** 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
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?