What is a Netbook PC and Why Would I Want One?

January 16, 2009

in computer hardware,Windows

by David Strom

Prices are coming down and small is once again beautiful in the world of laptops, with a new series of products that are called Netbooks. They have several advantages: they are small and lightweight (around two or three pounds), they boot up in seconds, they cost less than $500–in some cases a lot less–and run Windows XP Home, which is getter harder to find these days. Did I say that they are about the smallest form factor with big enough keyboards for touch typists? OK, now I did.

If you are on a real budget and don’t care about using your laptop for much more than Web surfing, email, and the occasional PowerPoint presentation or document, then these are the right tools for you. If you are tired of lugging your laptop through mile-long airport concourses, or don’t care if one gets lifted from the trunk of your car (that happened to me a few years ago), then the price point of these PCs will have a lot of appeal. And if you are impatient with long boot-up times and the kind of person who likes to have a laptop that can be up and running within a few seconds to answer a quick Web query or look up an email address, then the Netbooks are very appealing. But if you are looking for a desktop replacement, or if you can’t stand to compute with a screen smaller than 15 inches, then look elsewhere.

The first miniature models came from Asus, were called the eePC, and had solid-state hard drives and 9-inch screens; they now come in different versions with bigger hard drives and screens too. Lenovo’s IdeaPad S Series starts at $350 for a basic model that has a 10-inch display with an 80 GB hard drive. Dell has its Inspiron Mini for less than $500, which includes an 8 GB solid state hard drive, but has other models for more money that have bigger screens and larger disks. Acer Aspire One has 9-inch screens, and HP Minis are also available in different configurations.

The Lenovo S10 is typical of what you can find on these devices: It comes with built-in 802.11b/g wireless networking, along with two USB ports and an external VGA port to plug into a projector for giving presentations. It even has a built-in Web camera and stereo speakers, although you probably want to use a headset if you are going to be playing music or videos on this machine.

David Strom is an expert on Internet and networking technologies who was the former editor-in-chief at Network Computing, Tom’s Hardware.com, and DigitalLanding.com. He currently writes regularly for PC World, Baseline Magazine, and the New York Times and is also a professional speaker, podcaster and blogs at strominator.com and WebInformant.tv.