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When a netbook is released that's different to the horde of identical machines out there, we chain ourselves to it like it's the last chopper out of Saigon. The Acer Aspire One 521 is one such beast. It rocks the boat by sporting an AMD V105 processor instead of the standard Intel Atom chip. But does switching up the hardware lead to better performance?
The 521 is available from PC World and other vendors for around £260.
The 521 is one of the best-looking netbooks we've seen all year. The lid sports a glossy black coating, with the Aspire One logo embossed in a chrome finish. A subtle check pattern across the left side leaves this netbook looking like a fancy crossword compendium.
On the inside, the 521 looks more ordinary, however, with black plastic being the order of the day. We do like the power switch, though. It's made of clear plastic, set into a shallow well, and surrounded by a blue LED ring. It serves no extra purpose, but it is eye-catching.
The 521 does pretty well in the portability stakes, measuring 259 by 24 by 185mm. Furthermore, it only weighs 1.3kg, so it's light enough to carry around in a backpack without crushing your spine. If you ever needed to, you could spin it like a discus over the horizon.
The display also scores some plus points. It's a 10.1-inch LCD panel with a maximum resolution of 1,024x600 pixels. It's pleasingly bright, and doesn't attract too many annoying reflections. Colours are also rendered extremely vividly -- looking at a beautiful sunset on this screen might just melt your retinas.
The 521 is comfortable to use. Acer has stuck in a whopping great keyboard that's easy to type on. The big keys help you to keep mistakes to a minimum. An unfortunate consequence of the keyboard's size, however, is that the trackpad is minuscule. The mousing surface is sufficiently sensitive to prevent its cramped size traumatising you, however.
Around the edges of this machine, you'll find a VGA output, multi-format card reader, three USB ports, an Ethernet jack, and 3.5mm sockets for headphones and a mic. Interestingly, there's also an HDMI output slapped on the 521's left flank. That's unusual to see on a netbook, and it means you'll be able to hook the 521 up to a high-definition TV, so you can check out your images and video on a big screen.
Many larger laptops have this feature. We think it's more or less essential now, as it turns an ordinary laptop into a bona fide media centre, allowing you to stream , for example, in big-o-vision. But does the 521 pack the processing wallop required to give this netbook any kind of multimedia potential?