Networking

New Intel Chip for Netbooks? Like It Matters

Way, way, way too much is being made of the supposed impact Intel's new Atom N450 chip will have on the netbook and, by extension, laptop markets.

This chip, though 60 percent smaller and 20 percent lighter–like we'll notice–remains hampered by a slow 1.66 GHz. clock speed and all the other constraints implicit in the word “netbook.”

Business users should wade carefully into the netbook marketplace, which I know is enticing this holiday season. The machines remain artificially constrained so as to avoid creating competition for pricier laptops.

If you need a computer with limited performance–as in basic applications running one or maybe two at a time, hampered by a lack of memory–then netbooks are an acceptable option.

Being small and light, often with excellent battery life, has its selling points. Even then, it helps to have small fingers for those tiny netbook keyboards.

I am not trying to talk you out of a netbook purchase, just trying to frame expectations. If all this is acceptable–like because it is a second or third computer–then Merry Christmas and I hope there is a netbook under the tree for you. Take it to work and have fun. Or take it out and find some mobile work tasks made more convenient.

As for the N450 processor, I am not sure it really matters that much, especially since it won't be showing up in netbooks for months. And since a $300 computer is considered almost disposable these days, you can always upgrade later.

As long as the artificial barrier of 10.2-inch screens and 1MB RAM remains, netbooks will remain fine for some users, but not up to the task of real business computing. I say this not out of PC chauvinism but because I used to use a netbook as my primary portable and abandoned it for something more powerful.

Today, I carry the netbook when I want to go someplace that I know has Wi-Fi and want to be able to check e-mail and do simple writing projects or run a couple of specialized applications I need for work. And for that, the netbook is fine. Trying to run even two apps simultaneously is, however, an invitation to slow-as-molasses performance.

Mostly, I blame this on 1GB memory, but the 1.6 GHz. processor doubtless plays a part.

Need I mention that netbook performance for entertainment apps can be disappointing? Lacking DVD drives, well, you understand what that means. Hope you like Hulu, and even that can be disappointing on the netbook. Though the N450 will help with slightly improved graphics, when it arrives.

If you are willing to live with these limitations, none of which are solved by a smaller, lighter processor offering a teensy speed bump and lightly improved graphics, then enjoy a new N450-based netbook, when they finally arrive. Or buy a current model, as they aren't hugely different.

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