— 10:23 AM on October 28, 2009

Morning, all. Today should be a fun one in Damage Labs. It's little laptop day! As a sort of follow-up to my Aspire One 751 vs. Gateway LT3103 review, I ordered a couple of the new 11.6" laptops from Acer and Gateway that are nearly the same size but pack in dual-core 45nm Intel processors, updated chipsets, and Windows 7 Home Premium x64. I'm amazed that such systems are selling for 400 bucks. Really didn't expect to see that so soon.

I wound up ordering the $549 models, however, since they have faster processors (Pentium dual-cores at 1.3GHz), 3GB of RAM, 320GB hard drives, and larger batteries. The Aspire One 1810T is the more expensive version of the Aspire 1410; it has Bluetooth and claims over eight hours of battery life. Although I expect the $399 models to be more broadly popular, I think it's worth paying the extra for the upgrades to CPU, RAM, drive capacity, and run time.

And wow, you're getting something like a MacBook Air equivalent in terms of screen res, weight, basic computing power, and battery life for 550 bucks. Who knew ultraportables would tumble to a quarter of their usual price range in a few, short years? Anyhow, should be fun to get those and begin playing with them.

I dunno if I've mentioned this outside of the podcast, but after the last 11.6" roundup, I ordered up a Samsung NC20 for myself. I didn't like the tradeoff between longer battery run times and decent performance forced by those first two 11.6" netbooks, and I needed a new system right away to deal with an onslaught of travel and writing in September. I also preferred the NC20's vastly superior keyboard and larger 12" display.

The jet-black U.S. version of the NC20 that I received has indeed been quite good. With a 15% larger battery than the foreign model we initially reviewed, my NC20 has stretched to six or more hours of battery life for me on a several of long days of travel. And the keyboard is my favorite on any laptop I could name, recent ThinkPads included.

Yet the imminent arrival of the new 11.6" systems mortally threatens the NC20, which may be subject to a tragic premature eBaying at the hands of these faster rivals. That's so in part because the NC20 has been unexpectedly slow for me from time to time in daily use. Even though its Nano processor benchmarks out as generally faster than an Atom in a "standard netbook," the Atom's Hyper-Threading (and perhaps its 945G chipset) makes for fewer slowdowns. Part of the problem is that, to wring truly long battery life out of the NC20, you have to put it into a power-saver mode that caps the CPU clock speed and aggravates any performance problems. Although Samsung's system design for the NC20 is excellent, there's no hiding the fact that the Nano CPU produces more heat than an Atom. The NC20 is thicker and heavier, runs hotter, and must work its (still very quiet) cooler harder to keep up.

I don't want to overstate things. The NC20 is an amazing laptop, and I'm not sure the screens and keyboards on these newer 11.6" system will be sufficiently decent to win me over entirely. The same could be said about the keyboards on any number of 12" and 13" CULV-based systems, really. The NC20's keyboard is a heckuva trump card. But I'm quite happy to be wooed by so many thin, light, cheap, and fast options, and I'm looking forward to seeing an 11.6" system ace every one of the tests in our mobile video playback matrix.

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