CPU, memory, and hard disk:
Intel's small-footprint Atom processor revolutionized netbook design. The current Atom N270 now is found in just about all netbooks these days, while the Eee PC 1000HE features the next-generation N280.
Skip lower-priced alternatives like the Celeron. A Windows XP machine needs at least 1GB of RAM and a 100GB disk. Dont settle for 512MB of RAM, because RAM is cheap these days, and because you'll want to upgrade it immediately. If you're running Linux, though, you can get away with just about anything including a tiny, flash-based system drive.
Ports and expandability:
Amazingly, some netbooks offer up to three USB ports, an external VGA port, and an Ethernet jack. That's more than what you'll find on Apple's $1,799 MacBook Air, a machine that also weighs three pounds.
Even so, port configurations vary between models, so make sure the one youre about to buy has enough to accommodate your current array of peripherals.
Other important features:
Wi-Fi is an absolute must you need at least 802.11b/g compatibility, though 802.11n is a plus now that many home and business users are beginning to shift to that standard.
Most netbooks come with a built-in Web cam. Some even have Bluetooth, as well as card readers for transferring camera photos. If you're going to spend a lot of time away from power outlets, look for extended-range six-cell batteries. Some netbooks crap out after two or three hours due to puny battery capacities.
The HP Mini 1000 netbook looks classy with its sleek lines, black finish, and full-size keys. Its side-mounted trackpad buttons are as difficult to use as they look, though.
Dedicated graphics chipsets are almost non-existent on netbooks, but integrated graphics are okay for anything short of 3D gaming.
Brands to consider:
Asus started the category in 2007. HP, Acer, MSI, Samsung, Lenovo, and Dell have since muscled their way in; all have models worthy of consideration.
Sony clearly Linux vs. wants to play, but they're having trouble with the idea of a $400 portable. Steve Jobs has gone on record as saying that Apple doesnt know how to build a $500 machine that isnt a piece of junk." (Sounds like a personal problem.)
Models to consider:
All of the major vendors appear to have sorted out their netbooks by the second or third generation. Some notables:
The Asus Eee PC 1000HE has a comfortable keyboard and long battery life.
The MSI Wind is a little cramped but offers a svelte design.
Acer snuck up on the computer industry, and recently placed third in sales ahead of some big namesdue in large part to its wildly popular Aspire One series of netbooks.
HPs Mini 1000 looks very classyalmost like what Apple would release, if it were silver instead of black.
Acer finally offers a 10-inch Aspire One these days, but it lacks full-size keys.
Other worthy options include the Samsung NC10, the Dell Inspiron Mini 9, and the Lenovo IdeaPad S10.
Where to buy:
Amazon is a great start, and keeps a running tally of the most popular netbooks
. Dell and HP sell direct online as well as in stores. Best Buy
are also solid options for buying netbooks.
ALSO SEE: Netbook Smackdown: Compare the Six Top Netbooks
AND: One Guy, 3 Netbooks