How to Buy a Netbook

Netbook Shopping Tips

If you're convinced a netbook will meet your needs, and are ready to start shopping, here are a few recommendations. Remember, netbook specifications don't vary as greatly as those of a regular laptop. These specifications will meet the needs of the average netbook user.

A 1.6GHz Intel Atom processor. This CPU isn't going to pack a ton of power, but it will suffice for your basic computing needs. Most recent netbooks use Intel's 1.6GHz Atom N270 CPU, but you can also find some models with the 1.66GHz Atom n280, which also has a faster frontside bus speed (667MHz versus 533MHz in the N270). In our performance tests, though, the difference between these two processors was negligible.

Supplemental battery. Vendors usually try to keep costs down by providing a modest three-cell battery, which will last about 2.5 hours, if you're lucky. If you want to stay productive on your netbook while traveling, you'll probably need to buy an oversize, extended-life battery to power your machine. You can find optional six-cell batteries for about $100. Keep in mind that these batteries not only boost the price of a netbook, they also increase its weight.

A 10-inch screen. You'll find netbooks with screens smaller than 10 inches, and these models will suit some people just fine. But if you can, opt for a larger model; that slight bit of extra room will make a noticeable difference.

A 120GB hard drive. Yes, you'll find netbooks with 60GB hard drives. But don't limit yourself to such a small amount of storage when you can find models with 120GB--or larger--hard drives for the same price.

A well-laid out keyboard. You know you'll be compromising on size when you purchase a netbook, and that applies to the keyboard, too. But smaller doesn't have to mean unusable. Look for a model with a keyboard that is well designed and nicely laid out. Make sure the mouse buttons are sensibly positioned, too.

At least two USB ports. Many netbooks offer three, but some of the smaller models have only two. You don't need to settle for less than that.

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