Author: Kenneth Elliott
Netbooks are the new wave in mobile computing. First-time buyers are likely to be attracted to these small laptops because of their attractive price tags, while power users appreciate them because they are lighter than regular notebooks but still have full keyboards. Because netbooks are fairly popular, a great many new models have been released in the past few years, making it more difficult to decide which one is right for you. On top of that, traditional laptops are still an option that shouldn’t be ignored. If you’re after a multimedia experience, for example, a 17 inch laptop is going to provide a hands-down better picture than a netbook with a 7 inch screen.
Probably the most important factor you’ll be considering when looking for netbook or laptop will be price. On the low end of the spectrum, you can find several models with modest memory, disk space, and power for around $300. More pricey sub notebooks can cost as much if not more than a full-sized laptop, but provide more power without sacrificing portability. The price you need to spend on your netbook will depend on your needs. Web surfing, word-processing, and other simple tasks can be performed admirably by the less expensive machines, but for more hard-core gaming, running windows vista, and giving business presentations you will want a higher-end model. These distinctions aren’t always as simple as price, however, because some of the more expensive netbooks don’t offer enough added value to justify their inflated prices. To get a good deal, you need to look at the whole package including size, weight, disk storage, onboard RAM, battery life, and extra features.
If you’re buying your sub-notebook online, it can be difficult to judge what size computer will arrive once you order. Keep in mind that a seven inch model likely has a seven inch screen, but may be more like 10 inches long. These models can easily fit into a small messenger bag or a handbag, while larger models approach the size of a full sized laptop and will not. Netbooks generally weigh very little, which makes carrying them around easy, but if you want an ultra-light model you should compare the different weights. Keep in mind that, if you later buy a larger battery or other accessories, the weight of your computer will increase. Machines with more features will likely be heavier, so you will need to consider this before making a purchase.
To be sure of what you are buying, you will want begin your search with a little bit of technical knowledge. First, you are faced with a choice of operating systems. The most popular system today is Microsoft Windows, which you are probably using to read this article. Most netbooks can only run Windows XP, so if you are looking to use the new Vista operating system you will have a tougher time finding options, especially on the low end. Keep in mind that Windows costs money, even when it is bundled with your new computer, meaning that windows computers will cost about $40 more. The popular alternatives to Windows are various distributions of the free and user-friendly Linux operating system. Linux comes pre-installed on many netbooks as an option, costs nothing, and allows you to surf the web and do everyday work in the same way that Windows does. Most Linux software is free and the system tends to run faster on most hardware. This is why, among other reasons, major corporations tend to use Linux to run websites and other large-scale projects. The main disadvantage is that, while it is possible to run Windows software in Linux, popular games will probably not work very well if they work at all. Netbooks tend not to be ideal gaming platforms in general, however, so Linux has found a good niche in this market.
One thing that may be mystifying to new buyers is the variety of disk storage options that are available. Many netbooks use traditional hard drives (abbreviated HD), which offer greater storage capacity at reduced cost. If you need more than 10 gigabytes (gb) of space to store your everyday files, a hard drive will probably be the way to go. Unfortunately, hard drives tend to weigh a bit more and, because they have moving parts, can break more easily when dropped or bumped around. The lighter alternative is internal flash memory, referred to as a “solid-state drive” or SSD. SSDs tend to be between 4 and 8 gigabytes, with higher capacities costing significantly more. Four gigabytes tends to be enough for most users, even though conventional desktop computers offer more storage. You will reach the limit very quickly, however, if you want to store a lot of music and video content.The advantages of this SSD technology include somewhat increased access speed, and the reliability that comes with having no mechanical parts to break. Flash drives are limited by the number of read-write cycles the can undergo. After a few years of regular use, these drives will slow down and eventually fail predictably. Hard drives, on the other hand, can last for years or fail within the first month.
RAM, or random access memory, is used to store information in the computer about running programs. Running out of RAM can cause your computer to run at decreased performance. Very cheap netbooks can have as little as 64mb (megabytes) of memory, which is too small to run almost any useful kind of program. Most, however, offer something between 512mb and 1 gigabyte of RAM. Again, what you will need depends on what you plan to use your netbook for. For most tasks, 512mb is more than enough (you might even get by on 256mb), but if you tend to run a lot of programs at the same time, you should think about getting more memory. Most models will allow you to add memory later if you need it, which can extend the useful life of your computer.
Battery life is a sometimes forgotten, but very important consideration. Chances are, you will be carrying your netbook around with you and won’t have opportunities to charge it throughout the day. Battery capacity is measured in milliamperes per hour (MaH), but it is much easier to simply search for reviews of your product and find an estimate of battery life in hours. You can almost always buy a larger battery later on if you need one, but it is still good to check. Two hours is the absolute bare minimum time a battery should provide, but more is an added bonus. If you’re not ready to spring for an expensive battery, you can also increase the runtime by turning down the volume and screen brightness once you get your new computer.
Most netbooks offer extra features of one type or another. Asus, for example, sells models of their EEE PC computers with and without webcams. If you need a webcam from Asus, be prepared to pay a little bit more. Other special features include the ability to flip the screen and use the netbook as a tablet, and included bluetooth or extra-fast wireless cards. If these terms don’t mean anything to you, don’t worry because you probably don’t need these features. Sometimes it is possible to add more to your laptop later for a little extra cost as well.
If you’ve used these criteria to narrow down your netbook choices, your final task is to read a few reviews and make sure everything works well with your desired model before you buy it. There is nothing more disappointing than paying for something that is far below your expectations, so shop wisely. In today’s tech market, you can never be too careful with your money.
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