Asus Portable To Have Optical Drive: Is It Still A Netbook?

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Taiwan's AsusTek Computer has played a major role in defining the netbook computer genre. Its Asus Eee models, along with competing mini-notebooks such as the Acer Aspire ONE and Lenovo Ideapad, have proven popular with consumers willing to sacrifice a few features -- full-size keyboard, larger screen, and a DVD drive, to name a few -- for a smaller, lighter portable that’s fine for email and Web-browsing.

But Asus will soon break with netbook tradition by launching an Eee PC with a built-in optical disc drive (ODD). According to a DigiTimes report out of Taipei, the ODD-equipped E1004DN netbook will arrive next month, followed by the 1008HA in May. The E1004DN will feature an Intel Atom N280 processor, a GN40 chipset, and a 120GB hard drive. There’s no word yet on screen size, but given that Asus has already announced plans to discontinue its 7-inch and 8.9-inch Eee netbooks, it’s a safe bet the E1004DN’s screen will measure at least 10 inches. The E1004DN will retail for about $531 to $590, although I suspect street prices here may be a bit lower. The $600-range seems a bit high for value-oriented netbook buyers.

But does the netbook crowd really want a built-in optical drive? Asus certainly thinks so, and it’s made some pretty smart moves thus far. Netbooks are popular with air travelers, many of whom watch DVDs during flights. For them, particularly those who aren’t fond of digital downloads, an optical drive makes sense.

With netbook screens growing larger, and with mini-notes adding new capabilities such as optical drives and the ability to play high-definition video, maybe we need a new definition for the genre. What exactly is a netbook? A portable with a screen that’s, say, smaller than 13 inches? A computer that uses the Intel Atom CPU? A notebook that’s priced under $500? Ultimately, the term “netbook” may disappear altogether, like “LCD display.”

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