Laptops

Business Netbooks: The Next Big (Little) Thing?

Circling back to the topic of speeds and feeds, the Aspire One is again a kindred soul of the MSI Wind U123. Both systems feature 802.11b/g support (versus the HP Mini 2140's a/b/g and draft-n), and both have the slower 10/100 Ethernet port (the HP has a GbE connection). There's no ExpressCard slot. And, of course, the Aspire One's hard disk would no doubt have benefited from the inclusion of a free-fall sensor like the one in the HP; I was left with the sneaking suspicion that the previous reviewer might have inadvertently dropped the unit during their evaluation engagement.

[ Dive deep into next-gen mobile with InfoWorld's 20-page PDF featuring hands-on reviews, analysis, and insights from our editors. ]

In terms of performance, the Aspire One was roughly on par with the MSI Wind, turning in an OfficeBench completion time of 117 seconds. Battery life during OfficeBench rundown testing was approximately 5.5 hours with the six-cell (46 watt) battery, which was somewhat disappointing in light of the 6-plus-hour showings of the other units. Acer does offer a larger, 57-watt battery.

One surprising feature of the Aspire One is its multitouch touchpad. Unlike the other roundup participants, the Aspire One supports touchpad input using more than one finger -- for example, pinching to zoom in. But my favorite side benefit is circular scrolling. I got hooked on this capability with the Dell Precision M6400. Basically, it allows you to scroll vertically in a Web page or document by simply "drawing" in a circular pattern on the touchpad. To scroll down, you move your finger in a clockwise direction; to scroll up, you move it counterclockwise. It's a huge time-saver and makes working with long documents or pages on the Aspire One's tiny 1,024-by-600-pixel screen that much easier.

Another selling point for the Acer Aspire -- though one of dubious value to corporate IT -- is the availability of bundling plans with various wireless providers. AT&T, for example, is offering the Aspire One for as little as $99 with the purchase of a mobile broadband card and activation of one of the company's data plans. (Verizon offers a similar solution featuring the HP Mini 2140's consumer cousin, the Mini 1000.)

For smaller organizations with a highly mobile workforce, the existence of these bundle offers may prove to be an incentive to pick the Aspire One over a full-priced competitor. However, larger IT shops would do well to ignore these "deals" and instead focus on true suitability to task. And in this regard, the Aspire One comes up woefully short. Its horrific keyboard, coupled with a lack of enterprise-class expandability (that is, no ExpressCard slot) and wired/wireless connectivity, should be incentive enough to send your RFQ elsewhere.

Business netbooks by the features

Processor

Acer Aspire One AOD150: Atom 270 (1.6GHz)

ASUS N10jc: Atom 270 (1.6GHz)

HP Mini 2140: Atom 270 (1.6GHz)

MSI Wind U123: Atom 280 (1.66GHz)

RAM

Acer Aspire One AOD150: 1GB DDR-2

ASUS N10jc: 2GB DDR-2*

HP Mini 2140: 1GB DDR-2

MSI Wind U123: 1GB DDR-2

Disk

Acer Aspire One AOD150: 160GB 5400RPM

ASUS N10jc: 320GB 5400RPM

HP Mini 2140: 160GB 5400RPM

MSI Wind U123: 160GB 5400RPM

Wireless

Acer Aspire One AOD150: 802.11b,g

ASUS N10jc: 802.11a,b,g,draft-n

HP Mini 2140: 802.11a,b,g,draft-n

MSI Wind U123: 802.11b,g

NIC

Acer Aspire One AOD150: 10/100Mbps

ASUS N10jc: 10/100/1000Mbps

HP Mini 2140: 10/100/1000Mbps

MSI Wind U123: 10/100Mbps

ExpressCard

Acer Aspire One AOD150: None

ASUS N10jc: 34mm

HP Mini 2140: 55mm

MSI Wind U123: None

Display

Acer Aspire One AOD150: WXGA (1024x600)

ASUS N10jc: WXGA (1024x600)

HP Mini 2140: UXGA (1366x768)

MSI Wind U123: WXGA (1024x600)

Graphics processor

Acer Aspire One AOD150: Intel GMA 950

ASUS N10jc: Intel GMA 950/Nvidia 9300M GS

HP Mini 2140: Intel GMA 950

MSI Wind U123: Intel GMA 950

OfficeBench (seconds)

Acer Aspire One AOD150: 117

ASUS N10jc: 123/115**

HP Mini 2140: 113

MSI Wind U123: 118

Notes: * Tested with 1GB RAM. ** Results under Intel GMA 950 and Nvidia 9300M GS respectively.

Asus N10Jc

The Asus N10Jc is the latest in a burgeoning line of quasi-netbook PCs from the company that created the netbook market just 18 short months ago with the launch of the original Eee PC. As anyone who follows technology for a living will tell you, a lot can change in a year and a half.

For starters, your novel idea of a cheap, ultrasmall mini-notebook running Linux can be co-opted by some of the biggest names in the PC industry and transformed into the new hot trend in hardware design. Meanwhile, your once pioneering lead in an otherwise wide-open emerging market can quickly vanish as the major players catch scent of the money trail you blazed and start rushing competing solutions to market, often at price points you can't touch.

But just because you're feeling squeezed out doesn't mean you have to roll over. In Asus' case, the company is fighting back by cramming more and better technology into its designs in an effort to regain mind share among netbook buyers, all of which is having the unforeseen effect of blurring the distinction between these underpowered -- yet superconvenient -- mobile PCs and their more robust notebook cousins.

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