SLIDESHOW

The Top Ten Netbooks

Not sure whether a netbook can meet your computing needs? Take a look at the best mini-laptops we've tested so far. All can handle e-mail, Web surfing, and document creation; and all cost less than a standard-issue laptop.

Asus EEE PC 1000HE

The "HE" that appears in the Asus Eee PC 1000HE model name, might stand for "Holy Enhancement!" This model, which bears only a passing resemblance to last year's Eee PC 1000, improves on everything from the keyboard to the CPU. And besides losing some unsightly girth, the 1000HE has a svelte new price of just $400.

The Asus Eee PC 1000HE runs on Intel's 1.66GHz Atom N280 CPU. Most netbooks that appeared late last year used the Atom N270 CPU, which runs at a lower frequency (1.6GHz) and has a slower front-side bus speed (533MHz instead of the N280's 667MHz). The effect of those difference, however, was minimal. Our test unit earned a mark of 35 in WorldBench 6, an average score for a netbook.

This netbook is one of my current favorites. Considering that it sells for as little as $380, it is well worth checking out.

Acer Aspire One AOD150

Many of the changes Acer made to its original Acer Aspire One to create the Acer Aspire One AOD150 make the updated model seem more like everything else on the market. And that isn't necessarily a good thing.

The original Aspire One had an 8.9-inch screen and packed a huge keyboard onto a fairly tiny frame. On the AOD150 you get a great-looking 10.1-inch screen but the same still-short-of-full-size keyboard.

The newer Aspire One's performance is about what we'd expect from a machine with its components (1GB of RAM and a 1.6GHz Intel Atom N270 CPU). It earned a score of 35 on our WorldBench 6 test suite, an average mark.

Though the Acer Aspire One AOD150 has some strong points, better netbooks are on the market now, and more are on the way.

Lenovo IdeaPad S10

Despite its "mini" status, the Lenovo IdeaPad S10 houses some big-boy features. Among them are a (relatively) roomy 10.2-inch, 1024-by-600-resolution display and a 5400-rpm, 160GB platter-based hard-disk drive--the largest hard drive we've seen on a netbook yet.

Though the S10 has the same 1.6GHz Intel Atom CPU and 1GB of RAM as most other mini-laptops we've tested, it outperforms them all. The IdeaPad S10 earned a score of 41 on our WorldBench 6 benchmark tests; it's not a speed demon by any means, but consider that the nearest competitor equipped with the same guts received a mark of just 37.

If you're looking for a big, beefy hard drive and surprisingly sprightly performance from a mini-notebook, the IdeaPad S10 is a solid pick.

Acer Aspire One

The first Acer Aspire One netbook, a Linux-based model, impressed us despite its modest components. Now the Aspire One's Windows XP Home version is here, carrying a larger hard drive and more RAM. Though hardly superswift, the XP-based Aspire One is a fine machine at a fantastic price: $349.

This Aspire One retains the physical profile, excellent keyboard, and small but crisp 8.9-inch screen found on the Linux-based model. But a 120GB hard-disk drive replaces the Linux model's paltry 8GB solid-state drive, and the system bulks up to 1GB of RAM (versus the Linux model's 512MB). Regrettably, the Aspire One earned a mark of just 34 on our WorldBench 6 tests, putting it toward the back of the pack among Atom-based netbooks (the average mini-laptop score hovers around 36).

Even worse, the Aspire One's three-cell battery lasted for just 2 hours, 16 minutes. You'll probably want to spring for the six-cell battery, which costs an extra $100--thereby negating the Aspire One's price advantage.

Asus EEE PC 1000H XP

Ever since the Asus Eee PC 4G opened up the netbook market last year, Asus has been pumping out different Eee flavors. With the $460 Eee PC 1000H XP, though, Asus addresses many of the previous problems that cropped up in earlier mini-laptops--and in the process it creates a solid second-generation machine.

Incorporating the familiar Intel Atom N270 processor, 1GB of RAM, and 80GB hard disk, the 1000H XP has a 10-inch display and measures 10.5 by 7.5 by 1.5 inches (about the size of a hardcover book). On our WorldBench 6 tests, it received a score of 37, consistent with our results for similarly configured XP-based netbooks.

Asus's Eee PC 1000H XP is among the leaders in the mini-laptop market, thanks to its sizable keyboard, solid screen, and comfortable layout. Bear in mind, however: that this device is roughly the size of an ultraportable and yet has barely half the power of one.

HP Mini 2140

The HP Mini 2140 is what the company's Mini 1000 aspires to be when it grows up. Unfortunately, the Mini 2140 carries a grown-up price as well: $529 for our test unit's midlevel configuration. The base-level, $499 version of the 2140 comes with Intel's 1.6GHz Atom N270 processor, 1GB of RAM, a 160GB hard drive (which spins at 5400 rpm), a three-cell battery, and Windows XP. For an extra $30, you can bump up the configuration (as we did) to include a six-cell battery.

Though the 2140 looks great, it stumbled a little on WorldBench 6. This metallic mini-laptop repeatedly ran into issues with Photoshop, and as a result it netted a score of just 26. The only other netbook that has scored that poorly is the equally pokey Dell Inspiron Mini 9.This doesn't bode well for HP's pricey (for a netbook) portable, but the 2140 wins points back by lasting 6 hours, 50 minutes on one charge. That's good news for frequent fliers.

Overall, the Mini 2140 is a compelling package, but in its premium configuration it has a price tag that approaches what you'd expect to find on a good all-purpose machine.

Asus N10Jc

Is it an ultraportable or a jumbo netbook? That's the key question regarding the Asus N10Jc. At first glance, the N10Jc looks like a do-over of Asus's Eee 1000H XP netbook, albeit with improved components and design. Yet it strays very close to ultraportable notebook territory, at a price ($650) that's inexpensive for an ultraportable but steep for a mini-laptop.

This model's first point of differentiation from rank-and-file netbooks is that its discrete graphics processing unit, nVidia's GeForce 9300M GS. That GPU isn't the fastest graphics option on the block, but the N10Jc is the first mini-laptop I've seen that lets users toggle between a discrete GPU and the integrated graphics on the motherboard. Under the hood lies the same 1.6-GHz Intel Atom N270 processor and 1GB of RAM that virtually every other mainstream netbook offers. It also has a 160GB hard-disk drive--like the one that the Lenovo IdeaPad S10 carries. We evaluated the N10Jc in high-performance mode; at that setting, it earned a WorldBench 6 mark of 36--middle-of-the-pack among current mini-laptops.

HP Mini 1000

The HP Mini 1000 is Hewlett-Packard's second-generation entrant in the mini-laptop category, and it has a couple of advantages over its predecessor (the HP 2133).

Gone is the Via C-7M processor, and gone is the pipe dream that netbooks at this stage can handle Windows Vista. Like other mini-laptops of its vintage, the Mini 1000 runs Windows XP, and packs Intel's 1.6-GHz Atom N270 processor, 1GB of RAM, and a 4200-rpm, 60GB PATA hard drive. With that configuration, it collected a WorldBench 6 score of 30--a below-average figure.

Still, with the Mini 1000, HP does a good job keeping most of the things that worked on the 2133, while upgrading performance and cutting the price. The Mini 1000 starts at $399; the model we reviewed is stickered at $549.

Dell Inspiron Mini 9

The Dell Inspiron Mini 9 looks like what you might get if you left a notebook from Dell's full-size Studio line of laptops in the dryer too long. But the sub-$500 Mini 9 carries a 1.6-GHz Intel Atom N270 CPU, 1GB of RAM, and a solid-state drive, making it a good starter machine for basic computing at a reasonable price.

Our test configuration, priced at $474, included Windows XP Home and an 8GB solid-state drive. The 8GB drive doesn't give you much open space to work with once the operating system and the preinstalled software (which includes Microsoft Works) are accommodated. In fact, we found that our WorldBench 6 test suite demanded more space than the Inspiron Mini 9's drive could spare.

Since we couldn't run our benchmark tests on the Mini 9, we can't directly compare its performance with that of competing netbooks, but in our informal evaluations it fell in line with what we've seen from similarly configured mini-laptops.

The Mini 9 is a solid netbook with a terrific design and a good price. It's a good fit for kids, and it has plenty to offer anyone seeking an on-the-go system.

MSI Wind NB U100

MSI's Wind NB U100 was one of the first Intel Atom-based mini-laptops to appear, and thus helped establish what this bargain-priced CPU can handle. Our $550 configuration, which included 1GB of RAM, an 80GB 2.5-inch hard-disk drive, and Windows XP, earned a score of 36 on WorldBench 6. That's about average for a netbook.

The Wind's most touted feature is TurboDrive--a feature that amounts to overclocking at the touch of a button. Essentially, TurboDrive serves as a power management shortcut that shoves the Atom processor into its higher-power mode. Battery life was a letdown, though: The three-cell battery that shipped with our unit lasted for just 2 hours, 24 minutes.

MSI's Wind is small and fairly light (about 2.6 pounds), and it's sturdy enough to take a beating. But other solidly built netbooks are widely available, too.