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How I would make the Toshiba AC100 successful


The AC100 is an early attempt from Toshiba to create an ARM based netbook (a smartbook) with Nvidia’s successful Tegra2 chipset.

Although, the AC100 looks like proper hardware design, it became only mildly successful. Some of the reasons may have to do with the primary operating system, Android (see my earlier article about this) but even more can be attributed to the design decisions Toshiba made.

Since these machines are now available in my home country (Hungary) at quite attractive price points (~$250 USD, some people seem to be trying to get rid of it soon after purchase) I can’t help bumping into it all the time. Since I am a gadget fan, I always have my hand trembling seeing those prices and I need to cool myself down before doing some impulse-buy, I regret later.

What could make me click on the “Buy” button?

More memory

First of all, 1-2GB of RAM instead of the measly 512MB the AC100 hosts. Why the heck tried Toshiba sell a netbook with 512MB of RAM when ALL of the Atom N450 netbooks seemed to come with 1-2 GB at that time? This amount of RAM would allow to slap Ubuntu onto the machine and not worry about running out of memory when loading up OpenOffice. Ubuntu has been demonstrated on the AC100 and even looks snappy. (see this site dedicated to Ubuntu on the AC100). Toshiba could easily put 2GB of RAM into the machine without major cost-increase.

Desktop OS and/or Android

Putting 1-2GB of RAM into the AC100 would open the gate for using a proper, netbook-oriented desktop OS which can take advantage of the form-factor. They should use Ubuntu, since that could be fixed up on this hardware in no time (especially if they purchase some consultancy from Canonical).

I don’t think that Android needs to stay on the machine but if Toshiba still thinks it is such a good idea for any user-group, they could make the AC100 dual-boot, or even better, run both OSes in parallel (2GB of RAM would make this absolutely possible). Android would be the light-and-easy OS on the device but the user could any time switch to a full Ubuntu desktop with an Android launcher icon and start using OpenOffice or other decent desktop software. The paravirtualization developed by B-labs would be an instant solution for this problem and would future proof the machine for a possible Windows8 scenario later.

More battery

The 8 hour runtime of the AC100 is decent enough but more battery-time is always welcome. The enclosure has a LOT of free/empty space under the keyboard due to the ultra-compact nature of Tegra2 and its supporting circuitry. Toshiba should again take advantage of the form-factor and add one or more extra battery docking bays under the keyboard which could extend the runtime to 16-24 hours. (Admittedly, they would make the unit weight much more but since these batteries would be optional, this decision would be up to the user. A 24-hour runtime with a 3-battery arrangement would make the AC100 extremely appealing for a large-set of users. It would be acceptable that the batteries are charged in series (so the recharge process is lengthier) so that Toshiba doesn’t have to switch to a more expensive power supply. (Although the power supply issue is probably not a serious cost factor).

What else

Of course, there would be a lot of things to be improved (more USB ports, higher-resolution display…etc) but I tried to draw up things which require smaller redesign so that an improved version could be implemented faster.

I believe the AC100 line could be made really successful and Toshiba should take steps to make this happen.

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  1. AC
    May 9, 2011 at 19:39 | #1

    I wouldn’t mind seeing a 14-inch screen, either.

  2. Erno Cs.
    May 9, 2011 at 20:31 | #2

    Szia, Hello!

    I tried out an ARM based netbook here in the United States (EfikaMX), and loved the silence of the no-moving-parts setup. This one too only had 512 MB RAM, which needs to be at least 1 GB and the CPU should be at least 1 GHz for it to be competitive.

    One of the things missing was no Skype on ARM yet. I would like it if Skype donated their codecs and code to the open source community so that open-source Skype clients could be made.

    ARM based, silent netbooks are the way forward for the majority of netbook/laptop users. Hopefully Skype and Dropbox will jump on board.

  3. Ed
    May 10, 2011 at 20:21 | #3

    No Skype on ARM? Not so. I have a skype client on my old N800 which is arm based.

  4. Ivan
    May 10, 2011 at 23:26 | #4

    Hi,
    I’ve owned the AC100 for the last five months and I was equally intrigued by the form factor.
    Toshiba I believe have let it down in a number of ways,
    1) if you choose android, you have to go with the market; otherwise it’s completely pointless.
    2) The touchpad is terrible. It reports misclicks, scrolls everywhere. Useless. Plugging in a mouse helped though.
    3) Toshiba were apparently going to release a tablet version, with a swivel type resistive touchscreen (think ASUS TM101). I think this would have made the best use of the form factor, as you could switch between activities that require touch input and text input.
    4)WiFi bugs. I don’t understand how they could release at least 3 updates without addressing these.
    5) Tegra 2 is not fast enough to keep up with the level of taskswitching that the keyboard shortcut system they devised.
    6) A decent browser. I was shocked when I opened the thing up the first time, and the main browser was Opera 10.1 beta. Obviously that has been minorly updated, and it’s nice that they did something so that it could use the keyboard, but the fact that it’s locked at that level ain’t great. Mozilla Fennec is vaguely better, but is just too bloated to use with anything else. The fact that there is no browser that can render desktop grade webapps, makes it completely unsuitable to be called a netbook.
    7) Standby mode is beyond fucked. Wakes itself up constantly. I have an android phone and I can monitor (through Gingerbread settings) when it wakes up, and it seems to manage to not wake itself up every two minutes. Moreover, the AC100 can’t *re-enter* sleep after something wakes it, which is the worst part. I assume this is an android limitation.

    I greatly enjoy the silent, low power computer but it could be so much better. An official Ubuntu port for instance.
    I’ll be interested to hear other opinions

  5. me
    September 6, 2011 at 15:23 | #5

    I dislike I cannot burn (hide) SD/MCC card to the AC100 case. I would like to hide |SD/MMC card in the same way I can do on other devices I had (Palm Tungsten, HP NC4200 notebook, etc). standard size SD/MMC card is OK but I have no problem with slot for microSDHC only. I have to remove SD/MMC card from AC100 every time I want to put AC100 to the bag.

    I miss Bluetooth module (to connect GPS, mouse, etc). No BT and only 2 USB connectors (1 usable in the real), that is seriously limiting. I think about small USB hub…

    From the SW point of view, I dislike that when I read PDF document (and I am at page 15) and I read SMS message I just received, I am at page 1 in PDF after return to the pDF reader and configured view of PDF document is lost. That is really ugly…

  6. sd
    December 1, 2011 at 01:26 | #6

    there is android browser apart from opera coming with ac100, btw…

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