How to Buy a New Computer: Part II Netbooks

New Laptop

New Laptop

Yesterday I discussed the basics of buying a new computer.  The most important first step is figuring out what you need and what you want out of a new computer.  There are three main types of portable computers available these days: netbooks, basic laptops, and high-end laptops.  Today is all about “netbooks.”1

(Scroll to the end to see my picks…)


A netbook is a very small laptop designed to extremely mobile and portable.  They are optimized for portability and wireless connectivity.

Netbooks typically have a display of 10″ or less. 2 They usually don’t have any CD or DVD drives. 3  They usually have very small solid state drives or mid-sized hard drives.  On the plus side, they usually have bluetooth, media card readers, and WiFi.  They’re typically between 2 to 3 pounds, depending upon brand and type of battery.  They’re also relatively cheap – between $350 to $500.

My requirements may differ from yours.  If I were to buy a netbook, I would want:

  • Minimum 2 USB ports, preferably 3
  • Minimum 100 GB hard drive
  • 1 GB RAM
  • Bluetooth
  • WiFi aka 802.11a/b/g, and preferably also 802.11n
  • Ethernet port
  • Modem port

Other things people might care about (but I don’t):

  • Webcam
  • Keyboard size
  • Monitor size

Keep in mind, I’ve never used any of these laptops – I’m just evaluating them based on their prices and my own opinions as to their respective brands and specs.  Although, I’m enough of a nerd that I put together a spreadsheet to compare those five netbooks as well as about another dozen or so models and submodels.  If anyone is interested in seeing the spreadsheet, mention it in the comments below or drop me a line.

Dell has a new netbook too, but it only has solid state drive options – which are too small to be of use to me. 4 However, I’m sure it would be perfect for some people.

My picks are, in rough order of preference:

If I were to buy a netbook today, I’d probably go for the Acer Aspire One.  It occupies a sweet spot in terms of price, is a decent brand, and has very comparable specs to the higher-end models.

Next, basic laptops!

  1. Photo courtesy of Ciccio Pizzettaro []
  2. TV’s and monitors are always measured by the diagonal. []
  3. This means they’re no good for watching DVD’s or playing CD’s. []
  4. 8 GB of hard drive space is barely enough to run an operating system and a few programs these days… []

How to Buy a New Computer: Part I: Balancing Want and Need

Broken Laptop

Old Laptop

Out With The Old…

Unfortunately, its that time again.  When my laptop died for the first time I got it repaired.  When it died again, it had the good manners to at least do so within the repair warranty.

My trusty sidekick died for the third and final time on December 31, 2008.1

…And In With The New!

Now its time to get a new laptop.  I’m reluctant to buy another Dell.  Dell installed nVidia graphics chips on the motherboard.  Those nVidia chips have  a critical flaw in that they overheat and pull away from the motherboard.  Sound familiar?  Well, this was the exact problem I was having with my laptop.  Apparently this problem has spawned a lawsuit against nVidia.

New Laptop

New Laptop

I’m undecided what kind of laptop I want/need.  A netbook?  A basic laptop?  A high-end laptop?2

Figure out what you need, then figure out what you want


Its all about what you want and what you need.  I need a laptop that will let me program, surf the web, listen to music, and send e-mail.  This accounts for roughly 98% of my computer usage.

The last 2% of computer usage is comprised of processor intensive activities such as watching DVD’s, video games, video editing, DVD and CD burning, and manipulating large amounts of programming code.  For instance, the WCAB legacy number to EAMS number converter involved more than 4.6 million lines of code. 3 My previous laptop struggled with that one. I probably only do these things once every six months or so.

For what I need, a netbook would actually work very well for me.


As any computer user knows, its very frustrating to have a computer that will not do what you want or takes to long to do it.  My wants are a super slim, light-weight, battery efficient, computer that has the processing power to deal with large amounts of data and the ability to burn DVD’s and CD’s.

A netbook fulfills the wants of a slim, light-weight, and battery efficient computer.  A basic laptop would suffice for the processing power and CD/DVD burning capabilities.

Having it all

When it comes to laptops, sometimes you can have it all – it just depends how you’re going to compromise.

  • If money were no object, this would be a no-brainer: buy a high-end light and powerful laptop.  These cost $1500 and start climbing steeply after that.
  • The other compromise is not so intuitive.  A very decent external CD/DVD burner combo drive would probably only cost $75 or so.  If I’m only burning discs 2% of the time, this is a very reasonable solution.  The bigger problem is the underpowered processors in netbooks.  They simply do not have the ability to play new games, handle large amounts of data, or deal with too many simultaneous tasks.  The only possible work around here is where you use your underpowered laptop to remotely control a more powerful computer and use that more powerful computer to crunch numbers.4 However, this won’t help with video games.  ;)

Decision Time

What am I going to get?  I’m going to run down the pro’s and con’s of netbooks, basic laptops, and high-end laptops next time.  Stay tuned!

  1. Photo courtesy of Just Us 3 []
  2. Photo courtesy of Ciccio Pizzettaro []
  3. Seriously.  4.6 million. []
  4. Scroll down to the part about TightVNC. []

Homemade Pasta Recipe: Ravioli from scratch

Thumbs up!

Thumbs up!

Here’s a recipe I’ve used to make ravioli, including the filling, from scratch. 1 I found the recipe several years ago on the web, but unfortunately don’t remember where. In any case, here’s the recipe. It makes a LOT of pasta – enough for at least 6 people. The ravioli filling is my own creation – and its damn tasty.

There are essentially four steps:

  1. Make the dough
  2. Make the filling
  3. Make the ravioli
  4. Cook

Step 1: Make the Dough

Ravioli Pasta Dough Recipe2

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup water

Place about 3/4 of the flour into a large bowl. Separately mix the egg, oil, salt and water. Add the wet ingredients to the flour. Mix everything thoroughly.

Kneed in the remaining flour. This takes a long time.

Wrap in plastic wrap and let sit for 30 minutes in the fridge. In the meantime, let’s move on to…

Step 2: Make the filling

Garlic Spinach Ricotta Ravioli Filling

  • 1/2 cup frozen spinach
  • 1 tablespoon of garlic minced
  • 3 tablespoons finely grated parmigiano reggiano cheese
  • 1/2 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Defrost spinach in bowl and drain. Mix in everything else. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate when not in use.

Step 3: Make the ravioli

  • When ready to make the ravioli, only remove a very small amount from the plastic to work with at a time.3 I only worked with pieces of dough about the size of a standard 6-sided-die.
  • Squish the piece of dough into a disc about the size of a silver dollar.
  • Place the dough on a plastic cutting board. I prefer the kind with the non-skid rubberized ends.
  • Roll the dough as thinly as possible. You’re going for almost translucent in the center. A heavy rolling pin helps.
  • Add about 1/2 tablespoon of the filling to the center.
  • Fold the dough in half and pinch the edges.
  • Set each piece aside on wax paper on a large plate. The wax paper is to prevent the ravioli from sticking to the plate. Don’t let the ravioli touch each other since they will stick together.
  • Cover the ravioli on the plate with plastic wrap while you work.

Step 4: Cook

  • When ready to cook, add the pasta to boiling water in a large pot and then lower to medium heat after a minute.
  • Cook for 5-7 minutes.4
  • The ravioli will tend to stick to the bottom of the pot, so stir once or twice.


  1. Photo courtesy of Dev Null []
  2. As I mentioned above, this recipe makes a lot of dough. If trying it out for the first time, consider making a 1/3 batch. []
  3. If you’re using a pasta press, you already know what you’re doing so you don’t need to read this. []
  4. 5 minutes if you have very thin ravioli, 7 minutes if your pasta was thicker []

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