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Laptop or Netbook?

Laptop or Netbook?

Netbooks, ultra-portable computers designed to access applications and data online, have emerged as the hottest product category for PC makers. Netbooks are popular among users interested in using very portable devices that can accomplish basic computing and communications tasks.

Is a netbook right for you, or would you be better off with a traditional laptop? Like many technology questions, the answer depends on your business needs and your personal preferences.

For most business owners, netbooks function best as second laptops. If you're going to be at a conference or a client location for a day -- and need access to email, the Internet or documents stored online -- a netbook will provide a convenient, light-weight device for getting online and accomplishing basic tasks.

On the other hand, if you're going to be entering text or numbers for extended periods, or designing presentations, the larger keyboard and screen of a laptop is probably going to make it a better choice as a primary computer.

Netbooks, generally speaking, are less powerful than laptops. Netbook processors are designed to perform tasks such as Web browsing or composing emails, and don't have the power or memory needed for applications such as video calls or complex financial modeling.

Advantages and Tradeoffs

Netbooks offer the advantages of portability and convenience, but those come with a couple of tradeoffs. The reduced form factor means that in most cases, a netbook is going to have a smaller keyboard than a laptop, which could make touch-typing impractical or uncomfortable. That may not matter if you're a two-finger typist, but it's important to be aware of as you compare devices.

Similarly, netbooks have smaller screens than laptops, which can make reading them for extended periods less than ideal. The first netbooks came with nine-inch screens, but those are generally being phased out in favor of models with 10-inch screens.

In contrast, laptop screens start at 13 inches, and many models offer screens ranging between 14 and 18 inches. Along with being larger, laptop screens typically display brighter and clearer images than netbooks.

Netbooks are generally lighter than laptops, with most weighing less than three pounds. In contrast, most laptops weigh five or six pounds (with the largest, not really designed for travel use, approaching eight pounds).

If storage is an important consideration, laptops may be a better option. Some netbook models aren't equipped with traditional hard drives, but instead rely on flash memory (much like a USB storage device). Those so-called solid-state drives allow netbooks to boot up very quickly, but offer considerably smaller storage capacities than are available with hard drives.

Even netbooks that have hard drives offer lower storage capacity, with 160 gigabytes representing the maximum available storage for netbooks. Laptops, in comparison, usually come with at least 250 gigabytes of hard drive space, with capacities up to 500 gigabytes being offered on even mid-range models.

Maintaining Access

Another important consideration in evaluating a netbook purchase is how often you'll have a reliable Internet connection. Because netbooks are designed to access applications and data via the Internet, they depend on users having either a Wi-Fi connection or a wireless data modem known as an "aircard." If you're going to be on a plane trip without Internet access, for instance, a laptop is likely to be a better choice for getting work done.

To promote data access plan revenue, a number of wireless carriers are offering price-subsidized netbooks with integrated data modems to users willing to make two-year commitments to monthly service plans.

Netbooks Lack Optical Drives

One of the ways netbooks reduce their size and weight is by eliminating DVD or CD drives (although portable devices can be attached via a USB port). This can make it difficult for business users to install applications (any applications have to be downloaded directly to the netbook) and also makes netbooks unsuitable for watching DVDs or managing multimedia files. If, for instance, you like to watch DVDs or listen to CDs on a plane, a laptop is a better choice.


Both laptops and netbooks have their advantages in some situations, but those advantages often become drawbacks in other instances. For most business owners, a laptop's added flexibility and power make it a better choice as a primary computer, with a netbook offering an affordable option when portability is more important than computing power.


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