The Intel Classmate Netbook

Originally developed as an ultra-low cost laptop for the educational market, the Intel Classmate is a superb option for anyone in the market for a netbook. The original that debuted in September 2007 was extremely modest. The newer model is a whole new product.

The Classmate sports Intel's world-class 900MHz Celeron M processor. Not quite the powerhouse of the company's 1.6GHz Atom, it is still a very worthy competitor. The hard drive is smaller than some of the competing manufacturers' offerings, too, at a modest 30GB and 3600 rpm. Others hold as large as 160GB/7200 rpm drives.

But the trade-offs make this netbook less expensive, more compact and rugged, and still a worthy contender for the student or mobile professional.

At just over 3 lbs you won't get tired carrying this unit from place to place. And at a mere 9.4" deep x 10" wide x 1.5" high you can slip it into a case and it will still be smaller than a lot of hardcover books. Carrying it is a breeze thanks to the leather cover featuring an integrated handle.

Where it really stands out is the construction. This unit is rugged. Originally intended to be sold to students in developing countries (in a smaller, less complex configuration), it needed to meet some high standards. Dust, physical impact, and other hazards are all bigger concerns elsewhere than they are in the U.S. Intel delivered a very hardy machine in the original and the newer model takes advantage of that learning experience.

The original version had the same smaller keyboard offered today, but with several keys moved. The newer model has eliminated that drawback. Re-learning the position of UP-arrow and more is never any fun, especially for experienced typists. You won't have that problem on the latest Intel Classmate.

Unlike some other low-end models, this unit provides an integrated webcam. What's even more interesting is that, for a model with modest specs, it really works. There's no hurky-jerky video, thanks to the onboard Intel 915 graphics chipset, provided you don't have power-sucking applications running at the same time.

You might very well make good use of that feature by taking advantage of the pre-loaded educational software the Intel Classmate provides. Running on top of Windows XP, it allows students and teachers to interact real-time. Easy document exchange, monitoring, and instant messaging all transform the experience into a mentoring session rather than just a lecture.

With built-in microphone and headphone jacks, along with stereo speakers, you'll find it easy to communicate or just listen. For such a small unit it also houses 2 USB 2.0 ports and offers integrated Wi-Fi support. Battery life is a very healthy 4 hours.

Because the storage space is limited, you'll be grateful for the standard SD slot and you can even attach an external drive via USB if you want. Of course, no one wants to drag an external drive around with an ultra-portable, but it's very handy for offloading files.

Check out the Intel Classmate from the company that started the netbook craze.

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