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Richard A. Millard (Office Manager)

What is a Netbook?

Written on July 16, 2010 by

 A customer called today, who had heard the term 'netbook' but didn't know what one was.  This seemed like a good chance to write a little primer about what a netbook is, and also what it isn't. 

The term 'netbook' is relatively recent, and used to describe a subclass of notebooks.  They're designed to be small, inexpensive and efficient, perfect for general web use, but not for heavy lifting.  There are several factors that make netbooks appealing--light weight, compact size, long battery life, low prices. These are good features, and the primary reasons I like my own netbook.  However, its utility is limited in scope.

The machine itself is fantastically lightweight; most of weight comes from the (relatively small) battery pack. Combined with the small physical size, this makes it very easy to just pick up and go. Battery life is easily 6 hours on a charge, maybe even longer depending on how you use it. 

I find it incredibly convenient for certain things. Maybe you're sitting on the couch watching a movie and want to look up some trivia, or figure out where you've seen that actor before. Stuck in a game and need to look up a FAQ? You've got a good quick way to satisfy that need. It fits the bill for e-mail, light web browsing, chat and music, and even offers some capacity for video playback.  It's nearly the perfect device for getting some work done on the road.

But a netbook's not a machine for full time, day-to-day use. Even on a model with a large and comfortable (by netbook standards) keyboard, typing for extended periods can be awkward and tiresome. On the more compact models it's a struggle at the best of times. With touchpad-click enabled it's all too easy to send the cursor to some random location on screen. The low screen resolution leads to a lot of scrolling on webpages, and the low power hardware that makes battery life so great limits performance. Anything beyond the most casual of gaming is out, and while YouTube works fine, the more intensive player on Hulu stutters.

To put the performance question into perspective, Daniel (our support lead), points out that the ATOM processor used in most of these netbooks has less processing power than an Intel Pentium M chip, which is a notebook processor that's about 3 generations old. 

Netbook Strengths Netbook Weaknesses
Lightweight & Compact Size Small Keyboard, Ergonomically unfriendly.
Long Battery Life Difficult to service, if a given part fails.
Inexpensive Low Performance
Great uses: Email, Web Browsing, YouTube, Word Processing, Listening to Music Unable to run: Hulu, Video Games, CPU intensive applications like Video Editing, Photoshop, etc.

I don't mean to scare away anyone who's considering purchasing a netbook. I think they're great little machines.  This post was even written on one!  There's a lot of great models out there, and they can make the perfect inexpensive compliment to a household or business that already has a powerful desktop.  But before you purchase, make sure you're aware of the limitations and put a comfortable keyboard high on your list of priorities!

Jerry Littlefield

I agree 100% with Mr. Millard. I've owned a netbook now for 2 years and use it primarily for genealogy research field trips. Using its 3 USB ports, I've also been able to run externals like a CD-ROM drive and scanner off the netbook battery without any power bricks or need for an outlet. Look for websites devoted to specific makes and models with forum user tips and white papers on options for maximizing their strengths and minimizing their weaknesses. I use the big desktop at home and thank Puget Systems for its performance! ;-)

Posted on 2010-07-17 03:40:19
Bob B

What about the new Atom chips D525 and D425, which support DDR3 memory? Can they support Hulu, Second Life and basic video editing?

Are you planning to update your Echo series with either of these new chips plus DDR3 memory?

Posted on 2010-07-17 19:31:05

I'm not sure about the new Atom chips as I haven't been able to test one yet. I'm not sure they're even available right now.

The new Atom chips would support the applications you mentioned, as would the Echo series we currently carry. That said, it's definitely not going to be as smooth an experience as with a normal desktop machine. For applications like Second Life, you're going to be better off with an older-generation Atom processor paired with the nVidia ION chipset. Intel's integrated video still has a long way to go if they want to compete with nVidia's graphics chipsets.

The Echo systems we sell have nVidia graphics which result in better system performance for most, if not all of your intended applications when compared to a system using Intel's integrated graphics.

Posted on 2010-07-19 20:39:55

etbooks are raelly compact notebooks, that are optimised for low-resource tasks like web browsing, email and word processing.

Posted on 2010-08-03 15:05:42

Netbooks are great as a business tool for those on the move but shouldn't be mistaken for Laptops, they lack the advantages of a laptop (missing DVD Rom etc) but make up for it in mobility. If your looking for something light and easy for business use but dont want to fork out for an ipad (NO USB PORTS!) then a netbook is just the tool.

Posted on 2010-08-04 08:50:05

I think netbook only for mobility and connectivity purpose.

Posted on 2010-12-01 07:37:20

à(1)ŒPlanning to buy netbook the experience is not easy to decide to choose a name to match the demand.

Posted on 2011-06-23 08:00:16