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What is a Netbook?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 16, 2024
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A netbook is a mini-laptop computer designed for mobility, wired and wireless online access, word processing, and general office applications. Weighing in at 2 to 3 pounds (0.9 to 1.4 kilograms) and featuring LCD screens between 6 and 10 inches (15 and 25 cm), this device is a good companion for people on the go who want connectivity without lugging a much heavier, full-sized laptop along. Different models are available from a variety of manufacturers.

To achieve the lightest weight, netbooks usually do not have integrated compact disk players. Instead, most feature two or more Universal Serial Bus (USB) ports, a video-out port, SD card reader, integrated speakers, and microphone and headphone jacks. They also feature a built-in camera for video blogging and Voice Over IP (VOIP). Keyboards are 5% to 20% smaller than standard, and memory and disk drive space vary, dependent in part on the operating system installed. Battery life also varies between models, ranging from two to seven hours.

Netbooks with less memory and smaller static drives generally feature a portable Linux® operating system, while models with more RAM and platter drives come preinstalled with Windows® or Linux®. Portable Linux® operating systems can get by with a minimum 512 megabytes (MB) of memory, and as little as 4 gigabytes (GB) of internal storage on a static disk drive (SDD), though they can also come with much higher specs. A computer with an up-to-date Windows® operating system can have much more memory and storage, making them more expensive and slightly heavier than leaner models.

The central processing unit (CPU) depends on the manufacturer and model, and a wide variety of options are available. As with memory, the speed of the CPU will usually increase with the price of the computer. They come in a range of prices, although the more expensive models are really more of a laptop. A laptop with full capabilities, a much faster CPU, and a DVD drive can be purchased for less money than some of the most expensive netbook models, but for some consumers the “extra” money paid for more expensive netbooks is worth the portability alone.

Given their minimalistic specifications, these computers are surprisingly popular. Students, active bloggers, and geeks who like the idea of carrying along online access no matter where they might be headed can all benefit from one. Certain businesses might even issue them for basic field operations. Not only can they offer access to virtual private networks, many business applications can be had online using third party services known as cloud computing, negating the need for large hard drives and top-of-the-line processing power.

Individuals who are in the market for a netbook should shop carefully. Specifications and features are constantly changing, with newer models featuring more RAM and larger hard drives, though price rises accordingly. People whose needs are simple, and who only want to do things like write papers for school or surf the Internet, should be satisfied with a basic model at a very basic price.

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Discussion Comments
By anon74242 — On Mar 31, 2010

lokilove you can run multiple things at once. i tested mine and was able to run 25 programs without serious lagging.

and internet can have many tabs open. mine usually has 12 open at most and it still runs well. i hope that helped.

By lokilove — On Jan 25, 2010

Been thinking about getting a laptop for a while now. These netbooks are certainly cheaper but I'm not sure if it would be a waste of money in the long run. I don't play games or run memory heavy programs, usually just a word processor and web browsers.

Can a netbook handle running 3 different browsers (FF,Chrome,Opera)with multiple tabs each? Or am I better off putting out extra money on a laptop?

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