Forbes Needs to Reboot Their Netbook Expectations


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 (s intc) 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 (s msft) 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?



people who bought atom based netbook are typical no brainer unless they simply want a pc to do tasks such as e-mailing, re-emails, browsing online and use a few plain simple applications. Atom is exactly 486 cpu re-engineered which equivalence to pentium 2 capability or lower level power, Nothing more. Why would someone spend a few hundreds bucks less to encourage Intel creates more electronic junks? FYI ppl, most netbook owner never exactly a use thier netbook that much, or pull it aside fill dust in less than a yr especially when they discover it’s a pain in the ass when using it on Java’s application online and Flash media.


Gerere, do you have a netbook? I’m curious because I’m wondering if your judgment is coming from using one or comparing them with other machines on paper.

I know of several people (non geeks) that use a netbook (mainly Asus EEEs) as their primary PC. There are many more people that use them as a secondary PC, but a few only use them solely. I use my MSI Wind as my primary PC and I get excited (i am a geek) when I see someone happily using one. I get mostly positive comments all the time from netbook users. Most of the complainers that I have talked to are either people that will download any attachment they receive or power users that should know better.

My only complaint is I wish my Wind had a slightly larger display. The more I look at the netbooks in stores, the more I’m starting to think a 10 inch display with higher resolution would be enough for me.

As Kevin and James reiterate all the time, “Everyones needs are different.”


I’m guessing Kevin was reading Forbes with his Palm Pre that now has a dedicated Forbes reader. Some good journalism in there; this one not.

I think Scott above got the metaphor a bit better, Kevin, comparing the Honda with the Ferrari, rather than vice versa.

The funniest part is that most of these business journals are all pro-market place, and Gomes is complaining that the market is responding to demand. Boo-hoo.

I don’t think his journalism is bad, as he’s probably accurate in everything he’s reporting. He’s just a lousy consumer who didn’t bother to do his research before he dropped a few C-notes. Um, You get what you pay for. No free lunch. Caveat emptor. I’m guessing he can give his netbook to some nephew and drop a few more dollars on what he should have gotten himself in the first place without worrying about making his house payment or whether the family will get groceries. Sheesh!


To Lee: the true villain in this story is the bad market research done writing this article.

I suppose you fault Honda for not making their civic as powerful as a Ferrari. “oh sure it’s cheaper and it can handle your basic transportation needs but it’s not as powerful as this sports car so it’s useless…”

Do you scratch your head at how many Hondas sell each year (just like netbooks) too?

Don’t waste everyone’s time talking about stuff you obviously don’t understand.


I admit I’m not reading any of the comments on this one, so if I repeat what others say, consider it an agreement/confirmation/validation/whatever, lol.

Anyway, I agree wholeheartedly with the post! Even though I don’t like netbooks and would never own one personally, I base my recommendations to people on what they want to accomplish and what their usage habits are, not on what *I* would want.

I’m a power user, I want my machine to be on par with me, and if possible I want it to be better than me… you know, on part with God, if possible! Blaspheming aside, not everyone needs their computer to be that. Some just want to sit in a coffee shop or on a plane or on the couch or whatever and watch an occasional video and surf the net and other lightweight tasks.

But then again, this whole article validates a point I’ve made about them for the past two years… while I’ve been wrong about their sales, I’ve been right about how they’re used… light weight productivity and heavy on entertainment values.


As a 2133 user now for about a year, I am quite happy with the performance the netbook offers – with Windows XP. But it is unfair criticizing netbooks just because they are running Vista, and then expecting them to run a darn flight simulator.

Does Mr. Gomes expect to take his Shelby GT500 out to the racetrack and try to break records running on corn oil? I don’t think so. Although, he may be that stupid.

I actually wrote a column on my blog a few weeks ago highlighting 10 reasons where desktops still beat notebooks. Some may argue that the tower is dead but the truth is, when you DON’T need to be mobile, a desktop simply beats a notebook in many areas. Netbooks pair so well with desktops, especially when you have WHS set up for remote access. You can work remotely on your home desktop using your netbook while mobile, stream all your files and access your data anywhere, easily. When you factor in the price, size, weight, battery life and portability of netbooks it makes a compelling argument indeed.

That aside, I found “screen resolution” to be the biggest factor limiting my productivity with netbooks, not the OS, or the CPU nor GPU. If I need to run a flight simulator, I fire up my Toshiba Qosmio X305-Q708, not my HP 2133 mininote. But when I need to use Cool Edit Pro to do D/A A/D conversions, work on an office document, or fire up WME for a short encoding job, I can choose to go with either netbook or the beefier notebook. Now this would not be the case had I not gone with the higher res screen on the netbook, or installed Vista in place of XP.

As for Forbes, I’m somewhat amazed they would publish such a half-baked article and actually pay this guy for his work. I guess when Forbes puts their name on something, it must be pretty good – even if it is still garbage.


I am not sure that the above is correct re: Flash processes. I am pretty sure that they are cpu dependent. An ION chipset may take the 1080p graphics rendering load off the CPU, but it won’t reduce CPU usage for Flash.


If the CPU isn’t having to fight for resource with a dependent GPU (as is the case with the GMA series), it’s likely the CPU will be better able to handle Flash and other tasks as well. As has been pointed out elsewhere, it wasn’t that long ago that a 1.6 GhZ chip like the Atom would have been considered top of the line – and back then there was plenty of Flash going on as well :-)


Not on Linux. Maybe so on Windows and Mac but Adobe has not hardwae acellerated flash on Linux. That means Linux has more overhead with Flash than Windows does.

flash actually can be hardware accelerated on linux, but you need working 3D drivers, and disable eyecandy like clutter, as flash wants sole control over your GPU while its doing its thing…


I think a couple folks here have alluded to the real issue, but just to make it clear. The problems most netbooks have with running games or more intensive computing tasks usually have nothing to do with the CPU. They have to do with the fact that the video “card” in almost all netbooks is severely underpowered – which was a design trade off made early on to support the longer lasting power requirements of the segment.

I think as you see the Ion based netbooks start to be released, you will see a lot more of the “bottom” falling out of the notebook market. Why? Because as someone else pointed out above, most notebooks aren’t as capable as a desktop either. If you NEED portable, the average notebook gives you very little more than the average netbook.


Stupid people shouldn’t be journalists, that simple.

Although I have to say that even the argument that a desktop is necessary is a lie. I used to believe that I would always need a desktop for video editing due to the large amount of rendering/processing needed. I now do all editing on a HP laptop without a problem. My sister in law does CAD for architecture on a laptop as well. Desktops will go the way of the betamax in a few years.


hahaahah – you said poppycock. that kind of language will you get you banned around here. although – with netbook naming schemes like wind, seashell and doofus, maybe poppycock is a good name for a netbook?


This article wouldn’t have been written if prices on netbooks and notebooks weren’t starting to overlap. Some people can’t understand why someone would take a 10 incher when, for the same money, they can get a 15 incher.

I just bought a Toshiba which, while a bit boring compared to some funkier offerings, has the needed battery life (and a much nicer screen). These are practical, corporate decisions. Until the modern netbook, tiny laptops were relegated to the luxury realm – with luxury prices. That mindset will take a while to change.


Perhaps becasue the ten-inch netbook is a better match for their requirements?


Poppycock! Netbooks ARE a viable desktop replacement and a lot of people use them as such. I bought my wife one and she plugs a keyboard and mouse into it at home and when she’s relaxing on the couch she just uses the built in keyboard. Her’s runs Vista Home Basic and works just fine for REAL work. There’s not alot of users who need a Quad Core desktop or even a Dual Core laptop.

I myself run Linux Mint on my Asus 1000HE and it works for 99.9 percent of what I do. The only limitation is highdef video and flash but that is not the fault of the netbook. The netbook can run flash it’s the fact that flash is not hardware accelerated on Linux that is the problem right now. That and intel graphics don’t help performance either.

When Nvidia’s Ion chip is more popular in Netbooks, you will see people hooking them to their hotel room flatscreens to watch high def content they brought with them or that they downloaded or stream from the Internet.

The Forbes guys is WAY wrong and you are only slightly wrong.

I DO realize sometimes is nice to have a much bigger screen, but if you had to make do with what you got like most users do Kevin, you’d see the netbook is plenty powerful enough for most of the users.

i suspect he walked into a old roadwarrior mind trap, thinking that any laptop with 12″ or smaller screen must be a utra-portable…

Jim Fowl

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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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!

Allan Jones

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.

Rick L

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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