When I first started reading about the Netbook “craze” I was quite skeptical. At first there was the little machines with a 7 in screen and 2 GB of “storage.” Ok, the screen was a bit bigger, but I had as much processing power and storage on my Motorola Q9m phone. And while I am not adverse to using Linux, I didn’t care for those little, customized, “fitted” versions.
Quickly they started to grow, both in size and in price. Then I couldn’t figure out why anybody would buy one, when a full powered notebook was a similar price. But as the prices, sizes and “craze” settled down a bit towards the end of the year (and prices dropped as economic turmoil hit everybody), some more… what I will call sensible models fit in the middle between the little 7″ 2GB models, and the 10″ might as well be a laptop size.
To be honest, I battled back and forth between several models, the finalists being the Acer AspireOne and the Asus EeePC because on the spec sheet, they were virtually identical. 1 GB of RAM, 160 GB of storage, 8.9″ screen, and a 92% keyboard, and powered by the relatively new power sipping Intel Atom processor. Both even boasted battery life (with the larger 6 cell battery that I opted to go with) of around 5 hours. I opted to go with Windows XP, but both are also available with Ubuntu (or you can install it yourself). Units of this type and size run inn the area of $349. (Except for Dell which gives a stripped down model with less memory for that same price, a machine equal to this from Dell costs considerably more)
Ultimately, I opted for the 904HA from Asus because of the fact that it is fully upgradable. If you want to boost this up to 2GB of memory, you just open a door and change the memory. The Acer however required you to disassemble the netbook. While I am handly and built my own desktop PCs in the past, with the tiny parts of a netbook, this is not something I would want to do, so that was a deal breaker. Also, the Acer also appeared to have some firmware issues. While Acer was by all accounts trying to deal with them and issuing patches, I thought I might as well start with one that had less issues from the start.
So, what do I think after working with it for two weeks? It is a neat little addition. I would not recommend it for somebody as their everyday computer, the smaller keyboard, the lack of an optical drive and small screen is not something I would want to always use. However, if you travel a lot, spend time at places like Starbucks or other free (or semi-free) Wi-fi location to do you writing, it is much more pleasant to carry around than a full notebook. The 5 hour battery life (assuming it is charged when you leave the house) is more than enough for most that you can get done what you need to do without having to hope to find a seat near an outlet.
The Intel Atom processor so far is more than powerful enough for tasks that you would be doing on a netbook (document editing, web surfing, etc). No, you are not going to be doing any hardcore gaming on a system like this, but who would want to do that on an 8.9″ screen anyway?
Like anything that is built on compromise, there are some things that get some taking used to. The keyboard is 92% of full size, meaning some keys are not where you would expect them to be. Also the touchpad buttons require some real force to click.
Though I did mention this as a secondary computer for most people, this would also serve as a great “first” computer for a younger one that you may want to have a computer (or to keep them off of yours).
If you are an aspiring writer or somebody that likes to write “everywhere” and wants something light (less than 3 pounds) that you can keep with you at all times, then I fully throw my support now behind the Netbook in general, and the Asus Eee PC 904HA, It may be the best tech purchase I have made in several years.
P.S. For the record, this post was written using my netbook.
Asus Eee PC 904 HA specs:
- Built-in Devices Stereo speakers , Wireless LAN antenna
- Width 10.5 in
- Depth 7.5 in
- Height 1.5 in
- Weight 3.1 lbs
- Color Fine ebony
- Notebook type Netbook, Budget
- Screen type Wide-screen
- Wireless capabilities 802.11b, 802.11g
- Processor Intel Atom N270 / 1.6 GHz
- Type L2 cache
- Cache size 512 KB
- Installed Size 1 GB
- Technology DDR2 SDRAM
- RAM form factor SO DIMM 200-pin
- Floppy Drive None
- Hard Drive 160 GB
- Storage Removable None
- Hard drive type Portable
- Type None
Optical Storage (2nd)
- 2nd optical storage type None
- Card reader type Card reader
- Supported flash memory cards MultiMediaCard , SD Memory Card , SDHC Memory Card
- Display Type 8.9 in TFT active matrix
- Max Resolution 1024 x 600 ( WSVGA )
- Widescreen Display Yes
- Features LED-backlit , Zero Bright Dot
- Graphics Processor / Vendor Shared video memory (UMA)
- Audio output type Sound card
- Audio Input Stereo microphone
- Camera Type Integrated
- Notebook Camera / Sensor Resolution 1.3 Megapixel
- TV Tuner Type None
- Input device type Keyboard , Touchpad
- Modem None
- Networking Network adapter
- Networking / Wireless LAN Supported Yes
- Data link protocol Ethernet , IEEE 802.11b , IEEE 802.11g , Fast Ethernet
- Networking standards IEEE 802.11b , IEEE 802.11g
Expansion / Connectivity
- Expansion Slots Total (Free) Memory – SO DIMM 200-pin
- Interfaces 1 x Display / video – VGA – 15 pin HD D-Sub (HD-15) , 3 x Hi-Speed USB – 4 pin USB Type A , 1 x Headphones – Output – Mini-phone 3.5 mm , 1 x Microphone – Input – Mini-phone 3.5 mm , 1 x Network – Ethernet 10Base-T/100Base-TX – RJ-45
- Power device form factor External
- Technology 4-cell Lithium polymer
- Installed Qty 1
- Battery capacity 5600 mAh
- Mfr estimated battery life 5.9 hour(s)
Operating System / Software
- OS Provided Microsoft Windows XP Home Edition
- Service & Support 1 year warranty
- Service & Support Details Limited warranty – 1 year , Limited warranty – Battery – 6 months