Netbooks, often also called mini notebooks, are among the smallest, lightest, and most inexpensive laptop computers. In exchange for a long battery life and high portability, netbooks use low-powered processors and lack optical (CD or DVD) drives.
In late 1997, when ASUS came out with the 7" Asus Eee PC, considered to be the first netbook, many people were skeptical about the need or demand for a miniature computer that was very underpowered and basically good only for surfing the Web. Today, of course, netbooks are one of the most significant segments of the laptop market.
Typical netbook hardware and software specs are as follows:
- Screen Size: 10.1" (range is 7" to 12")
- Screen Resolution: 1024 x 600
- Hard Drive Storage: 160 to 250GB
- Video Graphics Cards: integrated
- Memory: 1GB of RAM, upgradeable to 2GB
- Weight: under 3 pounds with battery
- Battery Life: up to 11 hours (most are around 6 hours)
- Operating System: Linux, Windows XP, or Windows 7 Starter
- Cost: under $500
You can also customize certain netbook models to improve the display, video performance, and other features. These customizable netbooks are typically offered in the business department and include options such as:
- Higher resolution displays: A greater (1366 x 768) resolution means you can see more on screen, which makes Web browsing easier. However, icon and text sizes will be smaller and may not be comfortable for you -- make sure you test one out before buying. Some netbooks also offer HD displays.
- Touchscreens: Touchscreens make clicking on shortcuts and navigating much easier, and support for touchscreens on Windows 7 is fantastic. Some netbooks, like the HP Mini 5102 have multitouch screens that don't rotate, which others, such as the Lenovo IdeaPad S10-3t are truly convertible tablet netbook PCs.
- Hard Drives: Solid state drives (SSD) offer better stability and performance than typical hard drives; netbooks may offer them in sizes of 8GB or more.
- Operating System: Higher-end netbooks designed for business have Windows 7 Home Premium installed rather than the less-customizable Starter edition.
- Mobile Broadband: You may be able to purchase a netbook with a mobile broadband card installed so you can go online wirelessly over high-speed networks from AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, or other wireless carriers. The mobile broadband service is an extra charge from these providers; some of them, however, even offer free netbooks or significantly discounted netbooks in exchange for 2-year data service agreements.
- Cost: Upgrading all the netbook components for higher specs would increase the price of the netbook by a couple hundred dollars, putting it in line with more powerful and feature-rich laptops in the ultraportable laptop category.
Because netbooks are smaller and even more portable than ultraportable laptop PCs, however, the extra cost for a high-end netbook may be worth it for you, especially if you are a frequent business traveler or road warrior.