Pin Me

The Coming of 12" Netbooks: Performance & Price Reach a Compromise

written by: M.S. Smith•edited by: M.S. Smith•updated: 7/5/2011

So it's finally happening. New netbooks are becoming available with 12" screens and prices around $500 to $600. The performance of these new options is such that some will argue them as ultra-portables, but whatever they're called, they are undoubtedly great value.

  • slide 1 of 5

    Growing Up

    It has been less than two years since the original ASUS Eee PC, a tiny device with a diminutive 7 inch display, brought a revolution to the notebook market. The ASUS Eee PC was the final step towards making mobile computers affordable to the masses, and the masses responded by buying hundreds of thousands of the devices. Suddenly, every PC manufacturer on the face of the earth was climbing on the band-wagon with their own products. Some were good, and some weren't, but overall the introduction of the netbook provided a combination of features and price that had previously been unheard of.

    But netbooks are growing up. While the ASUS Eee PC was a revolutionary concept, it appears that the original product was too extreme to last. Rumor has it that the old 7 inch Eee PC designs are not long for this world, but it is already obvious that the forward focus of the netbook revolution is on more practical 10" and even 12" machines. There are only a few 12" netbooks available today, but they have so far been outstanding products.

  • slide 2 of 5

    Samsung NC20

    The Samsung NC20 uses the Via Nano processor Samsung isn't known for making computers. Perhaps that is why Samsung has taken a novel approach with their new 12" netbook, called simply the NC20. From the outside, the Samsung NC20 looks like most netbooks, featuring a thin but attractive chassis and all of the standard netbook features. The display is 1280x800, the battery life is claimed to be six hours, and the finished product weighs about 3 pounds - and like most netbooks, it is available in either white or black. Standard stuff, right?

    But there is one thing that makes the Samsung NC20 unique, and that is its processor. While most netbooks use the Atom processor to achieve maximum battery life, the Samsung NC20 has the heart of a Via Nano. It is the first product using Via's Nano processor to come to North America, and the results are promising. The Samsung is generally quicker than an Eee PC, although it is still well behind the performance a more traditional notebook can claim. On the downside, the NC20 also uses VIA's integrated graphics called Chrome, and its performance does not seem to be much better than the integrated graphics Intel uses with the Atom. Still, the Samsung NC20 packs in a nearly full-size keyboard, Bluetooth, and a webcam. Considering that the Samsung NC20 retails for only $549, its feature set is extremely attractive.

    On a slightly smaller budget, then take a look at the fabulous Samsung NC10 which rivals the leader of the pack (MS Wind).

  • slide 3 of 5
    Netbook or Ultraportable? The Top 12" Netbooks - HP dv2 & Dell Mini 12 ReviewsNetbooks seem to be growing larger and larger, but for good reason. The best 12" netbooks combine portability, price, and practicality into an amazing package. The Samsung NC20, for example, is as good as the best 8 and 10 inch netbooks. But the Samsung NC20 provides even better performance, thanks to its Via Nano processor. The HP dv2 takes the netbook even further, providing the best performance of any netbook today.
  • slide 4 of 5

    HP Pavilion dv2

    The Pavilion dv2 has great performance, but battery life and price suffer The dilution of the netbook category into a more general class of ultra-portables has been long in coming, and the HP Pavilion dv2 is case in point. The dv2 certainly looks like a netbook. The 12" screen results in a small, thin frame, and the solid-but-thrifty build quality which accompanies most netbooks applies. Picking up the dv2 reveals no further points against its netbook pedigree, as the dv2 weighs a little under four pounds. The 1280x800 resolution screen is what one would expect, as well.

    However, the HP Pavilion dv2 is packing a lot more power than the average netbook. Its processor is the Athlon Neo, a modification of the classic Athlon 64 built specifically for the use of HP. It is a single core processor running at only 1.6Ghz, which hardly seems exciting. However, the Atom and the Nano are both very slow processors even when measured on a clock-for-clock basis. This means that while the Neo's clock speed of 1.6Ghz looks only slightly faster than the typical Atom netbook on paper, it is nearly twice as fast during actual use.

    The HP Pavilion dv2 is loaded with features, as well. A 92% keyboard, Bluetooth, Radeon 3000 series graphics, and a 320GB Western Digital hard drive are all standard features. This is a powerful computer by any measure, and the $749.99 price tag reflects the increase in performance. Unfortunately, battery life suffers, as the dv2's battery life is generally half that of the Samsung NC20.

    Looking for an alternative and Top HP Notebook? Dan Barros reviews the 3 top models.

  • slide 5 of 5

    Dell Mini 12

    The Dell Mini 12 is back to basics While the Samsung NC20 and the HP Pavilion dv2 are both interesting, they are also controversial because they seem to betray the core tenants of netbooks. A quick browse through any Best Buy ad makes it clear that the Samsung's $549 price tag is not outlandishly low for any notebook computer today, and the dv2's even higher price makes it only a couple hundred less than an ultra-portable like the Lenovo X200. This price is likely due to the peppering of features which, while appealing, have nothing to do with the core mission of netbook - low weight, low price, and great battery life.

    Enter the Dell Mini 12. Unlike the NC20 or the dv2, the Dell Mini 12 has few interesting features. It is a 12" netbook and so it has a 1280x800 screen, the processors available are all Atoms, the graphics are provided by Intel, the hard drives aren't large and only 1GB of RAM is available. The base model doesn't even have windows - it ships instead with Ubuntu. This back-to-basics approach isn't as exciting as what is offered by Samsung and HP, but the Dell's base price is a mere $399. And while the Dell's performance may not be great, its battery life should be over six hours.

    For those who want a basic netbook, but would prefer the 12" screen and the larger chassis and keyboard which accompanies it, the Dell Mini seems an obvious choice (at least until ASUS launches its planned 12" Eee PC.) By resisting the urge to try to out-do competitors on features and performance, the Dell Mini stays true to what netbooks originally were. For some, this may be a problem. For others, it will be a breath of fresh air.

    For a closer look at the Dell Mini 12 read Tolga Balci's Review