Case against NetBooks

Lenovo S10The more I consider it, the less likely it is that I will ever buy myself a NetBook PC. A NetBook PC is basically a stripped down laptop that usually weighs less than 1kg and comes with a 10″ screen or so – basically a small and light laptop that you can carry around in your handbag. The main component that makes all this possible is the use of low power microprocessors, which reduce the need for an expensive and bulky cooling system.

However, due to price reasons, it is making less and less sense to actually get a NetBook. For example, consider the following devices from Lenovo (single unit dealer prices are quoted):

  • Lenovo S10 (NetBook) – Atom 270/1.6GHz/512kb/533FSB/10.2″/1GB RAM/160GB HDD/GMA950 (RM1619)
  • Lenovo G410 (Laptop) – CoreDuo T2390/1.86GHz/1Mb/533FSB/14.1″/1GB RAM/160GB HDD/X3100 (RM1489)

It is plainly obvious that the G410 is a better computer than the S10. It has a better graphics chip, a faster processor and a larger screen. The G410 is a real machine that can be used to do real work while the S10 is more a toy that is useful for checking email than running simulations. Moreover, if the devices are further scrutinised, there will be further advantages for the G410 including the cheaper price tag of RM130.

The only advantage that the S10 has is size. It is sufficiently small to be mistaken for an organiser while the G410 is a real laptop. Therefore, netbooks are pretty much only useful for yuppies and teenagers with rich daddies. For a price conscious student or a serious worker, an older model laptop is definitely a better buy.

However, I am quite interested to see a Atom based server system though. These babies would work very well in the data centre. Some early benchmarks have shown that an Atom 330 with two cores at 1.6GHz and capable of running two threads each, has excellent MySQL performance, easily beating a Pentium 4 2.8GHz machine by 265% (and consuming less than 5% of the electrical power).

I am now considering buying a Atom based system to power my back-end file server. I plan to set up a file server for storing all the encoded videos that I will be encoding for my HTPC. Having a dedicated file system would allow me to grow my storage according to my requirements. That way, I can just get a HTPC system without any built in storage (or remove any bundled storage), which will further reduce the noise levels of the system.

PS: As for the claims of being ‘energy efficient’, this does not translate into real world advantages. While the NetBook uses less power than a normal laptop, it also comes with smaller batteries. In effect, you still only get 2-3 hours of effective use before the thing dies on you. Less so, if you’re using wireless or 3G Internet.

Published by

Shawn Tan

Chip Doctor, Chartered/Professional Engineer, Entrepreneur, Law Graduate.

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