Monday, November 8, 2010

How to Buy a Netbook

1. A netbook gives you extra space, but exactly how much extra space do you want? Screen size ranges from 7" to 10", with the most common sizes being 8.9" and 10". The vast majority of netbooks have a 10 inch screen.

2. How long do you want the battery to last? Check the estimated battery life for the netbook, but keep in mind that the listed battery life may be different from the actual battery life. Most batteries are rated by the number of individual cells they contain, with a three-cell battery module being the standard and a larger six-cell slab an optional extra. As a rule of thumb, you can allow one hour of battery life per cell. Some netbooks combine high-capacity batteries and advanced power management technology to deliver long life between recharges.

3. What kind of hard drive are you looking for? The typical netbook packs a 160GB hard drive, which is more than enough for most users. Remember, the netbook isn’t supposed to replace your desktop or even a larger laptop. A solid state disk (SSD) will operate without a sound, produce less heat, and run at a higher speed. The disadvantage of this type of drive is its low capacity. If you want a lot of storage space, go with a mechanical hard drive. Some of the cheapest netbooks come with just a small flash memory chip for storage – often just 4, 8 or 16GB. These aren't exactly SSDs – they're slower.

4. Decide what kind of netbook suits your style. There's a large variety to choose from, so look through as many as you can before buying. (Rugged, Stylish, or Lightweight). Do the keys feel comfortable and responsive? Are they too noisy? (This can be a concern if you’ll use the netbook in meetings or a classroom). Preferences for keyboards and trackpads are largely a matter of personal taste, so make sure the keyboard and trackpad on your netbook match what’s best for you.

5. Determine what CPU, video card and options are best for you. There aren't a lot of CPUs to choose from when it comes to netbooks, and there are even less graphics card options. Even so, compare netbook CPUs to make sure you get the one you want. Do you need 3G? USB, card reader, or Bluetooth? If so, make sure it's got them.

6. Which Windows for you? The early days of netbooks saw several models offered with the open-source Linux operating system as a low-cost alternative to Microsoft’s Windows. However, most netbook buyers opted for Windows, so that they could use the same familiar environment and run the same software as on their desktop PCs.
As a result, almost all modern notebooks run Windows. But they’re not all the same version of Windows. Some netbooks still come with the ever-popular eight year-old Windows XP. This is more than good enough for the most basic functions of a netbook – Web browsing, email, online chat and simple word processing.

If you spy a netbook running Windows Vista, steer clear – unless it’s offered at an absolute killer of a discount. Vista is far too slow and cumbersome for the netbook’s modest hardware.
On the other hand, netbooks with Windows 7 are the bee’s knees. Most modern netbooks will come with Windows 7 Starter edition pre-installed, although you may also find the more feature-packed Windows 7 Home Premium on offer.

7. Think twice about buying a 3G netbook. Most mobile phone companies will happily sell you a particular make and model of netbook with inbuilt 3G wireless broadband for zero dollars up front, and a low monthly payment which also includes a generous mobile data allowance. Think twice before you sign up for such a deal. You’ll be locked into a two year contract and the monthly cost will be based on the manufacturer’s MSRP for the netbook. In most cases you’re better off buying the notebook you want, and at the best street price you can find.

Then pick the mobile network which currently gives you the best coverage and value for money, and choose either a pre-paid mobile broadband package or one of their standard mobile broadband contract plans – both of which come with a handy USB wireless modem stick. You’ll probably save money compared to a netbook bundle and you won’t be locked into that netbook for the next two years. And if you upgrade to a newer netbook, or decide to step up to a regular notebook, you can keep using the carrier’s USB wireless modem. Likewise, if better mobile broadband deals come out (and they always do) or the mobile network you're currently on becomes congested and you only get a dribble-feed of data through the modem, you can easily switch SIM cards to a different network.

8. Don’t be swayed by software. Some manufacturers and retailers love to load up their netbooks with software, but this is rarely a deal-breaker. In the first place, many programs are time-limited demo packages which will stop working after 30 or 90 days.
Others might be cut-back ‘lite’ editions which lack the most useful features as an inducement to have you shell out for the full version.

Don’t fall for any of it. A Windows XP or Windows 7 netbook can run pretty much the same software as your XP or 7 desktop or laptop – and if your copy of Microsoft Office or Norton AntiVirus permits multiple installations, you can load those straight onto your netbook (using a USB CD/DVD drive or by copying the installation disc’s files into a USB memory key). You might even want to use free lightweight software such as OpenOffice or rely on Web services such as Google Docs.

9. Is an extended warranty worth paying for? You can land a great brand-name netbook for around $400, with some models under $300 if you shop around. Is it really worth paying another 20-25% of the purchase price for an extended warranty?

10. Shop around. We really can’t stress this enough. Netbooks may have an appealing low price tag but there’s still plenty of fat in the official MSRP – and it’s a very competitive market. Shaving just $100 off the purchase price could let you double your netbook’s memory for zippier performance; upgrade to a higher capacity battery to double the netbook’s battery life; or sign up for a pre-paid 3G wireless broadband starter kit so you can stay connected anywhere.

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