Netbooks are underpowered paper weights. There, I said it. And I'm glad to get it off my chest. I've watched the public fascination with these ultra low-cost ultra portables from their inception and wondered how anyone can actually use these devices for any worthy purpose. Don't misunderstand me, I WANT to like them, I do. But every encounter I have with a Netbook leaves the same bitter taste in my mouse – they are too damn sluggish! Even a top of the line model just doesn't have the horsepower to push pixels in a tolerable manner.
Case in point. A friend of mine recently purchased a brand new Sony Vaio W, the company's first foray into this el cheapo computer segment – and the only one I actually covet. He was proudly showing off all that wondrous things that it could do, or so he thinks. As he opened applications and performed various tasks – I stood by in awe at how miserably slow the machine performed. I kept thinking to myself "My God, this is atrocious! It runs like a vintage PC from 1998." Every simple task you threw at this machine it chugged along at the speed of Molasses pouring through a sieve. Opening Outlook, a task that could bring even a gaming PC to its knees, took ages. Launching Firefox was an agonizing 40 seconds!
I realize the appeal, they have that effect on me as well. People want a small lightweight portable that can be thrown into a book bag and toted to their nearest coffee shop to check their email and Twitter. But these machines just aren't it. Worse I think they mislead consumers into thinking they're buying something they really aren't. I see many people standing in line at Best Buy eager to buy what they THINK to be a cheap laptop, which in fact is something far less. And its for that reason these machines have a very high return rate. The honeymoon ends quickly once you actually try to use a Netbook for anything other than opening a browser window and become keenly aware that what you're holding in your hands in not a mini laptop, but an over-glorified smartphone with a larger screen that is trying to run a desktop operating system – and failing miserably in the attempt.
That's not to say that things aren't getting better, and are certain to improve with every new generation in hardware upgrades. Intel is constantly improving its core Atom architecture – good luck, it needs it. And even companies not immediately associated with CPUs (like Nvidia) are developing power-sipping processors and GPU platforms (ION comes to mind) that deliver greater performance to low-end hardware.
Yet I can't help wondering if this segment isn't doomed and destined to be replaced by something other than a tiny laptop form factor. Something between a Netbook, iPhone, and eReader. Could Apple's long-rumored tablet be the device that bridges that gap? Possibly, but one thing is certain – I'm staking a pass on Netbooks. Call me when the revolution begins.
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