NetbooksBy Frank Ohlhorst | 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.