Features and Specifications of Netbooks

Ultraportables, thin-and-light, desktop replacement, subnotebooks… all these names for one electronic machine, the laptop computer. Among these, the smallest is easily a netbook. Designed as a mini laptop with basic computing skills, the netbook is a cheaper alternative to the high-end gaming machines and luxury laptops. To easily pick out the best netbooks in the market, one must understand what to look for in a netbook, and how it is different from a laptop. In this article, we look at some basic netbook features and a brief explanation of each.

Features and Specifications of Netbooks

So what actually does a netbook consist of? Here’s a look at some of the main parts that make a netbook stand out among computers.

Size and Dimensions
One of the most important and obvious netbook characteristics, is its diminutive size. The netbook was marketed to an audience looking for a smaller version of a laptop. Their screen sizes are normally 5 inches, 7 inches, 11 and 12 inches at a maximum. The odd 13, 14, 15 inch models fall under notebooks or subnotebook category and larger than that is purely laptop. Their small size allows for a light weight, with a compact design. Keep in mind, that the larger the screen, the better the resolution, but ease in carrying it around decreases.

Hardware Parts
Netbooks have less or reduced hardware parts, as compared to their larger cousins. Optical drives, DVD readers and writers are just not present in a netbook. Other missing parts are floppy disk drives, serial and parallel ports. What is the hardware present in a netbook? 3-in-1 card slots, USB slots, Wi-Fi card and Ethernet port and perhaps Bluetooth. A webcam is another popular hardware perk on a netbook. Since you always need more storage space than you have, the number of USB ports and SD slots are a key feature to look for.

Technical Make-Up
3 main technical parts of a netbook:
Operating System – At the beginning of the netbook’s entry into the electronic market, all netbook models had Linux. While Linux is a good operating system, it’s not meant for beginners with computing devices. Plus program compatibility is another issue. Not everything runs on Linux, the way things run on Windows. Nowadays the dominant netbook OS is Windows XP. Some models do ship with Windows Vista. The Windows 7 starter edition is present among recent models.

Processor – Another signature point among netbook features, is the processor used. Don’t expect the wide range and strength of laptop and PC processors. Netbooks have low power, single core processors. The most popular processor, found in most netbook models, is the Intel Atom processor. A close competitor is the VIA Nano. The whole idea behind such processors, is minimum computing power with good battery retention and operating system support.

Storage and RAM – Let’s discuss RAM first. Higher the RAM, faster the computer. This rule of thumb holds true for netbooks. Most netbooks are equipped with a minimum of 1GB RAM, with upgrading to 2GB allowed. If possible and keeping the processor in mind, go in for a 2 GB RAM. 1GB can be slow and sluggish in performance. Netbooks can have either normal hard disk drives (HDD) or solid-state drives (SSD). Earlier netbook models were always equipped with SSDs. Their actual storage space is limited to pitiful amounts like 16GB or 32GB. With such a miserly amount of space, you’ll find yourself carrying around a lot of external drives and SD cards. A HDD in contrast offers at least 160GB of space. But they tend to reduce battery life and are more damage prone.

Battery Life
If you rarely take your netbook out of the house, or have a permanent power supply everywhere you use it, this is nothing to be concerned about. However, on-the-go laptop users have scarce charging options. The secret behind battery life is, the actual life is half of what is advertised. This is because the battery depends on the processor and what’s being done on the netbook. Average life should be 4 – 6 hours. You can go in for an extended battery for a longer life, but this adds to weight. A light netbook means less battery life. So this feature is a toss-up between weight and staying power.

Computing Power
From the rough hardware specs above, two words can sum up the computing capabilities of a netbook: bare necessity. A netbook’s functionality lies between a smartphone and a laptop, majorly towards the smartphone’s side. For word processing tasks, web browsing, spreadsheet works, minimum computer tasks can be performed on a netbook. Computer games, media functions, programming, such heavy-duty jobs can’t be done. Or they can be done at a snail’s pace. This is only logical, as with 1GB of RAM and 16GB of a hard disk drive, what computing tasks can you do? The best approach with this feature of a netbook, is to keep your expectations to a minimum.

Perhaps the best feature about a netbook, is the low cost. A netbook’s prime advantage is in its low cost. Who wouldn’t want a computing machine, highly portable and compact at ½ the price of a laptop or PC? Your average netbook cost should be between $200 – $500. High-end models can touch the $600 line. But remember, you pay for what you get. Paying $300 for a netbook, does not mean you have a cheap laptop. There are less features under the hood, less hardware make-up and less computing power.

Netbook Features Comparison

For a better understanding of how the above features are part of the netbook’s makeup, take a look at 3 of the latest netbook models, compared by features.

Name: Samsung NF310 A01, Processor: Intel Atom N550 Dual-Core, RAM & Storage: 1GB RAM, 250GB hard disk, Screen Size: 10.8 inches Weight: 2.9 lbs

Name:Asus Eee PC 1015PN,  Processor: Intel Atom N550 Dual Core, RAM & Storage: 1GB RAM, 250GB hard disk, Screen Size: 10.3 inches, Weight: 2.8 lbs

So what’s the verdict on the netbook? A nifty mini laptop, at a cheaper price with less power. For students and budgets, it’s an ideal device. But the bright future for the netbook is dimmed by the rapid advance of the tablet PC, led by the iPad 2 and Motorola Xoom. Indeed a tablet is even smaller in size, with more or less the same features, in a more compact package. In the ongoing intense battle for computer device supremacy, knowing which features to look for, makes your choice of a personal computer much easier.