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The Best Budget Models
Looking for a cheap netbook can feel a little bit like shopping for cheap bagged wine. It is sometimes hard to not feel as if you're cheaping out, that you might do better if you spent just a little bit more.
Don't feel bad. Cheap netbooks are actually amazing little systems. They tend to have slightly shorter battery life than the most expensive netbooks, and sometimes they have lower-quality webcams or lack Bluetooth, but their performance is virtually identical. If you just need the basic functionality of a netbook, a cheap netbook is absolutely your best bet.
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The Samsung NC10 was one of the first truly great netbooks. Other models have since debuted with new features, more attractive designs, and slightly faster processors. However, the NC10 nailed the basics, and as a result it has held up very well over time.
What are the basics? The keyboard is one example. The NC10's keyboard has always been among the best. It offers good feedback and well defined keys, making it easy to use even when the keys are not completely visible. The NC10's screen is also great. It isn't as vibrant as some models, but it is a non-gloss screen, which makes it easier to use in certain lighting situations. The NC10 also has great battery life, lasting around seven hours, and good performance. Even it looks attractive, although the glossy lid is a fingerprint magnet.
When the NC10 first came out it was considered a premium netbook and so was priced at over $400 dollars. It is now possible to buy the NC10 new for under $300. If you want a cheap netbook and you're picky about keyboards, you won't find a better deal.
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ASUS Eee PC 1005HA-EU
The ASUS Eee PC is a classic. It was the first netbook to prove the concept, and the latest models continue to do well. The 1005HA, the most mainstream variant of the current Eee PCs, is extremely competitive with other netbooks. And it is also offered in a number of trim levels, including the budget-minded 1005HA-EU.
The basics of the 1005HA-EU are the same as the more expensive models, which means they're great. The keyboard is a joy to use, as it is one of the larger 10 inch netbook keyboards and also one of the most well laid out. The screen is also great, and is one of the best available on any netbook.
So what aren't you getting with the 1005HA-EU? Well, the processor is the 1.6Ghz Atom, very slightly slower than the 1.66Ghz available on the more expensive models. Bluetooth is not available, and the webcam is only 0.3 megapixels. The biggest difference, however, is the battery. It is smaller on most 1005HA models and only offers about four and a half hours of life. Still, that's not bad, and the price of around $280 will make you feel better about it.
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MSI Wind U-100 (and other U-1xx models)
Ah, the MSI Wind. The Wind has never garnered as much attention as products from ASUS and Samsung, but it is nevertheless a very respectable netbook. While the keyboard, screen, trackpad, and other areas are not quite as good as the very best netbooks available, the MSI Wind U-100 doesn't ask you to sacrifice much and it is very well rounded. It has no particular strong point, but no real weak point either.
That may sound bland, but if you're looking for a cheap netbook based on its functionality it isn't a bad thing. It means there you're unlikely to find yourself disappointed by the functionality of the MSI Wind U-100. And the price, of course, is extremely reasonable. The MSI Wind U-100 can usually be found with a 3-cell battery for about $280 or a 6-cell for around $300. A word to the wise, however - the MSI Wind U-100 seems to be put on sale particularly often. If you hold out you might find one in the mid-$200 price range, which makes it an incredible deal.