Acer C720 is my favourite computer

I spend a lot of time with my computer, and it goes with me wherever I go. After having the privilege of testing out a number of different computers, I have come down to a few considerations:

  • Battery Life
  • Weight
  • Ability to run Linux
  • Cost

I found it especially annoying to carry about a power brick to power my laptop, and having to find outlets all the time. This limits the places where I can work and gives additional, unwanted stress of seeing how low the power is all the time.

The weight of the laptop is of great concern to me as I carry it everywhere. The lighter the laptop, the easier it is to move about with it.

I run Debian and Ubuntu distributions. However, noting that since there are quite a number of proprietary programs that I find useful that are not on ARM, this essentially means that I want to use Intel hardware.

Finally, the lower the cost of the laptop, the less concern I have to pay to it with regards to rough treatment or carelessness.

The challenge with balancing all these qualities is that battery life usually comes at a cost of a much higher weight, and an increased price tag. Prioritizing weight increases both costs and reduces the battery life. Finally focusing on cost usually results in the lost of the other two qualities.

Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition

While the Dell XPS 13 Developer edition is a viable candidate, the main concern I have is the cost. I like to know that my machines are replaceable at a drop of a hat (well not really, I treasure my computers). A $1000 piece of equipment is a bit too expensive for me to mess around with happily. While the 2015 Macbook Pro is a viable candidate with regards to weight and battery life, it just cannot compete with the XPS 13 in terms of processing power and cost. Plus the XPS is officially supported to run Linux.

Chromebooks

Chromebooks fulfill 3 out of four of my criteria. Weight, cost, and battery life are all exceptional on Chromebooks. While they might have poor build quality and crappy screens, that is not a concern for me.

The battery life of Chromebooks are nothing to be scoffed at. While having 7 ~ 8 hours of battery life is impressive on any other laptop, that's the minimum to get into the Chromebook game. My 2 year old C720 Chromebook has a battery life of about 8 hours on normal usage. It can go through a whole day of work without any problem.

Chromebooks weigh 2.7lb, which makes the thin Dell XPS 13 feel like a heavy laptop. So the only thing holding them back is their locked down system, restricted to ChromeOS.

But wait, didn't you say that the C720 is your favourite computer?

Yes. Yes I did. In normal usage the Chromebook is locked down, making it a surprising secure terminal to use the internet. But you can enable developer features, which unlocks the Chromebook. In the C720's case, you can even install Linux natively. However, I found it perfectly adequate to run Crouton, which runs a chroot within ChromeOS. Note that this is not a Virtual Machine (VM) or an alternate operating system. It runs on the resources of ChromeOS itself and draws as much processing power as another tab. To be entirely honest, I quite like what Google has done with the ChromeOS's interface and intuitiveness of use. It is a really pretty environment to work in, and I like that it is optimised for web usage. In the rare times that I want to run linux programs, such as Arduino, Dropbox, or Okular, I can just run it from a terminal and a new tab/window pops up with my desired program through crouton.

Does it lag? Well if I'm doing some heavy read/writing like coping a lot of files or compressing a tarball. In everyday usage with about 10 tabs open, there is no appreciable lag. The keyboard is a little flat for me, but I don't type on it all day, and it is good enough for use for about 5 to 6 hours before I get tired of typing on it. The C720 has an advantage in that it runs Intel and the x86 architecture whereas some of the newer Chromebooks run on ARM hardware, on which some closed binary programs like Dropbox do not run on.

I have heard people complain about the screen, but like I said, I value battery life and cost almost to an exclusion to these other factors, so it isn't a problem for me. It doesn't reflect light, it is bright and detailed enough for me to do reading and coding done. Usually when I find myself working in a place for some time I will hook it up to an external screen and keyboard, which makes working with this machine exceedingly enjoyable.

The nice thing about having the C720 in particular is that it is easy to upgrade it's internal memory, and I upgraded the included memory to 64GB at about $30. So at $150 for a refurbished machine, this works up to $180 for a fully functional Linux machine that has 8.5 hours and weighs 2.7lbs. I think that is a pretty good deal.

I use the Acer C720 as my daily machine now and it is performing perfectly for all my purposes.

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