Deborah Armstrong <debee@...>
** This was also cross-posted to Cavi-discuss ***
As a screen reader user, I'm finding selecting a new laptop is more difficult than ever before. I'm very curious to see what others think, so please post your thoughts.
It used to be that I didn't feel I needed a super fast computer, because I wasn't editing video. And nowadays if you look at reviews of laptops, you'll see that people who edit photos, use CAD systems, create art or engage in heavy gaming need fast machines. But for those who just surf the web, read email and do some light word processing, reviewers maintain that a slower and cheaper laptop will work just fine. In fact, reviews of chromebooks are often mixed in with reviews of inexpensive Windows laptops for just that reason.
In 2012 my Acer netbook (An AO-756) was the fastest ultraportable I could buy for under $500. Its processor, a 1.4GHZ Intel Celeron 877 was a dual core from the Sandy Bridge family -- the slowest one in that family, but it wasn't a much slower Atom. It had a reasonable fast 500GB hard drive. I added 8GB of RAM making it even more useful at running multiple tasks efficiently. I could use Word, Excel and Outlook without latency and of course I did a lot of web surfing. Compared to the computers at work, it was a bit slower, but like the reviewers said, it didn't matter, since I didn't do computation-heavy tasks at home.
What's changed today might best be covered in this post:
which discusses how screen readers access the web. Today, if I have to work with a dynamic website, my little ACER is unbearably slow, despite my having carefully maintained it so it doesn't run unnecessary background tasks, and so that Windows is regularly fully refreshed.
I am convinced the problem is not so much that the PC is slow, but that the screen reader has become a palace built on a shack's foundation. It needs everything it can squeeze out of the processor to handle the new, dynamic web. Seems both NVDA and JAWS fail miserably on slower processors.
But if a task does not depend on a screen reader, the machine is still fairly fast. For example, when I OCR something in Kurzweil 1000, the laptop is just as fast as my much more powerful desktop computers at work. And running something like Handbrake is indeed slower on my laptop but not so slow it cannot be used. A video that takes an hour to convert on my desktop at work might take fifteen extra minutes on the laptop. Handbrake is often used as an informal benchmarking tool.
But where instant responsiveness counts, my Netbook falls short. I expect to hear something when I press a key. Often, today, I don't -- seems like I am always waiting for the screen reader to pull itself together and find the focus, or cope with a dynamic partial page refresh, or the next column in the spreadsheet, or read my next email in Thunderbird.
The Acer actually got fractionally faster when I upgraded to Windows 10, but even so, I mostly wait after pressing a key to hear something read back to me.
My work computers which run Core i7 Pentiums respond immediately, even though they are saddled with far more background tasks required by my job.
So if I were to trust reviews, this claim that for the kinds of things I do at home on the laptop I don't need a very powerful machine, I'd buy something with an Atom processor, a 128GB SSD and 2GB of RAM. Clearly that would result in a machine that's even slower than my existing laptop. Plus, it would have a quarter of the storage!
I guess the dilemma I'm struggling with here is how to avoid spending a fortune and still get an ultraportable that has no latency when I use a screen reader.
What do others think?