Calibrating the Netbook Frenzy — A ‘Basic’ Primer

It’s great to see all the momentum out there in netbook-land. These simple little internet Thinno.jpgdevices, while limited in their capability, are generating a lot of buzz out there. That’s a good thing, and Intel has certainly been behind this trend with a great little energy efficient processor called Atom. But as with anything new and exciting and different there are bound to be misperceptions.

We’ve seen some really innovative Atom-based netbooks—from Dell, Acer, Asus, MSI (be sure and check out the “love” edition), and others. But there’s also been some confusion as to what constitutes a netbook. We’ve seen full featured laptops with 160G hard drives and $700+ price points referred to as netbooks. We’ve seen full featured laptops with multiple expansion slots running Vista compared to the Intel Classmate PC and the Asus Eee PC, both of which are more clearly in the netbook category.

It’s important to note what a netbook really is: a basic, single function device designed primarily for internet consumption. They are great for this purpose — browsing, checking email, social networking, etc. But buyers may be disappointed if they expect to do video editing, watch full length movies, and multi-task with multiple applications running as they would a traditional laptop computer. As awesome as this little Atom processor is — the smallest chip Intel makes with the world’s smallest transistors — in netbooks, it is not meant to replace the rich user experience one gets from the Core 2 Duo or Intel Centrino 2 Processor technology based machines.

9 thoughts on “Calibrating the Netbook Frenzy — A ‘Basic’ Primer

  1. Why would you say NetBooks can’t watch full length movies? Fill a $55 16 GB SDHC card with 3 DVDs or 12 DIVX movies and you’re good to go on the airplane for entertainment. Multitasking is not a problem so long as you’re not talking about doing Video encoding.

  2. As Intel tried to implement with the Celeron: the innovator’s dilemma is that if you don’t cannibalise your own market, your competitors will.
    “rich user experience”? You sound like Microsoft, and I’m afraid about as believable. No-one will care until stuff becomes famous for not working on these things. What practical activities are you thinking of that can’t be done on a netbook? Be specific and convincing, none of this vague handwaving about “rich user experiences.”

  3. Now we know Intel can’t be happy about low-end, low-margin chips like Atom cannabilising the higher-end stuff you make, but an Atom jobby with enough RAM welly makes a fine little PC for 90% of what people buy notebooks for. If you actually manage to make a nice low-watt IGP with good MP4 acceleration then you’ve a perfect little HD viewer right there.

  4. George, the full length movie comment mostly referred to limited screen size and also to some extent, battery life….most of these netbooks are 7-10″ screens anything bigger should fall into traditional laptop space. On multi-tasking, try pulling up a YouTube video, then go stream some live radio/music, then open up a word processor and maybe one other app and see what happens…

  5. Contemporary netbooks have processors that are orders of magnitude faster than Pentium Pro or PentiumII, therefore netbooks should be able to do at least what older desktop processors could do. And what could you do with an old processor? Surely much more than simple network access: you could do video editing, server execution, and mathematical research. Netbooks, therefore, can also do all of these tasks adequately: video editing, server execution, and mathematical research. So, I really fail to see why one should see netbooks as purely network access terminals. If our demands are reasonable we can do everything we want with our netbooks, including video editing if we edit at a reasonable resolution. People once had no more than 300-400MHz CPUs and yet they managed to do 3D games. Just because today we have more powerful machines does not mean that we cannot tolerate lower-resolution 3D graphics or lower-bitrate videos. Another thing that we must think of, however, is that we should quit the mentality of “a machine for network access” or “a machine for video editing”, because every customer is different. Most people associate SSE with multimedia but they can be used for mathematical research just fine. You can never know how the end user is going to use your product, so you should keep in mind that you should design it as much a general-purpose machine as possible to attract the greatest number of customers. Netbooks can be used as desktop-replacements for people with reasonable needs with no problems just by plugging in an external monitor, keyboard, and maybe some USB storage. And thanks to their low power usage, quietness, and SSD, netbooks can be great as home servers. In my opinion the main definining characteristics of netbooks are not that they are “machines for network access” but that they are up to 7-8.9″ screen size (so that they are mobile) with a classic clamshell notebook keyboard/pointing device configuration (so that they emulate larger laptops), SSD storage (so that they are indestructible), cheap (so that they can be thrown away and replaced at will), and being equipped with a x86-based processor (so that you can run the same software you run on a larger laptop, desktop, or server with no need to recompile or port).

  6. For comparison, most of the Netbooks run something like a 1.6Ghz cpu+/-. Which is quite snappy with the correct operating system…
    I use a 1999 HP laptop with P3-500Mhz, 256MB ram, 6GB HDD to give Sales and Engineering presentations to clients (Fortune 10 types). It runs Xubuntu 8.04 and Open Office (sometimes imported PowerPoint or native Impress presentation files). Display is a portable projector. I’ve even run video on this thing from a NAS box, done email, and other misc activities. I even have a P2-300Mhz laptop that I would use except the video out port really only renders black and white. Other activities on it were fine (as long as you realize you’ll have to work with less than a dozen firefox tabs open).
    It would be great to have the current crop of Netbooks. I would run or one of the other light-weight window managers (maybe opengeu or something).
    So the Netbook specifications are quite good for most tasks. Note that ‘ubuntu 8.04 is a newer operating system than either Vista or Apple’s last OS. And continues to get updated and improved every six months.
    The biggest challenge is for Intel to help make the Netbooks be a clear separation from full Notebooks in price. Netbooks need to be $200-$350 range and base Notebooks in the $450-$550 range. When the pricing of the two platforms overlap the manufacturers are just asking for sales to be cannibalized.
    Someone once commented that “notebooks can never be small enough nor light enough” – the Netbook form factor is hitting that sweet spot.

  7. I own an ASUS Eee PC 1000 with a Celeron. When I play a movie, it doesn’t fill the screen. It has a black picture frame all around it. I am using maybe 50-60% of the screen. Is this a fundamental limit of the graphics? What can I do to fill the screen in one dimension (say, vertically)? I get a sumilar result with WinDVD 5 and Windows Media Player. The OS is Windows XP.

  8. I have bought an ASUS PC, all are well, except the camera, when I want to use it to communicate with my friends online, but it always doesn’t work, and recently the problem happens also in sound.How can I do?

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