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This morning I read a Forbes article entitled “Intel’s Not-So-Mighty Atom” and I walked away scratching my head in confusion. Actually, now that I think about it, I’m not so sure that I’m the one that’s confused. Lee Gomes takes the approach of identifying how the […]

samsung-n130-netbookThis morning I read a Forbes article entitled “Intel’s Not-So-Mighty Atom” and I walked away scratching my head in confusion. Actually, now that I think about it, I’m not so sure that I’m the one that’s confused. Lee Gomes takes the approach of identifying how the Atom processor “isn’t up to the demands placed on it by a full-fledged Windows Vista computer doing business in today’s Web world.” I agree with Lee on that point, but it’s like making the point that a sports car isn’t up to being as fuel efficient as a hybrid vehicle. A sports car isn’t meant to save gas, it’s meant to go fast and be fun to drive. Likewise, the Atom isn’t meant to power a desktop replacement notebook.

Lee mentions that the “typical Windows Vista netbook runs from $300 to $500.” That’s an accurate statement, but I’d argue its relevance. Why? Go out and look at netbooks for sale in a retail store or online. Now out of the lot of them, how many run Windows Vista as opposed to those that run Windows XP? I’ve been watching this market since it became a market and I’d say netbooks with XP outnumber those with Vista by at least 8 to 1. So why utilize Windows Vista to draw sweeping generalizations about the Intel Atom and netbooks as a whole? It simply doesn’t make sense.

The culprit, Lee says, is bad marketing research. People want lightweight portable computers with long battery life, so that’s why netbooks are made and sold. My question to Lee would be: if that’s what people want and computer makers are willing to build them, what’s the issue? Actually, is there an issue at all? Last I checked, netbook sales were up and growing in a what’s otherwise a down market for PC makers. Surely, there are a few happy customers in the tens of millions buying netbooks, no?

I understand that Lee is pointing out how limiting an Intel Atom netbook can be when compared to full-featured desktops. That’s not in dispute. But the fact is — proven by those big sales numbers for a market that’s not yet two years old – there’s a place for low-powered computing devices in the world. No, they may not handle Windows Vista well, although they’re pretty capable with Windows 7. And Lee’s right that “games like Flight Simulator are a joke,” but the fact that he even installed such a game on a netbook tells me that his expectations of the device were flawed from the start. It’s simple once you understand what both the Atom and netbooks are for: basic computing for several hours in various locations. Once you have that expectation in mind, I think you’ll find that both the chip and the device are well suited to the task. If instead, you need heavy duty multitasking, high-definition video and 3-D gaming, you’ll have to step up to a more expensive and power hungry chip in a what’s likely a larger device.

How about it, netbook owners? Netbooks and the Intel Atom certainly don’t do everything well, but are they doing enough of what you need on the go?

  1. Obviously, Lee Gomes’s CPU is a little underpowered too.

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  2. He kind of goes in circles in his column. Netbooks are what they, portable notebooks than fill a need. Small screens, the Atom processor, and Windows XP is fine for what they are used for. My ASUS netbook is something I couldn’t do without. Plus, Windows 7 will run smoothly on most netbooks, that’s an added bonus.

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  3. This seems to be a new variant on a criticism that has been around since portable computers first appeared. I had several colleagues years ago who, back then, would not contemplate buying a portable computer because they underperformed relative to a desktop. By some quirk of thinking, this made portables bad investments.

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  4. bad marketing research??

    .. or bad research done on his article!

    .. the second I read his “article” i called BS.. now after thinking it tru again I have to … call it BS!

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  5. I’d guess Lee’s probably saying what 90% of the market out there is thinking. The distinction between “netbook” and “notebook” is lost on most people, I think. Take your average consumer off the street looking at a laptop, and they have real feel for CPU speeds or RAM requirements, let alone chipsets or GPUs. They simply laptop that’s now down in the price range where they can consider it as an alternative to that Gateway or Compaq from Wal-mart, and they buy it. I’d challenge you to do a little experiment: Walk into your neighborhood Best Buy, Wal-mart, or Staples, pretend to be a non-geek, and tell a salesperson you have $400 to spend on a computer and that you’d really like a laptop. See if they explain to you that netbooks aren’t intended as desktop replacements.

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  6. Sorry… “they have real feel” => “they DON’T have a real feel” and “They simply laptop” => “They simply SEE a laptop”

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  7. In conversation I often counter this by mentioning how pathetic a $2000+ laptop is in performance compared to my $1000 i7 920 quad core desktop (big dual monitors, multiple fast hard drives, big power hungry GPU). Are notebooks the luggables of the 21st century? More often I want an ultraportable/netbook for travel and coffee shops and will stick with the big guns when I’m in the office or at home.

    To use sports terms full size notebooks are ‘tweeners’ to me now. Too big to be really portable, too small to really be powerful.

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  8. Absolutely ridiculous. I use an U100 MSI Wind Hackintosh as my full fledged work machine. Why? Because I use the web/email/FTP, iTunes, Microsoft Office, Endnote and ImageJ and that is pretty much it; but, I also commute to work. Why do I need to lug around a computer 2x or greater in weight/volume just to be able to have a keyboard stuck to a monitor?
    This guy’s article was a joke. I just wonder who paid for it… Microsoft (because they want to be rid of XP) or Intel (because the margins on netbooks have to be (sorry guys) atomically small). It really gets me that people overpay so much for computing power that they never needed, never use and never will need. The only processor deficiency complaint that I have with the Atom is with Flash, which at times gets to be a bit of a strain. Solution? Overclock the CPU by 25%. Do I need a desktop replacement? No, because I (and at least 2/3rds of computer users) don’t need a desktop.

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  9. That article “really grinds my gears.” I hated to do it, but I had to create a Forbes user account to make a comment. Basically (and politely) I said it was unfair to judge the Atom on its performance running Vista. Then I pointed out that I’m able to work flawlessly from my browser as a netbook was intended.

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    1. i saw what you did there mr griffin :P

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  10. I find that my Acer Aspire One is more than capable of meeting my mobile computing needs. Agree with other comments in that I don’t need it to be a desktop replacement. It runs Office 2007, Skype & various internet browsers absolutely fine, so no issues for me out and about.

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