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Netbooks

Netbooks are perfect as travel companions or secondary systems for your basic computing needs. Most feature 10- to 12-inch screens and an almost identical combination of hardware: an Intel Atom processor, a 160 or 250GB hard drive and 1 or 2GB of RAM. They generally weigh around 3 pounds, have no optical drive, and range in price from $300 to around $450. If you are on a tight budget or don't need much more than a portable machine with good battery life that is capable of emailing, web surfing, and simple document creation then this is the route to go.


Asus Eee PC 1015PEM

Now that Intel's newest Atom N550 processor has arrived, the netbook category is starting to get interesting again. The Eee PC 1015PEM is Asusís first 10-inch netbook to use the dual-core chip and yet it still manages to keep the price under the $400 mark. It boasts a 1024x600 WSVGA matte finish LED display, a 250GB hard drive (upgradeable to 350GB), 1GB of RAM, Bluetooth 3.0, 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, 3-in-1 card reader and three USB 2.0 ports.

Similar to its predecessor, all three USB ports support the 'Sleep and Charge' feature so you can keep your cell phone, portable media player and other devices charged up when the netbook is off or sleeping. In terms of performance, you'll definitely seen an improvement over previous generation systems. You also get more than 8 hours of battery life, a large, comfortable touchpad and a pretty solid keyboard, plus 500GB of Asus WebStorage free for a year.

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Quick specs | Full specs Starting price: $370
Processor: Intel Atom Dual Core N550 1.5GHz Graphics: Intel GMA 3150
Memory: 1GB DDR3 (1 DIMM) Storage: 250GB 5,400RPM HDD
Display size: 10.1" (1024◊600) Optical: none
Weight: 2.7 lbs Battery: 6-cell (~8 hours)



Asus Eee PC 1215N

The Asus Eee PC 1215N picks up where the previous 1201N model left off, featuring a nettop processor (specifically, the Pine Trail-based 1.8GHz Intel Atom D525) alongside Nvidia's Ion 2 with Optimus. At nearly $500, this 12-inch system is a little on the pricey side but promises to deliver 1080p playback and some light gaming -- which are known to be the weak points of netbooks. Thanks to Nvidia's automatic graphics switching technology the 1215N also sees a massive improvement in battery life over its predecessor -- going from 2.5 hours of autonomy on the old Eee PC 1201N to around 6 with this update.

Port selection is fairly standard for a modern netbook. Asus gives you three USB 2.0 ports, HDMI-out, VGA, LAN, and audio jacks. It also features a SDHC-card slot for expanding internal storage or just loading images off your camera while traveling. The 250GB (5,400RPM) hard drive is consistent with the storage capacity of competing netbooks, while RAM gets a nice boost to 2GB. You can expect good build quality, a comfortable chiclet-style keyboard and a wide 3.5x2.2-inch touchpad.

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Quick specs | Full specs Starting price: $485
Processor: Intel Dual Core Atom D525 1.8GHz Graphics: Nvidia ION 2 256MB
Memory: 2GB DDR3 Storage: 250GB 5,400RPM HDD
Display size: 12.1" (1366x768) Optical: none
Weight: 3.2 lb Battery: 6-cell (~6 hours)



Toshiba mini NB305

When it comes to netbooks, we are used to seeing the same hardware being repackaged over and over again -- an Intel Atom processor, 160 or 250GB hard drive and a single gig of RAM. It's hard to tell which model is best by just looking at their specs, so it usually comes down to design, battery life and price. The Toshiba Mini NB305 hits the mark with a sleek chassis and solid construction, comfortable touchpad and keyboard, and over 8 hours of battery life.

The NB305 features a 10-inch widescreen at a 1024x600 resolution, a single-core 1.66GHz Intel Atom N455 processor, and a 250GB hard drive that boots Windows 7 Starter. Performance is standard for a netbook, but it does tout a few perks like multi-touch gesture controls on its touchpad, and a 'Sleep and Charge' USB 2.0 port, which allows you to charge your gadgets when the machine is asleep. As you would expect, Intel's integrated graphics can handle standard-definition videos just fine, but for anything more demanding than that you're better off buying an Ion-based system.

Additional views:

Quick specs | Full specs Starting price: $380
Processor: Intel Atom N55 1.66GHz Graphics: Intel GMA 3150
Memory: 1GB DDR3 (1 DIMM) Storage: 250GB 5,400RPM HDD
Display size: 10.1" (1024◊600) Optical: none
Weight: 2.6 lbs (6-cell) Battery: 6-cell (~8 hours)


Other noteworthy options in this category

ThinkPad X Series X100e

The ThinkPad x100e offers the same build quality Lenovo fans are already familiar with in an 11.6-inch form factor with better performance than the typical Atom system -- at the cost of battery life.

Price range: $550

HP Mini 5103

The HP Mini 5103 features a durable all-metal design worthy of a business-class machine, as well as a comfortable keyboard and great battery life. A variant sporting a dual-core Atom CPU should arrive soon.

Price range: $550