Friday, February 6, 2009

I've Become a Fan of the Netbook

I've just become a fan of a relatively new class of laptop computers called Netbooks.  Netbooks are much smaller and lighter than your typical notebook, with screen sizes in the 9-10 inch range plus a reduce-sized keyboard.  They typically run off of a lower-end, energy efficient processor such as the Intel Atom, and are designed primarily to run browser based applications.  I recently purchased a Lenovo S10 Netbook for just under $400, and I have to say that this little unit has impressed the heck out of me and at its price point is really hard to beat!  In the spirit of being very "lightweight" it runs Windows XP instead of the bloated Windows Vista, and comes with a 160GB hard drive as well as 1GB of memory.  With memory being so cheap these days I immediately upgraded to 2GB, which was a snap with the S10 since both the memory SIMM as well as the hard drive are easily accessible from the bottom of the unit.  And unlike many of the Netbook vendors, Lenovo does not void your warranty should you choose to upgrade either of these yourself.

Aside from having to deal with a smaller screen resolution (1024x600) than normal, the S10 ran browser applications just fine and with no significant reduction in speed when compared to my normal laptop, a Lenovo T500.  I would venture to say that for 90+% of users that a Netbook is totally sufficient to handle their computing needs.  In fact, it looks like many of the Netbook vendors have caught onto this as well, as now they are trying to introduce new Netbooks with larger form factors but using the same lower end processors.  My understanding is that Intel is pretty furious about this since it is basically cannibalizing sales from their higher-end (and more expensive) Pentium-based processors.  Whoops.

Other cool things about the S10 include a built-in webcam, a one-touch backup and recovery system that can save off and restore entire disk images, and a highly customizable touchpad.  In general I am not a big fan of touchpads, as I prefer the Trackpoint and still think it's the most efficient pointing device.  However, the S10's touchpad is a marked improvement over others I have tried in the past due to the level of customization it offers.  Lastly, the built quality and finish of the product are just top notch and belies the price I paid for it.

Downsides?  Sure, there are a few.  The reduced keyboard does take some getting used to, and the right shift key is very poorly placed.  And if you do a lot of multimedia stuff then you might be disappointed with the slowness of the graphics.  When watching videos and fast forwarding or jumping to a specific location it will often take the video several seconds to "catch up" to the audio.  And finally...if you've become accustomed to huge widescreen displays then you may get annoyed pretty quickly by the reduced resolution imposed by the S10's 10.2-inch screen.

Overall I really love this unit, and though it will not replace my existing laptop it will serve as a useful backup as well as a lightweight travel unit.
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