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My netbook of choice had to run fast on Windows XP and preferably include an SSD hard disk to control operational noise. The most important consideration was noise during use. A constantly running fan was out of the question. At the time of my shopping process, Acer’s Aspire One 110 was the only netbook to my notice which allowed end user control of the cooling system by after-market software. The latter proved child’s play with the BIOS version 0.3305 of freeware AA1 Fan Control, although it is reliant on administrator rights to not crash. Upon booting up the PC, it asks for the administrator password. That’s no real hassle since all hard- and software is supported by XP’s sleep mode. Sleep mode enables complete shut-down without subsequent restarts and the ‘player’ is operational within 15 seconds. At the most, I do a hard reboot of the machine once a month for manual Windows updates (manual to avoid auto restarts every five days while regular update packages for Windows are readily accessed over WinFuture). The cumbersome password routine thus happens rarely. During normal use, Windows operates with user account restrictions to keep undesirable Internet intruders at bay.

In fashionable gloss brown, the Aspire One is quite the looker and stock trim is perfectly adequate – 1.6GHz single-core processor with 512MB RAM and 8GB SSD hard disk of which 7GB are allocated to Windows applications. The latter are admittedly so slow that Windows routinely opens more complex programs quite reluctantly. Once running even after sleep-mode awakening, usage is plenty fast however for FLAC, MP3 and the occasional net surfing. More modern SSDs have the clear advantage here. With the Aspire One machine, that would demand a BIOS upgrade and raise operational temps to increase cooling requirements.

I run Windows XP on the Zune-Theme which replaces the blue background with chic black. Automatic updates are disabled to avoid the earlier mentioned auto restarts. Energy consumption is configured such that only the power mains activates sleep mode, not the screen saver or prolonged hard disk inactivity. Windows Firewall is active but in my opinion quite redundant since my DSL router runs its own firewall. I don’t run an anti-virus scanner which arguably is an online risk.

For surfing, restraint becomes the word du jour unless one installed the excellent Microsoft Security Essentials which is free and easy on computer resources. I don’t know of any FLAC or MP3 viruses but PDF variants certainly exist. I installed Adobe Reader for album credits, covers and lyrics which often appear in PDF format. PSPad as text editor is useful as is Total Commander for high-end data management with special Audio-Plugins. Opera's Webbrowser Version 10 adds surf speed. To hit the Internet, additionally useful are Adobe’s Flashplayer, Sun’s Java und Apple’s Quicktime though I find their security risks too high. For cover art and difficult tagging cases I use Album Art Downloader and the exemplary MP3Tag even for FLAC and OGG.

For system usage statistics, I rely on the freeware Serious Samurize which embeds in the task bar. To speed up power up/down, I run Shutdown Element which embeds the necessary commands in the quick-start menu. Except for Windows and Total Commander, all the above software is free for private use. I should add that a Linux platform for the same hardware would certainly be even more low-stress but I miss the command input parameters and to administrate Linux is no easy task for newbies. However, Acer’s included Linux-out-of-the-box option is true plug & play. Launch PC, connect hard drive and DAC and off you go.

How to play back music over Windows? Winamp? Too ‘fat’ for my tastes. Windows Media Player? Not flexible enough and does not support sufficiently varied formats. iTunes? Too inflexible and to boot from a maker who loves to create client dependency. Foobar2000? Absolutely. At first glance rather boring, a second glance unveils a master at its game, in my case in use for already eight years. I’m personally not aware of another Windows audio player that is this competent and energy friendly and free.

Foobar’s tool list is endless. Partly via plug-ins, it handles all the audiophile data formats and countless others; is fully configurable to the user’s needs (try the ColumnsUI plug-in); supports ASIO; assembles a music data base with plenty of features; supports play lists, cover view, lyrics and tagging via meta data bases on the Internet; converts formats; and rips CDs. I won’t mention its 8.549 other functions. For all that, a child can use this software player. In the most basic instance, simply mark the titles in the data manager (say Windows Explorer), drag them into the Foobar window and press play. Done. Incidentally, Foobar’s own authors are crystal clear that Foobar 2000 sounds no better with or without ASIO than any other serious software player. This neatly eliminate one pervasive cliché. I never use Foobar’s sound processor and equalization features by the way.

Sadly Windows XP bedevils audio playback with its so-called K Mixer which processes and alters streaming data without user options. To kill off this stubborn mule, ASIO4All—Window’s universal ASIO driver—allows for the necessary Foobar profile adjustment via the Foobar-ASIO-Plug-in (where you can find any number of other plug-ins to serve your proclivities).

Once installed, you select your preference in the "ASIO Virtual Devices" window such that all outputs save for USB Audio DAC are deactivated. The screen will show the correct setting as shown on the left.