Laptop vs. Netbook… which to buy?

As you’ve read in my last few postings, I’ve been evaluating an Acer 751h Netbook computer. Bear in mind that I’m pretty picky about what I like and dislike, and I do have to say I like this Netbook. It’s very light and compact, has a great hi-res screen, and the keyboard feels like a full-sized version to me. And although it uses a slower Intel Atom Z520 processor, the system responses quite adequately. The only slowness I’ve noticed is when I use the Firefox web browser and I try to open 5 or more web pages simultaneously in separate tabs. I see the activity icon on each tab spinning as it furiously loads the pages. On my Intel Quad desktop PC, I don’t see such a delay as the page load very very quickly.

The issue I had with the Remote Desktop Connection diconnecting and/or being unresponsive wasn’t the fault of the Acer Netbook, but rather my new Belkin Router’s settings. Once I made a small change, the Netbook and my Dell D610 laptop connected with no issues to my Desktop PC.

So in my last blog posting I mentioned that I would probably return this Acer Netbook since the vertical resolution of 768 pixels was still a bit too small for effective software coding (since I can’t see very many lines of code on the screen). I then put the Acer Netbook aside and started browsing web sites like Dell, Best Buy, etc. for possibly getting a new “laptop” instead of a Netbook. I still wanted something that was reasonably portable (i.e., not too heavy or too large) but with a higher screen resolution. My older Dell D610 Latitude has a 1400 x 1050 resolution, which I really like, but the battery is shot in that laptop and the size is just a bit too large to want to carry around.

Ideally, I’m looking for something that I can carry in my travel bag along with my work laptop. Since this work machine is a Dell Precision Workstation (large model), I want my extra laptop/netbook to be thin and light. So that begs the question, “why do I want to bring two machines when I travel on business trips”? The reason is, my work laptop has Windows XP Pro 64-bit OS installed on it which won’t work with my development IDE software, so I can’t use it to do any programming on the side while on the airplane or in my hotel.

So in my search for the perfect laptop, I discovered that many of them use the standard 1366 x 768 resolution screen. Since the Acer Netbook I was evaluating has the exact same resolution, I wouldn’t be getting more coding lines displayed on the screen when I’m programming. The screen would be bigger with a laptop (14-15″) but I’d have signifcantly more weight and size to deal with. Ideally, it would be nice to have a 1200 x 900 pixels, 14″ laptop that was less than 1″ thick, lightweight, and could last 6-8 hours on a battery charge. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find such a laptop in my search. The closest was the Dell Latitude Z which is a beautiful machine (a lot like a Apple Macbook Pro) but the cost was over $1,900 US. So I thought, do I really want to spend $1000 or more for a laptop that has the same resolution screen and is heavier than the Acer Netbook which is going for $290?

I then began to think what was important to me. Is it price or functionality? Speed or size and weight? If I was buying a laptop to be my primary machine, I might get the Dell Latitude Z (fully loaded), as it’s a really nice looking machine. However, I do most of my work on my home-built Intel Quad Core Duo PC that has a TV tuner card for recording TV shows and a 21″ wide-screen monitor, so any laptop/netbook machine would come secondary. As such, it seems that portability becomes more important for a new machine, and I’m now leaning towards keeping the Acer Netbook. Heck, it’s only $290, so keeping it for occasional use while traveling is certainly justifiable.

The problem I was having is that I was comparing the amount of text I could view on the Acer Netbook to what I could see on my Desktop PC monitor. With the Acer I can only see about 1/3 what is displayed on my Desktop PC monitor, so that was drastically noticeable. But, that really is an unfair comparison since the Netbook isn’t designed for normal desktop use (at least, in my opinion).

In any case, I probably won’t be returning it on Monday as I originally planned. Instead, I’ll be doing some more extensive testing and see if I get any system freezes or uncover any other issues. Since I have 90 days to decide on whether to return it or not, I’m not in a big rush (the benefits of buying from Costco).

I can definitely see myself taking this Netbook along with me to coffee shops to just get out of the house, or when waiting at the car service department while getting an oil change, or using it at the Airport terminal or on a flight (much more convenient than the monster work laptop that I have). Netbooks have their place in the computer world, so maybe this Acer Netbook fits the niche in my computer arsenal?

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