TR’s back-to-school netbook guide

The netbook is a modern curiosity, a new class of notebook barely a year old and still going through its growing pains as manufacturers try to balance their designs properly. A netbook is characterized by low-end, power-efficient hardware, an exceptionally small and light chassis with a screen size topping out at around ten inches, and just enough horsepower for word processing and Internet usage. By paring down features and performance, manufacturers have been able to produce these small computers cheaply, pricing them well below their ultraportable forebears like Sony’s T series. In fact, netbooks often cost less than full-sized “budget” notebooks. It’s this blend of form, function, and value that has made netbooks so popular.

The functionality and practicality of modern netbooks like Asus’ seminal and ultimately class-defining Eee PC makes them attractive options in this back-to-school season. As a college student at UC San Diego, I’ve seen students carrying around notebooks of all sizes, including one person struggling to fit a massive Alienware notebook onto a tiny lecture hall desk. Students need computers for school, of course, and a portable machine that can be brought to class is extremely useful. But students also don’t tend to have a lot of money, and as a result, they often settle for seven- or eight-pound laptops. With the advent of the netbook, however, a student’s load can easily and cheaply be lightened. Using an inexpensive netbook for class and a more powerful desktop at home—even a small-form-factor machine in a dorm room—suddenly becomes both a practical and viable option, especially when you consider that many netbooks manage at least three hours of battery life, which is exactly the length of a single, long lecture.

Of course, the runaway success of the Eee PC has led to a flood of new models from players both large and small. Here, big boys like HP, Dell, and Lenovo pit their wares against smaller players like Everex, MSI, and Gigabyte. The number of netbook flavors available is simply staggering, and although the underlying hardware of many of these units is similar, key differences distinguish each one from its peers. We’ve summed up those differences in a comprehensive guide to the netbook market, complete with our recommendations based on hands-on experience with the models you can buy today.

The common netbook platform

Early entries into the netbook market had to make do with underclocked Celeron M processors and the occasional Via C7-M, with the vast majority of manufacturers biding their time until Intel released its Atom processor. The Atom was designed to offer the bare minimum of performance in a small, power-efficient package that’s cheap to produce. The result, at least so far, is the Atom N270, a 1.6GHz chip with a maximum TDP (thermal design power) of just 2.5 watts. This chip generates so little heat that it can operate without a fan. And the Atom is cheap, too, or at least cheap enough for Intel to sell it mounted on a Mini-ITX motherboard for less than $70.

Intel has paired the Atom processor with a version of its venerable 945 chipset dubbed the 945GSE, which includes an old ICH7M south bridge (or I/O hub) component. The 945GSE is widely regarded as the Atom’s Achilles’ heel, in part because while the processor sips power, the chipset has a TDP of six watts—nearly three times that of the CPU. Given the relative youth of the netbook concept, one can consider Intel’s current Atom implementation to be a first draft. Future versions of the platform due next year promise to integrate the majority of north bridge functionality into the processor itself, resulting in a smaller package with lower power consumption and superior performance.

With the 945GSE chipset comes support for Serial ATA storage devices and DDR2 memory, along with Intel’s Graphics Media Accelerator 950 integrated graphics processor. The GMA 950 is woefully underpowered for gaming, but then the Atom wasn’t designed for that purpose. The GMA 950 also lacks hardware acceleration for high-definition video decoding, but again, but this proves to be a moot point for netbooks that rarely feature screens with enough pixels for even 720p content. So although it’s not the slickest integrated graphics processor on the block, the GMA 950 can at least handle common netbook tasks like word processing and web browsing.

And what about Internet access? No netbook would be complete without it, so you can expect every entry in the market to include 802.11b/g wireless networking and an Ethernet port at the bare minimum. A healthy number of netbooks also include 802.11n support and Bluetooth connectivity.

Intel’s Atom platform is by and large the most popular one for netbooks, but Via’s C7-M processor makes an appearance in HP’s Mini-Note 2133 series, coupled with Via’s Chrome 9 integrated graphics. Unfortunately, the C7-M’s performance is poor even by netbook standards. Via has already begun producing its Nano successor to the C7-M, and based on what we’ve seen from the CPU, it’s faster than the Atom. The Nano hasn’t officially made its way into any netbooks, but HP has placed an order for the new chips, so it’s possible the Nano could materialize in HP’s next Mini-Note.

The low power consumption, affordable price tags, and small form factors that define the netbook genre carry their own trade-offs. As we’ve stated, performance isn’t exceptional. Netbooks don’t feel as snappy as even a budget desktop system, and they certainly aren’t suited to anything more demanding than basic desktop tasks, standard-definition multimedia playback, and maybe than running a red-eye filter on a photo. Display resolutions tend to be limited to 1024×600, with smaller form factors shrinking keyboard sizes. Most users can comfortably adjust to these limitations, but if you have larger hands, you’ll want to pay particular attention to keyboard size, especially if you intend to use a netbook for word processing or note taking.

Like a broken record, netbook detractors consistently point out that one can usually find a budget full-sized laptop that offers substantially better performance for roughly the same cost. Ultimately, you have to decide whether the battery life and portability offered by a netbook is worth the performance that these systems leave on the table.

The big netbook comparison table

There are scores of netbook models currently available on the market, and each one is a little different from the next. We’ve attempted to sum up some of the most important differences between the various flavors in a couple of handy charts below. The first covers the guts of the systems, while the second delves into form factors and pricing. You’ll find a few Aspire One and Mini-Note 2133 configurations spread across these two tables; each config is numbered to make flipping between the two tables a little easier.

The tables below may be a little daunting. Just consider them a resource if you want to do some comparions, if that helps. We’ll talk about each of the major netbook brands in the following pages.

Processor Chipset Memory Display Storage
Acer Aspire One
(1)
Atom N270

1.6GHz

945GSE 512MB DDR2-533 LED-backlit 8.9″ 1024×600 8GB SSD
Acer Aspire One
(2)
Atom N270

1.6GHz

945GSE 1GB

DDR2-533

LED-backlit 8.9″ 1024×600 120GB HDD
Asus Eee PC 2G Surf (700) Celeron-M 571MHz 910GML 512MB

DDR2-400

LED-backlit 7″ 800×480 2GB SSD
Asus Eee PC 4G/Surf (701) Celeron-M 630 MHz 910GML 512MB DDR2-533 LED-backlit 7″ 800×480 4GB SSD
Asus Eee PC 8G (701SD) Celeron-M 630 MHz 910GML 512MB DDR2-533 LED-backlit 7″

800×480

8GB SSD, 30GB External HDD
Asus Eee PC 900/900 16G Celeron-M 630 MHz 910GML 1GB

DDR2-533

LED-backlit 8.9″ 1024×600 4GB SSD + 8GB internal SDHC (XP), 16GB internal SDHC (Linux) / 16GB SSD (16G only)
Asus Eee PC 900A Atom N270 1.6GHz 945GSE 1GB

DDR2-533

LED-backlit 8.9″ 1024×600 8GB SSD + 16GB internal SDHC
Asus Eee PC 901 Atom N270

1.6GHz

945GSE 1GB

DDR2-533

LED-backlit 8.9″ 1024×600 4GB SSD + 8GB internal SDHC (XP), 16GB internal SDHC (Linux)
Asus Eee PC 904HD Celeron-M 630 MHz 910GML 1GB (XP) / 2GB (Linux)

DDR2-533

LED-backlit 8.9″ 1024×600 80GB HDD
Asus Eee PC 1000HD Celeron-M 630 MHz 910GML 1GB (XP) / 2GB (Linux)

DDR2-533

LED-backlit 10.2″ 1024×600 80GB HDD
Asus Eee PC 1000H Atom N270

1.6GHz

945GSE 1GB

DDR2-533

LED-backlit 10.2″ 1024×600 80GB HDD
Asus Eee PC 1000 40G Atom N270 1.6GHz 945GSE 1GB

DDR2-533

LED-backlit 10.2″ 1024×600 8GB SSD, 32GB internal SDHC
Dell Inspiron

Inspiron Mini 9

Atom N270 1.6GHz 945GSE 512MB

/ 1GB

DDR2-533

LED-backlit 8.9″ 1024×600 4GB, 8GB, or 16GB SSD
Everex CloudBook Via C7-M

1.2GHz

Via VX700 512MB DDR2-533 CCFL-backlit 7″ 800×480 30GB HDD
HP 2133

Mini-Note (1)

Via C7-M

1GHz

Via VX700 512MB

DDR2-667

CCFL-backlit 8.9″ 1280×768 4GB SSD
HP 2133

Mini-Note (2)

Via C7-M

1.2GHz

Via VX700 1GB

DDR2-667

CCFL-backlit 8.9″ 1280×768 120GB HDD
HP 2133

Mini-Note (3)

Via C7-M

1.2GHz

Via VX700 2GB

DDR2-667

CCFL-backlit 8.9″ 1280×768 160GB HDD
HP 2133

Mini-Note (4)

Via C7-M

1.6GHz

Via VX700 1GB

DDR2-667

CCFL-backlit 8.9″ 1280×768 120GB HDD
HP 2133

Mini-Note (5)

Via C7-M

1.6GHz

Via VX700 2GB

DDR2-667

CCFL-backlit 8.9″ 1280×768 160GB HDD
MSI Wind U100 Atom N270

1.6GHz

945GSE 1GB

DDR2-400

LED-backlit

10″ 1024×600

80GB or 120GB HDD

This first chart covers hardware components, and we can clearly see the proliferation of Intel’s Atom processor. Also popular are LED-backlit screens, which is impressive considering that the display type is relatively uncommon on full-sized notebooks. LED backlights are preferable to traditional CCFL designs because they produce much more even lighting (which in turn helps improve viewing angles and overall screen brightness) and consume less power. 1024×600 seems to be the resolution of choice for the latest crop of netbooks, whether they be 8.9″ or 10.2″ models. Only HP’s Mini-Note offers a 1280×768 display resolution, while 7″ models settle for just 800×400 pixels.

Most recent netbooks make do with 1GB of memory, although some are available in 512MB and 2GB configurations. Storage options also vary. Some systems include relatively low-capacity solid-state drives, and others use standard 2.5″ mechanical hard drives with much higher capacities. Note that some SSD configurations split storage between a pair of independent drives, the smaller of which is generally faster and used as the system drive.

As our chart nicely illustrates, Asus has practically flooded the market with Eee PC variants. Asus maintains that it offers so many models to provide consumers with plenty of choices, but Atom processor shortages are likely responsible for the bifurcation of the Eee PC lineup into Atom- and Celeron-based camps. We’ve tried to cover the most common Eee PC derivatives here, but we have left out some of the more obscure options.

In contrast to Asus’ many Eee PC models, HP and Dell treat their netbooks as configurable systems. You can roll your own on each company’s website, and our price search engine lists numerous configuration combos for each.

Dimensions Weight Battery Operating system Price
Acer Aspire One
(1)
9.8 x 6.7 x 1.1″ 2.2lbs 3-cell 2200mAh

Linux
Acer Aspire One
(2)
9.8 x 6.7 x 1.1″ 2.2lbs 3-cell 2200mAh

XP
Asus Eee PC 2G Surf (700) 8.9 x 6.5 x 1.4″ 2.04lbs 4-cell 4400mAh

Linux
Asus Eee PC 4G/Surf (701) 8.9 x 6.5 x 1.4″ 2.04lbs 4-cell 4400mAh / 5200mAh

XP or Linux
Asus Eee PC 8G (701SD) 8.9 x 6.5 x 1.4″ 1.99lbs 4-cell 4400mAh

XP or Linux
Asus Eee PC 900/900 16G 8.9 x 6.5 x 1.5″ 2.19lbs 4-cell 4400mAh

XP or Linux
Asus Eee PC 900A 8.9 x 6.5 x 1.5″ 2.19lbs 4-cell 4400mAh

Linux
Asus Eee PC 901 8.9 x 6.9 x 1.5″ 2.43lbs 6-cell 6600mAh

XP or Linux
Asus Eee PC 904HD 10.5 x 7.5 x 1.5″ 3.09lbs 6-cell 6600mAh

XP or Linux
Asus Eee PC 1000HD 10.5 x 7.5 x 1.5″ 3.20lbs 6-cell 6600mAh

XP or Linux
Asus Eee PC 1000H 10.5 x 7.5 x 1.5″ 3.20lbs 6-cell 6600mAh

XP or Linux
Asus Eee PC 1000 40G 10.5 x 7.5 x 1.5″ 2.9lbs 6-cell 6600mAh Linux
Dell Inspiron

Inspiron Mini 9

9.13 x 6.77 x 1.25″ 2.28lbs 4-cell Linux
Everex CloudBook 9.06 x 6.73 x 1.16″ 2.0lbs 4-cell 2200mAh

Linux
HP 2133

Mini-Note (1)

10.04 x 6.5 x 1.05″ 2.63lbs 3-cell

Linux
HP 2133

Mini-Note (2)

10.04 x 6.5 x 1.05″ 2.63lbs 3-cell

Linux
HP 2133

Mini-Note (3)

10.04 x 6.5 x 1.05″ 2.63lbs 6-cell

Vista Business
HP 2133

Mini-Note (4)

10.04 x 6.5 x 1.05″ 2.63lbs 6-cell

Vista Business
HP 2133

Mini-Note (5)

10.04 x 6.5 x 1.05″ 2.63lbs 6-cell

XP
MSI Wind U100 10.23 x 7.08 x 1.24″ 2.6lbs 3-cell or 6-cell

XP

Despite similar hardware configurations, netbooks are available in a range of sizes and weights. Battery life varies from one model to the next, and we’ve been most impressed with the run time of the 6-cell batteries in Asus’ Eee PC 901 and 1000 40G. Netbook batteries are typically available with three, four, and six cells.

The first netbooks may have launched with Linux, but they’re now available with Windows XP and even Vista. Manufacturers generally offer users a choice between operating systems, either through a configuration option or entirely different models. The custom Linux installs we’ve seen on some netbooks are pretty slick and very user-friendly, but they don’t offer the flexibility of Windows XP. Netbook-optimized versions of Ubuntu and other distros are available for those who want a more complete Linux-based operating system.

Naturally, netbooks also differ on price. Acer’s Aspire One looks to be the bargain of the bunch, ringing in under the magical $400 mark most associated with the genre. There seems to be a price war waging, too: Acer cut Aspire prices not long ago, and Asus has followed with discounts of its own.

Asus’ Eee PCs

As the first netbooks, Asus’ Eee PCs tend to be the standard by which others are judged. Much like any conversation about The Dark Knight results in a chorus of “Heath Ledger should win a posthumous Academy Award,” any review of a modern netbook invariably mentions the Eee PC.

The original Eee PC (now called the Surf or 700 series) may have fathered the netbook class, but this first effort tends to be divisive. The seven-inch screen’s resolution is oftentimes too low, and the Chiclet-sized keys are extraordinarily impractical for proper typing. There was a lot to be said for the concept, though, and the Eee PC line as a whole has matured into the 900 and 1000 series, which feature larger screens and improved keyboards while maintaining the performance and in some cases increasing the battery life of their predecessors.

Unfortunately, I have to use the word “series” to describe many of these Eee PC offshoots. Despite the brand only appearing about a year ago, Asus has already swamped the market with Eee PCs whose similar model designations can often be confusing. Can you name the difference between the 1000H and 1000HD without checking the last page? Didn’t think so. Making any sense of the Eee PC lineup shouldn’t be so difficult, and since other manufacturers typically only offer one or two models, they don’t have the same problem. The Eee PC lineup is further complicated by color options, where one 1000 model may only be available in black or white while another may be available in pastels.

The merciful solution lies in the numerical designators for each series: the 700 series features a 7-inch screen, the 900 series features a larger 8.9-inch screen, and the 1000 series moves up to a 10.2-incher. Even then, though, the 900 and the 901 are entirely different designs, as we noted in our review of the 901.

You can further slim down the Eee PC line by ignoring anything with a Celeron processor—the Atom is here, and while it doesn’t feel any snappier than a Celeron, it does consume less power. The shakier seven-inch models are fading into obscurity in favor of larger, more functional designs, as well.

Eee PCs are generally well-built, with all the features one might want in a netbook. But they also boast one of the more awkward keyboard quirks we’ve seen, putting the up arrow key right where touch-typists would expect to find the right shift key. This curious positioning yields a normal directional pad, but the relocated right shift key gives at least one TR editor fits.

Still, the Eee PC remains the netbook to beat. We’re particularly fond of the 1000H for its roomy keyboard, standard 2.5″ hard drive, and 6-cell battery. In fact, our own Scott Wasson just bought one for himself.

Acer’s Aspire One

Acer’s recent entrant into the netbook market, the Aspire One, has been turning heads for good reason: it sports a remarkably stylish chassis and an aggressive price tag that plants it squarely in competition with older seven-inch Eee PCs. The One has also been widely available for some time, and it recently received a generous price cut.

Acer’s netbook features the same basic connectivity options and features as its peers, and you can get it with Windows or Linux. The system uniquely features a pair of SDHC slots. While one of these functions as a basic SDHC reader, the other adds the capacity of inserted cards to the system’s main storage volume. Despite the limited capacity of 8GB SSD-based One models, the additional SDHC slot allows users to add storage easily and inexpensively.

Acer also offers an Aspire One model that employs a more spacious 120GB mechanical hard drive. This version comes with Windows, making for a more flexible system overall—And one without any keyboard quirks to speak of aside from relatively small keys.

The Aspire One is a solid contender for the netbook crown, particularly because versions can be found online for as little as $325.

HP’s Mini-Note 2133

HP has taken a different approach to the netbook than its peers with the Mini-Note. This netbook is not available on the home/home-office page of the company’s website. Instead, it’s being targeted more aggressively at business users, with a price tag to match. The 2133 is distinguished by its use of Via’s C7-M processor, and the system’s 1280×768 display resolution is higher than that of any other netbook currently available. The system itself is also quite stylish, and it features the best keyboard we’ve seen from a netbook.

Unfortunately, the Mini-Note’s Via processor produces mediocre performance compared to the Atom. The screen’s scratch-proof but high-gloss coating is also quite reflective, all but forcing the user to run higher screen brightness settings that quickly drain the battery. These flaws are exacerbated by a $499 starting price, with loaded configurations reaching nearly $800.

In the end, the Mini-Note’s value proposition is questionable. We like the attractive design, high-resolution screen, and fantastic keyboard, but you’re probably better off waiting for HP to slip in an Atom or perhaps one of Via’s new Nano processors, which just happen to be pin-compatible with the C7-M.

MSI’s Wind

MSI’s Wind U100 netbook is a strong competitor, with features similar to its contemporaries and one of the brightest screens on the market. The Wind runs cool and quiet, and its keyboard is a respectable, usable size. MSI has also made it easy to crack the Wind open for upgrades.

The major drawbacks to the Wind have to do with its middling battery life and high price tag. In order to mitigate the low battery life, consumers can expect to shell out an extra $50 for versions that come equipped with a six-cell battery—no small request on a netbook with a price that already sits at the high end of the market. The software loaded onto the U100 is also rife with head-scratchers. It’s inexplicable why a netbook devoid of an optical drive would come with Ulead disc burning software, but the Wind does. MSI’s documentation for the unit also leaves a lot to be desired.

Dell’s Inspiron Mini 9

Dell very recently introduced its entrant into the netbook market. Originally known as the “E” and later as the “Inspiron 910,” Dell appears to have finally settled on calling its netbook the Inspiron Mini 9. Boasting a similar platform to its competitors, Dell distinguishes the Inspiron Mini 9 with a keyboard that is either ingenious or ridiculous, depending on whom you ask.

Dude you’re getting a Dell! (Source: Dell)

What’s so different about the keyboard? The Inspiron Mini 9 doesn’t have dedicated function keys, instead relying on the portable computing stalwart “Fn” key to unlock secondary functions for the letter and number keys. While this may be an irritating change for some, the function keys on my keyboard (outside of F4) generally see about as much play as a Jonas Brothers video. Potentially more problematic is the Inspiron Mini 9’s awkward placement of the right shift and quotation keys.

As one might expect, Dell offers numerous configuration options with the Inspiron Mini 9, including your choice of operating systems, integrated web cams, and solid-state storage. However, the system can’t be configured with a mechanical hard drive, capping internal storage capacity at 16GB.

Everex’s CloudBook

Everex’s early entry into the notebook market went straight to Wal-Mart stores across America. Based on Via’s NanoBook reference design (no relation to the new Nano processor), the CloudBook utilizes similar underpinnings to HP’s Mini-Note. The CloudBook is a fraction of the cost, though, and unfortunately a fraction of the quality. Where netbooks we’ve used exhibit surprisingly solid build quality, user reviews peg the CloudBook as flimsier, louder, and hotter than its competitors. And then there’s the system’s unique approach to the touchpad. Rather than being located below the keyboard, the touchpad and buttons are instead placed above it, with the touchpad measuring about the size of a postage stamp.

Where’s that trackpad again? (Source: Everex)

The CloudBook may be one of the cheaper netbooks on the market, but budget-minded users would be better off with the more affordable options from Asus and Acer.

What’s coming up

Many manufacturers have been quick to respond to the success of the Eee PC by releasing netbooks of their own, but several contenders still lurk just around the corner. These systems aren’t available for purchase yet, but we do know a few things about several netbooks that should be released in the coming months.

Lenovo’s sense of style (Source: Lenovo)

Lenovo will be getting into the netbook game with the IdeaPad S10. This system will feature the same Atom platform as the majority of its competitors, but in an unusual move for the company that has maintained the venerable ThinkPad notebook line, Lenovo will offer the IdeaPad in a variety of colors. Expect to see this 10-incher debut in October.

Gigabyte’s tablet netbook

A traditional purveyor of fine motherboards, Gigabyte has what may be the most unique and exciting netbook offering we’ve seen to date. The M912V brings tablet functionality to a netbook form factor with an 8.9″ touch-sensitive screen that features a 1280×768 display resolution. In an impressive feat of flexibility, the screen rotates and folds back on itself, converting the system into an honest-to-goodness tablet. The M912V won’t stray far from the Atom hardware that powers the rest of the netbook field, and it won’t be cheap. However, the system will have an ExpressCard slot, and its unique tablet functionality could resonate with those looking for more than just a pint-sized laptop.

The M192V in tablet mode

There’s more on the horizon than what’s coming from Lenovo and Gigabyte, too. Late last week, pictures emerged of Samsung’s upcoming netbook. Little has been confirmed about this system, but it will apparently use an Atom processor, feature a mechanical hard drive, and sport a 10.2″ display. Samsung’s netbook is apparently due to hit Korea next month, but there’s no word yet on when it might wash up on North American shores.

Conclusions and recommendations

In selecting the best candidates from the current crop of netbooks, we must first separate the weak from the field, like a pride of lions pruning a herd of gazelle. The most fragile gazelle in this pack and the first to go is Everex’s CloudBook, followed closely by all the seven-inch Eee PCs. Small screens with too-limited display resolutions introduced the netbook concept well, but the market has moved on, and 7″ models don’t even have much of a price advantage anymore.

Sharing one of the weaknesses of the Everex CloudBook—the Via C7-M processor—is HP’s Mini-Note 2133. Although it’s very attractive and equipped with both a high resolution-screen and a large, functional keyboard, the Mini-Note’s C7-M processor is mediocre at best. We’d expect more given the lofty price of available configurations. Another also-ran that must unfortunately be weeded out of contention is the MSI Wind U100. This otherwise fantastic unit is marred by poor battery life and a relatively high price that has only become more unattractive given recent price cuts from Acer and Asus. We can’t in good conscience recommend Dell’s Inspiron Mini 9, either. We’ve yet to get our hands on one to review, but the keyboard’s misplaced keys have us a little worried. Additionally (and surprisingly), the Inspiron Mini 9 isn’t any cheaper than its competition.

Ranking among best of breed is Asus’ Eee PC 901. This system balances features and portability, adding stellar battery life of nearly eight hours on a single charge. However, the 901’s potentially problematic segmented flash storage, coupled with dimensions that may be too cramped for some, limit the 901’s appeal.

Asus Eee PC 1000H
Acer Aspire One
September 2008

That leaves us with two netbooks for Editor’s Choice consideration: the Asus Eee PC 1000 and the Acer Aspire One. Among the Eee PC 1000 variants, we like the 1000H version with the 2.5″ mobile hard drive the best. The 1000H gets high marks for sporting a healthy amount of fast storage capacity along with a larger keyboard and screen, all without sacrificing too much battery life. If you’re looking for a netbook that errs a little more on the side of full notebook functionality, the 1000H is the best option currently available. Recent price cuts have dropped the system’s price down to just $450, making it an exceptional value, all things considered. That’s good enough to earn it an Editor’s Choice award.

Acer’s Aspire One puts a slightly different spin on the netbook genre. The One brings the netbook back to its low-cost roots, with variants available for $400 or less. The Linux version of this system is outfitted with 512MB of memory and 8GB of flash storage, and it sells for an incredibly low $329. Coughing up an extra $70 doubles the memory and swaps in a 120GB hard drive loaded with Windows XP. If the Eee PC 1000H is too big or too pricey for you, the Aspire One is an excellent alternative, good enough to share the Editor’s Choice crown.

Comments closed
    • Wireball
    • 11 years ago

    With regards to the Acer Aspire One, they write: “And one without any keyboard quirks to speak of aside from relatively small keys.”

    I’m guessing one can get used to reaching a tad farther for the left shift and right enter keys? It sure /looks/ like they’ve put backslash keys right where I normally hit enter or left shift.

    –Edit Jan 11th 2009:

    I tried one of these at Circuit City, and it had a regular key layout – quite nice, actually. I read the full Acer Aspire One review article*, and I notice they say:

    “Our review sample was graciously provided by Canadian retailer NCIX, and it came with the dreaded English/French keyboard layout. This won’t be an issue for US consumers (unless you are buying from Canada). English-speaking Canucks will want to ensure they get a system with the US keyboard.”

    That explains why the photo differs from the one on Wikipedia:
    §[<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Guang_Hua_Digital_Plaza_Launch_Acer_Aspire_One.jpg<]§ I was amazed by how nice the keyboard was on the Acer Aspire One. I actually liked it better than the HP Mini 1000. *- §[<https://techreport.com/articles.x/15329/2<]§

    • blubje
    • 11 years ago

    even though they’re changing, please add prices (with some date) to the big comparison table, it would make it much more useful.

    • Bombadil
    • 11 years ago

    One review mentioned that the Dell Inspiron Mini 9 has the 945GMS with Macrovision not the cheaper 945GSE.

    • floodo1
    • 11 years ago

    as always no one seems to care about battery life 🙁 EEE PC simply OWNZ the market on this front.
    also no one seems to care about size….I can tell you that some of the desks at my school are VERY VERY small, and make me NOT want a 1000H for this reason. I think I’ll wait for Lenovo to release their netbook, and by that time HOPEFULLY gigabyte has theres out so I can see if I should get anything other than the 1000h 🙁

    on the XP v. linux front, there is really no way to get around the fact that XP is more resource intensive than linux, but there’s also no way to get around the fact that XP just make some (or a lot depending on your perspective) things easier. Its relative. /end of argument 🙂

    • matnath1
    • 11 years ago

    Yes, those who post here and are active readers know that netbooks do NOT come with optical drives. Joe sixpack does not. Reviewers really ought to mention this prominantly in order to help the average user avoid buying something they did not fully understand. I can see tons of dell dot com orders getting returned when their customers realize there is no optical drive on their Dell Mini.. Diddo for others.

      • bthylafh
      • 11 years ago

      To be fair, Dell does offer an external optical drive when you’re configuring their netbook. That may not be obvious enough for a random person, though.

    • onlycodered
    • 11 years ago

    Just bought myself a nice 160GB EEE PC 1000H for only $479 on Newegg. Can’t wait till it arrives!

    • StashTheVampede
    • 11 years ago

    The Acer linux box looks great. How many slots for ram can be in that sucker? Wouldn’t mind slapping 4GB of ram, if it could take it.

      • Valhalla926
      • 11 years ago

      Hate to bear bad news, but from what I’ve read, it has a 512MB stick that can’t be removed, but one free slot aside from that. Unfortunately, that slot can’t recognize anything bigger than 1GB. So you’re stuck at 1.5GB max.

        • Ubik
        • 11 years ago

        And getting to that RAM slot requires an almost complete disassembly of the unit, which is one of the few serious drawbacks to it. Still, I haven’t encountered anything that makes me pine for 1.5GB over 1GB.

    • wallygator
    • 11 years ago

    I bought the Acer One with XP but after an afternoon with it returned it because of the fan noise, I could hear it across a large room. This one would definitely annoy teachers. I got the MSI Wind and am very happy with it.

    • nightmorph
    • 11 years ago

    /[

      • Usacomp2k3
      • 11 years ago

      But the thing is, there are lots of things that simply having windows does allow. Low-end gaming: Install Steam and then you access to favorites like Keen and such. Not really available on Linux.
      *To use MS Office, you need Windows (or Mac). True, your average person probably doesn’t really need it, but there are many people who do, and well you’d need the Windows version for that.
      *Modern day Anti-Virus is fairly unobtrusive and free, and you don’t even really need it unless you are doing something stupid. With IE7 and above, you’d be alot harder pressed to get them.
      *Defragging, you don’t need to do it, period.
      *What are these “dozen support apps” that you are talking about?
      *Windows does allow for more VPN access, since all companies support either IPSEC or a Windows Client. Only the big one’s can afford a linux solution too.

        • bthylafh
        • 11 years ago

        q[< Low-end gaming: Install Steam and then you access to favorites like Keen and such. Not really available on Linux.<]q Steam works fine on my Ubuntu installation with a decently recent Wine. Doing it through Wine isn't quite as simple as with Windows, but it can be done and not too badly. q[<*Modern day Anti-Virus is fairly unobtrusive and free, and you don't even really need it unless you are doing something stupid. With IE7 and above, you'd be alot harder pressed to get them.<]q All antivirus programs slow the computer down and eat RAM. That won't make much difference on a nice C2D system with 2GB of RAM, but on a netbook with Celeron-M or Atom and 512MB? Especially once you start swapping. q[<*Defragging, you don't need to do it, period.<]q Yes, yes you do unless your netbook's got all solid-state storage. It may not, strictly speaking, be a "need", but you'll be wanting to make that HD access as fast as possible to avoid bottlenecking. q[<*Windows does allow for more VPN access, since all companies support either IPSEC or a Windows Client. Only the big one's can afford a linux solution too.<]q There's a free Cisco VPN client for Linux, and Cisco also has an official client which will work for 32- and 64-bit machines. Can't speak for the other types of VPN.

          • StashTheVampede
          • 11 years ago

          Look, there are plenty of reasons to convince a TR user to use linux as their desktop OS, but that’s NOT the point of the article.

          The article is telling you that Windows is available for netbooks. PLENTY of users don’t want to run linux (for a myriad of reasons) and many of the cheapest netbooks are running linux — hurting their potential market.

          For a few dollars more, they can have Windows on it. No Wine layer, no learning anything new, just buy and go. There is a market for linux (on these machines), but having Windows on it simply makes them that much MORE accessible to the mainstream audience.

            • bthylafh
            • 11 years ago

            I’m aware of that; I was refuting where he was wrong.

          • Usacomp2k3
          • 11 years ago

          1/ I haven’t done that, so I can’t comment on a hack like that.
          2/ No, just turn off on-access scanning and you’ll be fine
          3/ Again, I disagree. In this modern day-and-age defragging hard drives is pointless. You especially don’t have to do it while using the computer
          4/ Where I work, you login through a website and have to install an access scanner thing-a-ma-jig. I’m pretty sure those aren’t linux compatible. Heck, it’s not Vista compatible.

      • Valhalla926
      • 11 years ago

      I don’t think anyone is going to claim that installing windows will work magic on a netbook.

      But as an anti-linux zealot, I will say that I want an OS that I like. Let’s not get into an argument of why I don’t like it in general, but the versions used in these netbooks look childish, like something you’d get on “My First Laptop” from Toys R Us. Is it that bad that there is an alternative for people like me that don’t want a linux model?

      • Ubik
      • 11 years ago

      There is still software that simply doesn’t exist for Linux and doesn’t always run well under WINE. For instance, I own the XP version of the Aspire One and love it, and though I have to crank the settings down I can actually use professional audio production software such as Reason on it. I wouldn’t use it for live performances, but I can sketch out and expand on ideas when I’m on the go so I can work on them at full production capabilities at home. Linux simply doesn’t have much dedicated audio production software, and I wouldn’t want to try to run apps under WINE on an AAO.

      Your assessment of what Windows users need to do to maintain a stable system is really pretty hilarious. Defrags are only necessary once in a very long while, and /[

      • ludi
      • 11 years ago

      Done it both ways, first on the 701, then on the Steak Sauce XP. Key problem with the 701? It wasn’t /[

    • FireGryphon
    • 11 years ago

    I’d love to see a netbook in a form factor similar to the Thinkpad x60. That would yield a regular-size keyboard and a larger screen, but the components inside would be the same power and money saving ones found in smaller netbooks. The slightly larger chassis could house more batteries, or extra slots and features.

    I mean, they’re already making the keyboards 95% normal size, why not just notch it up another 5% and give us a slower Thinkpad x60 for 1/3 the price?

    • todd
    • 11 years ago

    I broke down and ordered the Asus 1000H with xp and 160 GB drive from newegg for $479. §[<http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16834220431&nm_mc=TEMC-RMA-Approvel&cm_mmc=TEMC-RMA-Approvel-_-Content-_-text-_-N82E16834220431<]§ 2GB of ram for another $30. I'm a pc tech at a medium sized university, and do a lot of walking. My thinkpad, at 6lbs, is entirely too heavy to carry on every call, so the reality is that I'm not as efficient as I could be. Will use the netbook to remote into the desktop back at the office, surfing, email, and messaging.

    • gyrfalcon1
    • 11 years ago

    Anyone know if any of these netbooks have dual band (2.4/5Ghz) wireless N adapters built in?

    • drfish
    • 11 years ago

    My wife will want the Coral Pink Aspire One as soon as it comes out, any idea when that might happen?

      • UberGerbil
      • 11 years ago

      Just buy the white one and glue some glitter and Hello Kitty stickers on it.

        • drfish
        • 11 years ago

        Oh she’ll be putting her own Hello Kitty stickers on the pink one when she gets it.

    • HiggsBoson
    • 11 years ago

    I’m waiting for the refresh on the HP before I decide. I really like the screen size (1280×768), but I’m not so much a fan of the CPU and the touchpad buttons on the sides of the device.

      • TeXfreak
      • 11 years ago

      I used to do some eclipse/java a couple of years ago (when I started college) on a Toshiba Satellite A105-S101 (1.6GHz Celeron M, onboard Radeon Xpress 200M, 256+512 MB RAM, 1280×800 15.4″ lcd)… It was slow, but I could manage to get some things done when I was at school. But then again, that was when I was only learning how to program, and now I´m doing more complex stuff… I just thought these Atom processors were a bit better than that Celeron… And I didn´t think about the screen problem. Thank you for your responses.

    • Sargent Duck
    • 11 years ago

    That chart on page 2 is gold. Thank you so much for taking the time to put that chart together.

    • Firestarter
    • 11 years ago

    I’d love me a 1000H or an Acer One with a big battery

      • Prototyped
      • 11 years ago

      There are a relatively few models of the Aspire One available with a 6-cell battery. (Happily, they do include trims with 1 GiB of RAM and a 120 GB hard disk.) I think either those or the less compact Eee PC 1000H would be pretty decent. I think I’d actually prefer the Aspire One with the 6-cell since it’s more portable. (It costs about the same as the Eee PC 1000H at $450.)

        • adam1378
        • 11 years ago

        Isn’t it true, its not legal to add more memory. Wouldn’t the asus be the best?

          • Prototyped
          • 11 years ago

          “not legal”?

          If you mean it doesn’t have another slot, that’s true, but it’s true of all Atom netbooks, not just this one.

    • yes
    • 11 years ago

    Is that bluetooth mouse worth 50$ for the 1000h? Looks like mice detract from the portability if you’re not carrying around the ac adapter.

    • TeXfreak
    • 11 years ago

    Does anyone know if any of these machines would handle some (sort of) serious java/eclipse programming??? That would be about the only reason i would want to carry one of these around school, other than checking email and surfing the web faster than wait in the line to use a public pc.

      • Hattig
      • 11 years ago

      Eclipse is difficult to use on a screen less than 1280 pixels wide. For casual use you could get away with 1024 if you rearrange the views and shrink the font size.

      You can ignore the following if you’re in Windows as there isn’t any way to fix things.

      If you’re in Linux, you will want to reduce the font size (it uses the desktop settings otherwise for the views).

      To do this, you need to set up a .gtkrc-eclipse file with the following:

      style “eclipse” {
      font_name = “Sans Condensed 8”
      }
      class “GtkWidget” style “eclipse”

      Then you need to tell Eclipse to use that when it starts up, i.e., a runeclipse.sh :
      #!/bin/bash

      GTK2_RC_FILES=/usr/share/themes/Human/gtk-2.0/gtkrc:/home/hattig/.gtkrc-eclipse ‘/usr/java/eclipse/eclipse’

      (if your eclipse is installed in /usr/java alongside Java and other Java apps like SQLDeveloper)

      Then run that script or stick it on your system menu. You can also use the technique for other GTK+ based Linux applications.

      • Prototyped
      • 11 years ago

      I hope you’re joking. Consider that the processor is slower than a Dothan Celeron M 900 MHz and that the mixed SSD + internal SDHC models respond slower than molasses, and the javac tasks themselves will run slowly. Compound this with the general availability of only half a gigabyte of RAM, and Eclipse the hog is going to be delving into the pagefile pretty often. (Good way to kill the SSD + SDHC too.)

      Of course, if you want to do this on the move and don’t want to spend much, there are other alternatives. Get a Vostro 1310 off Dell Outlet for $600ish. Or build a PC that you access via Remote Desktop or similar and leave the heavy lifting to it.

      • TeXfreak
      • 11 years ago

      I used to do some eclipse/java a couple of years ago (when I started college) on a Toshiba Satellite A105-S101 (1.6GHz Celeron M, onboard Radeon Xpress 200M, 256+512 MB RAM, 1280×800 15.4″ lcd)… It was slow, but I could manage to get some things done when I was at school. But then again, that was when I was only learning how to program, and now I´m doing more complex stuff… I just thought these Atom processors were a bit better than that Celeron… And I didn´t think about the screen problem. Thank you for your responses.

        • grantmeaname
        • 11 years ago

        Atom’s slower clock-for-clock because it’s an in-order design.

          • Prototyped
          • 11 years ago

          Yes. Consider that a 1.6 GHz Atom is slower than a 0.9 GHz Celeron M, let alone a 1.6 GHz Celeron M.

    • Vasilyfav
    • 11 years ago

    Honestly, I wouldn’t recommend a netbook as a back-to-school laptop for anyone. Remember, most students are on a budget, so going through laptops like shoes is not an option. My recommendation would be to get a mid-sized regular laptop that has enough performance not just for text processing and browsing, but for some more complex tasks as well (basic programming, matlab, video playback on a decently sized screen, maybe even occasional gaming for the older titles).

    I know netbooks are the “hip” thing to have at the moment, but tbh with their hardware and size limitations, they are trying to be a jack of all trades, but master of nothing really, the size difference won’t make you able to put one of them in your back pocket.

    They aren’t that cheap for the hardware they pack either.

      • ace24
      • 11 years ago

      I’d agree that netbooks definitely aren’t suited to be desktop replacements (or even full sized notebook replacements), but I just picked one up last week for taking notes and to have on hand for online materials available for the courses I’m taking (ok, and maybe to read Tech Report between classes 😉 ). For this its suited me really well so far. I have a normal desktop computer at home, and in my opinion a netbook is the perfect companion.

      If you’re only going to have one computer and you need it to be portable, you’re definitely right that a full size notebook would be better. If for no other reason than you certainly wouldnt want to do any lengthy amount of writing, or any heavy duty computing tasks on something with such a small keyboard and screen.

      • stoydgen
      • 11 years ago

      As a uni student myself, I currently find the desktop + netbook to be a big bonus. I have the EEE 701 4G with XP, and Whilst I agree that it definitely is not the best option anymore, it proves to be nonetheless an valuable tool for cleaning up presentations and tidying up assignments on the train ride into uni. A conventional laptop certainly would get bulky, and since this thing weigh’s the equivalent of a few notebooks, its hardly killing my back, and thus I am more encouraged to keep it with me all the time.

      I have no issues writing at close to full speed on the puny eee keyboard, and thus I would be also gunning for a 6 Cell Aspire One. Mind you the gf has the eee 901, and despite the dodgy partitioning (Going to tinyxp it this weekend), its battery life is insane and it’s a well rounded netbook. She also uses it as an everyday computer without drama.

        • Shobai
        • 11 years ago

        i can only agree with you. i’m the same, desktop and eee701, and i find it’s almost perfect for me. the fact that the eee runs maple, matlab and other programs i need for uni, not to mention war3 and spore, makes it invaluable for me.

        i’m currently looking at getting the Raon Digital Everun Note to replace my 701, but we’ll see..

          • Firestarter
          • 11 years ago

          good grief, the 701 does Spore?

      • A_Pickle
      • 11 years ago

      Yeah, I hear you…. I have a little 13.3″ Toshiba Satellite notebook as my university notebook. I can say that I’m pretty happy with it’s ~4 hour battery life as well as 250 GB of HDD space, 4 GB of RAM, and a Core 2 Duo to boot. I spent about $800 for it (with a 2-year accidental damage warranty) and I’m not looking back, nor am I finding myself lusting for any of these netbooks.

      I really have to wonder how these netbooks stand up to other tasks like compiling…

      Interestingly enough, a friend of mine picked up the Everex Cloudbook awhile back, and… I have to say: For a PC enthusiast, it ought to be given a chance. This would make a piss-poor netbook for your Average Joe, it comes with a barely functioning installation of gOS, but I’m sure it’d run Ubuntu or something. Windows XP support is there, but not quite fully… which is a shame. It’d be nice if that DVI port worked fully.

        • d0g_p00p
        • 11 years ago

        If you want a idea on compile speeds. I rand a quick compile on a slimmed down java runtime. It took around 20mins for a 13MB compile + install. Err this was on a Eee 700 2G Surf.

      • ludi
      • 11 years ago

      Not everyone is a CS or engineering student, though.

        • stoydgen
        • 11 years ago

        Agreed, although I do encounter some basic C, I sure as hell aint doing that on the eeepc 😛

        • Vasilyfav
        • 11 years ago

        That was exactly my point. But I assure you there are many more majors that could use the power of the conventional notebook besides those 2. How about Photography and Photoshop’s rather heavy use of resources?
        Or maybe 3d design or advertising, where you’ll want to encode small videos along the way?
        But I guess being able to say “oh hey, look at my shiny pink *[

          • ludi
          • 11 years ago

          Sure. But my point was, there are at least as many that DON’T, and a netbook is much more ideal for toting around than even a relatively modest 14-15″ laptop, especially if you attend a “wired campus” where some sort of computer is required for coursework interfacing. A netbook also opens up the option of setting aside a more expensive parallel laptop purchase and either using a cheap desktop (which is how many regular notebooks end up being used anyway, with the now-wasted battery accounting for most of the price difference), or simply saving computationally-intensive activities for the computer lab.

          The latter option is particularly attractive if expensive software licenses are involved, which is quite commonly the case.

          • A_Pickle
          • 11 years ago

          Damn English majors. They can have their chic pink netbook AND get everything they need accomplished. Unfair heathens. 😀

        • Usacomp2k3
        • 11 years ago

        On these forums they probably are 😉

    • SecretMaster
    • 11 years ago

    Damn, after seeing all the netbooks lined up in chart form it makes me realize; Intel must be making one killer profit right now with the Atom CPU.

      • UberGerbil
      • 11 years ago

      Intel is pricing the Atom chips below $30 (in the quantities that OEMs purchase). We don’t know how much it costs them to make but they’ll have to sell a lot to match the profit they turn on their high-end server and “extreme” CPUs, or even their regular mobile chips.

      • jjj
      • 11 years ago

      Atom has lower margins then other Intel products and,even if Intel denies it,Atom based products do canibalize sales at the low end (remains to be seen how much).Also the market for this products is not that big yet,there are many different estimates but in the end it’s still only a few % of the market at best.
      Intel even warned ,during the conference call in july folowing the earnings report, that margins on Atom are lower and my guess is that this is why they are in no hurry to up the Atom production.It’s true that Atom also expanded the market but because of the state of the economy consumers are buying cheaper products and in the end Intel might make less money because of Atom ,at least for now before MID sales take off(if that ever happends).

    • ssidbroadcast
    • 11 years ago

    Thanks for giving the One the cred it deserves. I thought it was weird that Scott with the 1000H over that.

      • ludi
      • 11 years ago

      ssidbroadcast is on point!

      s[

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