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Summary:

What a difference a year makes. It was only 10 months ago when the first true netbook, the original Asus Eee PC 701, hit the market. The Eee was a ground-breaking little computer but had a few flaws, the biggest being the limited 800×480 display. Today […]

Asus Eee PC What a difference a year makes. It was only 10 months ago when the first true netbook, the original Asus Eee PC 701, hit the market. The Eee was a ground-breaking little computer but had a few flaws, the biggest being the limited 800×480 display. Today there’s an overwhelming array of low-cost but highly portable and efficient little laptops.

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Each is a full-featured notebook with displays in the 7- to 10-inch range and all are easy to tote around. Nearly all offer several USB ports, a webcam, LED backlit screens, integrated speakers, Wi-Fi and more, so there are very few differentiators. But the many choices in this nascent netbook market can overwhelm, so below is a quick hit list of popular models along with some basic information to help you decide which one might work best for you.

  • Asus Eee PC: The one that started it all has blossomed into over a dozen models, ranging in size and features. You can pick and choose between hard drive-based units or those that offer limited-capacity, Solid State Disk flash modules. Asus offers a simple and effective custom Xandros Linux build, but supports and offers Windows XP as well. Early models use Intel’s Celeron CPU but Asus is transitioning to the newer Intel Atom, which is becoming the de facto netbook standard. Expect to pay between $299 and $599 for a netbook from the Eee PC line.
  • HP Mini-Note: As you can see in our video review, we were very impressed with this 2.8-pounder from HP. Although it’s the one non-Intel netbook available, the VIA C7-M processor handles most tasks fairly well. And while the Mini-Note comes in a single size, it’s not one size fits all: You can configure the hard drive capacity, processor speed, memory and operating system. SUSE Linux, Windows XP and even Windows Vista Business can be had. The HP stands out from the pack with its higher resolution screen; it fits 1280 x 768 pixels into the 8.9-inch screen. Current prices range between $499 and $829.
  • Acer Aspire One: This 2.1-pound netbook approaches more of a sweet spot in terms of pricing: The Linux version is $329, while the XP model is only $20 more. Acer includes a lite build of Linpus Linux, which I found to be great for quick, out-of-the-box computing, but most people would be better served with the XP edition. The incremental extra price also includes twice the memory (1 GB vs. 512 MB) and a faster 120 GB hard drive instead of the slower 8 GB of flash memory. Even at this low price, there’s plenty to like about the Aspire One.
  • MSI Wind: The 2.6-pound Wind from Taiwan is very similar to the higher-end Asus model; in fact, the specifications are nearly the same, as is the price. For $599, you’ll get a 10.2-inch display, Windows XP and a 6-cell battery, which should offer double the run-time over most other netbooks as they use a 3-cell battery. Only this model and the Acer Aspire One offer a full-sized and correctly placed Right-Shift key, something very important to touch-typists. I personally returned my Acer and ordered a Wind partly for this reason, as well as for the fact that the Wind includes integrated Bluetooth for my wireless mouse.

There are other netbooks on the horizon as well. Lenovo has already announced their Ideapad S10 and Dell is expected to enter this market with a small Inspiron model rumored to start at $299. Essentially, these models are very similar to what’s currently available. In fact, there are very few differentiators amongst the crowd. Price is probably the most compelling, followed by the feature set. In my own experience, I’m finding that the Linux implementations are a third factor. While many netbook makers are offering custom Linux builds for simplicity, they have to balance that with the ability for the everyday consumer to add, extend and customize their own experience. Regardless, after using a low-powered computer and just the web for 60 days, I’m convinced that netbooks are well on their way towards becoming personal cloud computers.

Related Research: The Future of Netbooks

  1. Over at last100, I reviewed the re-badged Wind sold in the UK. I’ve jumped on the Netbook bandwagon (MSI Wind U100 / Advent 4211 review) http://www.last100.com/2008/07/14/ive-jumped-on-the-netbook-bandwagon-msi-wind-advent-4211-review/

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  2. As a hardcore mobile ops junkie (2 notebooks in the car, at least one when I travel by plane), the netbooks are a huge attraction for me, but all of them fall short of the standard I need.

    I don’t need large storage capacity or fast processing. I don’t need high resolution graphics, a large screen, or a magnificent keyboard. I don’t need them to be bulletproof, or support any specific OS.

    All I need is tons o’ memory and tons o’ battery life. And in my experience, they all fall short of what I need. At the moment I’m happy with my iMate PDA phone, which is way too tiny to use efficiently but at least it lasts through a flight to Europe or at least cross country. I know that battery technology isn’t making the huge leaps and bounds we’ve been hoping for, but the lack of consistent battery life (coupled with maximum RAM limits) have left me unimpressed by the Netbook market.

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    1. My wifes Acer Aspire one is great. The battery last for 6hrs on a full charge. Look it up. She got it from RadioShack for $350. Good deal.

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  3. Micro Center doesn’t have the “new” Aspire One pricing. XP edition is still 400 with a sale price of 380. Hm. I do like the looks of it, but the crazy positioning of the mouse buttons ruins it for me which is why I’ve got the 10″ Lenovo S10 on order ($395 w/ XP). Unfortunately it only has 512MB builtin and I haven’t seen an optional 6 cell battery yet.

    The Wind still looks like it could be the best 10″ option out there but the ideal config runs $600 – assuming you can find it.

    The Eee line looks plastcy, toy-like. Even the newer models. Not for me.

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  4. 3g might be the differentiator
    http://jkkmobile.blogspot.com/2008/08/meet-lg-x110-netbook-with-3g.html

    Will 3g netbooks be subsidized by operators? Or how do I buy one? SIM card included or do I need to provide my own?

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  5. When I took my first look @ the Acer Aspire One [link] I got excited at its faster-than-eeepc processing power and rumored 3G compatibility to be released later this year.

    Any thoughts on how 3G will affect the netbook/notebook market in general people?

    q./

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    1. Personally I feel that all communications will eventually be in those tiny netboooks. You will be connected to your office at all times (while that netbook is on), and home. You will be able to make and receive office calls, home calls, and cell calls on one device. I see pop ups for customers, family, and friends. I see docking stations at work and home that allow full sized keyboards, and monitors. We really are not that far off from that now!!

      So go Voip if you want, but you will eventually go netbook, cell, whatever they will call it!!

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  6. [...] a Netbook.  Not particularly desirable, if yo ask me – for some of the better ones check out GigaOM’s rundown, ironically also published [...]

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  7. [...] By developing a browser that offers a seamless experience on both mobile and desktop devices, Google can carve out a nice chunk of the browser market for itself. The big opportunity could be especially the emerging class of mobile devices like the Netbooks. [...]

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  8. [...] A Quick Guide to Netbooks Price is probably the most compelling, followed by the feature set. In my own experience, I’m finding that the Linux implementations are a third factor. While many netbook makers are offering custom Linux builds for simplicity, they have to balance that with the ability for the everyday consumer to add, extend and customize their own experience. [...]

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  9. [...] has a short but informative overview of currently available NetBooks.  Which one do I want?  I’m leaning towards the Acer Aspire One, even more attractive after [...]

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  10. One would have to agree with you, Kevin. Netbooks are certainly on there way to being the most likely choice for computer buyers! We are reviewing a vast number of netbooks every week now at http://www.NetbookComputers.com.

    Looking forward to your next article.

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