The Arrival of the Netbook

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Ok so, the latest craze to hit the technology market is the arrival of the netbook. Who knew that a tiny laptop with a slow CPU and little storage would take the world by storm. Strategically priced between $300 and $600, these units are selling like hot cakes surprising many experts.

The netbook was designed to be used for internet access and reading email. They tend to have little RAM, slower hard drives, and tiny keyboards. They were not made to run any main line applications like 3D games, graphic arts and audio/video programs. Yet the manufacturer has come to realize that the consumer doesn't care. Sales continue to grow and manufacturers are running hot to meet customer demands.

Why is this happening? Simple. Users just want a device that can access the internet, read their email, access social networks like Facebook, or MySpace. They may do some basic word processing or spreadsheet work and that’s it. They don’t want to pay for an expensive ‘standard’ size laptop when a netbook can perform the same function for over half the price.

But before you go out and buy one, bear in mind that not all netbooks are the same. Many of these netbooks come in different flavors, and configurations. Here are some pointers to keep in mind as part of your decision making process.

  1. Operating System
    Costs determine this category. In order to price netbooks so low, many manufacturers power their netbooks with Linux. It’s stable and reliable. Linux is also less expensive than Windows XP. Also, those units that do come with Windows XP, come with Home edition versions that don’t have the connectivity options that a Windows XP Professional Desktop PC may have. Keep that in mind if you are thinking about using it for your business and integrating it with your corporate system.

  2. Display
    Netbooks are designed to be small and light. Obviously, the size of the netbook determines the size of the screen display. They can range from 10 inches down to 7. Resolution also plays a part. While some screens support a 1024 x 600 resolution, it pales in comparison to a normal desktop’s 1024 x 768 which is pretty much the standard. Your best bet here is to test out the netbooks you are interested in at a local dealer so there won’t be any surprises later.

  3. Storage
    Standard PCs come with 80, 160, or even 320 GB of disk space available for putting your life’s work in. Netbooks on the other hand were not designed for this, so don't go loading it up with photos of the latest family picnic. Some of these units only carry about 16 GB of disk space so after loading the operating system and various other applications, you are left with very little space for anything else. Take this into consideration. What do you intend to use this for?

  4. Optical Drive
    In order to reduce size and weight, manufacturers did away with the optical drive; better know as the CD or DVD drive. This means that you may need to invest in an external CD/DVD drive with writing capabilities. The drive will be used for burning a recovery copy of your netbook system in the event that something happens to the internal drive or you need to restore the operating system. Flash memory drives, or USB externals can be used as well.

  5. Weight
    With netbooks commonly weighing in at less than 2.5 pounds, don’t settle on anything greater than 3 pounds. Remember, one of the reasons for getting these units is for its portability!

  6. Business Use
    Some customers may think about using a netbook for their business. Be careful. Some units don’t have the proper operating system to be integrated into a corporate network. Make sure that the unit has sufficient USB ports and the appropriate video and network connections for your needs. Also, remember, these units do not have a fully powered CPU. Rather, many use the Intel Atom that was designed to consume as little power as possible and yet powerful enough to run some light applications. So don’t expect to put the company’s entire financial data on a spreadsheet and bring it up on Excel. Playing Halo 3 is out of the question.

  7. Wireless Options
    Since the netbook was designed for portability, then wireless is a must. There are various flavors out there to choose from. Make sure one fits your needs. Whether that be Wi-Fi connectivity (802.11g or 802.11n), Bluetooth, or cellular phone network connectivity. Whatever the case, if it doesn’t have it, don’t get it.

  8. User Interface
    Small can be cumbersome. Netbook sizes vary so you may need to again try a number of units at a local retailer and get a feel of the keyboard and the track pad (mouse pointing device). They tend to be smaller versions of full size keyboards so typing may be limited to some degree (for those with tiny fingers, skip this section). Do scrutinize the track pad and its mouse buttons. Make sure they respond firmly and feel durable.

  9. Batteries
    Here lies one of the most important aspects of the netbooks portability. Netbooks originally were designed for children in developing nations that required power with an extended life cycle before requiring a recharge. From these origins, the current crop of netbooks carry a wide range of configurations and charge cycles. Depending on the hardware, CPU, hard drive type, and battery, some netbooks can operation up to 5 hours. Other can only manage about 2.5 hours. Make sure you look into how long each model lasts and what makes sense to you based on how you expect to use it.

Whether netbooks end up being just a fad or the start of the next big ‘thing’ in computer technology remains to be seen. But, I for one find them intriguing in that their portability will increase has the technology that makes them attractive now gets better and better. I just wonder if one might end up under my Christmas tree this year….