My New Windows 8.1 Notebook Computer
I finally broke down and bought a Windows 8.1 notebook. Actually, I’ve been looking for a Windows 8 notebook for well over a year, but I didn’t find a notebook that met my needs well.
In part, I wanted speed and capability. Equally important, it needed to have a reasonable price, since I was purchasing it mainly as a secondary (or even tertiary) computer.
The "reasonable price" issue kept rearing its head again and again. Almost everything I had read about Windows 8+ said to be sure and have a touchscreen (and they were right). That kept pushing the price for an Intel Core i5 or Core i7 notebook to the $800+ range.
Then, my local big-box office supply store put this unit on sale…
I bought the Acer Aspire V5-561P-6869 Laptop Computer, with a 15.6-inch 1366×768 display, 4GB RAM, 500GB hard drive, 4th generation Intel Core i5-4200U processor, and even including a built-in DVD drive.
Other nice features include two USB 2.0 ports, one USB 3.0 port, Ethernet 10/100/1000 port, Wireless 802.11b/g/n, HDMI port, VGA port, high definition audio, and Intel HD Graphics 4400 video.
Unlike some touchpads, the V5’s touchpad has separate left and right buttons. Some touchpads only have a section of the touchpad where you tap to "press" the buttons, which can lead to accidental "clicks" in the wrong places.
The V5-561P-6869 comes with Windows 8.1 already installed. Of course, there are a lot of updates I still had to install. Once I got all those Window 8.1 updates installed, the new, critical, have-to-have-to-get-updates "Windows 8.1 Update" showed up and was available to install.
Why, why did Microsoft decide to call this mandatory 900MB update (for 64-bit Windows 8.1) the same name as the generic updates for Windows 8.1?
If you don’t install this update on a computer running Windows 8.1, then you won’t get the updates released after May 1st.
That’s right, not only did they drop any support for Windows XP, at the same time, they issued the last updates for Windows 8.1, if you don’t get this special update that will be the required "baseline" for all future updates to 8.1.
Officially, this was for enhanced user experience. I guess my definition of enhancement and Microsoft’s must differ quite a bit.
So, how do I like it?
The hardware of the notebook is quite nice. The keyboard looks like the typical chicklet keyboard for notebooks, but actually feels pretty good and is easy to use. It’s even better than my earlier Acer Core i3 notebook (now almost four years old). It also includes a number kepad, which is unusual on notebooks.
The computer is fast, not too heavy (a little over 5 pounds), has a small, lightweight power brick, and is roughly an inch thick.
So far, I have stayed with the 4GB of RAM. Amazon tells me that the maximum is 8GB. Crucial tells me that the maximum is 16GB and suggested this package 16GB kit (8GBx2), 204-pin SODIMM, DDR3 PC3-12800,. There are two memory slots. Initially, there is a 4GB DDR3 SODIMM in one of the slots, with the other empty.
I’ve also stayed with the 500GB hard drive, although I’ve experienced the effectiveness of swapping an SSD (solid state drive) for a standard, rotating hard drive. When I swapped them on my Acer Core i3 notebook, it reduced boot time to the login screen from about 30 seconds to about 18 seconds. I wrote about those in my article Speed Benefits of the Hardware Upgrades to My Notebook
I’m definitely pleased with the hardware of my new notebook.
Eventually, I expect that I will upgrade the memory to 16GB and the 500GB hard drive to a 480GB SSD.
Then, there’s Windows 8.1…
In order to give Windows 8.1 the benefit of the doubt, I almost immediately ordered a book to give me a quick (900+ page "quick";) introduction to Windows 8.1.
I had read that I didn’t have to use a Microsoft ID, that I could set up a userID on that computer. Well, that’s true. Until you want to check out the Microsoft App Store.
When you try to go to the Microsoft App Store, where you have to go to get any apps that use the Windows 8.1 tiled interface (as opposed to the more classic Desktop interface), you have to switch to a Microsoft ID.
That’s right. I didn’t say that you have to log into the store with a Microsoft ID. You actually have to switch your log-in on your Windows 8/8.1 computer to be the Microsoft ID.
I guess that’s why Microsoft also give you the opportunity to set up your login to the Windows 8.1 computer to use a 4-digit pin or a draw-lines-on-this-picture login. Neither of those is very secure.
You can switch back to a non-Microsoft ID, though, after you leave the store. It’s not trivial, or at least, it’s well hidden.
What’s the problem with using a Microsoft ID on my computer? Well, I don’t particularly like the numbers of times Microsoft services have been reported to have been hacked. I like to use unique passwords for everything that I log into — so using a Microsoft ID as my ID on the computer violates this plan.
I also don’t like Microsoft’s attempt to acquire information on my activities. If you’re using a Microsoft ID, for example, searches on your computer by default will send your search term to Bing and deliver related Bing results. I don’t use Bing. I sure don’t want to send them information about my searches on my computer. Fortunately, you can turn this "feature" off.
I’ve installed many of my usual apps on the new notebook: VIPRE Internet Security, Malwarebytes Antimalware Premium, WinPatrol Plus, EditPad Pro, UltraVNC, and a few more. All these run in the Desktop mode. If you want apps for the tiled mode (once called Metro, then called Modern, and now apparently just called the Startup Screen), you can only get them from the Windows App Store.
So far, although I’ve tried some of them, the tiled apps for Windows 8/8.1 leave me cold. They seem to be less-functional versions of the corresponding Desktop applications. They also have to be much coarser in their controls in order to enable fingertip-touch as opposed to mouse-pointer.
Windows 8.1 in Startup/tiled mode isn’t very mouse-friendly. The new Windows 8.1 Update takes a dramatic step in the right direction, but it’s still not there yet.
I expect to be able to upgrade (for a charge) to Windows 9. Microsoft seems to release good operating systems and so-so/not-so-good operating systems alternately, e.g. Windows 98, then Windows Millennium Edition (Windows Me), Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, and now Windows 8. Hopefully, Windows 9 will continue this alternating pattern.
Would I buy this notebook with Windows 8.1 again? Yes.
Would I buy another Windows 8.1 notebook? Not without a really good reason.