Even back when the only option available was the OLPC, I knew I wanted a Netbook. Ok, actually I saw the OLPC for the “mostly a toy” that it is, but the concept of a cheaper “unerpowered” PC was something I’d been pushing for a while. Even with a desktop. The idea being that computer parts just get cheaper, and my old Pentium “Whatever” is still good enough for most of what I need to do, why can’t hardware manufacturers continue producing “old models” and sell them for half the cost of the “current generation”?
A Netbook isn’t quite this. It’s not like the Atom Processor is a Pentium 4, though I imagine there’s some similarities if you break it down. I’ve also pushed the idea of a smaller more modular PC. Granted, that a Netbook isn’t more modular. Anyway, I do think it would be a great idea to build a PC that is essentially just a bank of USB ports inside. Need to upgrade the processor? Just swap out the stick. Maybe add a second one, or a second GPU. Need more Hard Drive space? Stick a few more flash drives into the bays. Basically, I see it as sort of like Star Trek’s Isolinear Chips.
But I’m running off topic…
After a long wait, I have finally managed to purchase a Netbook of my own. I generally don’t make too many large purchases and when I do I tend to procrastinate forever on if I actually want it or what else could I buy. The plus is that I tend to end up pretty well satisfied after excessive research. Not always though, see my LifeDrive, which failed too early in it’s life.
The original plan for the longest while was to go for the MSI Wind u100. Many reports suggested it packed the best bang for the buck in it’s price range of around $300. I really wanted to get something with Nvidia’s Ion Processor inside however. The Intel GMA graphics chips are supposed to be alright but I was hoping for that extra kick. The intention being that I could potentially use the diminutive machine to play some games. I don’t expect to be able to play the latest whatever on PC at blazing speed or at full graphics settings but an occasional putzing with TF2 or the ability to log onto the online world of Second Life would be a huge benefit.
Which brings up a point with choosing a Netbook, expectations. In my research I’ve seen many MANY people suggesting “Netbooks suck”, “Too underpowered”, “Get a real Laptop for $100-$200 more”. The thing is, I wanted a netbook for many of the reasons people seem to be badmouthing them. I don’t WANT to spend hundreds of dollars more for a 14-15” laptop. Not to mention a $500 Laptop is pretty low on the low end and likely the build quality is going to be crap next to a $400 Netbook. We have several people using Laptops at work. The $2500 Microns we used to use were extremely sturdy and robust and lasted for 5-6 years. We’ve got $500 Dells that are almost falling apart that are in rough shape after only 2 years. The point is, buy cheap, get cheap.
There’s also the size factor. Ideally, I wanted something that would fit in my “Nerd Bag”. I have an old full sized laptop. The bag for it is huge and the thing is heavy enough that it makes my shoulders hurt lugging it around. I want something light that’ll fit in a bag that’s convenient that I’d be more likely to carry around with me.
As for underpowered, I’ve been using this device for roughly a week now. No, it doesn’t play TF2 as well as my desktop PC. No, I’m not going to load up Adobe Premier and make it render a 2 hour video. No, I’m not going to watch massive HD videos at full screen. What I can do is type. I can write blog posts such as this one. I can listen to iTunes. It’s got several USB ports and runs Audacity just fine so maybe i can finally start doing that Podcast I’ve been meaning to do. The point is, this device is an excellent tool. for what I wanted it for and for what I expected from it.
It’s also helping me become once again more comfortable with the keyboard. I grew up on DOS. I’ve been working on various Linux projects on the command line for a while, I used to be able to zip around Windows easily without using a mouse but I’ve gotten rusty at it. The fact that I simply don’t like touch pads in general (not just on this device) has helped me harness a skill I’d lost to help my overall computing habits. I’ll argue against the Linux mindset that the command line is superior to a GUI, but I’ll argue for the idea that the keyboard is more powerful than the mouse for productivity.
Anyway, I’m getting a bit long so I’ll wrap things up a bit here. In the end, chose the HP Mini 311. I don’t recall exactly where I first came across this model but it has more or less everything I wanted. The reality is, a LOT of these machines have identical specs. 160 GB Hard Drive, 10” screen, N270 Atom processor, 1 GB of RAM. For a bit more than the Mini, I got the Ion Processor and an 11” screen. The Mini 311 also has a slick 2 tone color pallet going for it.
But I’ll get more into the details in Part 2, “The What”…