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Netbook Computers

If you pay attention to computer advertisements at all, you know that Netbook computers are now widely available. They are a relatively new product. The first I saw of them was about two years ago from one manufacturer, but now it seems everyone is building them. But what are they and what are they good for?

The name "Netbook" is a combination of the words Internet and Notebook, but these devices have other names too like "Mini Laptop" or "Mini Notebook". Whatever you call them, they are light-weight, small screened, energy sipping personal computers that are powerful enough to run office applications, send email, surf the web and watch movies on. Also when it comes to a computer purchase, Netbooks are about as inexpensive as you can get.

If you want an inexpensive computer to do homework on or to take when you travel so you can stay in touch, Netbooks are perfect. If you want a computer to sit on your desk and work on all day, they probably aren't the best choice because of the size and power.

If you are in the market for a Netbook, there are several options available that you should be familiar with:

Processor - Most Netbooks use the Intel Atom line of processors. The most widely available are the N270 (1.6GHz) and the N450 (1.66GHz). The N450 Processor just came out in 2010 while the N270 has been around a couple years. The newer N450 uses less power so your battery will last longer, but Netbooks with this processor will typically cost a few dollars more.

Screen - Netbook screen sizes vary from 8.9" to 12.1". The overall size of the computer is largely determined by the size of the screen. So while a smaller screen may be less comfortable to work with, it may make up for it in the convenience of a smaller computer. Some newer models also use an LED to illuminate the screen rather than the old CCFL screens. The LED uses less power to help your battery last longer.

Operating System - Older models will typically come with Windows XP home Edition installed while the latest models run the new Windows 7 Starter Edition. This is a light-weight version of Windows 7 designed to run fast and efficient on Netbooks.

Wireless - All Netbook come with built-in wireless network adapters. Most use wireless G, but a few models use wireless N. Both are much faster than the typical broadband internet connection so do not let your choice of models be based heavily on this. Wireless N may provide more stable connectivity in your home if you happen to have wireless problems already though.

Bluetooth - Most models do not include Bluetooth or may have it as an add-on option. This is a nice feature to have to connect a Bluetooth mouse or to tether your cell phone for internet access.

Hard Drive - Most Netbooks will have a hard drive capacity of 160GB or more. This is a tremendous amount of space for the typical Netbook user. If you intend to store lots of movies and music, you may want to consider a larger drive. Some manufacturers offer Solid State Drives. These are similar to a flash drive in that there are no moving parts. However they are more expensive and have smaller capacities than standard laptop hard drives.

Battery - Netbook batteries come in 4, 6 and 8 cells. The more cells, the more power. Battery life is also dependent on screen size and illumination as well as the processor you choose. Most Netbooks claim a battery life between 4 and 8 hours.

Memory - Most Netbooks come with 1GB of memory. Many are expandable to 2GB, but for the applications you will run on a Netbook, 1GB should be plenty.

Webcam - A webcam is available on many models now. It will probably be a standard feature on all eventually and is great to have on the road when you want to stay in touch with the folks at home.

Broadband - Some models are available with a cellular broadband card. This feature can add as much as $100, but provides access to the internet from just about anywhere if you open an account with a cellular provider.

There are many varieties of Netbooks available for about $225 to $450 depending on manufacturer and feature selection. I purchased a very nice 8.9" Acer Aspire One for $299 at Fry's. It has a 160GB hard drive, 1GB Memory, Atom N450 Processor, Web cam. 6 cell battery, 10.1" LED screen. I love having it with me because I can use my Sprint MiFi card and jump online anywhere. I chose to write this article on my desktop computer though because the keyboard is larger and more comfortable.

I hope the information here helps you decide if you need a Netbook and if so which options you may want.

Posted by Charles Swihart on 4/1/2010

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