General Question

Rarebear's avatar

Any advice on a new netbook?

Asked by Rarebear (25144points) March 20th, 2010

There are lots of netbooks out there—all relatively cheap. What doe the fluther collective wisdom feel about the various brands? Are you happy with yours? Why and why not? Is it fast? How is the battery life?

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28 Answers

FishGutsDale's avatar

Get an iPad.

jerv's avatar

I am happy with my Acer Aspire One. It’s faster than just about any other netbook I’ve seen, including many that cost far more, and has a solid build to it.

Mine is an 8.9” model with a 3-cell battery since I valued portability above all. Being a little smaller than average helps in many ways, but the 3-cell battery never lasted more than 3 hours, and now old age has taken it down to about 2–½.

The newer 10.1” models come with a 6-cell that lasts over 5 hours, and while there are other netbooks out there that last longer, none of them are as good a value; they are slower, pricier, and often not as well-built. The exception is the Asus which is merely slower and flimsier but comparably priced.

For what most people other than Acer and Asus charge for a netbook ($500), I picked up a Toshiba T135–1305 which is twice as fast as any netbook, about the size of a Macbook, and gets >6 hours on a charge in real-world use. If you go that route though, avoid the T135–1300; it has a slower chip that isn’t much better than the N270 Atom in a netbook. For about the same price, you can pick up a T115; smaller than mine but faster than any netbook. And the extra RAM will help with Windows 7 ;)

@FishGutsDale If you want to use Flash (like many sites require) or run most common software, or if you ever run more than one application at a time, that isn’t a viable option. http://www.fluther.com/disc/72129/what-is-the-big-deal-about-the-ipad/

HSTdis's avatar

I had an HP, and my iphone loaded faster. If ya gonna go down that road wait till the ipad comes out. Its gonna blow away netbooks

FishGutsDale's avatar

@jerv I know what your saying about the iPad’s lack of multi-tasking and flash but these are things that can be fixed with a simple update. Apple will listen to their consumers eventually.

jerv's avatar

@HSTdis My downstairs neighbor has an HP and I find it glacially slow. A little research turned up some benchmark scores that seemed counter-intuitive to me. You would think that two systems with the same CPU, chipset, and amount/type of RAM would be pretty close in speed, but that isn’t the case. Of course, the benchmarks only proved what I already saw…

Of course, my new rig is barely any bigger, about the same price, and so much better.

@FishGutsDale Maybe. Regardless, I never trust the first generation of any product. Maybe the iPad will eventually be something worthwhile, but right now it has some “teething pains” that it needs to outgrow.

FishGutsDale's avatar

@jerv I agree and refuse to buy 1st gen anythings.

Rarebear's avatar

Thanks guys. I“m not going to get an ipad as I don’t do first gen stuff either. Also, I need a windows machine. I appreciate the comments, thanks.

jerv's avatar

One other thing to consider is RAM. Most netbooks only have 1GB, and that may be fine for light use, but many people need more even if they don’t realize it. It nas to do with a licensing agreement with Microsoft who is (or at least was) afraid that netbooks would steal market share from the pricier notebook market. Since MS was only getting $15 for every copy of WinXP sold preinstalled on a new netbook as opposed to their take from a Vista machine, it was in their best interest to force people to pay for power. I don’t know if that is still true now that Win7 is out, but the fact remains that many netbooks only have 1GB of RAM.
Some netbooks are easy to add RAM to, but not all are. The current Acers Aspire Ones are not bad, but my old one requires a full tear-down to upgrade since it has no access panels like the new AA1a or my T135. Just something to bear in mind. Then again, I bought my T135 with 3GB so it isn’t an issue for me :P

Another contender is the $400 Acer Timeline 1410, but I don’t know if you are looking at netbooks for price or portability. Still, an 11.6” screen is a little more portable than my 13.3” and battery life is comparable. The specs are a little lower, but that is to be expected for something $100+ cheaper, and it’s still got the good Acer build quality.

Lightlyseared's avatar

I’d like a Dell Alienware M11x (it’s sort of netbook sized)

Rarebear's avatar

@jerv Portability and battery life are my key interests. I’ll be using it for travel, and also using it for astrophotography where I need long battery life.

jerv's avatar

Okay then… a T135 may be a little too big, though it’s only $500, has the battery life, and is more powerful than any netbook.

However, I use a 3-ring zipper binder as a carrying case for my 13.3” T135 so the 11.6” Acer 1410 or Toshiba T115 really aren’t terribly big either; about the size of a 5-subject wirebound paper notebook. Sure, they’re bigger than the portable DVD player bag I use for my netbook, but they don’t make the model I have any more since people seem to prefer the 10.1” or larger ones.

Of course, once you add on a 6-cell pack, many netbooks are about the same size/weight as a small notebook anyways; the weights and sizes you see are for the smaller/lighter 3-cell pack while the battery life is rated on the bigger/heavier 6-cell pack which usually sticks out the back. The way I see it, if your rig is going to be oversized for battery life anyways, why not get another inch of screen?

Depending on how serious you are about the photography though, you may exceed any netbook’s graphics capability. I almost think that a Toshiba T115 or Acer Aspire 1410 may be a better choice for you. Comparable in size, weight, battery life, and price yet notably more capable, especially in the graphics department.

FishGutsDale's avatar

Have a look at the new Sony Vaio or Macbook Air. lightweight, a full notebook, battery life…but you will pay an arm and a leg for such extravagances

jerv's avatar

True, but my T135 is about the same size/weight as a Macbook at a considerably lower cost, yet it is still larger than a netbook, and thus possibly less portable than the OP wants.

Too bad Apple doesn’t make an 11” mini-Macbook. I mean, I’m sure that they could make a decent premium-quality computer that size if they wanted to

Rarebear's avatar

@FishGutsDale and @jerv
Portable, lightweight, long battery life, and ideally cheap is what I’m looking for, although I can afford to spend a little more money. Thanks for your input. I’m really not interested in Mac anymore (I used to be a Mac person but converted). Now, all my software is Windows based and I’m not interested in converting back at this point.

jerv's avatar

Just some specs and facts;

- My T135 with wifi enabled and bluetooth turned off gets a run-time of 7:30 thanks to the low power consumption of the SU4100 CPU. No marketing there; that is a real-world number. However, I think that the SU4100 is the most power-efficient CPU Toshiba offers, so if you get an AMD CPU, your battery life will suffer considerably.

- The T115 uses the same battery as my T135 so endurance should be similar
Both weigh under 4 pounds while the AA1 with the 6-cell battery is about 2.8 pounds and the 1410 is a hair over 3 pounds.

- The T115 is 11.3“x8.3”, the T135 is 12.7“x8.8”, the 10.1” Aspire One is 10.2“x7.3”, the Acer 1410 is 11.2“x8.0”, and all four are about 1” thick. The T135 may be a little too big, but I think that the extra inch on the 1410 and T115 aren’t that big a sacrifice for all of the other gains.

- The Aspire One is the least capable and the 1024×600 screen makes some things difficult; the other three all have 1366×768 screens. The AA1 also has the worst graphics chip, so photography, while possible, might be better done on something better.

- The AA1 can be found for under $300 while the 1410 seems to average ~$400. The Toshibas vary a bit based on where you get them and which specific model you get, but can be found for under $500 if you shop around.
However, I would hold out for Toshibas that have the SU4100 since the SU2700 and especially the AMD chips kind of suck. If you go with the 1410, the CPU choices are ones I am not 100% familiar with beyond knowing that they vary considerably in performance and power consumption (and therefore battery life).
As for the AA1, you get what you get there (only one CPU choice) and I leave it to you to decide if the loss of computing power and graphics ability is worth the $100 savings and the extra inch of width and depth.

And, of course, there are other options; those are just the ones that pop to mind since those were the main ones I was looking at before getting my T135; the “final contenders” for a small, powerful, inexpensive portable that could live away from an AC outlet all day.

Rarebear's avatar

Again, thanks Jerv! I’ll let you know what I decide.

downtide's avatar

I bought an Acer Aspire One and I love it, but within a month I replaced the pathetic 3 cell bettery with a 9-cell that lasts about 8 hours. The larger battery is bigger and heavier but it’s still much lighter and more portable than a standard laptop. Best thing, it cost less than £200 which is the cheapest I’ve ever seen a netbook (though the extra £35 for the new battery pushed it over the £200-mark).

I would not consider a netbook as my only computer. It’s just something to carry mainly so I can access the internet, email and documents while away from home.

Rarebear's avatar

@downtide That’s my plan. I also will be using it to help with my astronomy as I need long battery life for that.

jerv's avatar

@downtide Define “standard laptop”.
For years, the “standard” was a 14–15” model, and those are pretty heavy and bulky. Nowadays, “standard” goes from 11” to 17”, and I would wager that with the 9-cell pack, your rig weighs more than mine and still has the same battery life.
Don’t get me wrong; I love the AA1, but there are reasons I don’t use mine much any more… though I probably would had the prices on “thin and lights” not come down so much lately and the 11–13” market added so many models.

downtide's avatar

@jerv I have no idea what qualifies as “standard”. All I know is that my AA1 even with the bigger battery, is smaller and lighter than anything I’ve ever seen in a shop marked “laptop”. I don’t know how stores make the definition between netbook and laptop. Everything I’ve seen with an 11” screen has been labelled “netbook” rather than “laptop”. Then again I’m in the UK and maybe they’re named differently here.

Rarebear's avatar

@downtide From what I understand, a netbook is like a laptop, but without an optical drive in it. It also has a smaller processer to save on battery life.

jerv's avatar

@downtide The official definition of “Netbook” is a little fuzzy, but all are 11.2” or smaller and almost all are based on the Intel Atom CPU.
Then again, most people looking for laptops want either an inexpensive second machine that they don’t plan to do much with or a desktop replacement with a large screen that stretches the definition of “laptop” since I don’t know anybody under 400 pounds with a lap that big. More moderately sized machines (11–14”) are a fairly new thing since there wasn’t much demand for those sizes until recently.
Now that people want things that are netbook-sized but with full-laptop power, you are seeing more machines like mine. Or maybe it’s just the popularity of the 13.3” Macbook that finally did it.

@Rarebear Not quite, but fairly close. My T135 is a laptop with no optical drive and a low-power CPU to save on battery life, which is largely why I have a battery life equal to or better than most netbooks.
However, mine has a CPU that can outperform any netbook by far despite drawing not much more juice from the battery. Then again, mine has slightly more sophisticated power management as well, and that also adds a little to the price tag, as does having 3GB RAM instead of 1, and a 320GB hard drive instead of a 160GB. Add them all up and you will see why I paid $500 for it rather than the $300 that an AA1 goes for.

Rarebear's avatar

@jerv Thanks. $500 is well within my price range. I’m going to France for the summer and I wanted a good netbook for travel on the plane (keeping a 9 year old occupied for hours is hard enough). Also, I wanted it to store my pictures. But I wanted it also powerful enough to drive my telescope mount and camera.

jerv's avatar

Power = more than an Atom CPU can offer.

Here are the CPU benchmarks for the AA1, my old desktop, and a couple of Toshibas:
Atom N270 CPU (Acer Aspire One and most other netbooks) : 305
Intel SU2700 (Toshiba T115 and certain low-end T135s) : 450
3.4 GHz Pentium 4 (my 6-year-old desktop system) : 545
Intel SU4100 (Toshiba T135 like mine) : 986
I couldn’t find scores for the CPUs available with the Acer 1410 :(

As you can see, the T115 is not much better than a netbook, and my T135 runs rings around my old desktop. That CPU boost and having 3GB RAM makes cropping, zooming, and resizing images faster on my T135 than on any of the other systems, and would likely make the telescope mount run without bogging easily.

Like I said, I can still fit my T135 inside a zipper-binder just like I did/do with my AA1), so it’s more portable than many other laptops even if it is heftier than my AA1 by about ¾ pound, but it’s also a much more capable system, not terribly bigger/heavier, and has the same battery life as an AA1 with a 9-cell pack. FYI, the MSRP on mine is $649, but Costco sells it for $500. You might find it for the same price I got elsewhere if you look around.
The T115 is not available with the same SU4100 CPU I have and the SU2700 it has is a slower single-core chip, so I’m not sure if it’s entirely worthwhile even if it is a step up from a netbook without being much bigger or pricier. It’s 50% faster and all, but I personally am enough of a geek that that isn’t enough for me even if it’s more than enough of a boost for you.

Overall, I am happy with my T135 and consider the modest size increase to be well worth it for the dual-core power, triple the RAM, double the hard drive, and a screen that can actually view HD video backed by enough graphics and processing power to not drop frames while still having all-day battery life. If you want to see how big it really is (or isn’t) before you decide, just look at the Macbook; the T135 is a hair smaller but slightly thicker in the back where the battery is.

Rarebear's avatar

Again, thanks!

jerv's avatar

Yes. I have a T135-S1305; same thing except mine is black.
I think you can guess what the “WH” stands for :P

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