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Portables The Almighty Buck Hardware

What's The Perfect Balance For a Budget Laptop? 375

Posted by Zonk
from the whatever-fits-over-your-knees dept.
cheapbob writes "Recently HP officially unveiled a budget ultraportable laptop aimed to compete with the likes of Asus Eee PC. According to Compal, one of Dell's assemblers, Dell is also going to enter the budget ultra-portable market soon. All of these devices lack many of the features associated with larger-sized laptops, such as optical drives and large amounts of storage space, yet demand for them is very high. Initial reviews of these devices unsurprisingly expose them to be underpowered and lacklustre. What's the appeal? What do you think is the perfect balance of features and price point for a budget laptop?"
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What's The Perfect Balance For a Budget Laptop?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 09, 2008 @04:58PM (#23017328)
    I commute two hours each way, by train bus and subway. Those of us who spend hours in transit every day can't even understand why someone would need to ask the question about what the appeal is.
    • by AuMatar (183847) on Wednesday April 09, 2008 @05:07PM (#23017450)
      No, we just wonder why the hell you commute so much. I'd never take a job that required me to waste 4 hours of my life daily just going to and from it.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by f0dder (570496)
      Can anyone comment on how much damage if any, the vibration from said ride on {trains, subway & bus especially buses} does to a laptop HD. I've been commuting by bus and often times I get short period of harsh jarring. I had one HD go bad on me. I am suspecting it was from the vibration from the bus commute.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Examancer2 (606336)
        Many of the laptops this post is talking about (Asus EeePC, and the entry level HP 2133) have solid state drives. No worries there.

        Most modern laptop hard drives are rated to withstand specific g-forces. if you are experiencing failure and you think its vibration related (somewhat unlikely if its a recent drive/laptop) then seek a drive with a higher g-force tolerance, or replace it with an SSD.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by deragon (112986)
        I have been using a laptop in the subway for 3 years now and never had a problem. Granted, there is less vibration in a subway than a bus, but the HD are built to stand the beat.

        And... always backup, just in case. I backup multiple time per day.
  • The Appeal? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by stoolpigeon (454276) * <bittercode@gmail> on Wednesday April 09, 2008 @04:59PM (#23017338) Homepage Journal
    I can't speak for anyone else, but the appeal to me is that the machines can do enough- and they do it for an affordable price. That's the key. It was not long ago - and still is the case - that anything this small and underpowered cost a lot.
     
    The HP review says it does fine doing the basics - that's all most people need. For people who are on the move a lot, lugging around a full size laptop gets really old. People want to connect to the internet anywhere, but they don't want to carry a boat anchor to do it. These umpcs may be small but they are a lot bigger than many phones that would by the way, cost more. So there is the sweet spot. Price and size.
    • Re:The Appeal? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by MoonBuggy (611105) on Wednesday April 09, 2008 @05:08PM (#23017462) Journal
      Absolutely agreed. I can totally see the market for laptops that'll run games, Photoshop and the like but I'm not in that market - I'll do those things on a bigger screen for less money with my desktop because I don't need to do them on the move.

      What I want from a laptop is small size and weight - something I can carry everywhere just to get the odd bit of work done, browse the web or check my email. The system requirements for that really aren't changing that greatly any time soon. Previously there was no such thing as a small cheap laptop, you couldn't trade off power for price and you simply couldn't buy a small machine for anything like the same money as a 15" one. I'm exceedingly happy that there is now a machine that fits my needs, and I can't wait until the various 8.9" models come on sale because I'm buying one in a snap.
    • Re:The Appeal? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by tverbeek (457094) on Wednesday April 09, 2008 @05:14PM (#23017542) Homepage
      Calling these machines "underpowered" shows a gross misunderstanding of their purpose. They're not supposed to be desktop replacements. They're designed to be "enough" computer for use on the road or in the field. You don't need a supercomputer to run an office suite, web browser, and e-mail client, and these laptops are designed with that in mind.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        You don't need a supercomputer to run an office suite, web browser, and e-mail client, and these laptops are designed with that in mind.

        Have you tried running the latest version of Windows/Office? It's no wonder that people expect ball-burning laptops. I would have gone and got an "underpowered" machine if they existed when I settled on my MacBook as a pseudo desktop replacement.

        The appeal of the Eee and OLPC is they don't run Windows so they can be "underpowered" as hell and still work really well. A Windows Eee is just the worst piece of shit I ever saw; they won't sell to the masses with Linux and they're too slow for the masses wit

        • Re:The Appeal? (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Wordplay (54438) <geo@snarksoft.com> on Wednesday April 09, 2008 @06:19PM (#23018258)
          I've got an Eee with Windows XP installed on it and it runs just fine, even at the stock 630Mhz. Overclocked up to 850Mhz, which mine is perfectly stable at, it's genuinely snappy.

          XP isn't too much of a resource hog even with all the chrome on, and you can turn most of it off if it does impact performance.

          It's really no different than the Duron 800Mhzish I had back in the early 2000s. The only downside is the small screen, but the 2nd generation fixes that this year with a full-sized 9" 1000x600 screen.
    • by marcus (1916) on Wednesday April 09, 2008 @05:43PM (#23017866) Journal
      They are basic, note-taking, doc-writing, email-sending, web-surfing, e-book-reading, port-able, wire-less, hand-held AKA lap-top devices that don't cost much. Perfect for the coffee table to look up imdb ratings in front of the TV or to check the weather radar/forecast before heading out in the morning.

      Couldn't fit-in any more hyphens.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by lupis42 (1048492)
      The big thing I'm always wanting? A few more pixels. The speed on my HTC Mogul is enough, but using it for www quickly gets annoying, because the web is designed for 1024x768, or 1280x1024, and even 480x800 isn't quite there. If the 4gig EEEpc, or this, or any of the others I'd looked had a 10x7 screen, (without costing over 500$), I would be tempted. Otherwise, well, my phone costs 500$ without any rebate, is pocket-size, has a good 8+ hours of battery, and supports wi-fi, bluetooth, and mini-usb. What
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jonbryce (703250)
      Also, remember that a few years back, people would have been paying $3000 or so for something of that spec, and they would have been perfectly happy with what it did then.
  • by Toonol (1057698) on Wednesday April 09, 2008 @05:01PM (#23017358)
    Small is neat, I suppose, but not something I really care about.

    My criteria is pretty much (1) As much power as possible under (2) a reasonable price. All other things being equal, I'll probably select a smaller laptop, but I would gladly sacrifice a couple pounds for a larger HD, a DVD-Rom, expandability, or a full assortment of ports.

    I know some people do care, but for me thickness has about as much bearing on my choice as the thing's color.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Toonol (1057698)
      I know some people do care, but for me thickness has about as much bearing on my choice as the thing's color.

      And it's bad form, I know, but I'm replying to myself in the hopes of preempting all the dirty jokes making fun of what I said.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by AuMatar (183847)
      Thickness and weight effect the portability. I'd never take my laptop anywhere- too big, too bulky. Carrying it around for more than the trip to the conference room was a pain, unless you wanted to lug it around in a backpack- which was also a pain.

      The EEE is easily carried anywhere. You can lug it around all day and never notice the weight, and it will never be awkward to carry. It doesn't have a lot of power, but I'm not looking for a desktop replacement (I'd rather just have the desktop) or somethi
    • by Wdomburg (141264) on Wednesday April 09, 2008 @05:32PM (#23017722)
      Then you're not the market for this particular device, just as simple as that. It's like saying you don't like the direction Honda is taking with the Fit when you want to buy an SUV.
    • by Hatta (162192)
      I'm on the other side here. Size and durability would be my main factors in choosing an ultraportable. I recently built a desktop PC, and the case was the single most expensive component. For something you handle as much as a laptop, the physical characteristics are even more important.

      It would be hard to put too little power in, I just need enough to run fluxbox and read PDFs. On the other hand, it would be very easy to make it too bulky or too delicate to be really handy.
  • light and cheap (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jay2003 (668095) on Wednesday April 09, 2008 @05:01PM (#23017374)
    There's a market for light and cheap. To high income people, $400-$500 is practically disposable. You can spend that much on an iPod touch. It's not a big deal to break it or lose it because it's not expensive.

    If all you want is email or web access, a cheap ultra portable like an ASUS eee is a perfect match.

    Comparing these devices to full sized laptops misses the point.
    • Re:light and cheap (Score:5, Insightful)

      by stoolpigeon (454276) * <bittercode@gmail> on Wednesday April 09, 2008 @05:05PM (#23017434) Homepage Journal
      Comparing these devices to full sized laptops misses the point.
       
      Exactly. I'd like to see a review of a pda that complained about the lack of screen size, power, and inputs/outputs. These aren't laptops - they are something between a pda and a laptop and they do a great job of filling that niche. The demand demonstrates that people have been hungry for something like this that doesn't cost an arm and a leg. I don't even bother trying to use my laptop when I'm actually traveling anymore. For a host of reasons it doesn't work - but one of these would be perfect.
      • by SQLGuru (980662)
        If I were in the market for one of these things, I would want something more like the HTC Shift than the mini-laptops. I want the tablet form factor with a slide out keyboard. I don't need internal optical drives, but an external option would be nice (USB). I want lots of memory so that things run fast. I don't need much CPU because I would really only be using it for "surfing" not real work....that's when I'd boot up the real laptop. All sorts of connectivity (Wi-fi, Bluetooth, and some sort of Cellul
        • Yeah - but the Shift costs something like $1500 if I remember right. That's why these inexpensive and small machines are selling so fast - they aren't just small, they are cheap.
          • by SQLGuru (980662)
            Oh, I don't disagree, but the question was, what features do you want in one of the really cheap computers.......I want basically a (touch) screen with a pull-out keyboard and an OS that is focused on media.

            Layne
    • I bought a suplused HP Jornada 720 for $100. A very usable ultra portable except The OS cannot be upgraded, so one is stuck with Windows CE 3.01, no way of transferring files off the machine except by sneakernetting the memory card, and a browser than can't do SSL2, Javascript, Java, iFrames, PNG's ... But for plain web pages it's outstanding.

      It cost $900 when it came out in the late 90s, they could probably make it for less than $500 today.

      http://h10025.www1.hp.com/ewfrf/wc/product?cc=us&product=61677 [hp.com]
  • by jeffmeden (135043) on Wednesday April 09, 2008 @05:02PM (#23017392) Homepage Journal
    Web two point oh. If you spend all day reading/posting on slashdot, you don't need a whole lot of CPU power (as long as you run adblock plus.) People have less and less use for big local apps, and more and more use for web based apps, so this is where demand is going. If it can post on slashdot, it's good enough for everyday use. If it gets 8 hours on a charge and has multi-band wi-fi and a little hard drive space for MP3s and pictures, it will get the job done for most users, most of the time.

    Finally, if it's cheap enough to not really force a user to chose between owning a portable and owning a desktop (or better equipped portable) and instead they can have both, then you sir have a cash machine!

    • by TubeSteak (669689)

      Finally, if it's cheap enough to not really force a user to chose between owning a portable and owning a desktop (or better equipped portable) and instead they can have both, then you sir have a cash machine!
      IMHO, nothing will replace a desktop or "better equipped portable" if it doesn't have a built in cd/dvd writer. That's sort of a mandatory 'feature' for me.

      A usb/firewire external is in no way a replacement for an internal drive, unless it's part of a laptop dock.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Xygon (578778)
      *cough* Please. Maybe the few simple web 2.0 apps in the world, but the majority of applications are not simply and cleanly built. Have you tried running a powerpoint-like application via Web2.0? Native apps run MUCH cleaner. I need more cpu power to run a few 2.0 apps simultaneously than most native apps, thanks to the hoops they have to run through as a client-server application. Add in a few Flash anythings and now my system is crawling.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by homer_ca (144738)
      I know Slashdot just recently went to AJAX for the comments, but check your processor usage sometime on a really heavy Web 2.0 app. I know killing the Flash ads helps, but web surfing on a PIII class CPU ain't what it used to be.
  • Initial reviews of these devices unsurprisingly expose them to be underpowered and lacklustre.

    I am not the type that needs to do big Excel Solver sheets or Matlab simulations while on the go. Why carry more than twice the weight for what amounts to a bigger power draw and little marginal value? A computer that consistently hits 40% CPU utilization (fairly high for a desktop) is a computer that is still idle 60% of the time, and that's what my Eee PC is right now.

    Gimme lightweight any day; if I need CD-ROM d
    • I am not the type that needs to do big Excel Solver sheets or Matlab simulations while on the go. Why carry more than twice the weight for what amounts to a bigger power draw and little marginal value?

      My sentiments exactly. I've got a dual-core desktop at work (which would be idle 90% of the time if I weren't running two instances of Folding@Home [stanford.edu]). The most intensive thing I do with my laptop is when I remote-desktop to my work box.

      I'm beyond low-end. I got an old PII laptop from Retrobox (now Intechra [intechraoutlet.com])
    • by Zackbass (457384)
      Following that point, even as someone who does run MATLAB simulations on the go I feel no need for a high power laptop. I connect to my desktop or cluster through the internet and run my fancy stuff on a box designed for it. Even given the choice I'll often find a nice place to work that isn't my desk and work through Terminal Services or VNC. The only thing I get any advantage from being at the computer for is my 3D modeling work. A good network connection is really a fantastic thing.
      • by tepples (727027)

        Even given the choice I'll often find a nice place to work that isn't my desk and work through Terminal Services or VNC.
        If this nice place to work is not a Wi-Fi hot spot, how much does your mobile data plan cost per month?
    • by ArhcAngel (247594)
      I am not the type that needs to do big Excel Solver sheets or Matlab simulations while on the go.

      Even if you do happen to need to run that Excel or Matlab monster on the go there's always using these UMPCs as thin clients to remote into your home or work box to do it while on the go. Now CAD or Crysis OTOH......
  • Buy a refurbished machine from Dell's outlet store :-) Seriously, the most important thing I've always found when buying a laptop (or any machine) is not to skimp on memory. Unless you're buying a portable gaming rig, processor power isn't really that critical and your typical bundled graphics device is sufficient to handle any kind of desktop (okay, maybe not Aero...) Came across these guys recently: http://minipc.aopen.com/Global/spec.htm [aopen.com] Nice looking device. My main reservation about the Asus eee PCs
  • My mom had one of these orange screened Compaq [homeunix.net] monsters.

    Mom had a drapery business then. She'd drag me off to client's houses and talk window dressings with them, and I'd hide in the corner with this portable 386 and play games on it's orange screen. mmm reader rabbit.

    oh you mean a modern day computer? I don't know. I have this 10 pound dell from work and love the 1920x1200 pixel display. 2 hour battery is enough for most purposes but when I travel I'll bring 2-4, depending on the location.
  • It should be able to handle running 3D games at low resolutions... 1024x768, say, or a widescreen version of that. It shouldn't be able to handle Crisis at 1900x1200 without a flicker, but at least let me putter about on World of Warcraft and Sims 2 without feeling like I'm working on something from five years ago.

    Beyond that... storage isn't an issue if you've got memsticks or cards. Give it wireless, a decent CPU, and a gig or two of RAM (one if Linux/XP, two if Vista) and WiFi and I'd be happy. And, for
    • by eebra82 (907996)

      It should be able to handle running 3D games at low resolutions... 1024x768, say, or a widescreen version of that. It shouldn't be able to handle Crisis at 1900x1200 without a flicker, but at least let me putter about on World of Warcraft and Sims 2 without feeling like I'm working on something from five years ago.

      Are you serious or just trying to get modded as 'Funny'? The word budget should be a clear indicator to any gamer that this laptop is not intended for gaming. History will tell you the very same thing. It is true that laptops have become more capable at the lower segments, but 3D power has remained consistent (more or less). Budget segments will always target businesses and people who intend to browse the web, check e-mail and so forth. Maybe that will change some day, but not in the next five years.

  • by zogger (617870) on Wednesday April 09, 2008 @05:09PM (#23017470) Homepage Journal
    Those smallish ones are fine, but not paying what they are asking when you can get a full size normal budget laptop for the same scratch $400-500. $100-200 tops right now would be my budget.

    Anyway, that's my price point for getting a toy-ish low featured laptop, although they are featured-enough, solid state drive is fine, lowerpowered CPU is fine, just not be skimpy with the RAM, at least a gig or two.. The original OLPC hundred buck idea would be nice then.

    So, you richer guys, get crackin and buy a zillion of them for what they are asking now, so the price can drop some more..heh.
  • by shankarunni (1002529) on Wednesday April 09, 2008 @05:13PM (#23017518)
    I think you're asking the wrong question. Budget, Ultra-portable, Powerful - you can have any 2 out of 3.

    If the question is truly about Budget and "powerful enough", obviously the thing won't be ultraportable. You can get a reasonable machine (~5 lbs, 14" screen, low-end Core Duo or Turion based) for about $500, or even lower if you look for sales or rebates.

    You can then add a cheap or free office suite (e.g. OpenOffice), Firefox, etc., and you're ready to go.
  • With the decent sales of the very high-priced MacBook Air, it seems that the "features" this article is quoting aren't really all that necessary to many people.

    <Anecdote>
    Back in 2000, I got a new work laptop: a Toshiba portege 3440... seemed a bit too small at first and seemingly underpowered, but to be honest, it was quite adequate for taking notes, hacking my Perl, Java & SQL (didn't use the monster-ish Eclipse back then), and when needed, VNC into my desktop to run my batch queries and compi

  • I mainly use my portable to browse the web, write documents, and handle email. I want it to be cheap enough that if it is lost, stolen, or broken that I won't cry over it. I want it to be lightweight enough that it's not a bother to lug around. I want it to have a good enough battery life that I can use it for a while without worrying about an outlet.

    I don't need it to be powerful or have great performance to do these things. These reviewers are using the wrong scale to review these types of laptops.

  • To run guiding software, charting programs and remote exposure controls. Much less cumbersome and more battery friendly than my old Dell C400.
  • Do you need compatibility with MS office? IF so then you will need Windows and MS Office unfortuntately.

    I know I will probably get modded down as a troll for not advocating openoffice and linux, but I am going to say its not fully compatible and writer is nearly useless for my papers in the apa format required for college. Excel compatibility is my concern too and I need the real version of MS office.

    If you want cheap and do not need compatibility there are alternatives like the Asus notebooks and OLPC's. H
    • by jroysdon (201893)
      Utter FUD. OpenOffice.org works for 99% of my needs.
    • by CSMatt (1175471)

      Do you need compatibility with MS office? IF so then you will need Windows and MS Office unfortuntately.

      I know I will probably get modded down as a troll for not advocating openoffice and linux, but I am going to say its not fully compatible and writer is nearly useless for my papers in the apa format required for college. Excel compatibility is my concern too and I need the real version of MS office.
      Then use it in WINE. If that doesn't work get CrossOver.
  • Don't want one (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Rick the Red (307103) <.Rick.The.Red. .at. .gmail.com.> on Wednesday April 09, 2008 @05:30PM (#23017692) Journal
    I don't want one. What I want is one of those mini-tablet/large-PDA thingies Bill Gates showed us a couple of years ago. You know, the ones with no keyboard, a 7" touch screen with handwriting recognition, etc. Oh, sure, they're available, but I think $500 is a reasonable price, not the $1500 the makers are charging.

    I think the biggest appeal of these "budget" laptops is just that -- the price fits most people's budgets.
  • The best "laptop" I've ever used was the Radioshack M100. Could take notes ALL DAY (maybe even all week). Upload the notes, and continue. The size of a clipboard, and a reasonable keyboard (for typing).

    Now? *If* it plays movies (DVD, or other), it should be able to play at least 2 full movies (at least 4 hour battery life, although the M100 lasted 20 to 40 hours!). I should be able to pull it out and type on it (capture notes) without waiting minutes for it to "boot". It should be dead quiet for use in meet
  • They are a PDA with an easy-to-type-on keyboard.

    Email? Check.
    Surf Web? Check.
    Can type on it? Check.
    Cheap? Check.

    There you go.
  • I'll bet Jobs & Co. are willing to spend the $100 million on gobs of prototypes and the extensive innovation that will do a breakout on screen and data input.

    To date, what I see looks a bit recycled.
  • The only criteria anyone should care about is whether M$ will allow its manufacturer to sell XP on it.

    It will be three years before enough laptop hardware to run Vi$ta 'quickly' will cost less than $1500. I would urge all the OEMs to push that definition as hard as they can.
  • by vanyel (28049) *
    I don't want to spend $2000 and lug a ton of stuff to do email when traveling, but the treo is just too small for the job. Give me the minimum size and price to type on and wifi to connect. A matching screen for a keyboard big enough to type on is enough to read email and do basic surfing, and should be inexpensive enough to be affordable to boot.
  • The Dell Vostro 1000 is about the same price as the EeePC, yet there's no comparison in terms of features - the Vostro is actually a usable modern laptop, the EeePC are specs from a couple years ago. I don't see why you would buy a crappy small laptop when you can get a fairly decent one for the same price.
  • ...it is how you use it.

    When traveling, I have a regular laptop. I don't want to lug around a "mini" laptop in addition to my normal one. If I need to do real work, and there is space, I'll pull out the normal laptop.

    What I want is something that allows me to check e-mail; browse the web for travel itineraries, stocks, sports and weather; has instant on; access to all my contacts by syncing with my phone or main desktop; and, in a pinch, ssh, VNC or remote desktop.

    And make it fit in my pocket.

    All this is
  • by Ungrounded Lightning (62228) on Wednesday April 09, 2008 @06:18PM (#23018248) Journal
    (I imagine many of you don't. But then the first machine I programmed for money used vacuum tubes for the DIODES.)

    The same sorts of questions were being asked then. What could you possibly DO with a little home computer? They were SO underpowered compared with a mainframe.

    The question was related to another one that had been asked before: "How many of these first IBM machines will we be able to sell?" "Well, 10 of them would do more arithmetic than all the accountants in the world..."

    Surprise: When the price gets low enough there's a LOT of stuff you can do that you couldn't afford to do before.

    So it's got a lot less processor and memory than the current top-of-the-line laptop? That puts it far ahead of the laptops - and desktops - of just a few years back. And it would run RINGS around the first Unix machine I bought for my personal use, back in the '70s. A couple megabyte or RAM? 80 Megs of hard drive? Floppies for backup? I still found PLENTY of stuff to do with it. Enough to justify the several thousands of dollars it cost - back when two hundred bux were worth about what a thousand is now.

    Bring the price down to a hundred or two, for a small, light box with enough memory and processor to drive a decent display, audio, enough battery to keep it alive for a few hours, USB (or other) interface for external memory sticks / drives / cameras, and internal modem and wireless. Then you've got the bulk of what I need at a throwaway price.

    I'd buy one for me, one for the wife, one for each nephew (if they don't have it already), put one in the vacation house to monitor the cameras and phone home in case of trouble, one for the townhouse to phone the vacation house when we're there ditto, one in the camping trailer, one on the boat, a spare in the trunk, ... One breaks? Chuck it and get another.

    As for the vendors: Fast nickels are better than slow dimes. Get the price point down far enough and you sell SO many of 'em that you more than make it up on volume.
  • Budget (Score:3, Funny)

    by SpaghettiPattern (609814) on Wednesday April 09, 2008 @06:21PM (#23018280)
    The perfect balance for a budget laptop definitely is a large budget.
  • Simple (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Xest (935314) on Wednesday April 09, 2008 @06:22PM (#23018296)
    PDAs/Mobiles are too small to browse the web decently and don't have a decent input device - a keyboard. Normal laptops are too big to carry round with you everywhere.

    These new gen small notebooks are the perfect size, plenty small enough to carry round but big enough to be able to display web pages properly and maintain a proper keyboard.

    I'm not sure why anyone would say they're underpowered or lacklustre though, unless you're expecting to play Crysis on it then the spec is just find, people have been happily creating spreadsheets, presentations, word documents, doing e-mail, browsing the web ever since the 486 era. You're not going to be playing the latest and greatest games on them it's silly to think so, we don't have the tech. to put that much power in such a small size at a reasonable price point but if you want to use it to do every day stuff you do on a computer I'd argue it's better than a laptop and better than a PDA because it has the advantages of both without the disadvantages (well except proper laptops have better specs, but gaming laptops are so big and bulk they may as well be in the desktop category anyway!).

    The new sub-notebooks fill a niche that was filled then emptied again over the past decade or so. I found an old 486 laptop at work not so long ago that funnily enough whilst fatter than the new gen notebooks wasn't really much deeper or wider. Similarly Apple did away with their nice small notebooks and upped the size an inch or so when they went Intel - I'm not sure what the Air was all about either, it's just as wide and deep but extremely thin, to me thinness really doesn't solve anything and just makes me worry I'll snap it or something!
  • by Qbertino (265505) on Wednesday April 09, 2008 @06:47PM (#23018556)
    The Asus EEE in book has a Killer Combination of features I've last seen about 13 years ago with the Highscreen "DOS 5.0 / Works 5.0 on ROM" Pocket PC (which basically was a cheap rebranding of an earlyer expensive Sharp Pocket PC). These features are:
    + Small.
    + Durable.
    + Full PC - runs all PC stuff I need.
    + Sacrafices Optical for durability, size and price == good move - I don't want to watch DVDs on a small thing like that anyway. I *do* however, want to use OpenOffice in a pinch.
    + No extra custom gadget connectivity stuff needed. Supports all standard ports out of the box. Means: Ready for universal flexible use. Cheap.
    + No obscure custom purpose 'Pocket OS'. Linux beats Palm OS any time of the day.
    + Linux preinstalled, Debian Variant being a big bonus. I'm a programmer and an IT pro. I want to use a Computer, not a pimped out virii-ridden slowpocking typewriter that needs DirectX to render it's desktop.

    Now only if I could get one. These things are hard to come by right now.
  • by TellarHK (159748) <tellarhk@hotmail . c om> on Wednesday April 09, 2008 @06:47PM (#23018558) Homepage Journal
    The biggest problem in portable systems that aren't designed to replace a desktop is that they couldn't replace one if they -had- to. And honestly, when I've carried a laptop around with me for any length of time and serious usage, it's gone and replaced my primary desktop for everything except gaming. For people like your typical Slashdot reader, unless we get something that's at least on par with a low-end but functional desktop, we're probably going to be too frustrated by a limited budget laptop.

    I have a Macbook, and I love it. But if I wanted something on a budget that was going to be my utility system for lugging around and doing office-type tasks, the last thing I'd want to use is a full-blown desktop OS. There really needs to be a new kind of system designed for portable machines that's designed for ease of use, low power consumption, and high grades of flexibility without needing to wade through a typical desktop interface.

    If I were designing a new OS for one of these systems, I'd want something that handled software installation and deletion similarly to OS X. You drag a file into Applications or wherever, and it runs when you click it. I would want accessory and connectivity options designed along the lines of a
    PDA - illustrative graphical things you toggle on and off with virtual switches. I'd want a heavily customized and graphically streamlined version of Open Office to handle documents. A modified version of Firefox made to work within the context of a special application control bar similar to a combination of the OS X task bar and the Windows tray.

    Linux is just not a good platform for something like this as it currently stands. I for one never want to worry about whether or not my glibc is the right fucking version before I install software. (It's been a while since I used a mainstream distro for longer than a few days) And I know that if I don't want to know it, my mom sure the hell wouldn't when she saw a neat new gadget to install on her email device.

    Insofar as hardware goes, I think Intel has the right processor coming out with Atom. If a system like I just described was written from the ground up, a gigabyte of RAM should be plenty - but go for two so you can use one as a disk cache for even more speed improvement. Again, a custom OS and streamlined applications could be easily done within a few gigabytes of hard drive. And there's no reason an 8G internal flash source wouldn't work with an option to slot in another 8 or so with the latest flash technologies for media storage and application space.

    Dual-core CPU's wouldn't necessarily be needed if you're not loading up a monster desktop OS. Just take a look at what Nokia has managed with the N8XX line, which for all its faults is still a damn nice little piece of hardware. It runs Linux, so packaging is a clusterfuck, and at least the N770 takes a while to boot - then runs slowly - but those can be overcome with RAM upgrades.

    I rant too much.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by zelbinion (442226)
      I agree that one of these ultra-portable machines needs to be about on par (or even a little below) a basic desktop machine. However I disagree that it needs to run a different OS or be more PDA like. I've had a Toshiba Portege 2000 for a number of years now. This was the MacBook Air of it's day - just a little over 2 pounds/1kg, super slim, and yet powerful enough for basic tasks. (It has a 750Mhz Pentium III with 512MB of RAM.) That's pretty slow by today's standards, but with XP, an older copy of of
  • by csoto (220540) on Wednesday April 09, 2008 @06:56PM (#23018650)
    Put the center of mass nearest the center of the laptop!
  • Battery Life (Score:3, Insightful)

    by OldSoldier (168889) on Wednesday April 09, 2008 @07:13PM (#23018802)
    In a word (or 2) I'd say the perfect balance is battery life. Though this completely ignores the "ultra portable" part, but if you go for battery life it also gets you a not overpowered CPU too. I find high power CPU to be a double whammy wrt battery life. A) the CPU consumes more power and B) the fan runs more often and hence consumes more power. So... if you go for battery life ALONE you'll also get a mid-range CPU with a reasonable fan activation cycle.

  • by Aging_Newbie (16932) on Thursday April 10, 2008 @07:52AM (#23022728)
    I bought the $400 Eee PC (Linux), upgraded the RAM to 1GB, and have a 4GB SDHC card, I have used it about three months I am well pleased and the reasons I am pleased may guide others in choosing if they want a small laptop. Here are my observations:

    1. It is dependable - it boots quickly, runs the full duration of its battery life (2.5-3 Hrs), warns politely when battery is dying with time to recover, and charges up in a couple of hours, even from an inverter plugged in the lighter socket in my car. Quick charging is a real blessing. It draws 25 watts while running AND charging, less if just running!!! Amazing.

    2. It is durable, small, and light- No drive means it is not fragile and I don't have to worry whether I will crash the drive. It is amazing how convenient it is to have on hand when needed. Going to a hotspot just means grabbing the little gadget and going in. Less than 1 Kg is hard to beat.

    3. Screen is sharp and legible - Though I would like it somewhat bigger and with more resolution, the screen is amazingly sharp and pleasant to read from. Only drawback is that it shows fractional web pages but that is usually a minor problem. The size and form factor of the device make for a very nice "Belly Telly" for watching movies while reclining.

    4. USB ports are very useful - I had to edit a resume while out of town, had no printer, went to Wally World and bought a $35 HP deskjet, plugged it in, and printed my resume. No muss, no fuss, no bother. It already had drivers for the printers so it just worked. NICE... 2.5" USB hard drives hold lots of movies for extended trips away from civiilization. USB DVD drive allows viewing DVDs.

    5. Wireless has good sensitivity and is amazingly seamless. I go to a hotspot, turn it on, click a couple of times, and am online. No worries whether a windows trojan will be downloaded, and the wireless just works.

    6. The screen makes a good bookreader for non DRM (the only kind of Ebooks I consider anyway) books. It is very legible, no fatigue from reading from it, and it has an OK bookreader provided.

    7. Great way to download audiobooks from librivox.org or podiobooks.com and then listen to them or transfer them to an SD card for use in an .mp3 player.

    8. Audio system is credible and it plays most audio formats seamlessly. When SDHC cards grow in capacity, I have considered getting and dedicating one of these gadgets to playing my collection of .ogg files on my stereo. The expansive screen (for an mp3/ogg player) is really nice. Of course, as it stands, it will play my collection off my wirelss LAN and file server but I am looking to reduce my power footprint and hate to keep the server running when a flash memory will do.

    9. USB thumb drives are now available in 8+ GB capacity. I use one for temporary movie storage and put a movie or two on the thumb drive to watch and then delete. I just saw 16 GB USB drives so it looks like capacity will be little trouble with this device.

    10. The keyboard is too small for long term heavy use but for editing a document and for navigating the Internet it is just fine. Of course, with USB one can plug in a bigger keyboard if needed, and even plug in a VGA display to have a full size machine.

    11. Finally, Cost - $400 is a price point nobody else seems to take seriously. In the car market, people see a small car, built with precision and artistry, and decide to compete with a larger more expensive car. Ultimately you get to SUVs when it all plays out. The competitors for the Eee PC seem to be bigger, heavier, more expensive, and maybe marginally more functional but somehow people forgot the original idea.
  • What price point? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Morrigu (29432) on Thursday April 10, 2008 @11:43AM (#23025314) Homepage Journal
    "Budget" means different things to different people.

    I was ecstatic to find a Dell Vostro deal a couple weeks ago where you could get an Intel Core 2 Duo T7250 2.0Ghz CPU, 2GB RAM, 160GB 7200RPM disk, 15.4" glossy 1680x1050 display, NVIDIA GeForce 8600M GT 256MB, 8x DVD dual-layer burner, Intel 802.11n wireless and Bluetooth 2.0 EDR for around $1000 (USD).

    That's a pretty decent machine, for a thousand dollars. It's not an XPS, or an uber-gaming rig, and it's way more than what you need to just browse the web and check your email. But for what I like to do (run virtual machine instances, test out apps, play some recent PC games) it's perfect.

    If all you need is web and email access with document and spreadsheet software, the Asus EEE PC and (rapidly arriving) competitors is great. It's small, light, and good enough.

    If you want to run memory- or disk- or video-intensive apps, obviously the EEE PC doesn't work for that.

    All of us here on Slashdot need to remember that not everyone uses their PC in the same way. :)

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