Nothing But ‘Net: laptops for the start of the school year

By Joseph Moran

September 02, 2008

Small and light, netbook PCs, which focus on mobile computing applications, are both affordable and ultraportable, making them the ideal solution for parents or students looking for a new laptop with a limited budget.

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As the new school year arrives and many students need a new computer, laptops are often at the top of the list, given space considerations and the need for portability.

Laptops have always been available in a fairly wide range of capacities, sizes, weights, and price tags, but this year marks the advent of a new class of laptops known as the “netbook”. », A basic laptop designed to be particularly light. , compact and inexpensive. These attributes can appeal to almost anyone, but they are especially so for a student on a tight budget who needs a computer to carry all day from class to class.

What are the characteristics of a netbook? There isn’t really an official definition, but netbooks generally have small footprints (typically no taller or wider than an 8½ by 11 inch sheet of paper) and are extremely light, tipping the scales. at only two to three pounds. It’s much smaller and half to one-third the weight of a full-size laptop. Small and light laptops aren’t a new concept – look at the MacBook Air or the Lenovo X300, for example – but what makes netbooks unique are their relatively low prices of $ 300 to $ 500, (although some netbooks can easily exceed the upper end of the range). depending on their configuration).

Small PCs

Before you can determine if a netbook makes sense to you (or the person you’re buying it for), it’s helpful to keep in mind some of the trade-offs it requires. To reduce size and weight and increase battery life, netbooks use components designed for low power consumption rather than high performance, so you won’t find things like processors. dual core or sophisticated graphics chips. This makes them unsuitable for things that require moderate to high computing power, especially games, but, that said, netbooks can be more than enough for the basic computing tasks that most people do most of the time. such as browsing the web, keeping in touch with email or instant messaging, working with documents, or basic media playback.

Given their small dimensions, netbooks come with small screens and relatively low resolution – 7-10 inches and often with a resolution of 1024 x 600 compared to 14 or 15 inches and 1280 x 800 for one. typical laptop. In addition to 512MB to 1GB of system RAM, many netbooks come with standard hard drives, although they are not spacious by laptop standards. Some netbooks use solid state drives (SSD) instead of hard drives for storage or offer them as an option because they are lighter and faster than hard drives and the absence of moving parts makes them more reliable and resistant to damage. shocks (if the device is abandoned, for example), but they are also more expensive and offer less capacity than hard drives.

When it comes to operating systems, many netbooks run versions of Linux because they are cheaper than Windows, and Linux tends to perform better on modest hardware. These devices come with the software needed to handle the basic computer tasks mentioned above, but if you are more comfortable with Windows or want to install Windows software, you can get some netbooks that come with XP instead. . (Netbooks currently don’t have the punch to run Vista well, although one of the products listed below, the HP Mini-Note 2133 offers it as an option.)

Lastly, many high-end netbooks can cost as much or even a little more than entry-level laptops, which is good if portability is your main concern (the difference between lugging around a netbook and a laptop of five at six pounds can be like night and day), but if you think you need more power and are willing to carry the extra weight, a conventional laptop may be a better choice.

But, in an age where computing revolves more and more around common tasks and ubiquitous Internet access via Wi-Fi (b / g support is a de-required netbook feature), netbooks can be a great option for anyone who doesn’t. You don’t need the capabilities or bulkiness of a regular laptop.

Over the past six months or so, the nascent netbook market has grown dramatically and new manufacturers and models are sprouting faster than weeds in empty land. The following list is therefore only a glimpse of some of the most outstanding models available today. (At least one major vendor, Dell, has yet to jump into the netbook fray, although a product announcement is expected overnight.)

Acer Aspire one, from $ 329

Available in four brilliant shades and with a generous 120 GB hard drive, the Acer Aspire is available in Linux and Windows XP versions.

Asus Eee PC, from $ 299

One of the first netbooks to hit the market, the Asus Eee PC now includes a diverse (one might even say baffling) collection of different models. The flagship 1000 model has 802.11n wireless and an extended capacity battery, but weighs just over 3 pounds and costs around $ 600. [Read our review here.]

Everex Cloudbook CE1200V / 1201V, $ 399 / $ 449

The Cloudbook’s 7-inch, 800 x 480 display is one of the smallest and lowest on the market, though at two pounds the unit is also one of the lightest. The CE1200V comes with Linux, while the 1201V gives you XP instead, plus more memory and hard drive space.

HP Mini-Note 2133, starting at $ 499

HP’s Mini-Note 2133 (pictured, right) is indeed pricey (the top-end model flirts with $ 800), but it has one of the highest-resolution displays (1280 x 768) found in a netbook and is the only one we know of that offers Windows Vista as an option.

Lenovo IdeaPad S10, from $ 429

While not yet shipping at the time of this writing, Lenovo is now taking orders for the S10. All models are equipped with Windows XP Home and sport a spacious 10.2-inch screen (for a netbook).

MPC TXTbook PC, from $ 499

Based on Intel’s Classmate PC, which was one of the first netbooks and one designed for developing countries, the TXTbook has a built-in handle and is aimed specifically at children in Kindergarten to Grade 6 (or more precisely, to their parents).

MSI Wind, $ 549

MSI offers half a dozen versions of its Wind netbook, mostly with cosmetic differences – it’s available in white, black, and pink – but they all include a 10-inch display, an 80GB hard drive, and XP.

Sylvania G Netbook, $ 399

It’s basically a rebadged version of the Cloudbook 1200V, but with 1GB of standard RAM instead of 512MB.

To learn more about netbooks, read “Opinion: Mini Mobile PC: Now Comes the Hard Part”, “Review: Asus Eee PC 4G Laptop”, “Eee, Atom, Aspire, Wind: It’s a Small (Notebook) World at Computex. “

To learn more about Wi-Fi and schools / students, read “Big WLAN on Campus”, “Schools Integrate Wi-Fi into Disaster Response Plans”, “Schools Wi-Fi from the future “.

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