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A new class of portable computers, dubbed 'netbooks,' burst onto the scene in late 2007. Taiwanese manufacturer ASUS spearheaded the netbook revolution with their playfully named, and ostensibly tiny, Eee PC.
When compared to a full fledged notebook, these computers,weighing between two and three pounds, have limited functionality. You can type up a memo, surf the web, or watch a movie – albeit on a small screen – with ease, but you wouldn't want to edit a home movie, track your finances, or rely on a netbook for any mission-critical application.
A Netbook for Me?
Early models of the Eee PC had limited storage space, underpowered processors by VIA, and were preloaded with Linux rather than Windows. These computers made up for a lack of performance and maturity with a low price-point; you can get an early model Eee PC for as little as $299.
Newer models feature higher storage capacities, more memory, faster Atom CPUs by Intel, larger screens, and the option of running Windows. They are a bit more costly, with top-end models setting you back $499, but this extra cost gets you a more robust computer. It's still not a machine you would want to use as your primary computer, but it's a nice option for commuters and travelers.
The Eee PC 1000HA, priced at $429, is powered by a 1.6GHz Intel Atom CPU. This tiny processor – smaller than a penny – features low power consumption and higher performance than earlier Eee PC CPUs. The system has a 160GB hard disk, 802.11g Wi-Fi, a webcam, and a 10" widescreen display. It is preloaded with Windows XP Home and weighs in at 3.2 pounds. Two colors are available: Pearl White and Black.
Ergonomically, the Eee PC isn't the best computer for heavy use. The keyboard is a bit cramped, not really allowing for touch typing, and the trackpad is teensy tiny. This is a necessary trade-off based on the computer's size and weight.
It is in this way that the netbook's greatest strength is also its greatest weakness. The computer is designed with utlraportability and low-cost in mind, ignoring all other factors. This makes it a fantastic choice for the budget-conscious user who would like a small and light computer for casual use while on the go. The Eee PC weighs about the same as a physically larger and more functional MacBook Air, but is less than one third the cost.
Bread and Butter, the 15" Notebook
There are very few users who would be happy with a netbook alone. They are ideally suited as a secondary system, ideal for when traveling light is necessary. If you're in the market for that primary computer, consider a more traditional notebook.
These computers are built around powerful dual-core processors, and sport spacious hard drives and ample memory. Dual-core CPUs feature two instruction cores, operating in parallel. This allows you to multitask and run more much more demanding applications the notebooks of yesteryear could handle.
If there is a gold-standard in notebooks that perfectly balances performance, usability, and portability, it’s the 15.4” widescreen notebook. Every major manufacturer has a computer of this form factor in their lineup; HP’s current generation of their long-established line of Pavilion notebooks is the dv5 series.
The Pavilion dv5-1150us is a fine example of this line. Powered by a dual-core 2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo CPU, the system is loaded with 4GB of RAM, a 320GB hard drive, a DVD burner, a webcam, and the latest and greatest 802.11n Wi-Fi.
Weighing in at 5.8 pounds, the dv5 is certainly a bit heavier than a typical netbook. It is a viable option as a primary computer for the vast majority of business, home, and office users. The system features eSATA, USB, and FireWire connections for device connectivity, wired Ethernet and a 56k for communication, a memory card reader, and an ExpressCard/54 slot for expansion. You can output to a monitor or TV via VGA or HDMI.
The dv5 is ergonomically sound; it features an extremely responsive keyboard, an adequate trackpad, and a glossy LCD screen. Touch-sensitive multimedia controls are located above the keyboard, near computer's hinge.
The computer is preloaded with the 64-bit edition of Windows Vista Home Premium. Vista includes the Aero user interface, support for gadget mini-applications via Windows Sidebar, and Flip3d navigation. It also includes Windows Media Center, which allows your computer to interface with your home theater and Xbox 360 game console. The 64-bit operating system can access more RAM – this can computer can be upgraded to hold 8GB – than 32-bit systems, and takes advantage of the 64-bit processing power of the computer’s Intel Core 2 Duo CPU.
The dv5 features an ample software bundle. Microsoft Works is included for basic productivity, along with a trial version of Microsoft Office. There is also a trial version of Norton Internet Security included for virus protection.
The notebook is a solid choice for day-to-day use. You won't want to use it for professional 3D animation, video editing, or photography. However, home users will be happy with its performance for word processing, home movie editing, basic photo editing, and casual gaming.
Both netbooks and notebooks have their uses. Chances are, a notebook will be much more useful for most folks. But if you already have a desktop or notebook and would simply like a very basic, compact computer for travel, a netbook might be the right option for you.