If you are highly concerned about cost, portability, battery life and not as concerned about optical drives 1 , screen size, or keyboard size you probably want a netbook. It will probably run you between $300 – $500.2
If cost-be-damned you just must have absolutely everything, well, then get yourself a high end laptop.3 The sky’s the limit with a computer like this. You can configure an Alienware laptop that will make Deep Thought hide its processor in shame for $5,000.00 or so.
If you are concerned about cost but just cannot sacrifice optical drives, screen size, or keyboard size, you probably want a basic laptop. A basic laptop is all about compromises. You get the hardware you need from a desktop, but without the thin, light, elegant, and portable design. These laptops typically weigh between 6 and 8 pounds and cost between $600 and $1000 or so.
There are so many nearly indistinguishable computers in this category, there is no real point in suggesting a particular laptop. Just about every manufacturer has several choices for basic laptops.
The reason I’m considering the 4GB version where I was dismissing the 8GB version before is the incredible price and the purposes to which such a laptop would be put. In order to do about 98% of what I need with a laptop, I could easily use a netbook. On any given day I use:
Firefox for web browsing
Thunderbird for e-mail
Pidgin for instant messaging
FileZilla for FTP transfers
Notepad++ for programming/text editing
OpenOffice for word processing, spreadsheets
TightVNC for remote access
All of these programs are open source software and available for Ubuntu4 and Windows. So, in shopping for a laptop, I really don’t care about which operating system I use. The 4GB Dell Mini 9 with Ubuntu could do all of these things – and for a $199 price tag. Plus, with the Mini’s SD card slot, I could pop in an extra 16GB of memory for only $26.
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
WiFi aka 802.11a/b/g, and preferably also 802.11n
Other things people might care about (but I don’t):
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.
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. ;)
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!