Why not all 12-inch netbooks are the same

Why not all 12-inch netbooks are the same

Summary: I've been skeptical of 12-inch netbooks, especially as prices for real notebooks continue to fall fast. At that size, netbooks start to run up against laptops, so it's no surprise that the PC industry is feeling its way.


I've been skeptical of 12-inch netbooks, especially as prices for real notebooks continue to fall fast. At that size, netbooks start to run up against laptops, so it's no surprise that the PC industry is feeling its way. Acer has been selling an 11.6-inch model since May, but Asus has only just released its Eee PC 1101HA. Lenovo and Samsung both sell 12.1-inch netbooks, but Dell dumped its Mini 12 over the weekend. Dell's Chief Blogger, Lionel Mechaca, wrote that the decision "really boils down to this: for a lot of customers, 10-inch displays are the sweet spot for netbooks." Anything smaller is a toy; anything bigger ought to be a notebook. But after spending a couple of weeks using two 12-inch netbooks, the Lenovo IdeaPad S12 and Acer Aspire One AO751h, I've decided it's not quite that simple.

The IdeaPad S12 comes closest to a true notebook in terms of features. It has the same 12.1-inch display found in most ultraportables, a full-size keyboard and a comfortable wrist-rest with a large touchpad and two discrete buttons. The 16:10 display has a resolution of 1280x800. Like its little sibling, the IdeaPad S10, this version is built around a sturdy barrel hinge and the case, which comes in black or white, has a solid, quality feel. Lenovo includes some extra software such as Quick Start, a version of DeviceVM's Splashtop pre-boot environment, and VeriFace III, a facial recognition utility.

The strength of the IdeaPad S12 is also its weakness. It feels like a real notebook because it is about the same size and weight as an ultraportable, weighing 3.4 pounds and measuring 11.5 by 9.1 by 0.9-1.4 inches with the 6-cell battery. By comparison the ThinkPad X200s, an ultraportable with the same size display, weighs 3.2 pounds and measures 11.6 by 8.3 by 0.8-1.4 inches, also with a 6-cell battery. In other words, you get no advantage in terms of portability by choosing thisnetbook over a notebook.

You do, however, get the performance disadvantages of a netbook. Like most netbooks, the IdeaPad S12 is equipped with a 1.6GHz Intel Atom N270, Intel 945GSE chipset with GMA 950 integrated graphics, 1GB of memory, a 160GB hard drive and Windows XP. To be clear, this isn't an issue with the IdeaPad S12--in fact, the IdeaPad S2 is even a bit faster than some netbooks (more on that below). It's an issue with netbooks in general. I've previously posted performance tests results for netbooks, but the deficit is clear in day-to-day use--applications take longer to launch, Web pages load slowly and online video is hit-and-miss.

Back in May, when Lenovo announced the IdeaPad S12, it also promised a version with Nvidia's Ion chipset--an industry first--later this summer. Several sites have reported that the Ion model has been delayed until this fall, but Lenovo declined to comment on the timing. Next month Samsung reportedly plans to release its N510 netbook with an 11.6-inch display and Nvidia's Ion chipset. Whenever it arrives, an Ion-powered IdeaPad S12 should have better performance, though the price and battery life are still big question marks.

Though the Aspire One AO751h is technically in the same 12-inch class, it is a different beast. The 16:9 display measures 11.6 inches diagonally and has a resolution of 1366x768. The keyboard is smaller, and the wrist-rest is narrower and it has a smaller touchpad with a single button. The result is a noticeably smaller and lighter netbook. The Aspire One AO 751h measures 11.2 by 7.8 by 1.0 inches, and weighs only 3 pounds with the 6-cell battery. While it doesn't feel quite as solid as the IdeaPad S12, the build quality still seems very good.

There's one big catch: The Aspire One uses a different chip, the 1.33GHz Atom Z520. Intel designed this chip primarily for Mobile Internet Devices, or MIDs. Instead they've ended up in a handful of netbooks and subnotebooks, including the Dell Inspiron Mini 10 and Mini 12, and the Sony VAIO P series. The rest of the Aspire One's specs are basically the same: 1GB of memory, Intel GMA 950 integrated graphics, 160GB hard drive and Windows XP.

The real difference between the IdeaPad S12 and Aspire One AO751h comes down to price. The IdeaPad S12 starts at $499. (Lenovo also sells a $429 configuration with a 1.3GHz Via Nano processor and Via graphics, which performs "quite well" against Intel's Atom, according to CNET Reviews, but most netbook buyers opt for Atom.) The Dell Mini 12 also sold for $499, while the Samsung NC20, which has a 12.1-inch display paired with the 1.3GHz Via Nano processor, is available for $490. The Aspire One AO751h-1192, the configuration I tested, is available online for $349. The Asus 1101HA, an 11.6-inch netbook which has nearly identical specs to the Aspire One AO751h, starts at $430.

The IdeaPad S12 is one of the nicest netbooks available, but it is caught between two worlds. If you are looking for a primary PC, and you really need portability, you'll be better off spending more for a true ultraportable. The ThinkPad X200s starts at $900 with a 12.1-inch (1280x800) display, 1.2GHz Intel Celeron M 723 processor, 1GB of memory, 160GB hard drive and Vista Home Basic. The newer low-cost, ultra-thin laptops using AMD's Athlon Neo processor or Intel's ULV chips are also a good alternative. Last week I mentioned an HP Pavilion dv2z configuration--2GB of memory, ATI Radeon 3410 discrete graphics with 512MB, 320GB hard drive and Vista Home Premium--that is only $100 more than the IdeaPad S12. If you are purchasing a second or third PC for e-mail and browsing on-the-go, however, the Aspire One AO751h gets the job done nicely. It is thinner, lighter and costs $150 less than competing 12.1-inch netbooks.

Topics: Hardware, Intel, Lenovo, Mobility

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  • X200s w/ 6 cell weighs 2.71 lb, not 3 lb

    From the Lenovo X200s spec sheet:

    4 cell 2.43 lb
    6 cell 2.71 lb
    9 cell 3.05 lb

    So the X200s beats some and is in the same
    weight class as many netbooks, with stellar

    I recently got an X200s and have both the 4 cell and 9 cell batteries. Given my usage, the 3 cell lasts only a bit more than 1 hour, while the 9 cell lasts over 5 hours (haven't been able to run the 9 cell down in my usage).

    I should have just gotten the 6 cell, because it offers the best compromise of weight and reserve power.
  • Sorry, but your specs are wrong

    You can't have a GMA 950 with an Atom Z-series CPU. The only option with those CPU's is the US15W chipset, which includes a GMA 500. The GMA 500 is a DirectX 10 part. The GMA 950 is only in the 945Gx and variant chipsets, and is DirectX 9 only.

    After perusing Acer's website, I found that THEIR specs are wrong. They need to update that with proper specs from Intel.

  • Next year's netbooks will be MUCH better!

    Next year we'll have the Pine Trail platform with graphics and the memory controller embedded into the CPU, dual-core netbook-version Atom's (the Atom 330 for nettops is the only dual-core currently available), an average screen size of 11-12" becoming the norm, thin designs, long battery life, HD multimedia and light gaming with Ion Gen 2, and a cost segment that puts them in the sub-$500 price range, all while running premium versions of Windows 7.

    Mark my words: next years netbooks will supplant todays equivalent of the "thin-and-light" category of notebooks with low-power Core 2 and Pentium chips.
  • Upcoming netbooks = bad news for Moblin

    Intel needs to step it up. Their Linux distro is quickly becoming obsolete with newer netbooks sporting the Z series Atoms with the GMA 500, and larger screens that are incompatible with the design of the Moblin UI (their target hardware is a 10" or smaller screen with 1024x600 resolution). Unfortunately, they're stuck on this compatibility philosophy which includes nothing but yesterdays netbooks.

    Most of the validated netbooks on the compatibility list haven't been sold for months either.

    It's really a shame. I normally hate Linux, but Moblin was a refreshing change.

    Intel needs to change their game. The only hope of getting Moblin widely accepted is to design it to run on smaller, pocketable MID's with slide-out keyboards. If they ever get close to a 1.0 release, that's the target hardware that they should aim for because netbooks are getting more and more powerful, and Moblin can't keep pace with what consumers are looking for, and it certainly can't take advantage of the hardware.
    • I've never seen Moblin as anything but a testing ground

      There are some nice ideas in Moblin, but as you say it is not getting the kind of attention it needs to be a serious contender. But it does boot fast, and that's something the other distros can learn from.
      Michael Kelly
      • Sad but true

        I had high hopes for Moblin. Alas, it was not to be.
  • No such thing as a "12 inch netbook"

    There's no such thing as a "12 inch netbook"

    10" defines the netbook.

    12 inch is a lightweight PC. That is what Ballmer hopes
    you'll buy because he can't defeat Moblin on real

    • Read the above thread

  • RE: Why not all 12-inch netbooks are the same

    What a lot of tripe.

    10" is a netbook.

    12" is a laptop...big cumbersome to carry.

  • RE: Why not all 12-inch netbooks are the same

    Moblin instant on burned into Atom means no shelf space
    for w7.
    • Moblin = joke (cruel joke unfortunately)

      Intel is still in (very) beta form with it and they're still only supporting yesterdays netbooks. As an operating system, it won't get off the ground.
      • Why?

        [i]it won't get off the ground.[/i]

        It makes a lot of sense. Why won't it get off the ground?
        • Why?

          I already explained it. They're too far behind on hardware compatibility. This is something I'd expect if they were maybe 6-12 months already into a released product, but they're focussing on hardware that is on the way out of the market already, and should have been out long ago, and they haven't even got the software out of beta yet.

          Not to mention, they aren't even pushing it with channel VAR's, system builders, or even major OEM's yet. There's a lot of interest, but it's not even a cohesive product yet.

          If they continue the way they're going, Intel is going to have to keep system manufacturers on the old N-series Atom hardware with 945 chipsets into at least next year, or else pawn off the hardware into the MID space and move Moblin into a MID platform instead of a netbook platform.

          Next year, netbooks will be moving to more powerful hardware, and Windows 7 will inevitably kill any consumer demand for a low-end, and lets face it, fairly limited OS even by Linux standards. Intel will kill off the 945-based Atom's with their own products, or else drag the industry behind by holding onto the Atom N and its 4-year old chipset technology.

          Would you rather they drag on the Atom N for the foreseeable future?

          Frankly, I'm waiting for a cheap Atom dual-core with an Ion 2 in a SFF notebook/netbook that will a) play HD content fullscreen, and b) possibly play games. Did I mention that I want it cheap? Atom's have always been about that. Next years stuff will make those possibilities real though, and Windows 7 Home Premium will be the OS to run on consumer hardware because it gives you the best mix of compatibility, both with software and hardware, multimedia features, as well as the necessary performance for netbook systems. It's better than XP, and it does more than Linux without sacrificing compatibility or ease-of-use.
        • Quick version of rebuttal

          I had high hopes for Moblin. I was impressed by how it looks and works via the UI, but it's very beta-ish and I've tried the current builds. Ultimately, I was left disappointed by it. Not just by the product, but also Intel's target goals and intentions with it as a project. Had this been out like 1&1/2 years ago on the original Eee PC, I would've been impressed. It's just behind the curve though, and it won't catch up to the onslaught of premium versions of Windows 7 running on netbooks next year.
  • Why buy a netbook when a lap top is almost

    Why buy a netbook when a lap top is almost the same price? I just got a flyer in the mail from Tiger Direct selling an HP dual core lap top with 4 gig of ram and 500 meg hard drive for $329.

    It's a no brainer to me...
    • Weight and battery life

      are the advantages netbooks have over plain laptops. If neither is an issue to you, then certainly there is no reason for you to bother with a netbook.
      Michael Kelly
      • The argument with cheap systems....

        is always performance vs. portability.

        You can't have one with the other and still stay cheap.
  • RE: Why not all 12-inch netbooks are the same

    It's a conspiracy I tell you!! Manufacturers can't make much
    of a profit on smaller netbooks so they are slowly taking
    away the choice by not offering them anymore. I used to
    own the 7" Asus Eeepc but once I upgraded to a bit bigger
    one I now miss it. I miss my Nokia N800 tablet too as I
    sold them both. And yes as I've stated many times before, I
    love gadgets. ;-)

    I have a 8.9" Aspire One now and it does what I need it to
    do. Isn't that the point, the right tool for the right job? If I
    need to do just a few basic things, then I leave my netbook
    at home and take my itouch.
    Arm A. Geddon
  • Re: Why most 12" netbooks are not the same.

    Just a suggestion for a better title. The grammar flows a little better.
  • Why Netbook ?? Price/Weight-portability/battery vs. lack of performance.

    Why Netbook ?? Price/Weight-portability/battery vs.
    lack of performance.

    If you want to spend $400 or less, you have 2
    choices--netbook or budget laptops.

    All budget $400- laptop are heavy !!! 15.4"
    weighting 6 lbs (although I did find one 14.1"
    dual-core Acer/Vista-premium that weights 5.2 lb
    --after searching for deals for 3+ months !!!)
    But, if you skip Celerons/Vista-home (some as low
    as $329 !!!), you do get a really decent performance
    laptop that's heavy --and usually bad battery life
    (2-3 hrs) !!!

    To buy a less than 4lb laptop, you need $800+ (I've
    seen Acer 13.3" timeline for as low as $699, that has
    decent battery life !!!--but just a little heavier
    than 4 lbs, I believe). Ultraportables costs $1200-1500
    or more !!!

    In contrast, 3lb or so netbooks with 11.6/12" screens
    (decent resolution 1200 x800 or so) can be had for
    below $400 (Acer again, others charges around $500)--
    get the 6-cell, which gives 6+ hours battery life--
    Acer 11.6" only $329 at Costco (though 3-cell, so
    only 4 hours), and $379 at CompUSA (6 cell).

    If you want realy portability but is willing to live
    with 1168 x 600 resolution and cramp keyboard,
    $300 would get you a 10" netbook, more portable, but
    less usable for real work (have to scroll like crazy
    to see web pages/documents, etc.--and many have 92% keyboard).
    Make sure you get the 6+ cell battery, though.