Tech Magazine

What the Heck is a Netbook?

Posted on the 05 September 2011 by Nerdywerds @NerdyWerds
A netbook is a great solution for students and for business meetings. Photo by Red

For those that don't know, I'm a big guy. I'm about 6'9" on a good day and weigh about what a pro lineman does. So needless to say, I enjoy bigger things. The laptop I'm writing this article on is massive, even by my standards. I've been told the rest of the world may not share my affinity for the biggest products out there, however. For those people, the netbook has been nothing short of amazing.

As I alluded to earlier, netbooks are small. The average size of a netbook is around 10", but they have been produced with screens as small as 5" and as big as 12". As a quick side note, if you weren't aware, screen size is measured diagonally across the screen, not side to side. The decreased screen size also leads to a nice drop in overall weight. My behemoth laptop weighs between 6-8 pounds, whereas an average netbook would weigh around 2-3 pounds. I know it may not seem like a lot, but if you're a student trying to run across campus to make that 8AM lecture, the lighter load will definitely be noticeable.

This decrease in size does come at a price. To achieve the streamlined form factor of a netbook, certain technical elements have to be pared down or completely removed. Most notably, on the vast majority of netbooks there is no optical drive, examples of an optical drive include blu-ray, cd or dvd readers. Also, the decrease in size leads to a natural decrease in keyboard space. So you won't get a number pad like on a full keyboard. The most important reduction in technology comes with the netbooks innards. Netbooks typically are less powerful than full fledged laptops. They offer smaller processors and less RAM, need a refresher course on RAM, follow the link. Even the best netbook processor is put to shame by a low end dual-core processor. If you don't know what a dual-core processor, fear not, there will be an article coming about it shortly. But for this article, you just need to know it's essentially two processor cores as opposed to one.

This drop in processing power also requires a limited operating system to be installed as well. The vast majority of netbooks come with Window 7 Starter. Window 7 Starter is the most limited of Microsoft's current operating systems and is designed with netbooks in mind. It restricts customization such as changing wallpaper and Visual Styles. In fact, Starter was originally only allowed to run 3 simultaneous applications, but that restriction was later removed.

Another limitation of netbooks is a lack of memory. Many netbooks don't even have conventional hard drives. Opting instead for something called "solid state" storage. This solid-state memory, which use microchips and don't have moving parts like traditional hard drives, is limited in size, with 128GB being the biggest I've seen, as opposed to 2TB for typical hard drives.

A new generation of netbooks is emerging; web based netbooks. Chrome OS is my favorite example of these. These books are made with web applications in mind. It's kind of a combination of smart phone and laptop. These Cloud based devices make sure the internet is constantly at your fingertips. Instead of downloading and installing applications like MS Office or Adobe Photoshop to your computer, these new devices work with web applications. So if you need a word processor, you'd go to Google's Docs application and work from there. We'll do a more in depth article of Cloud computing and web based operating system, but these are becoming a player in the netbook realm and I felt you should know about them.

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