The netbook form factor offers consumers a low-cost ultraportable notebook in a market segment where notebooks used to cost $1,500 and up. With most netbooks costing less than $400, they are cheap enough to buy one in addition to your full-size notebook. With the vast majority offering Intel Atom processors, these portable computers can handle most daily tasks with ease. In this buying guide we compare the different models we have reviewed to help you find the best netbook to fit your needs.
Buying the Perfect Netbook
Currently the netbook standard is one of the easiest computers for consumers to purchase, with most models on the market offering the same Intel Atom processor and Intel integrated graphics. The only thing that really separates netbook models is the type of storage medium they use, the screen size, and the size of the battery.
If you plan on storing movies and music on the netbook, a higher capacity hard drive model would be a better choice, instead of the much smaller SSD. In some cases it can be the difference of 8GB of storage compared to 120GB. The next area is screen size, with models coming in either the 8.9” size or 10”, but sharing the same resolution. If you enjoy having a larger screen to work with, the 10” models can be easier to read, and you usually have the benefit of a larger keyboard. A new Dell Mini 12 goes even further with a 12” screen and full WXGA resolution, but that is an exception to the netbook market. The last hardware difference comes down to the capacity of the battery of the netbook, with 3-cell, 4–cell, and 6-cell battery sizes offered.
Couch or Classroom Friendly?
Battery size can play a key role in how you intend to use the netbook, with some models spanning a couple of hours, and others working for up to 6 hours. The difference comes with the size of the battery that comes with the netbook. Some models like the MSI Wind or Acer Aspire One come with 3-cell and 6-cell battery configurations, which can mean the different of 2-3 hours or 5-6 hours of battery life. If you just intend to use the netbook on your couch or around the house where external power is not an issue, battery size probably isn’t a big deal. If you intend to use the netbook in the classroom or while traveling, it is highly suggested that you find the biggest battery possible.
SSD or Hard Drive?
Besides the huge storage capacity difference between the SSD and hard drive models, there are a few added perks of each. Most of the hard drive models on the market use a standard 2.5” SATA consumer drive that can be easily upgraded or replaced down the road. The SSD models might be limited by capacity or lack an easy upgrade, but they offer shock protection and better battery life. If you find yourself being rough with portable electronics, it might be wise choosing a model with a flash memory SSD. If you are looking to get increased battery life some SSD models have an edge over HD models as well.
The Market Competition
Below is a listing of the various netbooks you'll likely find in stores and online direct from the manufacturers. This isn't a complete listing of every single netbook offered worldwide, but it does provide a comprehensive overview of some of the more popular models.
The ASUS N10 is a “corporate” netbook which offers highend features that you don’t find in consumer netbooks models. Offering HDMI out with dedicated NVIDIA 9300M graphics, a fingerprint reader, and an ExpressCard/34 slot the N10 includes what business professionals might want in a portable device. With prices as low as $649 for models including the dedicated graphics, it is priced well under business class ultraportable notebooks such as the Sony TZ or TT. If you don’t need those special features listed above, consumer netbooks like the ASUS Eee PC 1000HA can be had for about $300 less.
The 10” Eee PC 1000 comes in both SSD and HD flavors; giving consumers the choice of large storage capacity or something more rugged for a netbook that might be tossed around. The keyboard is 91% full-size for cramp-free typing and most configurations offer a large 6-cell battery. Priced slightly above other competing models you do pay a premium for one of these, which most say is worth it considered the larger stock battery. Prices start as low as $399 for a Intel Celeron equipped model, or $349 for the base Intel Atom 1000HA. The 1000HE offers the newer N280 Intel Atom processor, greatly improved battery, and newer keyboard layout for only $374.
The smaller 9” Eee PC 900 and 901 give consumers a smaller netbook option that also happens to get slightly better battery life than its bigger 10” brother. While the 900 series does include both SSD and HD versions, the SSD model is much more popular. With both Linux and Windows XP Home models up for grabs you can find one model that best suits your needs depending on its purpose. The only compromise you make with this model depending on version is the capacity of the flash storage; where the XP model includes a 12GB drive and the Linux model has 20GB one. The SSD equipped 901 models all cost $379, whereas the older 900 series sells for as little as $285 on sale.
Rocking the number two spot on our “Most Popular Notebooks” list at the time of this guide, the Acer Aspire One is clearly one of the more sought after models on the market right now. With one of the lowest starting prices of $299 budget SSD model or $329 for the top tier HD model it can fit in anyone’s budget in a time where everyone is pinching pennies. Offered in a wide range of color options, the 9” Acer Aspire One is a NBR reader favorite.
The 9” Dell Mini recently hit the market at a very low starting price of $249. With an almost fullsize keyboard section that removes function keys to free up space, the keyboard is very comfortable to type on. This netbook is sold with only SSD modules, using either Windows XP Home or Ubuntu Linux, in sizes spanning from 4 to 16GB. Currently Dell only offers a 4-cell battery for the Mini 9, which limits you to around 3-4 hours of battery life, less than others on the market.
The new Dell Mini 12 is the first netbook to offer a higher resolution 1280x800 WXGA screen and a full-size keyboard. With a super thin design that could compete with the Apple MacBook air, this Dell netbook is pushing closer to the ultraportable notebook market segment. With 3 and 6-cell battery options, optional cellular broadband and the newer low voltage Intel Atom processors, this is one of the ultimate low-cost road warrior machines. Prices start at $399 and move upwards of $600 depending on configuration.
The HP Mini 1000 is the newest Intel Atom based netbook to the HP lineup, replacing the slower VIA equipped 2133 Mini-Note offered last year. This model is fully customizable, including the screen size and storage medium. The Mini 1000 uses the same keyboard from the Mini-Note, which we found to be the best keyboard on any netbook we have tested to date. Prices start at $299 for the 9” model or $399 for the 10” version, and move up depending on configuration.
The 10” IdeaPad offered in black, red, and white offers one feature not usually found on netbooks. The S10 has an ExpressCard slot on the side for an external WWAN card, to stay connected on the road. It is not surprising to see business related features on this netbook, considering it comes from the company that builds the ThinkPad. Prices start at $349 and currently only a 3-cell battery option is offered.
This sleek netbook offers a handful of color and design options and easy to type on keyboard. While historically high in price, especially on the 6-cell version, prices have started to come down. Recently MSI announced a price cut, bringing the base configuration down to $319. Going rate for a model that includes a 6-cell battery is $399, and hard to find outside of online retailers. The Wind was one of our coolest running netbooks, so if you are sensitive to heat, look no further.
This "Lifestyle PC" (the netbook Sony doesn't want you to call a netbook) is a super high-end model aimed at professionals who want more from your average netbook. The Sony VAIO P has a high resolution 1600 x 768 glossy display, integrated 3G broadband with GPS, Windows Vista, and optional SSD. The size and weight is well under the average for netbooks, just .78” thick and 1.3lbs with the 4-cell battery. Don’t expect to find any amazing deals, as this “not-a-netbook” starts at $899 and goes as high as $1,499 for the 128GB SSD version.
The ASUS Eee PC 701 was the first to the netbook game, but now outdated against the competition. With only a 7” display, Intel Celeron processor, and small flash storage it seems more like a toy these days than a netbook. While you can find larger screens, faster processors, and more storage space on newer models, the 701 might attract some with its super low price. Nearing the $200 mark at some stores as they clear out old inventory it is still a competent portable notebook that can easily run Windows XP. If you don’t need all the features of one of the newer netbooks, this model might be for you.
With the low cost to enter the netbook manufacturing market you will find many additional netbook models that were not listed in this guide. Some share the same OEM, making some netbooks identical “clones” of another model. Many of these offer the same great build quality and features that netbooks in our guide have, just under a different brand name. Some of the netbooks that are not in our guide include the Samsung NC10, Sylvania g, Everex Cloudbook, and Medion Akoya Mini.
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