Holiday Gift Guide 2008: Top 5 Netbooks

Holiday Gift Guide 2008: Top 5 Netbooks

Summary: The biggest surprise of 2008 was the arrival of netbooks. Asus was the first in the pool with its Eee PC, and after some initial hesitation, the big guys were forced to jump in as well.

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2008 ZDNet Holiday Gift Guide

The biggest surprise of 2008 was the arrival of netbooks. Asus was the first in the pool with its Eee PC, and after some initial hesitation, the big guys were forced to jump in as well. Acer, Dell, HP and Lenovo are all among a long list of companies now selling netbooks.

In terms of size and weight, netbooks aren't really new--we used to call them sub-notebooks. The difference is that subnotebooks cost more--sometimes a lot more--than a typical notebook, while netbooks typically start around $400. Two things helped make this happen: Intel launched the tiny and inexpensive Atom processor, and Microsoft decided to keep Windows XP around at a cut-rate price. Put it together and netbooks are suddenly a hit with an increasingly mobile population. Already this year more than 6 million netbooks have been shipped, according to market researcher Gartner.

Since the definition of a netbook remains a bit fuzzy, I want to clarify what's eligible for my shopping list. First, I'm only including models with displays that are 10-inches or less. I know, there are 12-inch netbooks out there, but for that price most users will be much better off with a mainstream notebook. All of these picks are based on an Intel Atom processor because, well, that's all there is--AMD doesn't have a netbook solution and Via's new Nano will most likely be relegated to smaller brands in Asia. Some models offer small solid-state disks (SSDs), but most users will be better off with a good, old hard drive. Similarly, most customers have opted for Windows XP over various flavors of Linux.

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2008 ZDNet Holiday Gift Guide HP Mini 1000 HP Mini 1000

HP's first foray into netbooks, the 2133 Mini-Note, was a mixed bag. It looked great and boasted the best keyboard in its class, but HP built it around an older Via processor that hobbled performance. It was only a matter of time before HP fell back into the arms of Intel, and the result is the HP Mini 1000--same great design, better performance. It's too bad that HP dropped the sleek metal case for a run-of-the-mill plastic one, but it does trim the weight down to 2.5 pounds.

The Mini 1000 starts at $400 with an 8.9-inch LED-backlit display (1,024x600), 1.6GHz Intel Atom N270, 8GB SSD, three-cell battery and Windows XP Home Edition. HP is currently offering a free upgrade to 1GB of memory--which is a no-brainer--but I'd also recommend the 10.2-inch display and the 60GB hard drive, which together add $100 to the cost of the netbook. HP will soon start selling a Vivienne Tam Edition of the Mini 1000, and in January, it plans to release a version with Linux using an HP-designed MIE (Mobile Internet Experience) interface.

[read the review] [check prices]

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2008 ZDNet Holiday Gift Guide Acer Aspire One Acer Aspire One

The aptly-named Acer Aspire One may well be the one for many customers with its attractive, functional design, solid performance, and great features for the price. Its 8.9-inch LED-backlit display (1,024x600) hits the sweet spot for netbooks, and the Aspire One starts at just $329 with the 1.6GHz Intel Atom N270, 512MB of memory, an 8GB SSD and Linux. But for only $20 more, you can get 1GB of memory, a 120GB hard drive and Windows XP Home Edition. Step up to $400 and you get a 160GB hard drive and a six-cell battery good for up to 5.5 hours, according to Acer.

In addition to the usual ports, Acer includes a multi-format card reader, which is handy for quickly transferring digital photos on the road. All of this in a sleek, good-looking case that is actually thinner and lighter than many other 8.9-inch netbooks including the Asus Eee PC 910 and Dell Mini 9. The only major strike against the Aspire One is that it lacks both Bluetooth, for tethering with your cell phone, and an Express Card slot for a wireless modem, which limits your options for mobile broadband access, though it does come with integrated 802.11b/g.

[read the review] [check prices]

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2008 ZDNet Holiday Gift Guide Lenovo S10 Lenovo IdeaPad S10

Lenovo was a little late to the game--its first netbook, the IdeaPad S10, didn't ship until late September--but it was worth the wait with its simple design, thin profile and decent keyboard. The ExpressCard slot is also a nice touch since it means you can easily add a mobile broadband modem. All configurations include a 10.2-inch display (1,024x600), 1.6GHz Atom N270 and Windows XP Home Edition.

The IdeaPad S10 starts at $400 with 512MB of memory and an 80GB hard drive. You can choose more memory or a larger hard drive--as well as the color of the case--but that's about it. Lenovo doesn't offer an SSD or Linux--though most won't miss either--and the battery life is only a little more than two hours, which is typical for a netbook with a three-cell battery, but there's little to complain about with this nicely-equipped netbook.

[read the review] [check prices]

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2008 ZDNet Holiday Gift Guide Dell Mini 9 Dell Inspiron Mini 9

Dell's first netbook is based on a smaller, 8.9-inch display but with the same resolution of 1,024x600 pixels. (Dell now offers a version with a 12-inch display, the Inspiron Mini 12, as well) and the usual 1.6GHz Intel Atom N270. The Inspiron Mini 9 starts at a very aggressive price of $350, but this configuration includes only 512MB of memory, a 4GB SSD and Ubuntu, a Linux distribution. A version with a 16GB SSD and Windows XP Home Edition, which currently sells for $439 direct, is a better choice for most users.

Oddly, Dell doesn't offer any hard drive options on the Mini 9, perhaps to draw a clear distinction with its Inspiron laptops--after all, the 15-inch Inspiron 1525 starts at $479. The design of the Mini 9 isn't going to stop traffic, but it is highly functional. It has all the ports you'd expect and the keyboard is second only to that of the HP Mini 1000. In short, it's exactly the sort of solid netbook you'd expect from Dell.

[read the review] [check prices]

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2008 ZDNet Holiday Gift Guide Asus Eee PC 901 Asus Eee PC 901

Since it first created the category, Asus has cranked out so many netbooks, in so many different sizes, and at some many different prices that it's become hard to tell what to buy. You can still find the Asus Eee PC 4G on Amazon.com for as little as $250, while the sleek, new Eee PC S101 comes in at $700. But the current sweet spot is the Eee PC 901. Like the Dell Inspiron Mini 9, the Eee PC 901 is built around an 8.9-inch display (1,024x600) and, of course, the 1.6GHz Intel Atom N270 (the older, but similar, Eee PC 900, used a 900MHz Intel Celeron M).

There are two basic models: one has a 12GB SSD and Windows XP Home Edition and the other has a 20GB SSD and a Linux-based operating system. Both include 1GB of memory and come in either white or black. Though it weighs just 2.4 pounds, the Eee PC S901 has a six-cell battery that is good for up to 8 hours under Windows XP. The keyboard isn't as large and comfortable as those of the HP Mini 1000 and Dell Mini 9--it's more like one you'd see on an ultra-mobile PC (UMPC) than a laptop--but that's the price you pay for a system this small.

[read the review] [check prices]

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Topics: Linux, Dell, Software, Operating Systems, Open Source, Microsoft, Intel, Hewlett-Packard, Hardware, Windows

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27 comments
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  • What, No MSI Wind?

    I liked the Aspire One, and actually had no problems with the strange touch pad button layout, but ultimately choose the Wind. Better keyboard, bluetooth, easily upgradable (Per MSI, this no longer voids your warranty) and can run MAC OS-X if you want. Search for on youtube: "MSI Wind OS X"
    EdNetman
  • You should not short sell the Linux/SSD advantages.

    no moving parts
    almost instant on
    usually less expensive.
    better performance w/less resources.
    comes with most all the apps you need.
    other apps can be downloaded for free.
    lack of malware/crapware & AV.
    simple interface for the casual user.
    many options for the more aware & interested.

    But if one is still stuck in thinking there is really a need for Windows on these devices there is always that option/choice....

    I have bought one for myself,(EeePC900) and it takes care of 60~70% of my needs/wants on a computer.

    When not mobile/charging, it's attached to my KVM, 22in Monitor/HDTV, & networked Drives. Do not even need to start my other machines on some days, which can save much electricity.

    I plan on giving several as gifts, and again they will be the Linux ones.....

    Like the Tivo, TomTom & Google another good example of Linux for the interested consumer.

    I do wish they would make available the Gigabyte m912 in the US, at decent price, & w/Linux....
    LazLong
    • Why Opt for Windows?

      Why would anyone want to get Windows for this type of system? Nearly all of its use will be online. With Windows you then have to fight with all the malware. I just put Linux on my son's system because of the constant maintenance to keep it running reasonably. I was him a few days later and he was amazed at how smooth and quick it was.

      For netbooks Linux is the better choice.
      don_pederson@...
      • gOS

        My son's computer kept getting filled with junk, so I've wiped the drive and have decided to install gOS (gadgets) on it. I bought a copy of Crossover Linux that should take care of the few windows apps he uses, like his Lego Star Wars game. :-)

        Plus at the same time he is getting used to Linux at an early age. His younger brother and sister are getting gOS next.
        EdNetman
      • Most people won't settle for crap. Hence the return rate for Linux...

        netbooks by casual users. And even if not returned by tech savvy users, it's just reformatted and WinXP is installed.

        Anyway, if it serves your purpose then it's fine.
        transposeIT
    • Hold on there!

      First let's look at the Asus eee pc that ships with linux. Mine came heavily locked down with an Asus branded version of Xandros Linux. I could only install software from Asus eee pc updater servers. When I did the recomended OS security update, Asus took it upon themselves to also install a bunch of games which loaded up my serial ATA flash drive to capacity. The OS comes also with anti-virus software, which in reality isn't really needed. After 30 minutes of playing around, frustrated, with this fisher price OS, I wiped the drive and installed Ubuntu-eee. A customized version for the eee pc. Everything worked, including the ancient Atheros WiFi card used by Asus in these things, (the lastest ubuntu, Ibex, uses a newer Atheros WiFi driver incompatable with the older, uncommon Atheros WiFi cards used by Asus). Then, and only then was I happy with Linux on my eee pc.
      edge_pro_gel@...
  • ACER COMMENT

    If you go for the Acer with the longer battery life you are getting a bigger case and more weight. IMO it takes it out of the "keep it with you" size when you do that. I got the XP version and am very pleased. I haven't used my 17" laptop since I got the Acer.
    mswift@...
    • Acer really rocks

      Had bigtime doubts about netbooks.. but Acer aspire 1 really really reduces need for larger laptop by over 50%!
      Handles multiple browser windows easily, 120GB HD holds lots, and two avail SD slots give really nice copy/backup options!
      battey (3cell) has given me about 3hrs... after using it for 2 months, still all is good.

      real eye opener: keyboard works darn good! shocked i can type fairly quickly (and accurately) on it...

      all vid formats i place on it have run great (true no HD.. but still)...

      cant recommend this enough -- once u take all bloatware etc off of XP, it boots quicker than any machine i have... strange but true that
      info@...
  • I don't like it

    "Two things helped make this happen: Intel launched the tiny and inexpensive Atom processor, and Microsoft decided to keep Windows XP around at a cut-rate price."

    You dissed the two technologies that REALLY made the revolution possible. The original 7" EeePC was an amazing seller. It is the one that started everything and became so popular that ASUS decided to expand the line several times.

    What was the chip? A VIA C7. Intel hadn't even [b]released[/b] the atom yet. It's safe to say that Intel didn't help make the revolution happen. Heck, VIA has a newer chip out now -- maybe netbook vendors would have switched to that if the Atom never got made.

    What was the OS? A custom Xandros Linux. XP took a long time coming to the party and didn't work well running from flash memory in the beginning. The netbook revolution happened [b]without[/b] XP, selling out the original netbooks several times. Sure, XP's popular on all the much larger, much more expensive models now, but they don't do what the netbook was designed to do.

    "For only $20 more" you get a hard drive instead of a card drive. Suddenly, you can't throw the netbook around willy-nilly anymore. Now, it's a fragile, but relatively inexpensive, laptop.

    The little, portable net appliance revolution happened without your two major points. Don't rewrite history.
    daengbo
    • Cry me a river <nt>

      nt
      Qbt
    • Fragile

      It would not be the hard drive that would keep me from throwing one of these around as you suggest, but the LCD display. They are more fragile than a HD, and far more expensive and tougher to replace.
      itpro_z
  • Why no MSI Wind in this Review!

    Strangely, this review forgets MSI Wind, a great notebook - perhaps best of the bunch (only lacks broadband expansion slot). I am surprised at this omission in a ZDNet roundup!
    DNW
  • No 6-cell battery?

    Where's the Eee PC 1000H?
    T1Oracle
  • The HP and a SIMM Slot....

    I believe all the HP netbooks have a SIMM slot hidden in their battery compartment.
    JoeMama_z
  • Linux netbook that runs XP

    To those who wanted to run xp software on their linux netbook you can use rdesktop and ThinServer XP software

    http://www.rdesktop.org
    http://www.aikotech.com/thinserver.htm
    ThinkFairer
  • RE: Holiday Gift Guide 2008: Top 5 Netbooks

    What about the new Samsung NC10? 1Gb, Bluetooth, Windows XP, 6-cell battery. I'm thinking of buying for travel. I'd like any opinions.
    Lizkbailey
  • Try a USB Bluetooth device with any of these...they work fine.

    That's how I connect to my 3G Verizon Voyager & access mobile broadband.
    IT_Guy_z
  • RE: Holiday Gift Guide 2008: Top 5 Netbooks

    I'd like to see one with a 16:9 OLED screen, as well as minimum 1GB memory & 2 USB ports.
    V@...
  • Samsung NC10? and a second on the Wind.

    I returned my Lenovo S10 the minute I started typing
    on the Samsung NC10. Best build quality of all the
    netbooks out there, and I played with the Wind, AA1,
    Eee 901HA and S10. It's the least toy like of them
    all, has the best screen, best keyboard, two side by
    side usb ports for powered HD's and optical drives
    plus a third on the opposite side. It's the first
    anything I've bought in white, and it doesn't look
    like a mac to boot. Great battery life with 1gb ram
    and 160gb HD standard.

    Next up would be the new wind model that matches it in
    RAM and HD size but for about $60-80 less.

    You lose the Express card slot, but if your'e using
    that for a wireless card, all tests show USB WAN cards
    have better signal strength than their express card
    cousins. So I didn't mind returning the S10. Love the
    overall design though of it. Sleek and business like.

    Would like to see the new Asus hybrid of their 101 and
    1000 with the aluminum case and large 2-cell battery.
    They have way too many models. If they could only get
    it right on the first time around for each. Crazy.
    crogs
  • and the HP Mini 1000 has one major glaring flaw...

    A 1.8" PATA HD that's only 60gb. Can you say useless
    and a royal PITA to upgrade due to drive availability
    and cost. I was ready to plunk down the cash for it
    until I read that. Coupled with the glossy screen it
    became an instant no. It has wow factor which will
    sell it, but the Wind and NC10 are a much better buy.
    crogs