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out that the low-end of the spectrum that TC post seems to cover are almost impossible to purchase because they’re so outdated.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 own an Asus Eee PC 901 with 2Gb of RAM (upgraded with +30 euros). I run Ubuntu 8.10 with eeepc-kernel.

    And I love it.

    + Powerful
    + Battery life
    + Reminds me to cut my fingernails

    – Forces me to cut my fingernails
    – Impossible to use for programming
    – Webcam doesn’t work correctly with Skype

    All the compiz effects run without problem. Not that it’s a must, but with the small display I enjoy some more visual replacements for example the taskbar.

  2. As the proud owner of an Asus Eee 701. I’m happy to say that the only modifications that are really needed to make the thing perfect for the average user are to install the Full Desktop and install more RAM. Over the summer, I worked in my school’s computer lab and usually had nothing to do. I found out within the first week or so of that job that the Eee 701 will run Starcraft really well from an external harddisk through wine as long as there doesn’t happen to be a Zerg rush.

  3. Powerful enough to get the job done, small enough to easily hide, cheap enough to dispose of if needed, and light enough to run with while being chased by cops.
    Whats not to like?

  4. Not powerful? What are they talking about?

    I play Half-life, Half-life 2, and Diablo 2 on my eee 1000h.

    Umm, my eee 1000h plays 720p video fine, and it can actually last through two entire movies without needing a power outlet.

    It also plays all my roms up through N64 fine. Use a wiimote + classic controller over bluetooth.

    Have windows 7 and xp on it, and aero runs fine in 7.

    Oops, didn’t mean to feed the trolls.

  5. I have an XO. I keep it in the kitchen to look up recipes. It’s super rugged so I don’t have to worry about spilling melted butter on the keyboard. I’d never do my work on it though. The keyboard was made for carnies. “Small hands, smell like cabbage.”

  6. I use an old laptop that are pretty much the same size as the new nettops. The old p1 laptop with linux works for all my needs. It was given to me. Why spend hundreds of dollars on new stuff when there is plenty of vintage equipment that will serve most people’s needs.

  7. I was going to get a blackjack II from AT & T, but decided to go with the Acer Aspire One instead. I really like it. They may not be the greatest computers, but they’re really easy for me to carry around campus, and have a great price. perfect for taking notes and other every-day stuff.

  8. I am a university student; my Asus 701 has been ideal for writing essays, modifying ppt presentations during lectures, and even spreadsheets- perfect.
    Introuced me to Linux also; Linux- more perfect.

  9. My mum bought a netbook just 2 days ago, and i was actually surprised at it compared to my laptop which i bought just over a month ago, although going from widescreen to 8″ takes some getting used too but i actually really like it.

  10. Happy owner of an Asus Eee 701. Run Ubuntu Eee on it (Customised kernel, kernel modules and the Ubuntu Netbook Remix launcher) and absolutely love it. Sure they keyboard and screen are small, but if they were “proper” sized, it wouldn’t be anywhere near as portable, which is a major negative in my book. I do not see any real slowdowns when using my Eee. For surfing the web, checking my mail and even watching some videos (xvid, not exactly HD, but if you are watching HD videos, you should have a proper screen, otherwise get Xvid) it is absolutely fine. Compiling software is slower, but the majority of people dont need to compile software (or even know what that means).

  11. A lot of the complaints about netbooks are trivial. So you can’t play the latest videogames with all the high res graphics and effects? So your netbook ain’t a super computer when it comes to memory or processing? What do you expect? It’s a mini computer that costs a few hundred bucks! The price and size alone make netbooks a good choice. How much speed/memory do you need to browse the internet anyway? And FYI: the latest eee pcs play video just fine.

  12. I’ve got an acer aspire one I picked up from wallyworld.

    I practically fawn over the thing.

    I’ve got small hands, sans the cabbage smell, and find the keyboards easier to use than standard ones.

    It’s got everything I need. It has the winxp home setup and I’ve got that pared down to a svelte, speedy install now.

    I’ve got openoffice, inkscape, gimp, audacity, kompozer and a few other goodies installed and haven’t had a single issue yet.

    I plan on adding ram, and possibly a gps to it for navigation purposes.

    So, count me in on the fanboy float.

  13. Nokia N810 is fine for everything I need to do outside of the office. Maemo OS works for anything that is not Gimp or Games. It is small and that works for me. Easy to cancel when I’m using an open network.

  14. Nokia N810 is fine for everything I need to do outside of the office. Maemo OS works for anything that is not Gimp or Games. It is small and that works for me. Easy to canceal when I’m using an open network.

  15. Every cafe is now an internet cafe, I love myAspire one with xp and intel atom. Freedom, Freedom Freedom.
    The keyboard is like learning to play the piccillo after playing a flute. Just some minor adjustment.

  16. I bought my wife an eee PC 701/linux, which she used consistently for about 6 months for web surfing, blogging, writing, etc. Then I got myself a 701/XP on catchoftheday for $AU300 (just under $US200), which she promptly stole. She has since upgraded to an eee PC 1000H, so I now have the two 701s – black / white, linux / XP, its like spy vs spy ;)

    After I had a laptop fail on me a few years back, I switched my work environment to be machine independent. Everything I need is on a 60Gb pocket USB hard-disk – data files, programming tools (java, gcc, python), portable Thunderbird/Firefox for mail and web. Now I really don’t care what machine I use – I just plug in my disk and get to work.

    Of course, this also works fine with the eee PC too. I’m writing this on my 701, which I also use as my main software development machine. I have a 19″ monitor with external keyboard and mouse. My rule is always to develop on the slowest possible machine since this reveals every inefficiency in your code. But still, even at 600MHz the 701 is plenty fast enough for most things I need. Heck, I can even plug in my midi keyboard and play a bunch of VSTi softsynths. I also use it for audio editing and production (Audacity, Finale, Reaper, etc), occasionally “over-clocking” it to 900MHz if I need some more speed.

    Yes, the keyboard and screen are small. But laptops are crap for ergonomics anyway. Try and do any serious amount of work on a laptop and you’ll end up with a pain in your neck and in your wrists. So long as the screen is attached to the keyboard, the problem will be there. Even on a full size laptop I always use an external keyboard. The only advantage of the laptop over the netbook is that its main screen might make a half-decent second monitor if you can get it close to eye level. The point of a laptop is that its easy to carry your software environment with you. Occasionally I might use the netbook on the road, and for that its mostly good enough.

    A big plus for the 701 is that its virtually silent. With eeectl running the fan is barely audiable. The SSD makes many OS tasks quite snappy, so in terms of your perception slower CPU + SSD beats faster CPU + HDD. Only things I would change: a bigger SSD – 4Gb is fine for linux, but not for XP. It would also be nice to have a mainstream netbook with passive cooling like the XO. No moving parts means no noise and nothing to wear out.

    Now that the genie is out of the bottle (thanks to the XO and EEE), competition in this market should bring some interesting stuff. Its good to see Asus pledging to keep supporting the bottom end of the market with cheap machines. While some folks are moaning about netbooks not delivering the ultimate vista experience, for many the low price point means that they are now able to access technology that would otherwise be out of reach. This has to be a good thing.

  17. I’m using a lenovo 3000 V200 and I really like it. it seems that a lot of thought was put in to the design and feel. the size is perfect. the keys feel great. I love having a switch to disable wireless connectivity (wifi and bluetooth). the latchless way it opens and closes is great. I will say 2 negative things about it, though. First, the SD slot does not read SDHC (2Gig max). also, I really wish this had some sort of docking station. I take this thing on the go with my every day, so I’m constantly plugging and unplugging. Oh, and they could have skipped the dial up phone jack and the firewire, but not a big deal. A few more USB ports or even a serial port would be more useful.
    even thought it’s silver (wish they came in black) this is still a serious looking laptop that doesn’t look like a piece of candy. I don’t feel like some punk kid carrying it around and using it in public. my lenovo has enough plastic to protect the electronics but not so much that it appears bloated or silly. I really hate the way most modern laptops are bright and bubbly looking. nothing beats hacking away on a black box.

  18. Just got my M912x:

    1gb ram (upgrading when the new stick arrives)
    1.6 ghz atom
    160 gb hdd
    1280 x 768 on the 9″ touchscreen
    bluetooth – great feature, as I can blue-tether my blackberry for internet when away from home, and I don’t even have to pull the phone out of my pocket.

    I LOVE this computer, only takes about 10-15 seconds to load photoshop cs3 – not a gamer, so this is my most intensive load.

    I got it two days ago, and I haven’t touched the other 4 computers I own since (though I do use the desktop monitor for more real estate.)

    I shopped around A LOT before buying and I am very happy I did.

  19. I’ve ended up buying 3 of the Eee 1000h units since July and love them. Two are for the house so my wife and I each have our own, and then one for work.

    The big problem with them, the right shift key. WTF kind of bad design was that? It seems to be fairly common with netbooks though, but some do have a normal sized right shift key. I left shift now, problem solved for me.

    Battery life is great, 5+ hours isn’t a problem, just turn the screen brightness down to about 1/3rd (still plenty bright for indoors) and go into CPU power saving mode. Google Earth and streaming video seem to like the fast CPU mode best, but can still be used in the power saving mode.

    As for the CPU being weak… well, for what? Web pages, email, IM and VOIP? Plenty good, with power to spare so you can have your MP3s playing in the back ground. HD video editing… well, no, but no one ever said these things were for video editing… it would be like whining about a Mini Cooper not being able to tow a large boat.

    I don’t think these things are over hyped, they do what they claim at a fairly good price.

  20. acer aspire one with 1gb ram and 120gb HDD
    i find this thing absolutely perfect minus the 3 cell battery life. its perfect for carrying around and for classes. and running aircrack-ng on the road

  21. I’m picking one of these up for a large autonomous robotics project. I figure that as a control platform it should be more robust than an arduino, and in some cases cheaper and without all the soldering. Now I don’t mind the lead but I want multiple controls centralized, a touch screen interface, and wifi access for remote programming, easier to mod a netbook. Once I solve the weather proofing problem. Yes you can hack it, no it is not a high performance media machine, and no I would not dream of using it as my only computer. But for quick web access on the go, word processing, coding, or podcast machine its priceless, but I think these will start to shine when people start seeing them as an addition or alternative solution in other electronics projects.

  22. Netbooks are awesome. I was on the verge of buying a Samsung NC10, but I finally settled on a used ultraportable (Dell D420) just for the full size keyboard. The NC10’s or any netbooks’ performance/specs are plenty good enough but a 100% keyboard was ultimately most important to me (writing is my main use). If there was a <$500, 3 lb, netbook with a full size keyboard, they would have gotten my money.

  23. Having owned and used various laptops in various roles (academia, work), I can most definetly say I prefer netbooks.

    Having owned an AA1 (it’s got a cracked screen at the moment), I can most definetly say it does what I need it to. I run Ubuntu on it with absolutley no trouble at all, I can easily run kicad, firefox with 10 tabs, ssh, telnet and still be able to stream music.

    There are things for and against netbooks, looking at it from a fullsize laptop perspective, you have more ‘computing’ power, a bigger screen and more storage.

    On the downside you have something which is hardly portable and a real pain to lug about.

    I personally prefer netbooks, I am going to be investing in a new AA1 (the repairs cost the same price as a new unit, so I figure I might as well get a new one and have the old one as a very small form factor desktop).

  24. I’ve got an eeePC 1000h with 2G RAM and a 320G HDD – works great. I’ve even run an XP virtual machine with MS Visual Studio 2008, SQL Server 2005 and IIS. It’s not fast by any means, but it does cope. I hook it up to my 24″ 1920×1200 dell monitor and keyboard/mouse and you can treat it more or less like a regular PC for web browsing and email and you can watch DivX and DVD movies on it without a hitch – although i haven’t tried anything hi def.

  25. Hello i got a Aspire one Blue with one gig ram 120 hd 1,6 intel atom processor and 1024/600 res.
    I use it for many things : GuitarEffects processor
    , soundstudio ( cooledit and reason4 ) , and even games run quite well on this machine . I play S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of tjernobyl and i have no problems at all the game run fine even with Highres graphics and high detail on in res 1024*600 and im happy with this little fellow.

  26. I own an EeePC 1000HD. Its got a gig of ram, 160gig ram, and an intel 900mhz processor. I’ve owned it since christmas, and i havent yet figured out the BIOS key, but I think its underclocked and undervolted to keep power usage and heat emissions down. I use it for music, movies, and the web.

    People have to understand that netbooks are made for light duty. If you want a gaming laptop, get an ASUS G series. Now, that being said, I installed Red alert 2, my favorite rts, and its been running fine. The only gripe I have with this netbook is the shift key. I read a review on newegg complaining about the locatioon of the right shift button, and I agree that it is hard to get used to. Maybe in a week or two I’
    ll get it down.

    no complaints about the speed or performance here

  27. I bought an Acer Aspire One with 1gig of ram adn 120gig Hd abou 6 months ago. Had a EEEPC and tried the Dell Mini 9.The One outdoes them all with Ubuntu 8.10. Plus, why would anyone pay more than $100 for a netbook with an ssd anyway? The rest of the Netbook market seems like a total waste of perfectly good computer parts…

  28. I own an Acer Aspire One and it has been one of the best investments I have ever made. I can take this mini laptop anywhere. I have added a touch screen, internal logitech transmitter and I’m planning on bluetooth. The machine is rock solid and to say that it’s underpowered is plain stupid. I think what is going on is that some businesses are joining forces to focus on more “powerful” systems = more money per machine = larger profits.

    The size of the keyboard is not a problem, you get used to it after a few hours and you can be as proficient as with a standard size keyboard. I have used my One so much that normal size keyboards seem a little too big now.

  29. proud owner of a samsung nc10.

    regaurdless of what games u could play on these little things u really dont want to, they inspire u to get out ur old games that feel out of place on ur alienware desk-jobs.

    and as fallout3 was mentioned earlier i think ill make a little pun for anyone whos played it.

    netbooks have… wait for it..

    “the power of the Atom”

    [back to uplink for me:)]

  30. I have a Dell Inspiron Mini 9 and I like it a lot. I haven’t typed on it enough yet to get used to the slightly different keyboard, but I will be typing more on it soon. The Acer Aspire One has a better keyboard, but no one could beat the Mini 9’s battery life, and I thought that was more important than the keyboard.

    I have an 8GB SSD and 1GB of memory, and that is fine for me. We have a fast and powerful notebook I like to use in different room in our house or on trips. But the Mini 9 is something I can easily carry to my office or to various worksites or coffee shops.

    The graphics are good, speed is better than I expected–excellent in many cases, but a little jerky in others–wireless is fine, and the trackpad is nice. Dell is updating both the bios and drivers a lot. I did have a problem with freezing after booting, but the first troubleshooting solution on the Dell site worked for me, and it was easy.

    It didn’t matter to me, but a lot of people complained about the lack of an F11 key on the Mini 9. That has been taken care of in a recent bios update (FNz does the trick).

    People seem to want too much from netbooks. I will use mine to check scores, look at a few websites, check my email, and do some light blogging or document writing. That is what the machine is intended for, and it functions quite well. I’m really glad I bought it.

  31. I have owned several subnote-netbooks and quite frankly they are ALL, with few exceptions, a money pit.

    However, I bought number of 2nd hand small laptops for far less, and were considerably better value for money. I bought a IBM thinkpad X32 centrino subnote with wifi, bluetooth and an XP Pro Licence. I upgraded the ram from 512mb to 2GB and replaced the 40Gb ide with a fast 120Gb model and this travels with me everywhere Cost £130.

    Two weeks ago, I bought an IBM T30 14.” Thinkpad and an IBM A31P 15.4″ Thinkpad, both P4-M’s for £170 for the pair. One I am now selling and the other is going to be a mini-Server.

    Yesterday, I bought a Compaq Armada P2-300MHZ for £10! I also bought a Toshiba Portege P3440 P3-500MHz for £40.

    I will upgrade the £10 Armada to 320mb RAM (The max) and install either Linux XUBUNTU or Damn Small Linux? after installing a Cheap WiFi card extra ram. It makes a great disposable laptop for kids or high-risk locations.

    Save money, buy second hard!!

  32. I bought a Samsung NC10 two months ago and love it. Very portable and fantastic battery life, my laptop has become the desktop and the NC10 the portable – desktop redundant. I have taken the NC10 on holiday and didn’t even notice it in hand luggage. Only gripe being the mousepad which I have tried to adjust, but not perfect yet. I use it for email and web browsing mainly.

  33. As much as I love my AAO, I can’t really say that it’s a replacement for a desktop or even a full size notebook. I knew what I was and was not going to get when I purchased it. One thing that I think is overlooked, is that the intel atom n270 processor while clocked at 1.6GHz, is also hyperthreading. not a true dual core, but it certainly makes a difference, particularly when compared to a non hyperthreading p4 at the same clock speed. true, I can’t even run msn video at full screen without massive jitter, but that’s not why I got it. I wanted portability, and that’s what I got. as far as gaming is concerned, Diablo 2 runs okay, maxed at 800×600. World of Warcraft is… well if you need to check the AH on the go then its okay. 7fps outside, 27 inside if you’re staring at a wall. other than that, the 1024×600 max resolution can cause problems with certain applications that are expecting at least 768 pixels in the vertical. 1024×600 is a poor choice for a widescreen resolution, but its livable. the AAO has a very clear, crisp and bright screen, but it is a bit reflective. I find myself running firefox in fullscreen mode with just the address and status bar showing. Also, I don’t know how other netbook keyboards are, aside from the minuscule eee keys and the 89% of standard acer keys, but they work okay for me. scrolling with the trackpad is simple enough, you just have to find the edge of the trackpad, which incidentally is very smooth in operation on the AAO. I normally use a wireless laser mouse however.

  34. I own a 1000he. It’s great. Keyboard is nice, I have small hands, and the mouse is adequate for its size, but I had to buy a separate mouse, a V450 Nano Logitech. Added an extra GB of ram and replaced the 160gb with a 250gb. It’s overclocked to run at 2ghz, using SETFSB and with GMAbooster, the puny 950 GMA, is running 2.4x more processing power than stock. I couldn’t be happier with what I get out of it, after all it IS a netbook, and NOT a desktop. For $350 it’s about the same price as the high end model of an iPod or Zune. I can’t complain, and for 10 inches of viewing pleasure? It fits my needs and that’s all a product should do for you.

  35. I have a Dell mini 9 that i brought with me on deployment to Iraq and it has survived the rigors of living in a dry dust and static filled environment. It has survived many of days at the bottom of my assault pack and many hours being near electronic jamming equipment without a sign of trouble I think a lot of people have forgotten the concept of the netbook ultra portable and powerful enough to surf the net and chat and use some type of messenger. If they are looking for a computer with enough processing power to compute the meaning of life and to go into a seizure from all the flashing bright colors from it being displayed on the screen they should stick with a desk top.

  36. I bought a Acer Aspire One in Sept. 09. I love this thing! Its so light I take it everywhere, and usually forget i even have it.. I use it a lot for wifi, low power gaming ( NHL 08 runs great), playing ripped DVDs to watch in car(no DVD drive), plug a wireless transmitter into it to send to my car stereo so i have like 50 Gigs of music with me always..I’ve used it for multi-track music production and recording live jam sessions, which it excels at (as long as you go easy on the plug-in effects or use a desktop for mixing and mastering)..I’ve also used Photoshop and web design software with no problem..

    I found the keyboard took a little bit to get used to because of the size difference, and also the smaller screen resolution, but I hardly notice anymore..I find myself using it more and more instead of my desktop, which I now use only for things that require the processing power..

  37. Netbooks ROCK! I have an Aspire One. Atom 1.66Ghz, 1 gig ram. 160HD. I run PS CS5, MS Office, watch movies, listen to music, download tons. This is one of the greatest computers I have ever bought. Does EVERYTHING I throw at it. You netbook haters are all messed in the head.

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