So.. you’ve been wondering about taking the Netbook plunge. You’ve read the PC enthusiast sites, and compared to late 2007 there are now a large number of “netbook” offerings on the market. What’s an IT guy (or geek) to do?
As any good IT consultant, I need a good laptop to see customers and move between the office. I have a nice HP Compaq 6910p, it’s great, but it’s large and really a full desktop replacement. I’ve found that taking it around to customer locations is a bit of a pain. I’m one of those people who are constantly tossing laptops over my back and having them fall down my arms! Not to mention I would hate to really use it on the plane.
So, what exactly is a Netbook anyway? Well, according to many different sources it’s not quite a smart phone and it’s not supposed to be a full-blown laptop. The intent is for light-weight, “good enough” computing where end users can browse the web, check email and do mundane tasks that a smart phone is a little under powered for and a laptop is overkill. Generally speaking, a Netbook is a laptop that is less than 2.5lbs, and has a price point of below $400 US.
Now, I know some people will dispute this. That’s ok. If we think for a moment about ultra portable laptops, such as the Macbook Air, it’s easily under 2.5lbs, but the price is almost $2000US for a full featured machine. It’s not really pick up and go netbook material. A normal laptop of 500$ or more is pretty portable, and will be much better in performance, but will not have the tiny form factor or weight of a netbook. There’s pros and cons to this class of systems.
Portability, Portability, Portability!
Netbooks are firmly aimed at a couple of markets. Market #1 is people wanting a complimentary device to their smart phone, PC or laptop. It could be a 3rd or 4th computer in the home. Low-cost, well buitl and cheap for the kids to play with (and break!). The second market is people needing a PC system with good mobility requirements where a traditional laptop does not fit, i.e. college/university students, consultants, etc.
I myself fall firmly into market #2. I have a laptop (actually a couple), and a fast desktop, and a small server farm at home that has more computing power than I’ll need for the next couple of years. What was wrong with the laptops you might ask? Easy. Size and weight! My current set of laptops run in the 6-8lb range. They are full featured systems, with DVD drives, 15″ screens and the like.
One drawback is for a quick meeting you have to bring along this huge laptop case. You can’t easily take a 15″ laptop and carry it around naked without a case. I guess you could, but I would argue that they have not walked around downtown Toronto in winter. One drop, and there goes your work. Due to the size, they are difficult to fit into a purse of snall backback. It’s truly not a notebook!
The beauty of a netbook is they are small, light, have limited need for a case and fit very easily into small bags or purses. Just toss and go. Since there is no big huge case, you’re less of a walking target for someone to steal a machine from you, since, it’s very easily concealed. You can also craddle them in your hand, so no need for the over shoulder problems I seem to have.
Netbooks are not for everyone!
Ok, so I’ve described why you would want a netbook. Now, maybe a more important question is why you would NOT want one.
For starters, they are not designed for CPU intensive tasks. The performance is on par with my 3 year old Celeron M laptop. So, no SOCOM or Quake 4 on them. You’ll also have problems watching Bluray movies (unless we see a NVIDIA based Netbook soon).
Also, if you have requirements for lots of USB ports, a serial port, parallel ports, or Windows Vista, you are probably out of luck. Yes, they run Vista (I love Vista 64), but I would not torture myself with it on a standard Netbook with 512MB of RAM. 2GB maybe, but it’s a stretch. Forget running VMware Workstation or 64-bit software on them too.
If you run at the thought of creating documents or playing PowerPoint presentations, or if you don’t like Linux, then, chances are, they are not good for you.
And finally, if you only own one computer, and the Netbook is going to be it. Don’t do it. The netbooks are considered “Throw-away” devices, like a toaster or old DVD player. They are sometihng with limited 2 year lifespans. If you plan on keeping your computer more than 2 years, spend the extra money and buy a faster laptop or a full pledged PC. Save yourself the hassle down the road. Saving $200 today to have to spend 800$ in a year is just a bad investment.
My HP Mini 1000
I picked up my HP Mini 1035NR back in early December. The price was quite good and I had been waiting for HP to release the Mini in Canada for a few weeks. I ordered mine the day they became available. About 2 days later, my Mini showed up.
It was a life saver on my last couple of trips. Instead of having to bring along my large work laptop (through hectic airports and other travelling trivia) the netbook came long easily and fit inside one of my carry on bags nicely. So far from a usuability point of view, it’s been great!
Now, at this point, I’m not going to publish any benchmarks on the performance. You can find those around the web very easily (Google is your friend!). Generally, I can say the performance with 1GB is about what I expect. It’s not going to set any records, but it’s not impatiently slow either. I do NOT recommend using FireFox! It’s very slow to load for some reason. IE and Google Chrome are fast and work just fine.
My first impressions of the packaging and quality of the product is that I was impressed with the size and build quality. I like glossy screens, so if they are not your cup of tea, forget it. And yes, it is a smudge monster. I solved that by keeping the plastic shipping lining on the “HP Swirl” side of the netbook. I have one of the original 10.2″ models and the screen clarity for a little screen is excellent. This is coming from someone who is used to a 1900×1200 24″ display.
Overall I found very little to be disappointed with. I have a couple of concerns however.
First, there is no VGA out on the unit. You need a UDI->VGA adapter. HP sells them for 25$ CDN. I have a hunch I know why this is the case. If you give all the functionality of VGA to a netbook, you’ll erode your laptop sales. (It’s my theory and I’m going with it even with holes!). The main gist is if you give 6 USB ports, VGA and a tonne of options, customers will choose the 400$ machine over the 700$ one since they cannot percieve any difference. Remember, today’s buyer has no clue all MHz are not created equal. So, without a lack of connectivity, there’s little to distinguish the unit from it’s bigger siblings. Arbitrarily restricting one key business feature means most purchases will go for the bigger laptop so there’s no need for a dongle.
The second issue I have is relating to battery life. Mine stinks! Just surfing the web with WiFi and disabling Bluetooth I only get 90 minutes out of it. I’ve heard others get 2.5-3 hours. Am I doing something wrong? My CPU sits at 0% all the time. So, I’m not sure what is up with that. Me and laptop batteries are not friends, but, I expect at least 2 hours out of a 3-cell battery. Again, here comes the product segmentation. Bigger more potent batteries would cut into the bigger siblings, so, these must be smaller. I’m not disagreeing with this idea, it just limits some of the usefulness of the product.
Lastly, please offer a 3G service in Canada! Verizon and AT&T are available in the US with the built in Sierra Wireless card (that’s optional). I would love that card in my system. I could then get my email anywhere over one of Rogers slick 6GB data plans. Yes, there is the USB 3G Rocket from Rogers, but.. don’t get me started on why I think USB devices suck.. and suck hard! Especially on such little hardware!
So, there you have it. No, I did not disable the guts of my Mini, nor did I put it through exhaustive tests. Why? There are far more richer people to do that.
So, if you are a busy IT guy, who needs a “standard” vendor netbook, the HP Mini is a great way to go. Other comparable devices are the ASUS EEE PC 1000H and the MSI Wind. Those devices offer similar features, but they don’t carry the HP build quality.
Does anyone have their Netbook stories to share?