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NETBOOK COMPUTER
By Ray Carlson


Q. I saw a computer half the size of a laptop. Is that size worthwhile?

A. Probably not as your primary computer, but if you want a second one for travelling or taking to meetings, they could be worth considering.

Such small computers are often called netbooks. Since 1991, companies have made tiny notebooks, but they did not catch on until a year ago when a couple of companies from Taiwan made particularly well-built ones that weighed less than two pounds. The popularity of those computers resulted in several companies adding their own models and Intel developing a special central processing unit just for such computers.

Today, several major companies sell them with screen sizes that vary from 8 to 10 inches. The largest screens will show a normal image without needing to squint or scroll around, but before you buy one check the resolution required by the programs you use because some netbooks use unusual sizes. A new one even adds touch screen. Earlier versions used smaller keyboards, but newer ones are at least 90 percent of normal size. They vary, though, in layout so that some move certain keys and the mouse buttons to unusual locations to allow for more space. Earlier versions skipped hard drives since they are the component most likely to break, but new ones usually have a 120GB to 160GB drive and a solid case that reduces damage. Batteries have improved but vary in size between those lasting for 2 hours up to 7 hours.

The space and processing power will not handle Vista well, but Microsoft XP works fine. Some offer Linux as an alternative. Linux operates faster, uses less operating power and space, and costs less, but a lot of common software will not work on Linux systems. Linux offers alternative programs, but these require relearning for people use to Windows.

The major advantage of netbooks is size. Most are less than half the cubic size of a regular notebook and one third the weight. Again, there are variations in both of these facets with weights varying from one to three pounds. They usually come with wireless internet and USB connections, slots for camera cards, and to connect a monitor. Most do not include CD or DVD drives, but these can be purchased as a separate unit and attached by USB cords. The other major advantage of most netbooks is cost. They start at under $300 with most under $400, but a few go as high as $900.

New netbooks have enough processing power and memory to do common tasks like checking the internet and email, viewing pictures or maps, listening to music or books, writing, making a PowerPoint presentation, and so on. It is not adequate for complex tasks like editing a movie. Before you shop, though, decide which factors are more important to you to narrow down the choices. In addition, expect that there will be new more powerful choices coming out within the next year.

Published: Courier 4/5/09 - Page 4C