A Guide to Netbooks
These mini-computers are all the rage, but are netbooks right for you?
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February 10, 2009 by

Maybe you’ve seen one in the news or overheard your computer geek colleague talking about them, but what are netbooks? Put simply, a netbook is a term coined for smaller, cheaper, portable computer with less features. Its primary purpose is for convenient Internet access and it’s not well suited for usage much beyond that.

Looking at netbooks in a little more detail, they tend to share some similar traits:

  • $300-500 price tag
  • 8-10 inch widescreen
  • 512MB-1GB system memory
  • 60-160GB hard drives
  • Compact keyboard
  • Integrated wireless
  • Intel Atom or other low-power processor

These machines are generally purchased for one of two reasons: as a low-cost PC alternative, or as a second or third computer to use on-the-go. So what prompted the sudden popularity of these devices?

Pros: Price & Size
The first reason should be obvious: price. To get a small, lightweight notebook usually meant a hefty price tag and a 12 or 13.3 inch screen. Lower cost notebooks in the $500-800 range were generally larger, clunky, and still had relatively low end specifications. The netbook offers a tiny form factor that still maintains a reasonable computing experience, but is suitable as a first PC for some buyers and cheap enough to act almost as an Internet peripheral for others.

Seven inch netbooks have all but disappeared and 10.2 inch screens are the dominant offering, with 8.9 inch models coming in a close second. The low capacity, low speed, and low cost Solid State Drives included in many models at first, ranging from 2GB to 40GB, are now mostly gone as well, given consumer preference towards a standard mechanical drive with better performance and moderate price increase for substantial storage increase. Today you will find a netbook offering from nearly every manufacturer and can even get systems for around $99 with a 2 year 3G Internet contract.

Cons: Keyboard, Layout & Screen
Wow, this all sounds great. Small, portable, cheap, and plentiful? What’s the catch?

keyboard size: Netbook keyboards are smaller than most notebooks’ and much smaller than a full-size desktop keyboard.

key layout: The key configurations are different and while you can adjust, comfortable typing is still a bit of a dream.

small screen: You will also tire of staring at a 10 inch, or smaller, screen for hours a day. With limited size and resolution, netbook displays are not suited for multitasking and again, are best suited for a singular purpose. You can connect an external keyboard, mouse, and display, but still can’t overcome the low end processor.

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