rise of the netbook

July 9, 2009 at 8:44 pm 1 comment

So I’ve been thinking about getting a new computer sometime soon (meaning within the next year). Not one to replace my desktop, but a portable computer. My natural first thought was to get a laptop, but then something caught my eye: the “Netbooks” category at Newegg.com. I’d heard of these little computers before, but I pretty much ignored their existence because I thought they were just another short-lived fad. But apparently I was wrong: netbooks have become quite popular in the last year or two. And now they even have their own category on the level of desktops and laptops/notebooks! Needless to say, I got curious and scoured the web for netbook-related info.

Asus Eee PC 1000h{ the Asus Eee PC 1000H from 2008. source: laptopnext.com }

Now that I’m educated in the science of netbooks, I’m pretty impressed by them. Not by their power, of course, which is laughable compared to a decent laptop. Most mid-range netbooks now have 1.6 ghz Intel Atom single-core CPU, compared to the typical laptop’s 2 ghz or more dual-core CPU. And if you’re thinking about playing modern 3d games on a netbook, forget about it (although there are some that will work — barely). Usually, the best you can do on a netbook as far as graphics is watch videos on Youtube.

edit: Apparently there are some netbooks with good graphics performance, such as the Asus N10. It has a GeForce 9300M GS as well as integrated graphics, with the ability to switch between the two (but this requires a reboot). With this particular netbook you can play older games smoothly and even some newer games, and of course hi-def movies. The battery lasts around 5 hours even when running Nvidia graphics. Very nice. The downside is the price: $680.

What’s attractive about netbooks is their mobility and the fact that they’re very cheap. If you just need to check your email and write a few documents on the go, and maybe surf the web while you’re bored, a netbook seems ideal. The average netbook is around $400, and many are a lot cheaper. More money in your pocket = more happy. (Assuming you’re happy with a netbook…)

Most netbooks nowadays have screens somewhere around 10″. While on the one hand that means great mobility, on the other hand it means a small screen and a rather cramped keyboard. I’ve heard that prolonged use of such a small keyboard can be uncomfortable. I don’t have firsthand experience though.¬†Another drawback of this small size is that netbooks don’t have CD/DVD drives built in. For what netbooks are designed for (doing stuff on the web), it doesn’t matter all that much, but still, it’s an inconvenience to use an external optical drive if you ever want use CDs or DVDs.

Battery life is another strong point. Most netbooks go upwards of 5 hours on a 6-cell battery, some even 8 hours.

I’ll probably end up getting a laptop as planned, because I really want that extra power, but netbooks look interesting anyways. The future of netbooks looks promising, especially now that Google is making an OS for netbooks (!!). And soon the NVIDIA Ion chipset will be out, which will make graphics better on netbooks. A few Ion netbooks are already on the way.

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