The Netbook revolution

Perhaps you have heard the term Netbook around and wonder how is a netbook different from a notebook or maybe, “Did they misspell that?”. Well as with most made up terms nothing is solidified yet, but generally a netbook is a small lightweight, low cost computer. They have screen sizes under 12 inches (most are either 10 or 9), weigh under 3 pounds, and cost around $500 or less. Generally speaking they are good for internet purposes and lightweight use. In my opinion ideal for browsing the web or for students traveling a lot. In fact my wife has a Dell Mini 9 and absolutely loves it. She is a student in Boston and often has to park a distance from her class and carry multiple books. For her having a small and light computer was essential.

Generally these machines run on Intel’s Atom processor, which is a processor specifically engineered with netbooks in mind. The processor is adequate for running XP, but would tank on the resource heavy Vista. As a result netbooks tend to come with either XP or a version of Linux pre-installed. Netbooks also often run on 1 or 2 GB of RAM at most (generally I would recommend no less than 2GB, but with the smaller architecture of these machines 1GB is often sufficient). Also, depending on the model, you can choose from SSD (solid state drive, much like you thumb drive) or regular hard drives. Since these machines aren’t designed to be used as performance beasts, but rather mobile feathers, the SSD offers clear advantages over normal drives. However, if speed is of the utmost importance and you are going to be using Windows the normal hard drive may be a safer option. The Dell Mini 9 only comes with SSD option and so far my wife and I have been very pleased with the performance and notice minimal lag even using XP (note that you can optimize the Linux kernel for SSD performance). One other slight annoyance to some is that the keyboard must be altered and shrunk in order to fit in the space required. Nothing stops you from plugging in an USB keyboard when you are home, but if you are in class taking notes you will need a little bit of practice before hand. My wife and I found that the ASUS EEE PC’s keyboard was unbearable, but really liked the Acer and Dell keyboards.

So why buy one?
If price is a primary concern. These machines mostly start around $500 with plenty of options below and some barely above. All of them are below $1000. In a tough economy that is hard economics to dispute.

If mobility is important. Particularly if you are a student or someone who travels the better part of the day or of your work. I could see myself using one if I were riding the T in and out of Boston every day.

If you mostly just check the web. If all you need is web applications (gmail, facebook, twitter) these machines are perfect for you and designed with you in mind.

Why not buy one?
These machines are not intended to be your only machine. They are purposely limited for the sake of mobility and size. Very few have hard drives (whether ssd or hd) that are larger than 50 GB, and most don’t offer more than 2 GB of RAM (with 1GB being more common and 512 MB as an option). None of them have a CD or DVD drive (think about it to have one you need space in that tiny machine the same size as a DVD…not going to happen).

Performance…doing heavy lifting will be an arduous task with these machines. If you use photoshop or any movie creating software than this would not be your primary machine (it might make the perfect second machine, but not primary).

Fat fingers…if you fat finger a regular keyboard this machine will be hell. Now you might look at the larger 10 or 11 inch machines, but my wife’s 9 inch does take some getting used to. Again it is nothing that practice wouldn’t help, but they do rearrange some keys that I find very annoying.

So I gave you two recommendations. Dell and Acer, but I will say that everyone is talking about the ASUS EEE. If you want some more information check out this informative bit from The Register.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Culture/Technology, IT, Linux, Processors, Tech Questions, windows

3 Comments on “The Netbook revolution”

  1. bfpower Says:

    Oooh I have been wanting a netbook. The prices are really good, even for the ones with solid state.

    I also read an interesting tech republic article on booting Xandros on a netbook using an SD card. Interesting thought, especially for the Eee PCs with small disks or the ones that come with XP.

  2. mrosedale Says:

    You could boot just about any Linux distro off of an SD card if you configure it properly. I am going to write an article about using a thumb drive.

    But Lynn and I love the Dell Mini 9. I heard though that they are coming out with a Mini 12 (which will be a 12 inch) and the price is going to be barely over $500. So that looks to be very promising.

    One thing that I would add to all this though, right now netbooks are in their infancy. They have a long way to go. Most only offer 2 hour battery life which is deplorable, but for me the price is too good to pass up. If you get one let me know which one you got you should write a full review. Maybe I’ll do that for the Dell.


  3. […] an interesting article about subsidized netbooks and how that trend is here to stay. We wrote about netbooks earlier on this blog. The idea is a super small, light, and cheap laptop. It doesn’t surprise […]


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