SLIDESHOW

Netbook Evolution: 22 Netbooks in 18 Months

A look at the fast-changing netbook – with an overview of models released in the past 18 months.

Faster, Bigger, Prettier, Stronger, Pricier!

ASUS is responsible for introducing the netbook to the PC market as an affordable and simple laptop solution for students. Since the release of the original Eee PC, almost every major PC vendor has released competing models — many taking alternate design paths moving the netbook concept in different directions away from the original Eee PC. As such, the netbook has evolved in ways many people probably weren’t expecting: they got bigger, more powerful, more expensive, and have even become luxury items! Furthermore, Windows XP has dominated over Linux as the installed operating system.

We take a look at the evolution of the netbook – with an overview of the netbooks we’ve tested in the last 18 months. We start with the humble, original Linux-based ASUS Eee PC 701, to the Vista-running HP 2133 Mini-Note, and the breathtaking MSI Wind U120.

ASUS Eee PC 701 4G

It has been approximately 18 months since the release of the original Eee PC, which ran a modified Xandros version of Linux, had a 4GB solid state drive, a small 7in screen, 512MB of RAM and an Intel Celeron M CPU. It cost $363 at the time of its release, making it the cheapest laptop on the market.

ASUS Eee PC 900

Next up was the Eee PC 900. With an 8.9in screen, it was bigger than the Eee PC 701 4G, but it also had more storage and RAM. It was available with either or operating system versions. The Linux version came with a larger solid state storage drive than the Windows version — making it more expensive than the Windows version ($472 compared to $436).

HP 2133 Mini-Note PC

HP was the next vendor after ASUS to introduce a netbook to the market, and its 2133 Mini-Note PC differed as it was aimed at business users, not students. It had an 8.9in screen, a VIA C7-M CPU (1.6GHz), 2GB of RAM, a huge 160GB hard drive, and it was the first netbook to run Windows Vista Business edition. It also had an ExpressCard/54 slot, making it a desirable choice for users wanting to use a 3G data card. It also had a tendency to get very hot, making it uncomfortable to use on your lap for long periods, and its battery life was poor. It cost $499 at release.

A second version of the Mini-Note was released, priced at $899, which had a 1.2GHz CPU and 1GB of RAM.

ASUS Eee PC 701 4G (Lush Green)

Before another manufacturer could move into the netbook market, ASUS revised the price of its original Linux-based Eee PC to $349 and made it available in a variety of colors — including Lush Green.

ASUS Eee PC 901

And it didn’t stop with new colours — ASUS soon released the Eee PC 901. This was a sleeker design, but a slightly heavier model than the Eee PC 900, and was based on the Intel Atom N270 (1.6GHz) CPU. With its 6-cell battery, it provided over five hours of life away from a power outlet, making it THE netbook of choice for on-the-road usage. It had an 8.9in screen, 1GB of RAM, and was available with either Linux or Windows XP operating systems installed. The Linux version came with 20GB of solid state storage, while the Windows version came with a paltry 12GB. The Eee PC 901 also heralded the introduction of Gigabit Ethernet and 802.11n wireless networking in a netbook. It cost $472.

MSI Wind U100

MSI was next to enter the netbook market, providing a breath of fresh air with its Wind U100 model. This model was white, had a 10in screen, an 80GB hard drive, 1GB RAM, ran Windows XP, and was based on Intel’s Atom N270 CPU (1.6GHz). Most importantly, it provided excellent battery life through its 6-cell battery. It was easy to use, making it one of our favourite netbooks, but it wasn’t without its flaws; mainly, it was a top-heavy unit, which means it easily fell over while in your lap. Its price was $509 at launch.

Pioneer DreamBook Light IL1

Pioneer Computers was the first of the Australian PC builders to send us its version of the netbook, which didn’t compare favorably to what was on the market at the time. It looked and felt awful to use, but at $400, it was reasonably priced. It had a 7in screen, a 1GHz VIA C7-M CPU, 1GB of RAM, a 40GB hard drive, and was the first and only netbook we’ve seen with a 56Kbps modem. It ran Windows XP (slowly) and its poor screen resolution (a stretched 1024x768) as well as a cramped keyboard and touchpad made it uncomfortable to use.

Acer Aspire One

The next well-known manufacturer to release a netbook was Acer, and its Linpus-based Aspire One became one of the most interesting models on the market. It had an 8GB solid state drive installed, but also included two SD memory card slots. One of those could be used to expand the internal storage of the unit by up to 12GB (although we only tested with a 4GB SD card at the time). It had an 8.9in screen, weighed only 900 grams, and despite being so small, was relatively easy to use. It cost $436 and only had 512MB of RAM, but there was also a Windows XP version available with 1.5GB of RAM and a 120GB hard drive for $509.

ASUS Eee PC 1000H

Every time ASUS released a new Eee PC, it took the netbook market up one notch. The Eee PC 1000H was the first Eee PC that we reviewed that included a conventional, spinning hard drive. It generated more noise and heat than the previous Eee PC 901 and 900 models, but it also gave it a little more speed than those solid state drive-based models. The 1000H had a 10in screen, making it bigger and heavier than the Eee PC 901. It ran Windows XP (Linux was available, too), had an Intel Atom N270 CPU (1.6GHz), 1GB of RAM, and had 802.11n wireless networking. Basically, it was a little closer to a conventional notebook than a netbook — and it was glossy — but it only cost $509!

Dell Inspiron Mini 9

Dell finally entered the market. The leading PC vendor was late to the netbook party and failed to enthral us with its modest offering. The Inspiron Mini 9 had an 8.9in screen, a solid state drive (16GB), an Intel Atom N270 CPU (1.6GHz), and 1GB of RAM. It got quite warm during regular usage, making it uncomfortable to use on your lap, but it was also difficult to type on. Despite its poor design, the Mini 9 was the unit of choice for mobile phone vendors. By integrating their 3G modules into its 3G slot mobile phone vendors offered it as part of their mobile broadband plans. If you didn’t get the Mini 9 on a mobile phone plan, it would have cost you $436.

Lenovo IdeaPad S10

Although it was released in November 2008, Lenovo’s IdeaPad S10 netbook is back in the news as it is the laptop of choice for the Department of Education and Training’s notebook deployment for teachers and students. It’s a deal set to be worth $109 million and will roll out 267,000 units. But why was the Lenovo chosen over the ASUS, Acer and HP models? The Lenovo netbook has nice styling, runs Windows XP, has a 160GB hard drive, a 10in screen, and 1GB of RAM. Those specs are standard, but the interesting thing about the IdeaPad S10 is that it also has an ExpressCard/34 expansion slot. We were initially surprised that the Department of Education and Training didn’t choose a model with a solid state drive, which wouldn’t be as prone to damage when in the hands of students. And many other models offer a better battery life too. The IdeaPad S10 does offer increased drive capacity which may be of benefit when running memory intensive applications. Nonetheless, we really like the IdeaPadS10 and for $509, we rate this as one of the top five netbooks on the market.

Toshiba NB100

The NB100 introduced a new feature into the netbook space — the sleep-and-charge USB port. This makes it an ideal netbook for travellers who want to quickly charge their MP3 player or phone while they are on the road (of course, the NB100 needs to be charged before it will charge other devices). It’s an 8.9in, Windows XP-based netbook with an Intel Atom N270 (1.6GHz) CPU, 1GB of RAM and a 120GB hard drive. For $520 (RRP at the time of review) it’s a little overpriced, but we rate it highly as it’s a convenient laptop to use while travelling.

Fujitsu M1010

With ASUS, Lenovo and MSI moving towards larger screens on their netbook models, Fujitsu, like Toshiba and Dell, stayed at a small 8.9in screen. The M1010 is small, but feature-rich, as it includes an ExpressCard/34 slot. It’s based on an Intel Atom N270 CPU (1.6GHz), 1GB RAM, and has a 60GB hard drive. It costs $509 and is solidly constructed. It’s definitely one of our favorites. Its only drawbacks — the screen’s susceptible to reflection, and the touchpad is uncomfortable to use.

HP Mini 1001TU

HP impressed us with its 2133 Mini-Note netbook, which was aimed at business users, but the Mini 1001TU is an underdone, overpriced netbook. The only new feature it brings to the netbook market is a bigger, 10.2in screen. Despite the increased screen size, the 1001TU is actually smaller than the 2133 Mini-Note, and it runs much cooler. It’s based on an Intel Atom N270 CPU (1.6GHz), 1GB of RAM, a 60GB hard drive and 802.11g wireless networking. That’s not enough to justify its $399 price tag.

Dell Inspiron Mini 12

It’s bigger than the Inspiron Mini 9 and it has a keyboard that has all keys in natural positions, making the sturdily built Inspiron Mini 12 comfortable to use. It has a 10.2in screen, runs Windows XP and uses an Intel Atom Z530 (1.6GHz) CPU rather than an N270 model, has 1GB of RAM, and an 80GB hard drive. With only a 3-cell battery, the Mini 12 has poor battery life, and at $618 it’s an expensive unit considering you don’t even get 802.11n wireless networking. At this price point you’re basically paying for the bigger screen, which is worth it as it runs at 1280x800, a higher resolution than most netbooks on the market.

HP Vivienne Tam Special Edition Notebook PC

Who would’ve thought the humble netbook would evolve from something a student would use in a classroom to something a style master can take into in a boardroom? This is basically the HP Mini 1001TU, but with a fancy paint scheme for the same $699 price tag.

Acer Aspire One AOD 150

Acer’s second netbook is a 10.2in version that’s surprisingly small, yet comfortable to use once you get the hang of it. It doesn’t have remarkable specifications (1.6GHz Intel Atom CPU, 1GB RAM, 160GB hard drive, Windows XP), but it does have the best screen quality we’ve ever seen in a netbook. If you want a netbook that has a bright, vibrant screen for watching videos, this is the one to choose. However, its resolution could be higher (it’s only 1024x600), and for $581, it could use a better battery and faster wireless networking. Still, we love this netbook.

ASUS Eee PC S101H

HP’s Vivienne Tam Special Edition Notebook PC notwithstanding, the Eee PC S101H best exemplifies what the netbook has become: a sought after tool that’s not only for students, but also style-conscious users who want something small and good-looking to undertake their basic computing tasks. In fact, the Eee PC S101H was launched at a catwalk event while models also flaunted Calvin Klein’s latest designer threads. At a price of $727 it’s definitely not for the student market.

HP Mini 2140

At $499, this is the most expensive netbook on the market, but it’s also one of the most powerful. It’s the upgrade to the business-oriented 2133 Mini-Note, and features an Intel Atom CPU instead of a VIA C7-M CPU. It includes 2GB of RAM, a 160GB hard drive, the option to use Windows Vista Business (it also comes with Windows XP) and it has an ExpressCard/54 slot and 802.11n networking. The worst part about it is the 1024x576 resolution for its 10.2in screen.

Kogan Agora Netbook Pro

Kogan’s Agora Netbook Pro hits the market with gOS, which is based on the Linux-based Ubuntu operating system. It’s a 10.2in model with an awesome price tag of $392. You get a 6-cell battery, a 1.6GHz Intel Atom CPU, 2GB of RAM, 802.11g wireless networking and a 160GB hard drive. There’s also a sub-$500 version available, which has 1GB of RAM and a 3-cell battery instead. They’re definitely great models to consider if you’re after lots of bang for your buck.

ASUS Eee PC 1000HE

This model is basically a reprise of the Eee PC 1000H, but it provides a newer keyboard design and longer battery life. It has what ASUS calls the “Chiclet keyboard” providing wider gaps between the keys to improve key travel. For $654, the Eee PC 1000HE includes a 10in screen, 160GB hard drive, 1GB of RAM and an Intel Atom N270 1.6GHz CPU, but a faster Intel Atom N280 version is also offered.

MSI Wind U120

MSI’s latest offering is one of the most comfortable to use netbooks on the market. But it still suffers from balance problems! We let that slide to an extent, as the Wind U120 has a great 10.2in screen and performs well. It costs $545 and is hard to pass up if you want a big and easy to use netbook. Go for the MSI Wind U123 if you want a netbook with built-in 3G.