By Frank Ohlhorst  |  Print this article Print

The choices for portable computing have never been greater. And the choice for which PC you buy and support, as always, comes down to price versus performance. Netbooks and MacBook Air look convenient, but do they have the power? Ultralights have features, but are they light enough? And what are we paying for? Here’s a look at today's choices for mobile computing.

The netbook is a new arrival on the portable computing scene. Netbooks have roots in the OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) initiative, which was created to put low-cost, low-power PCs into the hands of the world’s poorest children. The initiative paved the way for the technology that has made netbooks feasible.

Most netbooks feature Intel’s Atom processor, a small SSD (solid-state drive) and a 10-inch screen, and weigh in at around 4 pounds. The majority lack optical drives and many other items considered to be frills by most manufacturers. Most netbooks are running either Linux of Microsoft Windows XP operating systems.

Leading examples include the Asus Eee PC 1000, Dell Mini 10, Lenovo IdeaPad S10, Hewlett-Packard Mini Note 2133 and MSI Wind 100. Of course, there’s a lot of variety in the netbook market, with some units featuring 8-inch or smaller screens, running PowerPC processors and other differences that take them out of the realm of a typical netbook computer.

The best example of a business netbook is arguably the MSI Wind U120. With a street price of around $350, the MSI Wind is cheap enough to draw the attention of even the most performance-driven users. Powered by a 1.6GHz Atom processor, the unit offers excellent performance by netbook standards. The MSI Wind also features a 160GB hard disk, 1GB of RAM, an integrated Webcam, a 1,024-by-600-resolution 10-inch display, Bluetooth 2.0, 802.11b/g/n, three USB ports, a card reader and Windows XP Home Edition. The unit sports battery life of about 4 hours and weighs about 2.5 pounds.

While those specs sound impressive, the reality is the MSI Wind is only useful for some very lightweight chores, such as Web browsing, e-mail and some Web applications. The screen is too small and the resolution is too low to make it an effective device for presentations, unless you lug along a projector, and the general performance of the unit is not enough to effectively run the most recent version of Microsoft Office or other business software suites. Further holding back performance is the onboard graphics subsystem, which uses an Intel GMA 950 with 64MB display memory.

Good enough for text and basic graphics, but not up to speed for advanced 3-D graphics.

That assessment pretty much fits all of the available netbooks on the market. Some may perform worse, but none performs much better than the MSI Wind.

That makes the whole netbook segment somewhat questionable for business use, although the units do have their niches. No one should expect to roll out netbooks in an enterprise to meet the needs of a mobile work force.

Frank Ohlhorst Frank J. Ohlhorst is the Executive Technology Editor for eWeek Channel Insider and brings with him over 20 years of experience in the Information Technology field.He began his career as a network administrator and applications program in the private sector for two years before joining a computer consulting firm as a programmer analyst. In 1988 Frank founded a computer consulting company, which specialized in network design, implementation, and support, along with custom accounting applications developed in a variety of programming languages.In 1991, Frank took a position with the United States Department of Energy as a Network Manager for multiple DOE Area Offices with locations at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL), Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPL), Argonne National Laboratory (ANL), FermiLAB and the Ames Area Office (AMESAO). Frank's duties included managing the site networks, associated staff and the inter-network links between the area offices. He also served at the Computer Security Officer (CSO) for multiple DOE sites. Frank joined CMP Technology's Channel group in 1999 as a Technical Editor assigned to the CRN Test Center, within a year, Frank became the Senior Technical Editor, and was responsible for designing product testing methodologies, assigning product reviews, roundups and bakeoffs to the CRN Test Center staff.In 2003, Frank was named Technology Editor of CRN. In that capacity, he ensured that CRN maintained a clearer focus on technology and increased the integration of the Test Center's review content into both CRN's print and web properties. He also contributed to Netseminar's, hosted sessions at CMP's Xchange Channel trade shows and helped to develop new methods of content delivery, Such as CRN-TV.In September of 2004, Frank became the Director of the CRN Test Center and was charged with increasing the Test Center's contributions to CMP's Channel Web online presence and CMP's latest monthly publication, Digital Connect, a magazine geared towards the home integrator. He also continued to contribute to CMP's Netseminar series, Xchange events, industry conferences and CRN-TV.In January of 2007, CMP Launched CRNtech, a monthly publication focused on technology for the channel, with a mailed audience of 70,000 qualified readers. Frank was instrumental in the development and design of CRNTech and was the editorial director of the publication as well as its primary contributor. He also maintained the edit calendar, and hosted quarterly CRNTech Live events.In June 2007, Frank was named Senior Technology Analyst and became responsible for the technical focus and edit calendars of all the Channel Group's publications, including CRN, CRNTech, and VARBusiness, along with the Channel Group's specialized publications Solutions Inc., Government VAR, TechBuilder and various custom publications. Frank joined Ziff Davis Enterprise in September of 2007 and focuses on creating editorial content geared towards the purveyors of Information Technology products and services. Frank writes comparative reviews, channel analysis pieces and participates in many of Ziff Davis Enterprise's tradeshows and webinars. He has received several awards for his writing and editing, including back to back best review of the year awards, and a president's award for CRN-TV. Frank speaks at many industry conferences, is a contributor to several IT Books, holds several records for online hits and has several industry certifications, including Novell's CNE, Microsoft's MCP.Frank can be reached at frank.ohlhorst@ziffdavisenterprise.com

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