is OK by me because I get my PS3 back now.

    Also, do you know if the six cell battery you have can be used in the 1410?

    • blubje
    • 10 years ago
    • Bombadil
    • 10 years ago

    I bought a Gateway EC1803u a month or so ago, and found it on a whole worse than my 1000HA mostly because of the horrible display and poor keyboard. The half height arrow keys and the trackpad were awful. Even the SU3500 is not really worth twice the TDP of a N270–maybe if it could be run faster, but Acer did a decent job preventing that. The best thing was the GMA4500MHD and that is not saying much. I’d actually prefer something smaller than the 1000HA with a better keyboard and no trackpad, but it looks like portability is getting forgotten.

    • axeman
    • 10 years ago

    Sounds like Geoff came to the same conclusion I have. On my meager budget, I got a used ultraportable. It has a proper dual-core CPU, 12″ 1280×800 screen, much nicer build quality than a netbook, and things that most netbooks only wish they had like gigabit ethernet, firewire, and a docking station port. The docking station only cost something like 30 bucks on ebay and has DVI output, 4 usb ports, PS/2 keyboard and mouse (if you really want to use that). With a 6 cell battery it weighs like 4 pounds. I might be find a use for netbooks if I had a stack of them big enough to use for a footstool. It cost me roughly what a new netbook would cost, and it manages 720p video just barely. Netbooks are for housewives and suckers. And if you’re going to spend more than 500 bucks, get a macbook. Pretty much everything in the consumer market for 13″ and up machines is garbage compared to a Mac. Pity there is no more 12″ macbook

      • bimmerlovere39
      • 10 years ago

      Thank goodness consumers can buy from non-consumer product lines. Choice is a good thing, and, honestly, the choices for nice machines above $700 is rather limited – and when I say good, I mean build quality, not specs.

      Nothing against Apple, really – they make good machines – I’m just happier with my T400 than I think I’d be with a MacBook – and it was cheaper to boot.

        • axeman
        • 10 years ago

        yeah, the thing is there, unless you actually know where to look and go there, the average consumer is never even going to see professional or business class notebooks.

          • bimmerlovere39
          • 10 years ago

          I’d say that’s a bad thing, but, well… the selfish part of me doesn’t want to worry about those lines getting dumbed down.

          Besides, the need to use a $700+ laptop for a normal consumer is somewhat iffy nowadays. Other than prestige, which Apple is all too happy to sell (seriously, I like the machines, but I really, really dislike having to wear the badge – it carries a certain statement, one that I don’t particularly want to make). If you need more than that, well, it can be found. You may not get the best built machine, but it’ll work reasonably well.

          …so long as you don’t let yourself get sold a laptop at Best Buy. I went in there several times to see some of the laptops I was considering in the flesh. Hearing some of the things they tell unwitting customers is rather painful – a piece of me dies every time I hear it.

            • axeman
            • 10 years ago

            I agree 100%. Between your excellent nickname and your analysis of the topic, I think you’re bromance worthy. Although I’m more of a 3 series guy, and a Dell Latitude instead of ThinkPad. I have a serious petty hatred against the Fn key placement on ThinkPads.

            • zima
            • 10 years ago

            If Fn key placement was what held you back from them the most, you might be glad to know that latest models have the option to swap Ctrl<->Fn in the bios.

    • iamajai
    • 10 years ago

    Wonder how these CULV’s handle HD Youtube.

      • OneArmedScissor
      • 10 years ago

      Thank you Atom. Now everyone expects affordable computers to fail the most mundane tasks.

        • UberGerbil
        • 10 years ago

        Thank you Atom for demonstrating what a POS Adobe Flash is.

          • FireGryphon
          • 10 years ago

          It always amused me how Adobe makes such an awesome graphic editor but fails so miserably with Flash (I mean from a technical standpoint, not a popularity one).

            • Palek
            • 10 years ago

            You may recall that Flash was originally created by Macromedia, who were gobbled up by Adobe back in 2005. That ought to explain the differences in coding quality.

            • stdRaichu
            • 10 years ago

            The fact that, in three years, the quality of the software hasn’t improved (from my perspective at any rate) tells me that either the code is an indecipherable mess or Adobe just don’t give a crap about it.

            N.B. I don’t consider adding hardware acceleration to be an improvement. Low bitrate, low resolution MPEG4 still shouldn’t expend five times the CPU power of other decoders.

            • indeego
            • 10 years ago

            And you may recall that Adobe bastardized PDF and Acrobat to be a security messg{<.<}g

            • Chrispy_
            • 10 years ago

            It always amuses me that people think Adobe is such an awesome graphical editing tool (from a technical standpoint). I find it slow, buggy and bloated with poor technical support on common issues (eg clipboard-breaking) and next-to-zero corporate deployment options without going third-party.

            Given the silly cost of Photoshop and the fact that most jobs people use Photoshop for could be done quicker on other software, I am unsurprised that it has become the new Microsoft word – new features adding bloat and bugs to an otherwise decent tool, just so that they can increment the version number and make everyone pay up again.

            • d0g_p00p
            • 10 years ago

            I thought Adobe was a company.

            • MadManOriginal
            • 10 years ago

            Pedantic d0g is pedantic.

            • glynor
            • 10 years ago

            This annoys the crap out of me too.

            ProTip: They make software other than Flash, Photoshop, and Acobat Reader. Some of it, like InDesign, is actually pretty good.

          • axeman
          • 10 years ago

          On my ultraportable, it seems that the real hog in Flash is the vector-graphics animation. I can play 720p content on YouTube pretty smoothly *if* it’s the only thing on the screen. Get a page with a couple of dumb flash ads, and it just about dies.

    • FireGryphon
    • 10 years ago

    3 GB is such an odd amount for RAM. Can the system be upgraded to 4 GB easily?

      • bhtooefr
      • 10 years ago

      Probably needs an OS wipe and reload to go to 4 GiB. However, the chipset supports up to 8 GiB, IIRC.

      3 GiB is actually fairly common in prebuilt systems, when for whatever reason, they don’t want to ship a 64-bit OS.

        • 5150
        • 10 years ago

        Why would you need to wipe the OS? That is ridiculous.

          • FuturePastNow
          • 10 years ago

          Yes, it is ridiculous for a computer to ship with a 32-bit version of Windows in 2010.

            • bthylafh
            • 10 years ago

            Is it 32-bit? My 1410 shipped with 64-bit Win7 Home Premium, and it’s got 2GB of RAM.

            • FuturePastNow
            • 10 years ago

            I don’t know, actually. But I generally read “3GB” as a code-word for “32-bit OS”.

            • Kulith
            • 10 years ago

            Dell was kind enough to ship my 4gb XPS laptop with Vista 32 bit -.-

            Luckily I put windows 7 x64 on it ages ago

      • kmansj
      • 10 years ago

      I bought the 1810 which came with 4GB and supports virtualization. Works nice. But the 1830 looks good now with the i5.

      • UberGerbil
      • 10 years ago

      Usually you see this in notebooks (especially ultra-portable or extra slim models) because there’s 1GB soldered on and there’s just one additional SODIMM slot. However, other reviews indicate that there are two SODIMM slots in this system, so it should be possible to take it up to 4GB (since 2GB is all you can typically/economically find in SODIMM form). If it does ship with 32bit Windows then bhtooefr may be right that 3GB is included because that’s all that will be usable anyway… and as others have said, 32bit Windows 7 in 2010 is ridiculous.
      §[<http://www.notebookcheck.net/Review-Acer-Aspire-Timeline-1810TZ-Subnotebook.21322.0.html<]§

      • echo_seven
      • 10 years ago

      Yes, it can be upgraded to 4GB (has two slots, just pop the new memory in). Also, yes, it comes with 64-bit Windows 7. However if you’re going to upgrade you might as well just buy the 1810T which has precisely this upgrade and costs just $50 more.

    • Skrying
    • 10 years ago

    I couldn’t use that touch pad. A friend of mine has the Asus UL80-Vt and the track pad having no real end point is highly annoying in my experience and his opinion also backs mine up. I think it would be even worse when the track pad doesn’t even have a different surface than the rest of the palm rest.

      • MadManOriginal
      • 10 years ago

      That’s what I was thinking too when looking at the picture but then I read this: q[

      • tcunning1
      • 10 years ago

      I have an HP with a similar design and the case’s finish actually WORE OFF the trackpad surface–it looks terrible.

    • DrDillyBar
    • 10 years ago

    Sounds like a good notebook if I choose to refresh my portable in the next few months.

    • Ricardo Dawkins
    • 10 years ago

    netbooks, netbooks, netbooks!

      • Bauxite
      • 10 years ago

      This isn’t your grandma’s atom.

        • ludi
        • 10 years ago

        Actually, the little old lady from Pasadena has a shiny red Super Stock Dodge.

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