One Guy, 3 Netbooks: Page 4

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MSI Wind

I'm going to keep a netbook with Linux because I want to learn more about the OS. But, at least for now, I'll go with XP to get any real work done. That sent me searching for an XP based netbook with a 10-inch matte screen.

Initially, I had hoped to get a netbook with a solid state hard disk but, like a box of chocolates, you never know what performance you're getting with SSDs, and it varies drastically. While some are faster than traditional hard disks, the SSDs used in cheaper machines are slower than traditional hard disks at writing data.

You probably won't find any performance specs for the SSDs used in netbooks, which, in and of itself, tells us something. Even outside of netbooks, SSDs almost never publish comprehensive performance specs. For example, have you ever seen one advertise its worst metric, random write speed? Probably not. They typically advertise their best metric, sequential read speed.

No doubt, SSDs are the future, probably the near future, but for now, I'm going with a traditional hard disk. I found the performance of the hard disk-based Acer Aspire One perfectly acceptable, whereas the SSDs in the Asus Eee 1000 occasionally felt sluggish. Interestingly, the 40GB SSD in the Asus Eee 1000 is actually two SSDs, a faster 8GB model and a slower 32GB model.

The MSI Wind is another popular netbook, and it met my personal specs. It had been a bit more than I wanted to spend but the price of a low-end model (U100-420US) recently fell to $350. This model omits Bluetooth networking, Wi-Fi N and gigabit Ethernet, which was fine by me. Unfortunately, it includes a 3-cell battery rather than a 6-cell, but it seemed like such a bargain that I ordered it anyway. As I write this, the Wind model U100-053US with a 6-cell battery and smaller capacity hard disk sells for at least $50 more.

Like the other netbooks I tried, the Wind comes with an Intel Atom processor and a gigabyte of RAM. The hard disk is 120GB and the mouse buttons are under the touchpad. More accurately, I should say the mouse button – the Wind features a single button rather than two physically separate buttons. Clicking the left side of the button is a left mouse click and likewise clicking the right side of the button is a right click.

The keyboard feels just a bit smaller than that on the Asus Eee 1000 and the keys are flatter. The right shift key is, thankfully, in the normal expected place. The Page Up/Down keys are both Function keys, but this isn't nearly as bad as on the Asus machine because the Fn key itself is in the bottom left corner of the keyboard, making it very easy to find. Overall, Acer did the best job of keyboard design, it's too bad the size of the Aspire One mandated that the keyboard be so small.

Netbook Conclusions

If there is anything to learn here it's that being able to return a netbook may be the most important thing to look for when making a purchase. There is no way to know how you'll like something so new until you've lived with it a bit.

To make a small cheap computer, netbook designers had to throw some things overboard. None include an optical drive, a PC card slot or a telephone modem. Very few have ExpressCard slots. On the other hand, almost all include a Webcam and none of the Atom based machines I tried got hot at all.

Finally, let me point out that the Acer Aspire One and the Asus Eee 1000 have power cords with two prongs, while the MSI Wind power cord has three prongs. Electricians may favor three prongs, but if you buy a netbook for traveling, a three-pronged cord may limit the outlets where the machine can be plugged in.

As a long-time ThinkPad user, I'm still waiting for the first netbook with a red eraser-head pointing stick in the middle of the keyboard.

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Tags: Linux, Microsoft, netbooks, Acer, asus

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