Fully Loaded Eee PC: Netbook or Notebook?

Last week we found out about an upcoming Eee PC model that will contain an optical drive. Strange, we thought, considering the original philosophy behind the netbook, a segment Asus helped to pioneer.

Asus will next month launch the Eee PC 1004DN, which will have an optical disc drive. The 1004DN reported to sport an Intel Atom N280 CPU paired with GN40 chipset, which should provide some light-HD decode, and a 120 GB hard drive.

Today Asus has released the official specifications, which weigh the 1004DN at 3.2 lbs (1.45 kg) with the 6-cell battery and optical disc drive. The battery is also advertised to give 5.9 hours of computing time, but we do expect that number to fall under active computing. 

The 1004DN will also have an Express Card expansion slot with USB 2.0 and PCI Express compatibility. Like the other high-end Eee PCs, it’ll have Bluetooth 2.1 and b/g/n Wi-Fi -- rounding out what is a very complete feature list for a notebook.

The 1004DN will even try to look prettier than your average Eee with “brushed aluminum gracing the palm rest and an electroplated frame bordering the keyboard assembly.”

Pricing hasn’t been announced, but early reports have it between $531 and $590 -- sitting straight inside the territory of budget notebooks.

This brings us right back to the question of where the line is between netbook and notebook. We can just look at the Atom CPU and the screen size and say that qualifies it as a netbook, but if you put those two things aside, the specs read very much like a full sized notebook. In fact, with all the bells and whistles, the light and casual computer user could likely get by fine with this has his or her primary computer.

We asked you last week what you thought of the blurring line between portable form factors, and this is what some of you had to say:

“No matter how many bells and whistles they put in, no device running the Atom CPU can be worth more than maybe $399 max. The CPU itself is just too slow to be a viable alternative in more expensive note/net/notbooks.” -JimmiG

Of course, what sets this apart from the other ‘expensive’ netbooks is its DVD drive, which gathered good insight.

“I bought an external dvd/burner along with my 1000H Eee, and I would recommend that to anyone considering a netbook over getting one with the actual optical drive. I can install anything easily if need be.” -presto311

“The only time you need a optical on a netbook is if you need to reinstall the OS. I use Dameon tools to mount images to install disks on my Asus eeepc 900HA. I agree a netbook is worthless after you break the $399 price. $500+ is absurd, looks like Acer will the top Netbook producer with their low prices.” -daship

“A netbook needs an optical drive to watch DVD movies without having to decrypt/rip/process/copy. Sure, there is SW available to rip DVDs - but one ventures into controversial territory when doing so: Is it legal "fair use", or illegal breaching of the DVD copyright warning screen and DMCA? (The answer probably depends on how much $ you have to hire teams of lawyers to fight MPAA, if it comes down to that.) And since one of the few valid uses of the small/light-for-travel netbook is to watch movies in-flight, this is a relevant issue.” -tinkerer_64

“I think theses things might just sell. People still seemed married to the DVD - as my wife put it, "how am I supposed to watch movies?" Sure I could rip it for her but the whole process is a pain from her point of view.” -jawshoeaw

Have your own point of view? Sound off in the comments below!

Marcus Yam served as Tom's Hardware News Director during 2008-2014. He entered tech media in the late 90s and fondly remembers the days when an overclocked Celeron 300A and Voodoo2 SLI comprised a gaming rig with the ultimate street cred.
  • rantsky
    So..... ahhh....... we discussed this exact point just a week ago.......

    You basically just quoted last week's discussion
  • radguy
    Exactly why should I post it again... ok fine
    It is a netbook not because of atom or screen size. Its small, low powered, lower-end spected, and low cost.
    Its low cost for its size (comparing to laptops) although many might think that would just buy a laptop and personally the dell inspiron 13 looks really nice customised to the same price. A 3.2lb 10 inch to 4.5 13inch is not the same thing. It may be at the upper end of the netbook areana and not something I would buy. It's not a good deal and I don't think many on this site need an optical drive. But just cause they add an optical drive doesn't mean its not a netbook.
  • solymnar
    To me the distiction is a subset of the other.

    AKA the term netbook defines a subset of notebooks. Slow (relatively) lower power consuming, and small, with cheaper parts at a cheaper price.

    Netbooks are notebooks that ride the by far lowest end of the curve and are not oriented around anything beyond internet and basic apps.

    Its like the variations on the term desktop replacement. It defines a laptop that is very powerful, enough to replace your desktop, but usually isn't cheap and has horrid battery life with a bit of weight. Designed to be your main computer and taken between home and work. Or home and friend's houses...either way its plugged in 99% of the time.

  • Daller
    Netbooks shouldn't have dvd-drives - Nothing "net"-ish about a disc. Also I wouldn't call any eee pc a netbook 'cause their screens are horrible (that actually goes for most "netbooks"). nettop is taken so netlappie?
  • Want to watch DVDs? Get a DVD player! They cost even less than a netbook and do a much better job of playing DVDs. I'm writing this on my Eee900A, on which I'm running Eeebuntu, and I love it. It does everything I need for day-to-day computing. It doesn't replace my desktop, but it replaces both my notebook and my old ipod nano. My desktop has just about become an accessory for my netbook! I know I'm on my netbook much more than my desktop now. Although Asus' linux distro that came on the netbook was crap, it didn't take me long to settle on this (after a fun search through maybe 20 distros). Oh, and this is my first experience with Linux. But complaining that netbooks don't play DVDs is like complaining that they don't open wine bottles, either. They're just not designed to do that well.
  • rigaudio
    It's whatever label will get them more money.
  • matt2k
    so when will they add Blu Ray?
  • clearly if you would go for this laptop you'd do it for the size.

    The battery life and performance of it isn't that great.

    I'd definitely go for a core2duo laptop for that price,seeing there are many out there, and pretty soon everything is expected to run Windows 7.

    I think an internal DVD is pretty useless. Especially with these battery specs. You'd only be able to see 1 movie on the battery; is that worth lugging the thing with you?
    You might as well save the space for an extension battery pack, and play games for 5 hours in a row.
    But then, the laptop probably barely is able to play any decent game.

    For me an external DVD more then makes up.
    In fact, I wonder why no manufacturer ever created a dockingstation for these devices yet!
    A dockingstation equipping the laptop with a LAN, DVD, PS2 ports for mouse and keyboard, extra USB ports, and external DVI/VGA out.
    (Perhaps even an extension battery and AC input).

    That way you'd have an extremely light and cheap netbook for travel, and a dockingstation for the more desktop environment user.

    I agree fully that any atom based system should cost no more then $399; $299 preferably.
  • garydale
    Good comments above. I disagree with comments quoted in the article about the need to install the OS however. I use Linux and would install from a USB key if needed. Even with Windows, plugging something into a USB port makes more sense than adding to permanent weight.

    The soul of a netbook is the Internet. Adding a DVD reader (rewriter?) is just wrong. Again, Windows users may need an optical drive to install additional software but Linux users just need the net.

    I'm aghast at the prices some of the netbooks are asking. While I'd pay extra for a good SSD instead of a hard drive, a lot of the extra "features" just seem to add weight and drain power. A good SSD on the other hand can go a reasonable distance toward overcoming the lack of processing power. Unfortunately they don't come cheap.

    My perfect netbook:
    - Ion platform or better (where's AMD's low power entry?)
    - 1G RAM
    - 30G SSD - Intel X25, OCZ Vertex or similar
    - under 1Kg
    - 720p widescreen - not for movies, I just like lots of pixels.