Laptop Buying Guide: Small Netbook, Medium Ultraportable or Large Desktop Replacement

I’ve had several people ask me recently for advice about buying a new laptop/notebook computer so I thought I’d create this general overall guide explaining the differences and pros/cons between Netbooks, Medium/Ultraportable notebooks and Desktop replacement laptop computers.

To start off whichever netbook/standard/desktop replacement notebook computer you decide to buy, I strongly suggest buying one with a Matt screen instead of a Glossy screen. Glossy screens look great in a computer store but as soon as you use them near a lightbulb or rays of sunlight they become really annoying because they are highly reflective.

Laptop Guide: Small Netbook, Medium Ultraportable or Large Desktop Replacement

Netbook Computer

What is a netbook computer? That’s a good question and not easy to answer because when netbooks started to be sold in 2007 they were all very similar : quite cheap, same size, parts and looks running Windows XP with an Intel Atom processor, compact keyboard, 1 GB RAM, 2-3hours battery life, WiFi Internet, small hard drive and screen size between 7-10inches.

These days netbooks at the upper end have a few more features such as 2Gb RAM, screen sizes between 9-12 inches, 160Gb hard drives or optional quieter, higher performance Solid State Drives (SSD) and extended battery life theoretically upto 12 hours.

The vast majority of Netbooks sold by manufacturers run on the Windows XP operating system, soon to be replaced with the newly released Windows 7 which runs very smoothly on netbooks.

A few netbooks are sold with the Linux operating system and at time of writing none are available from Apple computers because they concentrate on producing high end, high profit margin products and netbooks are a high volume, low profit margin product.

For most people a netbook computer will be their 2nd laptop or spare computer, suitable for email, carrying around on a backpacking holiday, casually surfing the Internet, Skype chat and social networking on Facebook, Instant Messenger or Twitter.

Netbooks don’t have optical drives so you can’t use them to listen to music on CD’s or watch movies on DVD or Bluray. They also don’t have enough power to play any serious graphical games or play HD video files from your camera.

A netbook screen is half the size of an average desktop LCD screen of 17-24inches so can’t fit in as much information on screen. When I was studying at university I found that a netbook screen was too small to read PDF lecture notes and required too much scrolling.

I use a fast desktop computer in my office, with lots of storage and a big LCD screen. On the other hand netbooks are really light and low cost so when I go to conferences/events I take my 10inch Kogan Netbook Pro with me to take notes because it’s best suited to that situation.

A real netbook should be much cheaper than $1000 including accessories, preferably closer to $500 and try to get a battery with at least 3-4hours life (ask for a 6 cell battery) because it would be a real pain to have to charge it every 1-2 hours of use.

Standard/Ultraportable Laptop Computer

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Standard laptops have screens that are around 12-14 inches in size. They’re the kinds of laptop/netbook computers that have existed for ages and are commonly used by business people who have to travel between their office and various other locations for meetings and business events.

A standard laptop will cost well upwards of $1000 but in return you get a full size keyboard, screen that’s big enough to easily read and write documents or surf the internet, powerful CPU and video graphics card to open lots of applications at once and play movies or HD video during long commutes.

Ultraportables like the Lenovo Thinkpad X200 laptop I was recently loaned a media unit of for testing pack more speed and features into a specially buiilt 12-14inch laptop body which is designed to be very light.

If I was a “road warrior” business person who had a desktop PC in their office but needed a quality laptop to use everyday for offsite meetings and plane trips I’d definitely buy a Lenovo Thinkpad ultraportable.

Sure they are not cheap and don’t have a touchpad but I was very impressed with the exceptionally solid build quality, well designed keyboard and high performance with a remarkably light weight of roughly 1.5KG (depending on specification & accessories).

If you tend to throw your laptop around and are looking to buy one check to see if it’s protected like the X200 which has an external magnesium-alloy casing and internal magnesium “roll-cage” skeleton to protect the hard drive from bumps.

Desktop Replacement Laptop Computer

As the name suggests this kind of Laptop/Notebook is so powerful and fully featured that a business person who bought one could replace an existing Desktop PC and not need to buy another one. These laptops usually have 15-17inch or larger screens and contain the newest, fastest, most cutting edge hardware and therefore sell at a premium price of several $1000.

I recently borrowed a media loan 17″ DELL studio laptop to test Windows 7 and it was an interesting experience as I’ve never used such a huge laptop computer before.

For starters it is HUGE not just because it’s got a large full HD 1920×1200 17″ screen that allows you to open 2 windows side by side but also because it weighs almost 4 Kg including all the accessories.

This leads me to guess that desktop replacement laptop computers are most likely to spend their lives sitting on an office desk, unless their owners travel literally everywhere by taxi or have an accompanying butler who carries it for them to meetings 🙂

A desktop replacement laptop computer should be able to do everything that a desktop PC can do including store lots of data 500GB to 1TB+, have a powerful graphics card and multi-core CPU, lots of RAM 4-8GB which allows you to use a 64 bit operating system, DVD/Bluray player, 802.11n fast wifi and Gigabit ethernet, plenty of ports (eg: HDMI, DVI, Firewire, 3-4 USB etc).

If you get a HD 1920×1200 resolution screen make sure it has a Bluray player or DVD player with upscaling otherwise DVD movie compression artefacts and low bitrate compared to Bluray are painfully obvious.

5 thoughts on “Laptop Buying Guide: Small Netbook, Medium Ultraportable or Large Desktop Replacement”

  1. A great collection of notebooks of different types and configurations. Thanks for such an informative post. That’s a good effort you have put on the network through your blog.

  2. I decided to buy a netbook because I am on the road a lot, so something small and portable with good battery life makes the most sense. Also, I don’t play games or anything, so I don’t need a very powerful processor or a ton of memory.

  3. Netbooks are great for students and people on the go. They can be thrown in a bag and are light weight enough to not be a problem. You wouldn’t expect your phone to do everything your PC at home can do; well the same goes for a netbook. The only alternative would be an Ipad, but they are still too expensive.

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