10 Things To Consider When Buying a Netbook

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netbook_sketch Netbooks are all the hype right now. The size and price points are extremely attractive, especially during a recessive economy when money is tight. Also, for those of us who do lots of blogging, these devices are simply the best, boasting portability and very long battery life. So, what’s not to love?

If you decide that you must get one, you need to carefully weigh all of the options when making your choice. The differences may be seem to be minimal, only affecting a few dollars towards your bottom line price, but you need to be sure you do get what you really do need and don’t overspend in the process.

Below is a list of items you should consider when shopping around for a new Netbook. For comparison purposes, I’m using Amazon as a price “standard.” There may be other better deals or models available at one point in time or another, but I have found that Amazon averages out pretty well, pricewise.

Note: I have NOT personally tried ANY of the Netbooks mentioned in this article. I have made my recommendations based on Twitter interviews and reading documents from the manufacturers and simply reviewing other information. If there are any vendors looking to have a more in-depth review done of their Netbook offerings, I encourage you to fill out my Vendor form.

Here are the core components that make up a Netbook (oddly enough, since Netbooks are simply miniaturized laptops, you can use these same items when doing laptop evaluations as well):

  1. CPU – Most Netbooks you will see out there use an Intel Atom processor of some type. As of this writing, the N270 seems to be the standard, boasting a 1.6 Ghz speed, although some higher-end Netbooks are starting to show up with the N280 chipset; there are other chipsets available, but the Atom seems to be leading the pack. Look for Netbooks that allow you to over or under-clock the CPU. Asus is one that allows for this. Remember, you aren’t going to find a screaming fast processor. These CPUs are designed to be energy efficient.
  2. Memory – Most Netbooks tend to come with either 512MB or 1GB of RAM standard. There are a few models that have the ability to add more which is definitely an advantage, especially if you want to run Window XP, Vista (not recommended for Netbooks ) or Windows 7 which tend to use up more RAM than their Linux counterparts. I would recommend getting a minimum of 1GB for running XP or 512MB if running some flavor of Linux. But be sure that you can add more RAM if you choose at a later date.
  3. Hard drive – There are typically two options you can go with here:
    • Solid State Drive (SSD) – typical sizes are 4, 8 or 16 GB and some are even higher than that. The advantages of Solid State Drives is that they are faster to boot and typically are lighter on the battery use and they weigh less than traditional hard drives. Disadvantages are they they have smaller capacities than traditional HD’s and after extended use, they do wear out (flash memory has a limited amount of rewrites, but most people should not have to worry about that). Also remember, the Operating System of your Netbook will eat up a portion of space, so if you have a small capacity drive, look for small OS’s and applications to go on it.
    • Hard Drive (HD) – typical sizes are 60GB, 80GB, 120GB or 160GB – If you are going to be playing MP3s or videos on your Netbook, you probably want to go with an actual hard drive option. Look for Netbooks that are easy to upgrade (RAM & Hard drives are good upgrade options). Traditional HD’s do add to the weight factor as well as bump up energy consumption.
  4. Weight & Dimensions – weights range anywhere between 2-4 lbs., battery and screen sizes will add to the weight factor; while these computers are designed to be small, the more powerful ones can hit 4 lbs or more. Most manufacturers are concerned with maintaining a small form factor. Interestingly, it seems like some manufacturers produce the same chassis but simply have different screen size configurations. So, if you are debating the size factor, it might be a wash between a 8.9 and 10.1 inch screen, and only come out in a few dollars in extra cost for added real estate.
  5. Webcam – 0.3 Megapixels – 1.3 Mpx – be sure to get a better resolution cameral (higher Megapixels) as it will make video conferencing better for your callers. Most Netbooks seem to top out at 1.3 Mpx.
  6. Keyboard/Touchpad – If you can, try to go to a store or borrow a friends to test them out. Another thing you can do is look at screenshots for keyboard lineups. The Shift key, for example is larger on some than on others. Also the placement and positioning of other keys should be noted. Most keyboards are 80-100% of full size keyboards. Many of the trackpads or touchpads are multi-touch. Be sure to look at screen shots for the button positioning for the touchpad as well.
  7. Operating System – It doesn’t matter really which OS your Netbook comes with. It’s a personal preference and you can always install something else.
    • Windows XP – most Netbooks come with some form of Windows XP (e.g., Home). Windows XP has proven to be fairly reliable and a good OS option for use.
    • Linux – A few come installed with different custom Linux images
    • Windows 7 – Once Windows 7 is released, many Netbooks will include this Operating System. Rumor has it that Windows 7 will run much better than Vista. I recommend against installing Vista on any Netbook.
    • Hackintosh – some Netbooks can be turned into Hackintoshes (e.g., Dell, MSI Wind) which means that the Macintosh Operating System can be installed; be sure to check compatibility of the manufacturers with this project on the various project websites if this is something you are considering.
  8. Connectivity/Slots –
    • Wireless B/G/N/Cellular – All Netbooks should come equipped with wireless. Most come with 802.11b and g protocols. Some vendors are now including 802.11n and others even have an optional EVDO/cellular wireless or similar card. Be sure the manufacturer has drivers to support your EVDO device.
    • Bluetooth – I would recommend looking for a Netbook that has Bluetooth capabilities to allow for wireless headsets (for Skype or headphones) or for other types of connectivity.
    • Ethernet 10/100 & Gigabit Ethernet – all Netbooks come with a Ethernet connector to attach a Cat5/6 LAN connection.
    • USB – most Netbooks include a minimum of 1 USB port, with others boast 3. These can be very useful, especially to connect EVDO modems, external drives, CD/DVD drives or other accessories. Look carefully at the placement of these ports to ensure that they are not too close to where your wrists are when typing.
    • VGA – all Netbooks have a way to connect an external monitor. Most have standard VGA ports. Some have mini VGA connections (e.g., on the HP). Look to those standard types of connections unless you want to carry an extra dongle everywhere you go.
    • Headphone/Mic/Integrated Mics/Speakers – most Netbooks include jacks for speakers/headphones and microphones. This is useful for Skype or other conference calling capabilities or watching movies/listening to music. Some have built-in microphones, making it much more convenient when having web conference calls or video calls. All Netbooks seem to have on-board speakers as well.
    • Card Reader – many Netbooks include some type of card reader. This is useful for downloading images from a camera, for example. Types range from 2-in-1 to 4-in-1.
  9. Battery – there are a variety of batteries available. This is a critical piece to any Netbook purchase. There are high-capacity Lithium-Ion batteries available that can get you 5 or more hours of extended use. Note though, the higher-capacity batteries tend to weigh a bit more or be larger and can add to the weight of the device.
    • Cell types – 2, 3, 4 or 6 Cell
    • Usage – 2-9.5 hours
  10. Screen – all Netbooks are supposed to have small form factors. Spending a bit more to get more screen real estate may be worth the extra investment.
    • Resolutions – 1024×600 & 1024×576
    • Graphics Card – Intel GMA 950 & nVidia GeForce 9300M
    • Sizes – 7, 8.9-10″, matte or glossy
  11. Extras
    • Cases – some of the manufacturers provide carrying cases, a definite plus
    • Online storage – Asus includes 10GB free online storage to back up your data.
    • ExpressCard – these are found on the Lenovo Netbooks

Here are some of the current Manufacturers as well as a Good, Better and Best recommendation for their Netbook lines. Please note that these recommendations could become outdated as new models are offered and that most of these are simply taken from Amazon: ((Prices taken from Amazon on 3/24/09; not all available models are shown))

  • Asus
    • Good – Eee PC 901 (8.9″/1.6GHz/1GB RAM/12 GB SSD) – $280
    • Better – Eee PC 1000HE (10″/1.66GHz/1GB RAM/160 GB HD) – $389
    • Best – Eee PC N10J-A2 (10.2″/1.6GHz/2GB RAM/320 GB HD) – $760
  • Acer
  • Dell
  • HP
    • Good – Mini 1010NR (8.9″/1.6GHz/512MB RAM/8 GB SSD) – $300
    • Better – Mini 1035NR (10.2″/1.6GHz/1GB RAM/60 GB HD) – $415
    • Best – 2133-KX870AT (8.9″/1.6GHz/2GB RAM/120 GB HD) – $700
  • Samsung
    • Better – NC10-14GB (10.2″/1.6GHz/1GB RAM/160 GB HD) – $430
    • Best – NC10-11PBK (10.2″/1.6GHz/1GB RAM/160 GB HD) – $469
  • Lenovo
    • Best – Ideapad S10 (10.2″/1.6GHz/1GB RAM/160 GB HD) – $349
  • MSI
    • Good – Wind U100-641US (10″/1.6GHz/1GB RAM/160 GB HD) – $300
    • Better – Wind U100-432US (10″/1.6GHz/1GB RAM/160 GB HD) – $380
    • Best – Wind U100-053US (10″/1.6GHz/1GB RAM/80 GB HD) – $515

A breakdown of various models can also be found on Wikipedia.

Luckily when you look at different types of mainstream Netbooks, usually only about $50-100 or so separates the good ones from the better ones. The are some very high-end ones, but I feel that at a $800-$1000 pricepoint, you would be better off getting a smaller, more powerful, mobile laptop.

To me, it seems that the sweet spot is around $350. You can definitely find some good values and performance at that range. I would recommend a minimum of 1GB RAM and at least either at 16GB SSD or 160GB HD. If you can get a model with a newer CPU (e.g., like with the Asus Eee PC 1000HE), you won’t be left far behind when new models come out. Be sure to ensure that you can do HD and RAM upgrades easily. And another plus is ensuring that you can put Linux or OS X on the device (e.g., with a Dell Mini 9 or MSI Wind).

HTD Says: Netbooks are HOT now for so many reasons. While I have not personally reviewed any of these (or even tried them), they are definitely a welcome addition to any household or business, especially at the pricepoint!

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33 Responses

  1. Thanks Ross, I had a fun time writing it but it took a lot longer than I anticipated.

  2. Thanks Ross, I had a fun time writing it but it took a lot longer than I anticipated.

  3. Really nicely written article. I just re-tweeted. I'm really enthusiastic about these machines and the access it gives folks who can't necessarily hit that $1000 laptop price point.

  4. Really nicely written article. I just re-tweeted. I'm really enthusiastic about these machines and the access it gives folks who can't necessarily hit that $1000 laptop price point.

  5. Really nicely written article. I just re-tweeted. I'm really enthusiastic about these machines and the access it gives folks who can't necessarily hit that $1000 laptop price point.

  6. Thanks. Yes, I think Netbooks are one of the more important “recession” technologies out there. At around $300-400, it is almost the perfect sweet spot for students, children and parent, and even Sales Team.

  7. Thanks. Yes, I think Netbooks are one of the more important “recession” technologies out there. At around $300-400, it is almost the perfect sweet spot for students, children and parent, and even Sales Team.

  8. Thanks. Yes, I think Netbooks are one of the more important \”recession\” technologies out there. At around $300-400, it is almost the perfect sweet spot for students, children and parent, and even Sales Team.

  9. Thanks for the great article. It has helped me in reviewing options for a mini netbook. I'm considering buying the HP Mini 1139NR from QVC for $469 (http://shrinkster.com/165h). My biggest concern is the size of the Hard Drive. It is 60 GB and it seems many of its competitors have 160 GB. Should I be concerned about this? We will use it mostly for Web surfing, e-mail and uploading pictures when traveling…possibly watching movies when traveling. It comes with a year of anti virus and software such as photo shop and Microsoft Works, which I thought was a big plus. What are your thoughts on this model?

  10. Thanks for the great article. It has helped me in reviewing options for a mini netbook. I'm considering buying the HP Mini 1139NR from QVC for $469 (http://shrinkster.com/165h). My biggest concern is the size of the Hard Drive. It is 60 GB and it seems many of its competitors have 160 GB. Should I be concerned about this? We will use it mostly for Web surfing, e-mail and uploading pictures when traveling…possibly watching movies when traveling. It comes with a year of anti virus and software such as photo shop and Microsoft Works, which I thought was a big plus. What are your thoughts on this model?

  11. Thanks for the great article. It has helped me in reviewing options for a mini netbook. I'm considering buying the HP Mini 1139NR from QVC for $469 (http://shrinkster.com/165h). My biggest concern is the size of the Hard Drive. It is 60 GB and it seems many of its competitors have 160 GB. Should I be concerned about this? We will use it mostly for Web surfing, e-mail and uploading pictures when traveling…possibly watching movies when traveling. It comes with a year of anti virus and software such as photo shop and Microsoft Works, which I thought was a big plus. What are your thoughts on this model?

  12. Hi Mary,That model must be specific to QVC (do you know if it is?). The processor and RAM allotments are pretty good. However, for that price, you should probably be getting something a bit better. A 3-cell battery is ok and the 60 GB HD is the bare minimum. It's pretty amazing how quickly the drive fills up.For web/email it should be fine. HP makes very nice netbooks, stylish and functional. The software that is included (Norton, Photoshop Elements & Microsoft Works) are pretty standard entry-level software.I would recommend, honestly, a larger hard drive. It will be slightly heavier and may suck up more power but for traveling that is important. Also, I don't know what type of resolution the webcam has. 1.3 megapixels? or .3.Just for comparison (and because I'm currently testing one), you might want to look at this Asus on Amazon:http://tinyurl.com/c5zmr9 . It has a much better battery, newer processor, larger harddrive, wireless b/g/n, bluetooth, etc. And it is cheaper than the one on QVC.Hope that helps.-HTD

  13. Hi Mary,That model must be specific to QVC (do you know if it is?). The processor and RAM allotments are pretty good. However, for that price, you should probably be getting something a bit better. A 3-cell battery is ok and the 60 GB HD is the bare minimum. It's pretty amazing how quickly the drive fills up.For web/email it should be fine. HP makes very nice netbooks, stylish and functional. The software that is included (Norton, Photoshop Elements & Microsoft Works) are pretty standard entry-level software.I would recommend, honestly, a larger hard drive. It will be slightly heavier and may suck up more power but for traveling that is important. Also, I don't know what type of resolution the webcam has. 1.3 megapixels? or .3.Just for comparison (and because I'm currently testing one), you might want to look at this Asus on Amazon:http://tinyurl.com/c5zmr9 . It has a much better battery, newer processor, larger harddrive, wireless b/g/n, bluetooth, etc. And it is cheaper than the one on QVC.Hope that helps.-HTD

  14. Hi Mary,

    That model must be specific to QVC (do you know if it is?). The processor and RAM allotments are pretty good. However, for that price, you should probably be getting something a bit better. A 3-cell battery is ok and the 60 GB HD is the bare minimum. It's pretty amazing how quickly the drive fills up.

    For web/email it should be fine. HP makes very nice netbooks, stylish and functional. The software that is included (Norton, Photoshop Elements & Microsoft Works) are pretty standard entry-level software.

    I would recommend, honestly, a larger hard drive. It will be slightly heavier and may suck up more power but for traveling that is important. Also, I don't know what type of resolution the webcam has. 1.3 megapixels? or .3.

    Just for comparison (and because I'm currently testing one), you might want to look at this Asus on Amazon:http://tinyurl.com/c5zmr9 . It has a much better battery, newer processor, larger harddrive, wireless b/g/n, bluetooth, etc. And it is cheaper than the one on QVC.

    Hope that helps.

    -HTD

  15. Thanks for all the good info. Now, I'm reading all the specs and comparing the info. I guess I was hung up on receiving the free software and antivirus with the QVC model, but, I guess the long battery life and larger hard drive outweigh those items. I'm not sure if the HP1139 is specific to QVC or not. Thanks again.

  16. Thanks for all the good info. Now, I'm reading all the specs and comparing the info. I guess I was hung up on receiving the free software and antivirus with the QVC model, but, I guess the long battery life and larger hard drive outweigh those items. I'm not sure if the HP1139 is specific to QVC or not. Thanks again.

  17. Thanks for all the good info. Now, I'm reading all the specs and comparing the info. I guess I was hung up on receiving the free software and antivirus with the QVC model, but, I guess the long battery life and larger hard drive outweigh those items. I'm not sure if the HP1139 is specific to QVC or not. Thanks again.

  18. Great list , I like netbook too, and just want to get one at Tradestead , you really give me a big help ,thanks very much!

  19. Great list , I like netbook too, and just want to get one at Tradestead , you really give me a big help ,thanks very much!

  20. Great list , I like netbook too, and just want to get one at Tradestead , you really give me a big help ,thanks very much!

  21. I stumbled upon your article while doing research and reviews on netbooks. Like you mention, these are great computers to have when we're all trying to save $$$ in this economy. I myself am a college student and needed a computer that was functionable yet cheap (and preferably lightweight so I can carry it to class). I have ordered the HP 1139 from QVC and will let you guys know how it works. Great article!

  22. I stumbled upon your article while doing research and reviews on netbooks. Like you mention, these are great computers to have when we're all trying to save $$$ in this economy. I myself am a college student and needed a computer that was functionable yet cheap (and preferably lightweight so I can carry it to class). I have ordered the HP 1139 from QVC and will let you guys know how it works. Great article!

  23. I stumbled upon your article while doing research and reviews on netbooks. Like you mention, these are great computers to have when we're all trying to save $$$ in this economy. I myself am a college student and needed a computer that was functionable yet cheap (and preferably lightweight so I can carry it to class). I have ordered the HP 1139 from QVC and will let you guys know how it works. Great article!

  24. Well , the view of the passage is totally correct ,your details is really reasonable and you guy give us valuable informative post, I totally agree the standpoint of upstairs. I often surfing on this forum when I m free and I find there are so much good information we can learn in this forum!
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Disclosure: This is a global disclosure for product review articles on HighTechDad. It does not apply to Automobile reviews and there are other exceptions. Therefore, it may or may not be applicable to this particular article. I may have a material connection because I may have received a sample of a product for consideration in preparing to review the product and write this or other content. I was/am not expected to return the item after my review period. All opinions within this and other articles are my own and are typically not subject to the editorial review from any 3rd party. Also, some of the links in the post above may be “affiliate” or “advertising” links. These may be automatically created or placed by me manually. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item (sometimes but not necessarily the product or service being reviewed), I will receive a small affiliate or advertising commission. More information can be found on my About page.

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Michael Sheehan (“HighTechDad”) is an avid technologist, writer, journalist, content marketer, blogger, tech influencer, social media pundit, loving husband and father of 3 beautiful girls living in the San Francisco Bay Area. This site covers technology, consumer electronics, Parent Tech, SmartHomes, cloud computing, gadgets, software, hardware, parenting “hacks,” and other tips & tricks.

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