Hackit: Netbook Haters?


Gadget blogs have been a fluster the last day about TechCrunch stating that netbooks “just aren’t good enough“. Writing a response post hasn’t proven very hard given the number of factual errors in the original. Boing Boing Gadgets points out that the low-end of the spectrum that TC post seems to cover are almost impossible to purchase because they’re so outdated. Liliputing rightly states that comparing the browsing experience to the iPhone isn’t worthwhile since it’s entirely a software problem. Laptop goes so far as to recommend the HP Mini 1000 and Samsung NC10 specifically for their keyboard. TechCrunch isn’t alone in their opinion; this week Intel stated that using the ultra portable devices was “fine for an hour“. TechCrunch is designing a web tablet right now using the collective wisdom of blog commenters. Looks like they’re just reboxing a netbook for the prototype.

We cover the netbook market for different reasons than most: Their low low price makes people much more willing to hack on the device. For the price of a smartphone, you’re getting a fully capable laptop. The low performance doesn’t matter as much since we’re running different flavors of Linux that are much lighter than Windows. People running OSX86 are doing it to address a market that Apple doesn’t.

What’s your experience with netbooks? Do you have one that you adore or are you annoyed by their shortcomings? Models we’ve covered in the past include the Acer Aspire One, Asus Eee PC, Dell Mini 9, and MSI Wind.

[Photo: Onken Bio-pot]

91 thoughts on “Hackit: Netbook Haters?

  1. I have an Acer Aspire One with 1GB ram 120GB hdd 1.6GHz Atom and a 6 cell battery.

    Perfect for browsing the web and chatting in IM.

    But for pretty much anything else it is useless. Not all 720P videos play on it, gaming anything more resent than about 10 years is often a bad idea.

    I wish the keyboard layout were a bit more thought out and that there was a nice n easy way to scroll.

  2. I finally buckled down and bought one a month ago in anticipation of NaNoWriMo (nanowrimo.org). I certainly wouldn’t have successfully finished my 50,000 word novel in time any other way.

  3. I just picked up the 120gb Acer Aspire One with Windows XP. I’ve owned many PDAs and many laptops, and have always gotten frustrated with the lack of capability of the PDAs (and lack of useful keyboard), but have always hated the size of laptops.

    The Acer netbook has been perfect for me, although the 3-cell battery’s lifespan is a little frustrating. The size is perfect for what I do, and running all of the apps I use on my desktop XP machine is very convenient. So far, I’m in love with the machine, and plan on picking up a larger capacity battery in the near future.

  4. I own a Dell Mini 9 and it’s perfect. i’m always on the road and a full size laptop was just to cumbersome. The BEST part is the battery life and the fact it has NO moving parts, not even a fan! Performance is great for doing almost anything but gaming or video editing but most laptops aren’t good for that either.

    Another thing to remember is we got along just fine on our 500mhz p3’s running xp ;)

  5. although it isn’t really a ‘normal’ netbook, i also have a olpc xo laptop, and i must say i really like it. it’s not the most powerful thing in the world, but it’s a lot more portable than my 17-inch notebook (it even has a handle!), and internet browsing is easy enough on it’s high-resolution screen. i wouldn’t consider a netbook by any means to be a replacement for a full-featured notebook, but netbooks are cheap enough now that there’s really no reason not to have both.

  6. I owned an original 4gb 7″ Asus Eee from January to July of ’08. I used it during my spring semester of school for taking notes and mostly staying connected to the web while on campus (under the wifi blanked) without lugging around my 14.1″ HP. Sure, 14.1″ is on the smaller side for a laptop, but the Eee was exponentially easier to haul around and did everything I needed it to do while on campus.

    Now that I have a Blackberry Curve, I can do basic browsing and all of my web communication just about as easily, but in more places. However, I miss having a very portable PC for some mid-level gaming (Quake 3, Starcraft, Worms, etc) since I have neither my Eee or my HP, so I am looking at the Asus n10j or possibly an n20 (if you can call it a netbook). I also considered putting one on my car with an external laptop hard drive and using Winamp for easy-to-use car audio selection, but I never followed through with the project. Plus, now that I have the curve, I could tether my netbook and get internet on a device with a more usable keyboard virtually everywhere that I regularly go.

  7. vrogy’s post above is exactly right…techcrunch is trolling for page hits, similar to John Dvorak’s methods. Please just ignore them.(I’m looking at you, hackaday). ‘Netbooks’ are very small, low power laptops…*of course* there are compromises.

  8. I bought my wife a EEEPC 1000HD (with XP on it though) and she loves it. She reads email, web browses, and plays casual games like Bejewelled and Puzzle Quest on it. It’s a netbook and she uses it as such.

    She likes the fact she can just take it with her to appointments to pass the time in waiting rooms without being a power lifter and it’s going to last longer than 2 hours on battery.

  9. I have an EEE PC 900 with xp pro and 2 gigs ram
    LOVE IT!!! I don’t know what people are talking about with performance… I got firefox open with 12 tabs, 2 open office documents open ~12 pg’s each, openPandora streaming music, could be doing a lot more. I use codeblocks and Eve Online, played spore on it for a lil while, I haven’t came across something it couldn’t handle(normal use). I’m a student so I bring it to all my classes, 3-4 hr battery life is awesome, small ac cord is great, takes a beating and keeps asking for more. Typing takes a lil getting used too but the portability is worth every penny. The EEE PC 900 is smooth and can’t complain about anything.

  10. Techcrunch sound like they’re just trying to stir the pot to see what comes up. “The debate about netbooks?” As they point out, the little ‘puters are selling quite well. I wouldn’t be too bullish about predicting future sales (re: all previous bubbles that have burst in the last 8 years) but the existing sales figures don’t lie. There might be a debate about how big netbooks will get, but they’ve already gone from nonexistent to selling quite well. The question isn’t whether they’re popular – the question is how big they’ll get. Techcrunch seems to think we’re just waiting for a slightly larger iTouch to spring from Job’s noble brow, so we can ditch all our wee little keyboards, but the fun of netbooks is as eliot said above – they’re cheap enough to hack, and since you’re hopefully running linux, you’re going to learn a few new things along the way if you’ve never run it before. If you’re not in it for the tinkering, you have a 2-3 pound computer. Win-win.

    And the keyboards aren’t much better than a Blackberry’s? What does TechCrunch wake up and smoke? Focus on a device that only runs a browser? I’m sorry, but the most fun I have with my EEE is either messing around with the OS or with the programs I can put on it, now that I have Ubuntu eee installed. I’m in school for computer science with an interest in network security, so I’ve been messing around on my home network with software like Wireshark and the Aircrack suite. My eee is great for this, and as my first Linux box (got a 701 4G about 10 months ago) it’s been very good practice getting familiar with Unix.

    And right now I’ve got the eee hooked up to a giant keyboard, mouse, and a 19 inch Dell monitor. Not a bad faux desktop, really. I can’t run any games, but for most of my needs, it works just fine.

    At least the big TC linked to someone critical of them. Too bad they don’t have a link here for the amalgamation, or to BoingBoing for the sass.

  11. I’ve always been a desktop user, and had always refused to have a notebook for the exact same reasons stated by those notebook haters. You always pay more to have less. But last year I left my country and I had to get myself one, and now here at home we have a MBP, a Dell, a Toshiba and an Ibook. They look nice and notebooks design are goodlooking, but guess what?! I can’t wait to have my hands on a Desktop PC again, I just can’t get used with laptops, notebooks, whatever…

  12. I had to give up reading at “You have to use the keyboard or trackpad to scroll down, and it means taking your eyes off the screen,” as I can’t laugh without waking someone. The idiocy of not being able to find the trackpad or the arrow keys without looking is just too humorous. A very hit-seeking troll post.

    I’ve had two ultra-portables (not netbooks as the price when new was well over $1000) a Libretto 100CT and P1120, which were both under powered for 2007 (when I got them cheaply used). Both had there uses.

    I got the Asus EEE PC 701 shortly after it came out, as I had killed the P1120 at that point. The small res and size of the screen was the main issue I had, particularly going from a 8.9″ 1024×600 screen on the P1120. Still decently OK at surfing the net at lunch. I sold it to my roommate during finals last year, as he was borrowing it so much anyway.

    Next I got the EEE PC 900, going back to 8.9″ 1024×600 was a huge help with webbrowsing. I’ve actually used the 900 and P1120 as my primary machine for a week or more using the in-built display, but had to seek out an external display to use with the 701 to use it for more than a couple of hours. The extra storage is nice too.

    (For pics of all four, click my name)

    Right now, I’m waiting for Netbooks based around the GMA 500 –more-capable, less power-hungry– Atom chipset, before considering getting a replacement for my 900. If I was looking to buy now, the Dell Mini 9 looks awesome (passive cooled is a huge boon for in-bed or other non-flat surface use).

  13. For portable control of hacked devices (whether it be a DLSR or a flaming doom launcher), or simply for handing data to devices in the field that need them (like projectors and sound rigs), or even just data logging, they just can’t be beat.

    They are absolutely the Hacker/Maker/Culture Jammer’s best friend.

    Might not be much for actual computing power, but they still have orders of magnitude more than we need just to interface with meatspace toys in realtime, and they sure beat lugging around an expensive and heavy heat pig of a laptop with no battery life.

  14. I have a MSI Wind laptop purchased with Ubuntu Linux preinstalled (yes, it’s possible), and I am very happy about it. I needed a small machine as a development front-end (think “a sort of super x-terminal”) and this just fits my needs.

    Plus I don’t see the point of buying a $1000 PC to run a bloated Vista when a light-spec machine can run Linux without problem…

  15. tom61’s post hit the nail on the head for me. What’s all this trouble with scrolling? I almost always use the arrow keys, and I could find those if I had lost every sense but touch! I don’t need a freakin’ touch screen to browse the web! In fact, for that I prefer to have a keyboard. A feature that the ever-glorified-hardly-used tablet PC necessarily lacks.

  16. People whine when things r not convenient for them n dumb ppl whine even more.

    Like Tom said, put ur damn hand on the buttom right of the kb, feel the keys in the up-side-down ‘T’ shape formation? Those r the arrow keys, use em.

    Next, they complain toilets dont clean their asses for them.

  17. I have a CloudBook. I love the thing. I’m running Slackware Linux on it. I can’t begin to say how awesome this thing is. I use it when I’m at work or on the run, and have a creative idea (I’m a programmer) that I want to code/jot down real quick. This saves me from the dreadful EvilNapkin! I also use it to play music at work. One last thing, I bought an OpenMoko FreeRunner. With my unlimited data plan, I can tether this to my netbook and have internet almost anywhere I go. For example, if I’m at Borders bookstore, I can bust this out of my pack, and get an Amazon.com review on a book before I buy it!

    I hope this sways everyone to buy one!

  18. I have an Eee 901 and love it. Pluses include 7 hour battery life; 2 finger scrolling with the trackpad; and reading ebooks with FBreader under Ubuntu Eee (and yes, all the buttons work).

    Keyboard is fine with man-hands, calm down, move along.

  19. I was an early adapter with 7″ Asus Eee. I was really usable and using Linux for the first time I found surprisingly useful.
    I now have full spec 17″ HP Laptop for video editing that I love for the power but have been giving thought to another netbook. In my opinion they can’t be beat for mobile use, email, skype, web etc.
    The currrent wave with of netbooks with larger (10″) screens, longer battery life and larger drives make them a strong option.
    I also own a 3G iphone FYI. Different deals I reckon.

  20. TLDR version: I am sick of these slow little plastic excuses for innovation and the mundane “hacks” that anyone armed with a soldering iron and the schematic of a mag-lite can pull off.

    Let me preface this post with my personal position on the subject of hardware hacking. I have endless interest in and respect for the pioneers who look at things from the outside and evoke true ingenuity. Multi-touch table folks, Jail breakers, Benders, Phreaks in the day and people who push the security envelope, rock on. What I’m about to post isn’t an affront to the foundation of the hack scene or hackaday at all.

    I feel that the original post has too much implied consensus. The real questions that land on the desks of the computer manufacturers are not about how a nano-faction of consumers like to void warranties and solder run of the mill usb devices onto motherboards.

    The original poster refers to the Netbooks as “fully capable laptops”. Fully capable of what exactly? I wouldn’t even enjoy using one to blog about the mods I did to one. Most of them are so anemic in the media abilities that they can’t even playback video proper at the native res of the panel. That in my book = horse shit.
    No matter how light a distro of Linux can be installed on these things, you will never find one with negative weight.

    Netbooks are marketed to people who don’t need even marginal computing. If you own a single other computer and use it at all for what you do, than you really are outside of the scope. Not that they mind the sale of course. If you don’t own another computer besides your netbook, I feel for ya @_@

    If the modifications were really what sold these things, not just why certain prolific internet show and tellers want them, the design and marketing would be more accommodating of such modification.

    And that’s the crux of the issue. For example, when small solid state storage became mainstream, the manufacturers noticed the demand and designed the Netbooks to contain one or several readers onboard. I am seriously not impressed when someone pops a different flash ssd into a mini-pcie slot and calls it a hack. For fucks sake, not a hack. Kudos.

    Hit us up when you ball a better processor and reflow it in a toaster.

    Bringing OSX86 into the mix is really really reaching also. If the only people working on the osx86 project were netbook owners, it would not exist. Mostly because of the pathetic processors. *cough*

    Wake us up when something awesome happens.

    P.S. Where is the hack again?


  21. I love how lots of kiddies disown the netbooks because they cant play fallout 3 or watch HD video on it. they declare it “useless”.

    yet I’ve been using netbooks for real business for over a year now. They work great. I recently upgraded all the eee’s here to the Acer aspire one because for the same price we get a giant HDD, faster proc, and they happily go up to 2gig in ram. we do on site programming of crestron and Vantage systems with these and they work GREAT. Hell I run dreamweaver and flash 8 on mine for my playing around. and when I boot out of XP and into linux I can do some serious programming on it wherever I want.

    Buy just a netbook? that’s silly. Get one to suppliment your laptop. but that netbook is killer for whipping out a patch to an app when you are sitting in the bleachers at half time or in traffic in the carpool. Then as college students discover these they never want to take a full laptop to class again. My wife loves her aspire one running ubuntu. she can do everything in class she needs, she can even use it easily to record the class for later referral and I’m happy because it’s virus and spyware proof.

    I do agree netbooks like the early eee’s and others that had only flash ram are really only neato hacking toys.. but the current ones with a decent hard drive and atom processor kick it hard. the LED backlight of my aspire one is brighter on it’s lowest setting than most new laptops are on their highest setting.

    If you are some poor kid that thinks $350.00 is a lot of money, no you will not like a netbook. If you are a professional that likes to get stuff done or a student that needs more desk space.. you’ll love them.

  22. I don’t understand geeks getting so excited over these things…I mean if some arts student want to get one so they can take notes, that’s fine, but I need the extra performance my 15″ MBP has – and any self-respecting geek does.

  23. I gave my wife an eeePC 401 last Christmas and by February she was nagging me to get one for myself, so she could get to use hers a bit more.

    These two things get a lot more use than any other computers in our (festooned with computers) house.

    If you need, or want, to cart a laptop around that has the form factor and mass of a gravestone then that’s fine. If you don’t, then there are netbooks.

    The bits I really like are the 30 second boot time, and being able to stuff it into a normal 20 litre backpack with my other stuff – No stupid “Targus” labels on it to get you mugged…

    It may not be a smart choice for an “only” PC, but they’re cheap enough for many people to not have to be stuck with an “either/or” choice – Have both.

  24. Bought an eee 701 a while ago, hacked in an external wifi antenna adapter :p fun stuff, easy as hell to hack! Great to stuff in a bag and take round a mates, watch a movie in a car (stick it on the open glove box)…the “netbooks” PC World are advertising are more expensive than a comparable product (Asus eee 1000h) and heavier. I think linux is not essential for a good netbook experience, but it does help (if you love a lightweight desktop and terminals)…Windows helps create a really tight media-net feel thats just “easy” to use…it just looks nice..But does hog the resources unless you strip it down….
    I hope to turn my eee pc into a portable, wearable system with HMD & wireless input device (need some help with that one :s)
    Happy hacking :)

  25. I have an Acer Aspire one that i purchased about 6 months ago and I love it. Even though I could have it for $100 cheaper now, I still don’t regret it. It’s not a blazing fast machine and media on it is pretty poor but that’s all with the std linpus install. I’m planning to upgrade to Ubuntu and I expect things to be even more functional.

    I think the reason these get a bad reuptation (if there is indeed one) is because people don’t knwo what they’re buying. They think it’s a cheap little laptop and assume it will be as fast as any other laptop. These things are not fast and are not confortable with windows. Linux is cool but takes some getting used to. Open Office is awesome.

    I have absolutely no complaints. The only thing that is slow is video and I’m sure that with a RAM upgrade to 1g along with Ubuntu it should be fine.

    Worth noting, I also have a Samsung Blackjack with internet. My Acer is so much better than the phone in so many ways it’s silly to suggest that anyone would prefer to use the phone IMO.

  26. I have a lenovo s10
    got it because the keyboard was bigger than other models out there

    the U.S. S10 is crippled (no bluetooth, etc), but that’s like saying Babe Ruth is crippled, and he now performs like an average baseball player

    the S10 is great. Battery life is solid, but I usually plug in to a wall anyways.
    The screen is bright, and crisp (which i didn’t expect)

    One complaint I have is the placement of the right shift, and the control keys

    but it’s otherwise awesome. especially compared to my 17″ dell inspiron!

  27. me again,

    I use my s10 for computing on the go.
    that means I don’t try to run Crysis!
    I’ve got snesticle for entertainement…

    music/video is done via hulu and pandora. so the HD is wide open for Gimp (runs fine), Maxima (great), a latex development environment (runs fine), etc

    screen space is a premium, so I got the windows “powertoy” that allows for multiple desktops

  28. I own a MSI Wind and it’s Great.


    1.6 Ghz proc.(OC’d to 2.1 Ghz) can go further.

    2 GB mem

    500 GB HDD (after market)

    Wifi 802.11 abg FYI Stock card not compatible with Ubuntu.

    Blue tooth

    6 cell batt.

    Also I plan on adding a Touchscreen and GPS

  29. I use the most basic Dell Inspiron 9. When I am sitting on the couch watching TV or playing Halo, I find myself grabbing the 9 because it is so darn light. When I need to do some work, I grab my larger, more powerful notebook. It is not worth buying if you need a work laptop, but if you want something that can surf the net, it works great.

    My wife loves it more than the large laptop, but we both agree: It is a good supplemental laptop, but not a good primary laptop.

  30. I have an Asus Eee PC 701 I use as a PDA. It is much more useful than the HP iPaq I previously used.. I use it for surfing the web when I’m out and about, and keeping appointments etc. The keyboard is crap, but much better than a phone keyboard for me. I have big fingers, phones just kill me.

    I also bought an Acer Aspire One for a family member, it is superior to the Asus 701 in all respects other than size. It replaces a full sized Pentium 2 laptop quite successfully.

    However for serious use I stick with the desktop .

  31. For someone who has lugged 6 lb laptops through airports around the world, the netbook is a godsend. I had an eeePC 701 and now own an Acer Aspire One. The small size and light weight let me take it places where I wouldn’t take the laptop because it was too inconvenient.

    The real value of the netbook is that it brings computing power to places that didn’t have it before because a laptop was too heavy and bulky to carry. Will the smartphone take over this function? Probably eventually, but not for some time because the smartphones have a different focus.

  32. I’m writing this from my ASUS eee 900 running eeeUbuntu. This machine is perfect for traveling, trouble shooting, note taking, emailing, and carrying around when the wife is shopping. The keyboard is a bit small but I knew that. It’s still better than a thumb board or cell phone. My only whine is that I should have waited for the 901.

  33. Well I have a eee 2gb Surf likely the worst netbook made but I love it. I also have a desktop and a 17″ notebook, also about 12 other computers. I love my EEE I use mostly while im in the plane for reading pdf’s, I have done last minute presentations, and then it is also good when you need to fix some code on a micro controller in the field or what not i can hold it in one hand and it fits in my pocket. I like most didn’t buy it to be my sole computer I knew what I was getting in to so for those of you who don’t like them then don’t get one. I can see that those who have one most likely love it and use them for travel.

    P.S. it is very nice to pull out a netbook on a plane then a 17″ beast.

  34. I have an eee 1000h and am the envy of my class.

    You are all ignorant in your intelligence- you miss the big picture. Most “normal” people do not care what any of you think or what a tech site thinks or what a bunch of hackers think no matter if you believe they are kiddies or “phreaks or whatever the fuck jargon you want.

    What matters to real people is that the kid sitting in front of them is doing exactly the same thing they are- facebook, the internet; watching videos; playing arcade games, flash games, etc… except theirs only weighs three pounds, has 320GB of memory inside it, and can handle five hours of battery life comfortably.

    This is what normal people see. They see me pulling out a computer smaller than one of their textbooks, opening it, and they see it boot and reach Winamp in less than two minutes with a library of music bigger than they have on their desktop. And they want it, every time.

    The barrier so far has been that average people don’t want to purchase from the interwebbers. Anything less than 500$ is fine with them anyway.

  35. I had originally picked up an Asus EEEpc 1000HD at a local bigbox thinking I could use the XP license and just load linux on it myself until I discovered it came with a 900mhz celie (not the Atom), so that got returned.

    I managed to replace it with an Acer Aspire 4530 having an AMD X2 1.9GHz and 2GB ram from the factory. I really wanted to get a netbook for the battery life while sitting on airplanes, but when I found this one on newegg for $450 two weeks back, I jumped at the savings since this would let me use it for more than just travel time.

    I like the idea of netbooks, but have been disappointed few are in the $200 price range that was originally targeted.

  36. I bought a Dell Inspiron Mini 9 with Windows, 16gb SSD, and 1gb of ram (swapped out immediately for 2gb)
    I’ve had great fun with the little thing.
    I’ve been able to experiment with different Windows configurations during my free time at work, and I’ve hacked an internal USB connector into the unused WWAN bay that currently hosts a 16GB flash drive.

    It games too, but mostly older stuff and ones that don’t require hardware acceleration.

    I’m also a moderator on the mydellmini site, and have picked up enough tips and tricks to make this thing fly just like a “regular” notebook.

    Up and atom! :D

  37. I don’t know if I ‘hate’ them per se, but I’m tired of hearing about them, and though I haven’t used one, I’d be surprised if ‘good for about an hour’ doesn’t hold pretty true.

    I’ll buy one when wireless broadband is cheaper and less restricted (I want to use it on all my devices, replacing having to pay for a cable line).

    Until then, I’d rather just have an iPhone (which I know I also don’t need), if I’m going to be paying for an expensive telecom plan.

  38. I’m planning on getting a netbook to save my laptop from getting damaged when I’m on the go. For getting any real work done I use a laptop or my desktop(which is more of a file server these days). To jump online for a few min to check and reply to a few email I use the netbook. Its also great for pulling up PDF manuals when I’m working on equipment in the field. Also great for jumping online for a chat with friends via msn or IRC. Its also useful for 2 channel audio recording and playback. The other thing is that all I want in it is a small cheap ssd. Hard drives don’t take well to being dropped and banged around. This thing should be cheap enough so that I don’t have to be worried about it on the job. Other uses I can think of is a serial terminal for connecting to the console of routers and switches. Its something small enough to fit in my coat pocket that I can still type on(I hate T9 and thumb keyboards). I don’t find the keyboards too small, tho I had to remap a few keys on my cousins aspire one.

  39. I use an MSI Wind at school, and i find it fine for work – many times it has saved me from certain doom when i have an essay due in next lesson. This would be impossible to do without a good keyboard.

    On holiday it also gets light Photoshop usage as well – the Atom is far underrated CPU. It handles some extremely demanding programs such as Photoshop and Lightroom just fine. A tad laggy, but fine. It also boots incredibly fast (<30 seconds).

    £280 well spent, in my opinion.


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