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What is a Netbook vs. Laptop Computer – Pros and Cons of Netbooks

By Hope Nardini

netbook computer girlMy laptops have the habit of crashing repeatedly, year after year.

Freshman year of college, I learned to back up my files the hard way when my computer died and I had to send a panicked email to ask friends in my classes for their notes.

Sophomore year, my laptop had a really loud fan that was expensive to fix. It overheated in a matter of days afterwards.

Junior year when the BSOD (blue screen of death) appeared once again, I was done with laptops.

Now it’s senior year and I finally dumped my clunky laptop for a netbook. While there are individual benefits that warrant buying both laptops and netbooks, here are some pros and cons that influenced my decision to switch to a netbook for good.

Advantages of Netbooks

1. Portability
My Acer Aspire ONE A150 weighs a grand total of 2.2 pounds. The entire machine is 9.8″ by 6.7″ and it’s smaller than most of my textbooks, which means it fits nicely into my bag. Its size is especially a plus for me when I’m traveling, because the netbook is discrete and doesn’t take up much carry-on space. The majority of netbooks are offered in three size categories, ranging from 8.9″ screens, which are fine for web browsing, to 10.1″ screens and 11.6″ screens, which tend to push the boundary of being defined as a netbook.

2. Cheaper Replacement Parts
After a year of use, my netbook screen cracked, and I ordered a replacement on eBay for only $40, as opposed to a replacement screen for my old laptop which cost upwards of $100. Also, the 2.5 hour battery life on the netbook isn’t ideal for people, like myself, who want to work throughout the day without being tethered to a power cord. I bought a six hour extended battery for $50, which is still cheaper than my old laptop with four hours of battery life and a $75 replacement battery.

3. Price
Netbooks are far less costly than regular laptops because they tend to have less software installed.  Since most netbooks are intended for general web browsing and checking email, computer manufacturers can get away with keeping the applications light. Netbooks tend to range in price from $250 to $400, while laptops can cost up to $2,500 for higher-end models like the Macbook Air.

Disadvantages of Netbooks

1. Low RAM & Hard Drive Storage
The 1.5 gigabytes of RAM that my netbook offers is all I need for taking notes in classes, writing papers, and checking email. Though the earlier versions of netbooks shipped with smaller 4GB or 6GB solid state hard drives, most netbooks now have hard drives that are big enough for a decent music and movie collection (160GB or 320GB).  However, if I need to store files for backup, I use an online file storage service like Dropbox.

2. Small Features
Netbooks look like toy computers, not just because of their size but also because they are usually made of plastic. The aesthetic doesn’t bother me, but some people prefer their laptops made from more durable materials. Likewise, my keyboard is tiny, but I’ve grown accustomed to it. When shopping for a netbook, check to see whether or not it has a full size keyboard. The 11″ versions usually have full size keyboards, and if you have large hands, it’s worth the investment. In order to minimize space, most netbooks don’t have internal CD/DVD drives, though I’ve never experienced a time when I needed a CD or driver aside from the installation process. When I first installed Microsoft Office, I just used the online download and my serial number. If you enjoy watching DVDs on your laptop, though, this might be an issue for you.

3. Limited Power
If you play video games or do memory-intensive activities, such as design work, the netbook might not be able to handle all of your multi-tasking. I’ve watched television shows like “Desperate Housewives” and CNN news clips without any problems, but if you like to do video editing or gaming on your laptop, a netbook might feel like the little engine that could.

Final Word

In summary, netbooks are not for everyone. However, if you’re looking for a more affordable laptop with basic specs, netbooks may be an ideal option. Their features are great for browsing the web, taking notes, and doing simple word processing tasks – a great computer for college students. But if you’re looking to do anything more than that, you might be disappointed.

Have you made the switch from full-size laptop to netbook?  What are your favorite features of a netbook, or do you prefer having the full capabilities of a laptop or even a tablet like an Apple iPad?  Let us know in the comments below!

(photo credit: Shutterstock)

Hope Nardini
Hope Nardini is a freelance writer who enjoys saving money. She once opened a Roth IRA with the earnings of her first summer job. In addition to full time bargain hunting, Hope plays Ultimate Frisbee, makes homemade sorbet, and loves to salsa dance in her free time.

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  • Shock

    I made the switch from laptop to netbook. I bought a 11.6″ Gateway netbook that has Windows 7 Home Premium instead of the usual “Starter” edition and has a fullsize laptop chip instead of an Atom chip. So it’s basically a laptop in an small body minus the optical drive.

    • Hope Nardini

      Yea as long as you have the software you need, you don’t really miss anything. I almost bought the 11.6″ Aspire One but wasn’t sure. Did you ever consider downsizing even more?

      • Shock

        Nope. I wanted the 11.6″ sized netbook. It has a fullsize keyboard. It’s smaller than a laptop but bigger than a standard netbook. I was attracted to the full size processor, full Windows 7 and double the RAM. It’s extremely portable.

  • http://www.moneybeagle.com Money Beagle

    It kind of seems like we’ve come full circle in some ways. Early laptops had small screens, limited power, were a lot less capable than desktops, and were limited in features. Eventually, laptops caught up and got bigger. Now, netbooks come along and pretty much mimic some of the drawbacks of early laptops compared to more powerful machines available. However, the fact that they’re lightweight and less costly I guess is the biggest benefit.

    Right now, I’m still stuck using my desktop, but I figure my next machine will either be a laptop, netbook, or tablet. Too far in the future to really determine what’s best, though.

    • Hope Nardini

      I think a lot of people are vascillating between the tablet and a netbook, and then between a netbook and a laptop. I’m with you about the newer netbooks, and I predict that tablets are going to get bigger and better in the future.

  • willji

    ‘because the netbook is discrete’ I think you may mean ‘discreet’…

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