Netbook Or Laptop?

Category: Laptops

What is a netbook? And what's the difference between a netbook and a laptop? You may be standing in a store asking yourself these questions soon. Here are the answers...

Asus EEE PC Netbook

Should I Buy a Netbook Or Laptop?

A netbook is a mobile computer designed to take advantage of the Internet and wireless communications. WiFi is built in, of course, but it’s more than just a nice-to-have option. A netbook is deliberately built with a minimum of computing resources, and relies on the Internet to make up for what it lacks in storage and computing power.

The RAM memory is small. The CPU is slow. The hard drive is tiny, barely big enough for an operating system and a few applications. A netbook is built cheaply. Netbook prices are in the $200-$300 range. Check out the Asus EEE PC, the Acer Apsire One or Dell Mini series for some examples.

So what good is a netbook, if it's such a wimpy computer? Plenty, actually.

Netbooks are good for cloud computing, a buzzword that means accessing computing resources out on the Internet. A netbook doesn’t need hard disk space for lots of data and bloated applications. It can store your data on a server out there on the Internet. Through a Web browser, it runs applications online that would take up gigabytes of disk space and RAM on the netbook itself. So if a netbook has enough resources to run a Web browser, it can do a lot. See my related articles Free Online Word Processors and Online Photo Editing for some cool examples.

It's No Biggie...

Peace of mind is one reason to use a netbook. If you lose a netbook or it's stolen, most of your personal data is not on it. It's out there on the Internet where you can reclaim it from any other computer.

Mobility is another advantage of a netbook. Netbooks are much smaller and lighter than laptops. But netbooks are bigger and better for Web browsing, email, and typing than smartphones. Have you ever tried to do any serious web browsing on a 2-inch screen? Oh, and you can use a netbook as a phone, with Skype or some other Voice over IP (VoIP) service and a portable headset.

Cost is another attraction of netbooks versus laptops. Many netbooks run some version of the Linux operating system, shaving at least $100 off a netbook's cost versus using Windows. The applications that come with a netbook are often free, open-source substitutes for commercial packages. OpenOffice and other free office software packages can serve very well in place of Microsoft Office.

The very small size of a netbook's keyboard and monitor are probably its biggest concerns. You should test drive a netbook thoroughly to make sure your fingers will work with its keyboard and you won't go blind reading its screen.

A netbook is a good choice as a second, mobile computer that will be used primarily for email, Web browsing, and reading. It's great for entertainment or light work while commuting. It's not good for HD movies or heavy number-crunching work such as graphic design and editing, CAD, simulations, 3D games, etc. A netbook is also a good first computer for a young person, or a starving college student.

Laptops are small enough and cheap enough for many people. But for the ultimate in inexpensive computing, try a netbook. Do you have a netbook? Post your questions and comments below...

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Most recent comments on "Netbook Or Laptop?"

(See all 24 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

Robert Stell
12 Aug 2009

I have an Acer Aspire one and love it. It has a 160g HD which is plenty big enough. It came with Windows XP installed but I have installed Linux on it and use it as a duel boot. Linux is what I use most as it does all the internet things I want to do.

Posted by:

Peggy Coquet
12 Aug 2009

I have both a laptop (a Dell Inspiron) and a netbook (the Asus eee PC). I take the netbook ("Tiny") places I would never take my serious Dell - the beach, work, road trips. They serve very different purposes in my life.

Posted by:

12 Aug 2009

I make a cross country trip every summer to house sit and oversee a home business for friends while they are away on an extended trip. In the past, had problem accessing their computers because they were always in use by staff for business. Last year I took a regular size laptop with me but carrying it along with my carryon luggage and purse was extremely cumbersome.

This year, I bought an Acer Aspire One shortly before my trip. It is small enough and light enough to slip into my purse (with a neoprene sleeve protecting it), and it really saved my back not having to lug around a heavy laptop.

It worked flawlessly with the wifi at their home as well as in the airports. It was perfect for accessing email, browsing the internet and doing some word processing. I had no difficulty at all with adjusting to the somewhat smaller keyboard, and the 9.8 inch screen has a sparkling clear picture that was easy to ready. I love the portability, and found it to be a perfect travel companion. I am thrilled with my decision to get it.

Posted by:

12 Aug 2009

Hi Bob! Greetings to you from Cincinnati. We're in the middle of a hot and extremely muggy spell reminiscent of the mid-Hudson valley.

W/ regard to netbooks, I have an ASUS Eee and am very happy w/ it (although I'm typing on my laptop at the moment). I got it for work - actually had them buy it for me because I travel back and forth between 2 campuses of Cincinnati Christian School and wanted to carry my files w/ me. I maintain a huge multi-sheeted Excel file where I track all the purchases I make for the school (everything from posters to textbooks to smart boards).

Previously, I was trying to view the data on my 4+ yr old large-screened PPC6600 when I was out of my office and away from my desktop PC. It's sooo much easier now on my netbook. The netbook is so light and easy to carry around - it fits easily into several of my larger purses - even w/ the little padded sleeve that comes w/ it.

It's a bit of an adjustment to type on the netbook - even for my hands, which are on the small side, but it's okay once you get used to it. I also miss the brightness & clarity of my laptop, but the ASUS Eee serves its purpose well.

Take care,

Posted by:

12 Aug 2009

I bought the Aspire One as a net book only to discover that the computing resources it comes with are more than adequate for what I need for work. I love the thing. I run Open Office on it, storing my data on an SD card.

Now I find full sized note books bulky.

Posted by:

Lorraine Weaver
12 Aug 2009

I have an Asus EEE netbook that I actually like very well. It is nice and light weight and easily carried on the plane. The only thing I could wish different is that it had a CD/DVD drive on it, but I am considering buying an external one since I use my portable DVD player quite a bit and so would be able to eliminate carrying that with me. The keyboard is a little small, but for what I use it for it works very well.

Posted by:

12 Aug 2009

While I agree with you that the netbooks are a little slower and the screens are smaller, many of the systems now offer hard drives as large (or sometimes larger!) than a traditional laptop. Windows OS is also available for those that don't want to make the Linux leap. My netbook runs anything/everything that my laptop does except for graphics intensive programs. But my favorite reasons for having a netbook are the incredible length of battery life and the light weight. I can carry it to conferences and don't have to worry about finding a power source to recharge during the day (don't have to carry the charger in my bag, either!) or wrecking my back/shoulder from carrying the additional weight of a traditional laptop.

Posted by:

M Peters
12 Aug 2009

I have an EeePC that had a 1.66Ghz Intel Chip, 2GB of RAM and a 160GB harddrive which isn't all that bad. I use it for my mobile computer. I have a home built quad core powerhouse of a desktop at home for gaming but I find myself grabbing the Netbook just because it's so light and easy to carry around and get quick information out of. The battery last around 7 hours so I can just grab it and go unlike my wifes laptop which requre that she haul all the power cords with her since laptops only seem to have an hour and a half of power at best.

Best gadget I've ever bought.

Posted by:

Moonlight Gambler
12 Aug 2009

I have an Eee PC 1000H running Windows XP which I use for traveling, (far lighter than a laptop), as a backup work computer (spreadsheets, word processing), and fun.
No problems playing Shoutcast radio, video and TV programs, (recorded on my MacBook Pro). You can't do it all at once, but music whilst I work, or surf the internet is no problem.
If you have the bandwidth, Skype works fine.

Posted by:

Steve Curling
12 Aug 2009

Hi Bob, First, thanks for all the great advice you offer. I own an Acer 1 aspire which came with 1 gig of ram and 160 gig hard disk. True the netbooks don't come with an optic drive but this is easily overcome with an external cd/dvd drive. Though it comes with I think a rather large hard drive considering it's size, it probably doesn't need it with everything become webbed based. I have even used my netbook with Magic Jack and saved $$$ on phone calls. I also upgraded the Ram from the standard 1gig to 1.5 gig. The 1 gig that comes with the unit is divided into 1 512 mg chip and 512 mg incorporated into the mother board. The process of the upgrade is not for the novice because the keyboard has to be removed and the motherboard is facing down so it has to be raised to remove the 512mg to replace it with 1gig. There is a great utube video which shows the procedure. All in all I am very happy with the Acer.
Steve Curling

Posted by:

12 Aug 2009

Yes - got a reconditioned Aspire One for $220 - and I love it - for travel and mobility around the house.

I might spring the extra bucks for the six cell battery though.

Posted by:

13 Aug 2009

I have an EEE PC 1000 with 40 gigs of ssd storage. It came with a version of Xandros Linux but I installed Ubuntu Netbook Remix Linux on it. I'm thinking about getting getting an EEE PC 1000HE for the extra 120 gigabytes of storage and extra hour of battery life. I wish I could get a version with linux preinstalled on it because I don't want microsoft to make money from my purchase because windows is pre-installed on it from the factory. I like my EEE PC 1000 but I can't put movies on it because they are so large in size, and my music collection doesn't fit on it either. Other than that it runs anything that don't use ridiculously high resolutions, a video card or a huge hard drive, at least if you are running Ubuntu Netbook Remix Linux. Ubuntu Easy Peasy does a similar job but I've run into a few bugs with it. I can't vouch for any other operating systems though because I haven't used them.

Posted by:

Maryon Jeane
13 Aug 2009

Thanks to Bob's initial analysis of netbooks, coming magically at a time when my PDA was giving up the ghost and I just couldn't find a new one which did everything I needed, I purchased a Dell Mini Inspiron 9.

I bought it through Vodafone so it came with mobile Internet (and although not cheap, I didn't have the upfront cost of a new PDA and pay a monthly cost (comparable to a mobile phone subscription) for the mobile Internet and the netbook together.

After slimming down the OS and installing a few tools etc. I subscribed to LogMeIn. Now I have access to my desktop PC wherever I am - and that's one hell of a lot of computing power.

The best thing is that now all my information, which used to be split between my desktop and my PDA, is now in one place and never has to be duplicated. Amazing - thanks, Bob!

Posted by:

Ronald Melancon
13 Aug 2009

Bob, what do you think of Novatel's (NVTL) new MiFi?

Posted by:

17 Aug 2009

Great article. You summed it up very well, along w/the ppl this product could be helpful if not essebtial to. Judging from some comments this is a great forum. Many thanks to all contributors-I have some great info now.

Posted by:

05 Nov 2009

I have heard that Santa will be bringing me an Acer Netbook for Christmas. It has Windows 7 Starter. Should I be concerned? I understand that this only allows three programs to run at one time and that includes the virus program. I love it because it is purple, but I could give that up if there is a better OS.

Posted by:

25 Dec 2009


Posted by:

15 Mar 2010

I have an acer aspire d250, 1.6ghz dual core atom, 2gb ram, 160gb hdd... I got this for 199 + $58 bucks to up it to 2gb ram from crucial.

I am a developer and have a full powered mac at home running dual screens, so it can't replicate that environment... but for the cost of the netbook... I can use it when I need it at a coffee shop for a few hours or if I go on the road, it is perfect for that. And for the price I got a windows license I needed anyway. I dual boot with ubuntu netbook remix/windows
Yeah I know everybody just steals it these days but, some of us actually like to get stuff legally...

Posted by:

30 Mar 2011

I hear that AMD-based netbooks are faster than Intels, and my Asus EEE PC 1201T is good. I also find AMDs are more reliable, so keep that in mind, as well. If you thought Intels had more battery life, you probably haven't seen the more modern ones (mine isn't this kind).

Posted by:

04 Jan 2012

I bought my netbook two years ago to use as a traditional small portable computer, not to access the "cloud". I love this little machine. Since then I have upgraded the RAM to 2 GB and the HDD to a 7200 RPM 500 GB Western Digital model to make it more like a desktop. I use it for browsing in front of the TV and of course when I'm away. It does run things like Adobe Premiere Elements and GIMP but that takes time for renders and requires patience. The efficiency and usefulness is quite pleasing.

There's more reader feedback... See all 24 comments for this article.

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