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    Netbooks: Money-savers or time-wasters?

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    Last month’s launch of Apple’s iPad tablet computer has prompted many people to wonder where netbooks stand in the scheme of modern computing. Joel Montgomery provides a useful snapshot of the pros and cons of buying and owning a netbook.

    A netbook is a much smaller and cheaper version of a laptop. Netbooks (short for “Internet Notebooks“), also known as “mini laptops” and “mini notebooks”, are ideal for travelling and for home, but what about for the office? Does it make sense to shrink your I.T. budget at the expensive of screen size? In short, are netbooks really worth your while?

    1. Price

    Netbooks are ultra-cheap. You can pick up a decent netbook for under $600, less than half what you’d pay for a laptop. However, if you plan to use a netbook regularly in the office, then you may want an external (bigger) monitor & keyboard, which will set you back another $200-$300.

    2. Mobility

    A typical laptop weighs between 2kg and 3kg and with a 15″ screen they can be difficult to use when you’re travelling. Netbooks, however, weigh less than 1kg and with screen sizes ranging from 7″ to 10″ they are ideal for use “on the go”. Netbooks also have a lower power draw so their batteries can last two to three times longer. You can buy netbooks with built-in Bluetooth, WiFi or 3G cards, making connecting to the internet easy no matter where you are.

    TIP: Look for netbooks with SSD (Solid State Drives). These are better than the traditional hard drive because there are no moving parts so they’re less prone to damage if (and when) they get knocked about.

    3. Performance

    Netbooks are much slower than your typical laptop. They use low voltage processors, usually with 1GB memory (RAM). You’ll find that you can simultaneously run multiple Office applications (Word, Excel, Outlook, etc.), accounting software and a web browser without an issue. However, when you start to run graphics applications, video or websites with lots of Flash, your Netbook may grind to a halt.

    TIP: You’ll get the best performance if you run Windows 7 (starter edition) or Linux. You may also need to schedule your anti-virus software to run the scheduled scan your hard drive after hours.

    4. Screen size

    The netbook’s small screen (7″ to 10″) can give you eye strain if you’re on it all day. Popular netbook models allow for a maximum screen resolution of 1024×600 but anything below this doesn’t let you view the whole width of a web page at any one time (so you have to scroll the page back and forth to read a full line of text, which can get very frustrating).

    TIP: Make sure your netbook has a VGA connection so you can connect it to an external monitor.

    5. Other considerations

    Netbooks usually don’t have CD or DVD drives. Small keyboards can also make it difficult to type so you may need an external keyboard when you’re in the office.

    The Bottom Line

    If you need a second computer for the home or a travelling companion, then the price, weight, mobility and battery life of a netbook make them hard to go by. If you’re in the market for a Dell or Samsung netbook, then make sure you grab an extra saving from PowerBuy first. However, if you spend most of your working day in the office in front of your computer, then we suggest you spend extra to get a laptop, because even the slightest performance degradation can add up to hours of lost productivity for you and your staff.

    Joel Montgomery is founder of PowerBuy, a coupon and cashback service delivering discounts on technology product purchases for Australian businesses.

    Photo: nDevilTV

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