The Netbook Revolution

Several years ago Intel partnered with others to create a small, low cost laptop that could be distributed in developing countries. Thus was born the Intel Classmate, one of the first netbooks. A new model now exists, but it has some serious competition from several major manufacturers.

Acer makes the Aspire One, which became one of the best and brightest of the new breed. Sporting the Intel Atom 1.6GHz CPU and 1GB of RAM, it can rival a low-end laptop for speed. But there are many others that offer similar hardware, while differentiating themselves nicely.

The HP 2133 Mini-Note, for example, offers a near-standard sized keyboard, and one that really feels like a sturdy, comfortable typing platform. The onboard touchpad performs at an equal level. HP later introduced the Mini 1010NR followed not long after by the Mini 101035NR, a larger cousin with many of the same superb attributes.

Not to be left behind, Lenovo introduced its IdeaPad S10, a first-rate system. The keyboard and touchpad both get high marks from reviewers and the praise is well deserved. Samsung threw its hat into the ring with the NC10, a modest but rugged performer. With the company's reputation for quality, users embraced it right away.

One of the finest models comes, not surprisingly, from Dell: the Inspiron Mini 9. The name may be similar to the company's line of laptops, but it really is a very different unit. It features the same processor and RAM as its competitors but offers some twists, on top of Dell's reputation for high quality at a low price.

There are a few models in the minibook arena that don't fit neatly into the netbook category.

The Dreamnovia Dreambook is one. Really a larger than normal PDA, it is nevertheless an outstanding system. At 7 inches it's quite a bit smaller than the more usual 10 inches of the other brands' screens. And it uses an Xburst 400MHz CPU, not the Intel Atom. It runs Windows CE or Linux CE, not the more common Windows XP or Linpus Linux.

On the other end of the scale is the Mac Mini. Not really a UMPC (Ultra Mobile PC) at all, it fits into the size category at 6.5" x 6.5" x 1" (rather than the more usual approx. 10" x 6.5" x 1"). Like the others it weighs in at less than 3 lbs. But it offers a full Dual Core 2 Intel CPU (running at 2.0 or 2.2 GHz), can hold up to 4GB RAM (double the largest netbook capacity) and has a full speed 320GB hard drive.

There are tons of accessories for all the models, most of which will work well with any of them. An external DVD reader/writer or hard drive, additional RAM, USB Bluetooth adapter, carrying case, and lots more make these units even more usable at home or on the road.

Of course, there are pros and cons to any netbook. Their small size is a great advantage, but they're not as powerful as larger units and some people may find the keyboard a little smaller than they like. But they are the equal of many laptops of only a few years ago, and those were fully functional machines.

Check out a minibook and you'll see, as millions of buyers have already, that they may be small, but they are truly mighty.

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