Netbook Buying Guide
Originally coined by Intel, the unique nomenclature of netbooks often confuses the average computer user. Although the name distinctly connects the machine with wireless networking, the same is available in regular laptops as well. This brings us to the actual definition, a netbook is basically a mobile PC that is very handy, lightweight and comes at a rather economical price compared to laptops. Netbooks are basically weighing around 2.5-3 pounds, and are 60% of the size of a regular laptop. However, these machines do have their limitations, since there are only limited number of applications that can be run on them, like basic MS office editing, surfing the internet, etc. Want to do more, you would have to buy a full-fledged PC or a laptop. Let's now take a look at all the considerations needed while buying a netbook.
Processor : Since they come at such affordable prices, netbooks aren't having the most powerful processors if you compare them to regular PCs. The Intel Atom processor that is generally powering them can only do basic functions like the ones mentioned above. However, one can make the most of what is on offer by being a bit systematic and having a planned approach. One must never work on heavy applications like the latest PC games, photo-editing softwares, etc., since th netbook is likely to hang. Another option if you want to go for a faster netbook is AMD's Neo processor, which has shown significant promise since its launch.
Operating System : When it comes to operating systems on netbooks, Windows XP takes that cake, mainly due to its compatibility with the relatively slower processor. Some manufacturers also offer Linux OS, although their numbers are very few. This is mainly because linux is lighter than Windows XP, so to speak, and also takes down the price of the netbook. There were some attempts by manufacturers to inculcate more advanced operating systems like the Windows Vista into the netbooks, but they all fell flat due to weaker processors that are so characteristic of netbooks. Talking about the software, there is hardly anything that comes with the package, and users are required to download the same form the internet.
Display : Unlike earlier days, netbooks these days have at least a 10-inch screen, which is a pretty comfortable one to suit your eyes, with better enhanced models offering upto 12 inches of screen space. But the main point here is the screen coating, which basically means that the screen should be viewable indoors as well outdoors, with the main problem in the latter being the intense glare that is not at all comfortable for the eyes.
Another critical point is the native resolution. Although the latest models do not face any problems with the same, starting line models, that come with a default resolution of 1024X600 pixels are not apt for certain applications. Thus, it is extremely important to know your usage before buying a netbook.
Keyboard : Keyboards in netbooks are very ergonomic inspite of their tiny size. However, it is important that you should do some hands-on testing of the keyboard at the store before buying the netbook, since different manufacturers have different material used for the keys. Another point to consider is that netbooks having a larger screen usually have a bigger keyboard. Other considerations to note would be the location of the touchpad and other essential buttons that are likely to come in daily use.
Connectivity : Wireless connectivity is characteristic of netbooks, working on 802.11g wireless, which is quite a regular offering for routine jobs, while some select models offer compatibility with 802.11 n. There are some high-end models that also support 3G wireless broadband. However, it is best that your netbook supports external options for a broadband card, since a USB port is quite a regular thing.
Battery life : Due to their low-cost configuration, netbooks do not have the best of battery lives, with the maximum one being 2.5 hours on an average. The regular battery is a three-cell one, while one might also have a better six-cell one at an extra cost and weight.
Optical drives : There are no optical drives in netbooks, primarily owing to their compact size.
Screen resolution : Size is one thing, but even the resolution of the netbook's screen is equally important. The default setting is 1024X600 pixels, and though most softwares would be compatible with the same, a few might not be. Thus, it is essential to have a notebook that gives you the option to switch to a resolution that your desired softwares work best on.
Storage and installed memory : The general hard drive capacity of netbooks is in the 120-160 GB range. There are some models that offer close to 300GB storage, but that's about as far as netbooks can go in terms of storage space.
Talking about the installed memory (RAM), one can reasonably expect a 1 GB RAM, but anything more is beyond the scope of most netbooks, although a one-off model might give a higher configuration. Yet, as an industry standard, 1 GB is the general offering.
Usage : Another important consideration is that how would you be using your netbook. For instance, if you are a college student looking for just something that can carry and stay in touch with friends or maybe do some internet surfing, a basic configuration would be suitable for you. However, if you are a business user, it is important that you give more importance to the hard drive capacity, installed memory speed, and similar factors. And as you can see, the corporate version of netbooks, so to speak, come for a higher price.