Are Netbooks Worth the Investment? & are Asus Laptops Good Enough to Overcome the Brand's Relative Obscurity?

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Recognition vs Reputation

Just about everyone, computer savvy or not, has heard of Dell. HP is a corporate giant and household name, and the international viewership of Formula 1 racing has seen Acer and (until 2005) HP logos on Ferraris and Willams zipping by. Perhaps more importantly, we saw shots from the pits of Acer and HP laptops being plugged in to these cars by athletic, fire suited technicians. And maybe we dreamt a little of how cool it would be to play a notebook into a race care, instead of using it to do our taxes. And if you are going to get a laptop anyways, you may as well get one like theirs, just in case.

The average computing user lived in relative ignorance of Asus until their Eee PCs carried the flag for the netbook revolution, but is still unfamiliar with Asus’s bulletproof reputation among computer hardware enthusiasts. Sure, Asus has the Lamborghini marketing effort, but cross-branding with Lamborghini as opposed to the Acer-Ferrari relationship is its own analogy.

You don’t have to know a lot about cars to know a Ferrari is a big deal, or even recognize the Prancing Horse. It takes a bit more background to know what a Lamborghini is, or recognize the Charging Bull. Saying you have a Lamborghini won’t excite as many people as saying you have a Ferrari, but the people who are interested are likely to be even more impressed because of the Lambo’s rarity, and to know cars a little better.

People who know computer hardware, similarly, are more inclined to prefer a highly reputable brand to a highly recognizable one. And while the debate between who makes the better supercar rages on, you won’t find a lot of PC hardware nuts that would pick any of the laptop big three over an Asus notebook.

Is that Enough?

Not on its own: if a superb reputation among the cognoscenti was enough to catapult Asus ahead in laptop sales, they would be there already. So why is Asus Chairman Jonny Shih talking, at repeated intervals, about becoming top-four or even top-three in annual notebook sales?

It is likely tied to the Eee PC’s popularity. This netbook’s success caught almost everyone by surprise. Even Intel scrambled to meet the demand for Atom CPU’s as the Eee PC essentially created a new market segment, revealing a massive and hitherto untapped consumer demand.

It introduced Asus to a whole new, and much larger, group of computer buyers. It also redefined what Asus could do for its long time fans. The Eee PC showed that Asus could apply the innovation they bring to hardware components (where they are often first to market with features that improve usability), with readymade computers.

More Will Be Needed

While Asus has its loyal legions from the desktop parts market and got its name out there in a big way with the Eee PC, they still aren’t a huge laptop player. In fact, in December, Acer pulled ahead in the netbook market that Asus had largely created. Becoming a household name is going to take some serious marketing.

Asus might do well to find some coat-tails to glom onto. Intel spends a good deal of cash hyping its CPUs and the Centrino 2 platform. Some Intel logos go a long way towards easing the fears of a person whose shopping research is limited to TV commercials.

The other thing standing between Asus and laptop big three status is that people and business are hanging on to laptops a little longer due to economic problems. Even if Asus got George Clooney to do a Super Bowl commercial, not that many people are shopping for a new laptop right now.

Where the PC Meets the Road

Another facet of Asus, and other part-makers, bid for big laptop sales is whether they are coming to the party with also-ran, or industry leading, products. Essentially: are Asus laptops good? Generally: yes, very. We look at some good Asus laptops in this article and come up with recommendations for different price points. On the fashion front, the soon to arrive in North America Bamboo notebooks will be an interesting and more powerful alternative to the MacBook Air.

We’ll be looking at other lesser-known component manufactures making good laptops in coming articles.