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A Quick Guide to Netbooks

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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. [digg=]

  • 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

100 Responses to “A Quick Guide to Netbooks”

  1. Laura Ridgeway

    so are they good computers. Iam going into high school and want to know if they are useful. I mean i know that they dont have a very big memory but that is what flash drives are for. So, is internet fast?

  2. Frank

    I have receive today my NetColors 10-N270 with 10.2 screen from the direct store of the manufacturer.

    This is the powerfullest machine out there and they offer an external CD-R slim bay witch is very useful to install and backup, they offer to a DVD-R but I did not pick it, I have mine with Intel Atom N270 2GB Ram, 250GB HDD, integrated Bluetooth 2.1, they will have the 10-N270-3G with integrated 3G/HSDPA fully uncap (you can use it with any carrier). Meanwhile I am using the Bluetooth 2.1 to connect to Internet via my mobile.

    The keyboard is pretty comfortable. They do not obligate you to buy the XP license as other brands witch is good as at least I do not have to take time to uninstall. I totally agree with you Jiri(PS. I never have try a Mac netbook, one friend will buy one next week, once he get it I will post here my review for you)

  3. Huego

    I think that netbooks are a great idea! Just as a cautionary voice, do NOT expect to be buying a laptop. It’s more of a laptop-shaped blackberry! Hope this helps!

  4. “I’m a college student and I’m looking at geting a Net book. Which one should I get? jut wondering if anyone could help…”

    In my opinion best netbook for a student is HP 2133 netbook

  5. For me, the OS is the decisive factor I consider when looking for one of these.

    My needs:
    To use wi-fi to get on the web at my local coffee shop, read email, use Skype to talk with my relatives in Europe, play simple games to kill a few hours while on the plane.

    Netbook facts:
    1) Limited hardware resources – processor isn’t any speed daemon, there aren’t globs of memory to waste on useless tasks.
    2) Machine is exposed to the internet at coffee shops, at airports, in foreign countries, etc., etc. Most places probably use some kind of a hardware firewall, some will not. Bottom line, security is in my own hands.

    I want something simple and lightweight that will do the tasks at reasonable speed, use the limited hardware efficiently and be somewhat reasonably secure.

    I would not even consider running a netbook with any version of any MS Windows due to its inherently inefficient and insecure nature.

    1) I don’t feel like spending the extra money for the extra hardware to make Windows run at half decent speed. On the other hand, I can strip down Linux to the bare necessities to make it run faster on that same limited hardware.

    2) Call me a chicken but I am just too afraid to go online via Windows (there is no such thing as too much paranoia). I do run XP at home on one of my computers and it is the most secure machine I have. It is not connected to any network.

    Bottom line:
    To browse the web, read mail, Skype around, etc., it will be some form of a Linux, BSD or Solaris machine.
    To run MS Office or any other Windows-only software, the Windows box will be loaded with extra hardware and physically disconnected from any network.

    Any word on Mac netbooks?


  6. I like the HP mini-notebook because this brand is extremely reliable. I have a HP desktop computer from 7 years ago and it is still lightning fast. It might be a little more expensive, but it’s worth it.

  7. charlie

    “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”

    The ability to extend, customize and add to linux based machines is far greater than any windows box. For instance, lets just look at the verizon usb727 broadband modem. With windows you must install a driver and special software to use the device while the linux based machine is pure plug&play. The modem works right out of the box. There is no need for anti virus software as well which hogs resources on any windows box. Customize to your hearts content with linux. Everything you can do on windows and more. Reviewers must stop discounting the usability of linux. Everyone I have converted to linux from windows has rediscovered the power of their computers and loving it!

  8. make them 10lbs or even 12lbs because no one would care.
    if its got a battery life of over 8+hrs of use and huge amount 3gigs+ of ram to back its slow cpu
    i still have a old itronix ultra toughbook and its a beast but the battery life and the ram is why i bought it

  9. I am with A.B. Dada,

    Netbooks rea great, but what we need is to have a small netbook with massive memory and an awesome battery life. memory I am thinking 160Gb and bettery life of atleast 5 hrs.

  10. I have an Acer Aspire One – it is really remarkably well made. Performs well. It isn’t the fastest computer around but it is fantastically portable and works great for web, writing, basic office etc. touchpad buttons are not fantastic but actually workable. If I was to really need to do a LOT I’d add a portable folding USB keyboard and a portable USB mouse and STILL be well under a regular laptop. It is FANTASTIC for media playback – the screen is ideal for widescreen video and audio quality is fine especially through headphones. Get the new 6 cell battery and 160Gig hard drive model. And get it in blue – it is very cool. I’d have liked to consider the Wind but it clearly NEEDS the six cell battery and that STILL isn’t available

    • Here it is July 09. Do you stillk like your Aspire 1? I found it at Costco and it seems like the best choice for now. Is it relaible and sturdy?

  11. 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?


    • Doug Smith

      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!!

  12. 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.

  13. 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.