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Netbook Overview
by rob

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ASUS Eee PC 900
net·book – noun

  1. a small, lightweight, low-cost notebook computer
  2. a way to put power in your hands

The first "portable" computers were not very convenient. They were huge and awkward to carry. The Osborne 1, the first all-in-one computer you could get, weighed over 23 pounds. Portable computers have come a long way since then, shrinking with each generation. Portables evolved into notebooks, then came subnotebooks. In 2007, ASUS introduced the successful Eee PC which has come to define the next step in portable computers, the netbook. But what is a netbook and what can it do for you?

A netbook is essentially a small notebook that can be used for most basic applications, like surfing the net, checking email, etc. These marvels of technology weigh in at only 2-3 pounds which is much lighter than the usual 5-8 pounds of the average-sized notebook. A small form also equates to smaller displays, from 7-10 inches diagonal. Keyboards are slightly smaller and some keys (like Home, Page Down, etc.) are put in non-standard places.

The brain of a netbook is an energy-efficient CPU. Initially, Intel's Celeron processor was used but current models sport the Intel Atom processor. Intel Atom was designed specifically for ultra-mobile, low-power hardware like netbooks and smartphones.

While some netbooks come with standard 2.5" notebook hard drives, the newest thing to keep power consumption and weight down are solid state drives (SSDs). These are large flash memory drives, like USB flash drives, that have no moving parts.

The feature that all netbooks share is built-in wireless 802.11 networking to keep you connected wherever there's access. In addition to 802.11b/g (which is available everywhere), some models have 802.11n, the new, faster standard. Another feature you'll notice about netbooks is that they are much less expensive than standard notebooks. Going from $300 to $600, they are less of a strain on the ol' bank account.

So, what can you do with all of this power in a tiny package? Almost anything related to the Internet, which is about 80% of what people use notebooks for anyway. Netbooks come with Windows XP or some flavor of Linux, both of which can run a web browser and basic programs. The real key to netbooks is accessing the Internet to run web-based applications. There's no need to run a power-hungry program like Microsoft Office when there are web applications like Google Apps. (see KP's article on cloud computing for more info on web applications)

Netbooks work great as an untethered companion to a desktop around the house. You can have recipes in the kitchen, browse the Internet while watching TV, or check your email on the back deck. Netbooks are also a good first real computer for kids once they outgrow toy laptops.


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