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The Future of the Portable: The Netbook Computer

written by: Daniel Barros•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 6/9/2009

You've seen laptops, desktops and PDAs, but are you ready for the next natural evolution of the PC? The netbook is considered by many to be the next logical step - what you need to know about them, how much they cost and so much more inside. Your comprehensive guide is here.

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    In the Beginning, there was a Desktop...

    It's difficult to believe that computers have shrunk so much since the time that they would have to allocate an entire building to just one system. Nowadays, laptop PCs have taken things to the next natural level by giving users the ability to carry around their computers with them. Netbooks have finally upped the ante with computers that are so portable that if they got any smaller, they would be PDAs. The netbook is the ultimate culmination of a laptop-like package that has a fully featured desktop with a keyboard and (usually) a touchpad as a mouse.

    A netbook essentially looks like a laptop PC, but only with a smaller screen - usually anywhere from 7 to 8.9 inches. Not for the farsighted among us, the screens are small, but the features are not. Using all the latest miniaturization technology and the biggest advances in solid-state memory, the netbook weighs less, is more eco-friendly, and just all-around suits the more on-the-go lifestyle so many people seem to be living these days. Furthermore, the netbook doesn't skimp when it comes to software. Essentially a for-work-only computer with the occasional multimedia flair, the netbook is great for those who don't care about flashy games or HD video - it's about minimizing the need for larger devices when smaller ones will do.

    Running a copy of Windows 7 or Ubuntu Linux, thanks mostly to the solid-state hard drive and the expansion slots for memory cards, booting up takes no time at all, and running simple programs rivals the capacity of most commercially available laptops. With that sort of capacity and speed, it's no wonder that the netbook is projected to overtake the laptop in about two years. Currently, the netbook is outselling the iPhone and sold just about 11.5 million units in 2007 - analysts project that number to be over 100 million by the year 2011.

    The main sticking points for the netbook are twofold, price and portability:

    Price

    With the current market undergoing a devastating recession here in the US and with the global economy going through a slump, the price of netbooks is sure to make them more and more appealing for college students and people who buy laptops in mass quantities. Most netbooks don't break a pricepoint of $450, and that's on the high end. The average netbook costs about $300 and comes with all the features that a cheaper laptop would contain, for $200 less than the nice-but-cheap sort of laptop you'd find available in stores. Because all the technology is solid-state and eco-friendly, the computer is attractive to a newer generation of teens and college students more willing to embrace the current climate conditions and the recession.

    Portability

    As I previously mentioned, netbooks are extraordinarily light. Most netbooks don't weigh more than 2.5 lbs or 3 lbs - making them a perfect choice for those people who have to haul their computer long distances. Across a college campus or even during work commutes and in the office, dropping that extra pound or pound and a half can make an appreciable difference. The fact that the netbook is so light also doesn't interfere with its fully featured desktop. So long as the netbook has a touchpad, you can expect the same great things that you could from a notebook, just in a smaller package. Fundamentally, the netbook is as effective as it is because of the booming USB drive industry. Coupled with a cheap 16 or 32 GB USB flash drive, you have a formidable competitor for the laptop.

    As solid-state technology and ARM processors get better and better, we can expect more netbooks to find their ways into households everywhere. When people want a smaller, more affordable laptop with features that can't be beat - that laptop will inevitably become the netbook.

    Here are two netbooks to get you started on your way to netbook success - these are the two that I consider to be best when you factor in all the features and hardware:

    The MSI Wind U120 - Looks great, performs even better, and has a 160 Gb Hard Drive.

    Asus EeePC 1000HA - Not as great a look as the MSI, but the battery is amazing and the hard drive is the same size with extra online storage.