Don’t Bother with Baby Notebooks

Channel Strategy
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Walk by the netbook display at your local PC retailer and you’re likely to hear cooing and exclamations of how cute the little laptops are. But take one home and you may realise your new baby just can’t do the same things that a standard notebook can do.

Netbooks are just about the only thing these days that are generating any excitement in the hardware space. The form factor is appealing to many, for sure. With about a 10-inch screen, these are much smaller than the standard-sized notebook, and certainly much lighter, and quite a bit less expensive, too. Some are as inexpensive as $250 (£177), while others can get as expensive as the $1,000 (£700) range.

It’s hard to walk by a netbook display at a consumer electronics store without hearing someone coo at them and talk about how cute they are, as if they were little baby notebooks.

And, because of their magnetic appeal to consumers, netbooks have been doing their part to make PC manufacturers happy. Look at the earnings report of any PC maker that also makes netbooks and you’ll notice that netbook unit sales are just about the only thing growing at any kind of healthy pace. That’s saying something during this year when hardware sales look positively bleak, with analysts like Gartner now forecasting a decline of almost 12 percent, the worst in history.

And yet some in the industry say that netbooks are suffering a greater return rate than other PCs. On the consumer side, it’s said that once users get the machines home and play with them for a little while they realise the smaller machines can’t do all the things that their more standard-sized and standard-priced notebooks can do. The very inexpensive netbooks generally come with Linux, an operating system that still may be unfamiliar to the masses. And on the enterprise side distributors say netbooks have yet to take hold.

So what’s the real story? Can that little PC do the jobs you need it to for your customers? Is there a place for the netbook in business? Here are just a few of many factors to consider.

Screen size. Do your customers’ users have multiple applications and windows open at one time? Do they use spreadsheets? While the netbook’s small form factor makes it convenient to tote around anywhere the user goes, if scrolling around all the time and not being able to see everything you need to see at the same time can get frustrating.

Storage. Many netbooks initially shipped with a small amount of solid state memory rather than a rotating hard drive. In some ways this makes sense as memory prices are always falling and solid state, by nature, has fewer moving parts and therefore is less likely to break. However, many users have become accustomed to more than 100GB of memory, and even in the netbooks that ship with hard drives, those users may not be satisfied with the limited storage.

Processor performance. These days you can’t buy a PC that isn’t dual core. That is, unless it’s a netbook. While most standard notebooks these days come with a dual core processor, either from Intel or AMD, most netbooks use Intel’s Atom single core processor. Intel has said that Atom processors have about half the performance of Intel Celeron processors.

All the other features you and your customers have gotten used to. Sure, you can get the Microsoft Vista Premium OS on some of these, and buy the external DVD player and an additional external hard drive. But by the time you are finished you could have configured a standard low-end laptop that comes with a higher-performance processor for the same price.

Now, some companies are coming out with some interesting new netbooks, including this one with an ARM processor and a detachable keyboard, making the thing into a tablet notebook. And more innovations may be on the way for netbooks.

But for now, unless you want what the netbook really is – a lightweight client that functions well in a cloud computing environment for tasks such as e-mail and Web browsing, but is not as capable of heavy lifting, you are probably better off with a standard notebook for a few more pounds.