25 December, 2013

Battle of Chromebooks past and present: Acer C720-2802 vs. Acer AC700-1099

I cannot tell my readers just how awesome my Christmas was today. Got some pretty cool accessories -- an iPhone case with an extra battery in it to compensate for iOS 7's detriment to battery life, a new pencil sharpener (needed one desperately), a whole new wardrobe (mom works at Macy's, gets an employee discount there), and, oh, yeah, a new Chromebook, which I personally subsidized: an Acer C720-2802 (one of two models with only 2GB of RAM and identical prices, the other being the C720-2848) to replace the AC700-1099 that I also got for Christmas (and also personally subsidized) back in 2011. Yup, that's right, two years ago.

One thing that really sets the C720-2802 apart -- and I noticed this the minute I opened it up -- is its premium build quality. The device itself may be plastic underneath, and indeed if you look on the bottom of the device you will see it, but it's coated in a high-quality sintered metal finish that truly makes it look and feel like something even Mac users can awe over -- and on top of that it costs less than a Mac, less than a PC, less than an iPad, less even than a second-generation Nexus 7, and oh, yeah, the same as an iPhone 5S under contract, while being contract-free at the same time. The metal finish is, appropriately, over the keys and touchpad, and it's also got a sintered metal coating over the back of the lid, adding a truly finishing touch to the overall build quality. Its keys are comfortably spaced and easy to type on, and the screen has a matte plastic coating that makes using the Chromebook in bright light -- something I tend to do often -- a breeze. Not to mention that its touchpad and keys are both very quiet, which in worship services and in class is a good icing on the cake.

In contrast, the AC700-1099 was plastic all over. It felt embarrassing to use, especially in a room full of Mac users who happen to also be fellow worshippers of mine. It of course had keys spaced very uncomfortably close together, and its touchpad and keys were both very loud and clanky. Its glossy, yet non-IPS, display was a pain to use in bright light, and on top of that its lid was very flimsy, unlike the C720's which has a very rock-solid hinge. Oh, yeah, and it was underperforming. It had a ridiculously underpowered (by today's standards) Atom N570 (Pineview) processor, whose architecture was ultimately Penryn-based, and like my personal C720 model, only 2GB of RAM. It also was a fingerprint and stain magnet, to the utmost degree. That, of course, made it very difficult to handle, and it made me have to pull out those alcohol- and ammonia-based LCD monitor wipes much more often than I should have to normally. Well, those days are over now.

Of course, the C720 uses the awesome 1.4GHz Intel Celeron 2955U processor, which is of course Haswell. It's got an 11.6-inch Acer ComfyView display with a 1366x768 resolution -- not the greatest, but definitely not poor either, especially since MacBook Air users have the same resolution, and oh yeah, in the case of the cheapest Air model, the same 11.6-inch size. Its Intel HD graphics chip is integrated ON the CPU, in contrast to the old mentality of putting a graphics chip on the motherboard, and the result is awesome graphics performance with the graphics and CPU being of the same clock speed, sharing the same bus, and sharing the same memory. Which, of course, isn't the DDR2 memory that the AC700 had, but mobile DDR3, which makes application load performance that much snappier. Its Wi-Fi chip is supercharged with Acer's Nplify dual-band technology, which results in incredibly high Wi-Fi speeds even in places far away from the router (like my room...), and it's also got Bluetooth 4.0 LE, which does even more to optimize battery life.

Haswell (with its battery-saving 28nm die, in contrast to the Atom N570's nearly twice-as-large 45nm transistors) and Bluetooth LE, of course, combine to give the C720 an awesome 8.5 hours of battery life (in contrast to 4 hours with the AC700, if I'm lucky), even with a battery containing only 3 cells instead of the AC700's 6. That's pretty amazing, and it really says something about how much of a battery life difference CPU transistor size makes. On top of that, the C720's version of Chrome OS uses Coreboot instead of the proprietary BIOS seen in previous devices, resulting in a much more improved boot time of, you guessed it, 7 seconds according to Acer's labeling (in practice, however, especially since updating to the Dev channel and enabling 3:1 zRAM compression rate, it ended up almost instantaneous for me, but checking the "boot_times" section of chrome://system returned a rating of "/bin/cat: /tmp/boot-times-sent: No such file or directory"), a feat to be proud of, and something that can even make MacBook Air users jealous.

I hope to start off another awesome journey with this new Haswell Chromebook, and oh yeah, this is the first blog entry that's been typed on it. In addition, I also have Google Play Music Chromecasting in the background, not to mention countless extensions and packaged apps running in the background that are sure to make the C720-2802 an all-around perfect Chromebook, powerful and of amazing build quality, yet inexpensive enough for anyone to afford.