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Netbooks vs. Laptops

written by: •edited by: M.S. Smith•updated: 5/25/2011

Netbooks are the hot new item in the computer hardware market. What is the difference between a Netbook and a Laptop, and how would a shopper decide which one they might wish to purchase?

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    What is a Laptop?

    If you are reading this article, you are probably well acquainted with laptops. You may even be reading this on one right now. A laptop is basically a portable computer. It tends to have all the basic functionality of a desktop computer. The display and the keyboard may be a little smaller or more compact, but other than that, laptops generally approach the functionality of a desktop and can run the same applications.

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    What is a Netbook?

    fujitsu-siemens-mini-netbook-450 Netbooks are the hottest trend in the computer hardware industry right now. They are ultra portable, miniature laptops that have only the bare minimum functionality for getting online, using the Internet, running office productivity software, amongst other similar tasks. They typically do not have internal drives of any sort (CD, DVD, floppy, or otherwise) and depend on USB ports and Internet connectivity for obtaining data or installing programs. Their displays and keyboards are even smaller than laptops. The Netbook is about ultra portability and ultra convenience for your most basic computing needs.

    In 2008, over 14 million Netbooks were sold. They are the fastest growing segment of the computer hardware market. Their sales have been so robust, desktop and laptop manufacturers are starting to get nervous.

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    Why Should I Buy a Laptop?

    This section will be smaller than the similar section on Netbooks, because most people reading this article already have a full understanding of laptops and their various merits. A laptop provides desktop-type functionality in a portable package. Some are designed purely for work applications, while others are good for high end gaming or complete desktop replacement. Laptops have served in all of these roles quite respectably for many years. If there are any areas where laptops have fallen short, stagnation in battery life improvement and lack of extreme portability may be two of the biggest.

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    Why Should I Buy or Use a Netbook?

    If your portable computing needs boil down to web browsing, email, other Internet applications, or office productivity software, a Netbook can meet your needs more than adequately. They are very small, but the keyboard is given extreme priority for space. Every effort has been made in their general design to make typing as convenient and familiar as possible. The screens are significantly smaller than on laptops or desktops, but you have more than enough room to read web pages, emails, Word/Excel documents, etc.

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    What About Internet Connectivity?

    Netbooks come standard with built in land and wireless Ethernet, and usually have some or all of the following: bluetooth, Wi-Fi, built in 3G modem. This means you have a variety of Internet connectivity options right out of the box. Some Netbook sellers bundle netbooks with Wi-Fi/3G Internet connectivity plans. This can reduce the price even further, while providing almost global Internet connectivity for your Netbook (NOTE: the same limitations that apply to your mobile phone connectivity would apply when getting online via these Wi-Fi Plans. But you would still have wireless and corded Ethernet as backup options).

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    Netbook Docking

    Netbooks have USB and Ethernet ports, which means you can easily hook up to a network or even another laptop or desktop. The USB ports can be used for external peripherals (keyboard, mouse, etc.) and DVI ports can allow an external monitor. Ports are numerous even though internal devices (no optical drives) are usually non-existent.

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    Price

    Netbooks tend to hover around the $300 range. It is really hard to compete with that incredibly low price point if the Netbook meets your portable computing needs. You also do not need special luggage for a netbook, as they are so small they can fit easily in existing luggage, brief cases, or even a purse. The form factor is impressive in the extreme. As noted in the Internet connectivity section, some netbook makers are lowering the price even further by bundling mobile Wi-Fi plans.

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    Operating Systems

    ubuntu Netbooks originally tended to run a version of Linux called Ubuntu. This operating system performed very well, and when combined with Open Office (an open source software package similar to Microsoft Office), these Netbooks were of excellent quality.

    In the last quarter of 2008, Netbooks acquainted Windows XP and either Microsoft Works or Office became far more common. It was this development that really made the Netbook revolution take place. Many Linux fans hoped the popularity of Netbooks might help Linux in its constant battle for a place on the desktop. Latest sales figures put Windows at 80% of the Netbook market however, so it would seem unlikely netbooks will help Linux gain a foothold in the desktop marketplace.

    Microsoft has announced that while Vista will most likely not appear on Netbooks, their next version of Windows (Windows 7) has been designed with Netbooks in mind. This means Netbook owners will be able to run the latest version of Windows when version 7 is complete. This also seems to be a bad sign for those hoping the Netbook would be a harbinger of Linux desktop success.

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    Which One Should I Buy?

    This depends entirely on your needs. If you need a portable desktop replacement, or if you want to play high end games on the go, you need a laptop.

    If your main needs are portability, email, web surfing, watching movies, or office applications, a Netbook might fit your needs a lot better.

    One final piece of advice: try before you buy. Netbooks and Laptops do not have standard keyboard layouts. They both take shortcuts in different places as far as where to save room on the keyboard. Your typing style might be severely impacted by the way a keyboard is designed on one Netbook or another. Make sure you find one in a store and try it out before you buy. Even if you intend to buy your Netbook or laptop online, make sure you have tried the keyboard in person.