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Netbooks are similar in design and function to laptops, and that likeness extends to the components. Netbooks, like laptops, have CPUs, hard drives, memory, batteries, and so on.
The netbook reviews that we read indicate that most netbook users are well pleased with their systems, and expert reviewers often have good things to say, as well. Consumers understand that the systems aren't designed to be laptop or desktop replacements; netbooks simply aren't that powerful, at least not yet. But by and large, netbook reviews express satisfaction with the way netbooks handle the basics, such as web surfing, email, word processing, and the like. Some, however, gripe about keyboard size, button positions, and battery life.
Even reviewers who note such issues still treasure these little computers because of their excellent portability and overall usability. Our read of netbook reviews revealed clear favorites based on performance: the Acer Aspire One AO722-BZ454 (starting at $299, Amazon) and Toshiba Mini NB505 (starting at $250, Amazon) hold the lead, with the HP Mini 1103 (starting at $317, Amazon) and Gateway LT2805U (starting at $230) following behind. Netbook reviews consider the performance underwhelming in the Asus Eee PC 1015B (starting at $299, Amazon) and HP Mini 210 (starting at $279, Amazon).
Netbooks Processor.Netbook processors are not as powerful as the CPUs found in most laptops or desktop PCs. This isn't a huge issue because most users don't run power-hungry, resource-intensive programs on their netbooks. The processors are, however, energy efficient, which helps conserve battery life.
Intel's Atom processor is the most popular CPU these days. Some version of the Atom is found in the majority of netbooks, the most common being the Intel Atom N455. The Toshiba Mini NB505, one of our favorites, is built around an Intel Atom N455 CPU and stands out for its speed and above-average overall performance when measured against industry benchmarking standards. A netbook review in PC World, however, stresses the need to first unload much of the preinstalled software from the startup routine because all those programs running in the background slow down the system; once you clean it up, the expert review continues, the Toshiba Mini NB505's performance is very good.
The runners-up for best budget laptop, the HP Mini 1103 and Gateway LT2805U, are mid-pack performers, according to netbooks reviews. The single core Intel Atom N455 in the HP Mini 1103 helps to keep the model's price tag in the budget range, says Laptop Mag, and professional test results show its performance to be slightly above average. Its sibling HP Mini 210 likewise uses the Intel Atom N455 CPU, which can be upgraded to a dual-core Atom 570 CPU for about $35, but in its original form, expert reviews say the Mini 210 is comparatively slow to boot up and convert files.
Increasingly, netbook manufacturers are turning to the somewhat faster, dual-core Atom N570. The fact that the Gateway model has a dual-core Intel Atom N570 CPU doesn't significantly improve its performance over other models, however. An About.com netbook review notes the Atom N570 is an older technology whose second core provides just a blip more power.
AMD also offers a few processors for netbooks. The Acer Aspire One AO722-BZ454, which sits at the top of our list, uses AMD's Fusion C-50 dual-core CPU, one of the faster CPUs available for netbooks. Despite a relatively slow boot-up time, Laptop Mag's netbook review lauds the performance of the Aspire One AO722-BZ454, saying it's got more zip than most other budget models because it's one of the few to use the Fusion C-50. The Asus Eee PC 1015B features a slower AMD CPU, the Fusion C-30, which doesn't have quite as much oomph as an Intel Atom CPU. A netbooks review in PC Mag describes the 1015B's performance as sluggish, while Notebook Review notes that even basic applications strain this netbook.
Netbooks Hard Drive.All the netbooks we researched feature a 250GB hard drive, which is typical even for pricier models. That amount of storage should be more than sufficient for most users, say netbook reviews, because it's unlikely you'll store a huge amount of data on your netbook. The hard drive on the HP Mini 1103 spins at 7,200 rpm, a speed that surpasses the 5,400 rpm of most budget netbook hard drives and a definite plus in the Mini 1103 column, says a netbooks review in PC Mag.
One of the interesting things about the Samsung Series 5 Chromebook (starting at $430) is its SSD (solid-state drive) hard drive, as opposed to the traditional spinning hard drive found in laptops and desktop PCs. SSDs have advantages and disadvantages compared to spinning hard drives. On the plus side, they're very sturdy, which means you're less likely to lose data or damage the drive if you happen to drop your netbook (the netbook itself, however, is another matter). SSDs are also more energy-efficient and they process data very quickly. The Samsung Chromebook, for instance, can boot up from a cold start in just eight seconds, as opposed to the 60 or so seconds that a normal hard drive takes. On the other hand, SSDs have much less storage space and are more expensive than traditional hard drives.
Don't Bother Cheap Netbooks
Samsung Series 5 Chromebook Review
HP Mini 210 Review
Asus Eee PC 1015B Review
HP Mini 1103 Review
Gateway LT2805U Review
Acer Aspire One Review
Toshiba Mini NB505 Review
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