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An ode to Netbooks
11-17-2013, 05:00 AM
Post: #1
An ode to Netbooks
Original blog posting

In an alternate universe, all of the major tech news sites would be excited about Intel’s new Atom E3845 processor and Toshiba, Lenovo, Dell, HP, ASUS, Acer, and other computer makers would be rushing to make new Netbook models using Intel’s latest Atom chip.

People would be talking about its four cores, its adoption of VT-x and AES instructions, its support for up to eight gigabytes of memory, its remarkable speed (faster than the core 2 duo machine I use as my home Linux server), and how Netbooks keep getting better and better.

That never happened. When the Atom E3845 came out, hardly anyone noticed. No major headlines in tech sites. No articles with 165 comments. No inquiries about when Linux will run on it. And, worst of all, no Netbook computers that sport this CPU. The cloest we will come is a “Bay Trail” Chromebook. The new Atom chip, while vastly superior to anything that was actually used in a Netbook, was received with a collective yawn.

When I last discussed Netbooks, I admitted that they were no longer being made in the US, but were still available overseas. Netbooks are drying up even in overseas markets. The Lenovo S110? It was available in India in January, but no more.

A lot of former Netbook makers are now making “Chromebooks”. A Chromebook is a low-cost notebook that is designed to run only a web browser.

The Chromebook: No Netbook replacement

In some ways, the Chromebooks are what the Netbooks originally were until computer makers started putting Windows XP and later on Windows 7 Starter in Netbooks, along with 160-250 gig hard disks. Indeed, the latest Intel Atom E3845 is already in a prototype Intel Chromebook which will undoubtedly be available to end-users soon.

My issue with the Chromebooks is that attempts to mass market dumb terminals to end users have been done for a long time (anyone else remember the short-lived Sun Java Station that came out during the height of the dot-com boom and was dead by the time the dot-com party ended?) and none of them have succeeded.

Acer had the right idea with the original C7 Chromebook which had a 320 gigabyte hard disk, but cost only $200. Alas, that C7 has been replaced with the C710 which, like all other Chromebooks, has only a 16 gigabyte solid state drive.

Chromebooks are, by design, a one trick pony. If you use a web browser and absolutely nothing else, it’s a great option. Heck, some adventurous hackers have gotten a whole lot more running on a Chromebook, but, even so, 16 gigs of hard disk space means cool useful things a computer like this could do — such as virtualization or a music library — are not really possible.

Chromebook’s failure to replace Windows Netbooks does not mean fans of small sub-notebooks are out in the cold.

Options for Netbook users

While 10 inch computers are fairly hard to find, Acer makes 11-inch models that are the spiritual successor to the Netbooks of 2009 and 2010, such as the AO-756 series or the Acer V5-131 sub-notebook.

If I were in the market for something to replace my aging Netbooks, I would probably get one of these low-end Acers.

Netbooks were one of the better technologies to pop up in the ‘oughts (first 2000s decade); it’s sad they only lasted a couple of years.
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