The forecast doesn't look good for netbooks. Not only are tablets cannibalizing the netbook market, now budget laptops with faster processors and better graphics performance have hit the $400 sweet spot.
Netbooks gained popularity over the last few years because they're inexpensive and portable. Users put up with cramped keyboards, difficulties multitasking, laggy graphics, and other limitations in return for the low prices.
Gateway and Toshiba, for example, both have laptops starting at just under $400 that feature AMD Fusion processors, large 15.6" screens, high-end graphics support, and other trappings of conventional laptops, such as full-sized keyboards.
Gateway's three new NV Series notebooks were announced Monday. The most value-priced of the lineup is the NV51B08u, which has a 15.6" Ultrabright HD widescreen, 1GHz AMD C-50 dual-core processor with integrated ATI Radeon HD 6250 graphics, 3GB DDR3 RAM, a 320GB hard drive, and Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit). It sells for $399.99. Additional models available are priced at $449.99 and $469.99.
Similarly, the Toshiba Satellite C655 retails for $398.99 and has nearly identical specs as the NV51B08u in terms of display, memory, and operating system, but comes with a 1.5GHz AMD E-250 processor and 250GB hard drive instead.
Compare these budget notebooks with Dell's Inspiron Mini 1012 netbook, which has the Intel Atom N450 processor (1.66 GHz) common in netbooks, 1GB DDR2 RAM, a 250GB hard drive, Windows 7 Starter Edition, and a 10.1" HD widescreen. It costs $449.99 on Dell's site.
Netbooks still offer a smaller form factor - and thus, better portability - than these new budget laptops. But it's not hard to imagine in the near future similarly priced laptops with smaller screens using these new mobile processors possibly replacing netbooks altogether.