One of the gadgets in the spotlight this holiday season is the netbook. Bargain Hubby was kind enough to write a guest post to explaining the products and deals so you can find the right mini-computer for you!
Last year was the year of the netbooks for early adopters. This is the year where they’ll get pushed on normal folks. Then next year they’ll be merged in with the rest of the laptops.
Even more so than with a normal computer or multipurpose laptop, the buyer and user of a netbook needs to know what they want to use the computer for so they can pick the correct optimization. Trade-offs are more obvious with netbooks than laptops.
Example: The netbook I had at the end of the summer turned out to have too slow of a video card and bad video drivers. This was worse under linux, but noticeable on windows. That particular netbook used a video card that was different from what the previous netbooks were using. That was a bad choice. On the side it was super quiet, very light, and had a monster of a huge 11.6-inch screen.
Factors to consider when buying a netbook:
2) Screen size
3) CPU speed
4) Battery life
6) Hard drive storage
Here are the trade offs:
Ergonomics: The different manufacturers have different ideas about what to do to make keyboards fit on tiny laptops. Scrunch some keys but make others big? Shrink the between-key space? It’s important to go type on one at the store or buy from a place with a good return policy. If you can’t type on it, you can’t do much with it.
Manufacturer: The big names in netbooks are Asus, Acer, Dell, Gateway, and HP. Gateway is owned by Acer, and they make machines with similar (identical?) cases, but with different computers inside based on different trade-offs. Asus was the first, with their EEEpc line. They still make nice machines. Dell had a really nice 9″ machine, but they stopped making it. All of these companies are in the 10-inch space. There are fewer in the 11.6-inch space. Mainly Acer and Gateway at this point. HP has announced a new machine that is in the same ballpark.
Screen size: The range of sizes for netbook screens started with 8- 9-inch screens, then manufacturers added the 10.1 and recently the 11.6. The 10.1 seems to be the popular sweet spot for most of the netbooks. The 8 and 9 have disappeared as too small. The 11.6 is almost too big think some people, that it isn’t as portable. Personally I wanted the extra screen display, the resolution on the 11.6 is higher than on the 10.1, 1366×768 v. 1024×600.basically a choice between 10.1 and 11.6, and video system.
CPU speed: there are a lot of strange names and acronyms for the special processors they put in these things.
Battery life: Typically “3 cell” vs “6 cell” battery. Bigger battery = more time between charges, but more battery to carry. About $50 or $100 between a 3 cell and 6 cell version of the same netbook. So consider how much time you want to spend away from an outlet. For me, that’s a big part of the netbook charm. Four or five hours of usage without plugging in is awesome, but it also add a good chunk of weight.
Ram: I’ve seen 2, 3, and 4Gig machines. If you get the 2 or 3, and want to upgrade, you’ll have to throw away some ram because there are only two slots and they are filled via (1+1, 1+2 and 2+2). That’s $20-$50 difference when buying the machine. Some of these machines use a “shared video memory” system, so the video system uses some of the main ram, and modern video cards use like 256-512M of ram. That’s a big chunk of a 2G machine. The atom machines max out at 2Gig of ram. The dual core cpu in the acer I bought maxes out at 4G.
Hard drive: Some of the early machines came with solid-state drives (SSD) that were silent and had no moving parts. But to save money they were slow SSDs. Seems that most of the larger netbooks (>9-inch screen) have switched back to mini hard drives. It’s common to see 100 or 200+ gig hard drives in the new netbooks. Whatever it comes with will seriously be more than enough. You shouldn’t be using a netbook for long term storage. Back it up at home and carry what you need.
Discounts: The previous generation of netbooks is still pretty solid, and some of them should be nicely discounted now that the new ones are out for win7. The win7 capable models are a bit pricier, so maybe the older ones won’t get super cheap? I have seen some good 10.1 deals at TigerDirect.com and other closeout resellers.
A good deal on a popular machine is the Acer 1410. This was an 11.6-inch model originally made for Europe and then imported to the states. Goes for $399 and comes in a variety of colors and is in stock to ship now.
This holiday season you should be able to find some deals on 10.1-inch models that have a 6 cell battery for under $300. Here’s a 10.1 deal I just saw:
Here’s a nice looking gateway from TigerDirect.com: Gateway EC1803u Notebook PC. You pay more to have such a small light body with a small screen so make sure that’s what you want before you pay a premium for it.
If you want the top of the line, get the Acer AS1810T. It is the first netbook to come out with an updated 11.6-inch screen (the largest size that is still in the netbook realm). It is updated with a “regular” cpu (chip/brain) instead of the traditional “Atom” cpu that was popular in last year’s netbooks. The atom is really low power, which is why it is popular in netbooks, but it is a bit *too* low of power to keep the wider audience of users happy. Surf the web, write in MS Word, sure. But heavy flash sites and flash games won’t fly. Neither will editing a movie. And definitely no Hulu.
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