Tom's Definitive 10.1" Netbook Buyer's Guide: Fall 2010

Netbook Or Notebook?

During the shopping experience, it is easy to get lose the idea of “intended purpose.” Netbooks are not to be used as a primary computer, which is often the very reason they take flak. On the flip side, desktop replacements (DTR) are not meant to be highly mobile. So, when people complain about having a heavy DTR (usually with a 15.6” or larger LCD), it is more a lack of forethought than a poor product. This is a more common problem that you might think. Believe us--we've read the complaints in the many mobile-related forums.

Netbooks, though, are actually a more recent development of the ultraportable form factor. Pioneered by Asus with its Eee PC, these small, lightweight, and relatively cheap notebooks are great companion devices. They are excellent complements for those who need high mobility and the large computation power provided by an existing desktop or DTR.

The two extremes--high mobility/low power computation and low mobility/high power computation--work better together than one might think. It's a lot like the benefits of buying an awesome camera and an awesome cell phone. A camera phone certainly would be easier to deal with, but for the same budget, it won’t take pictures quite as well as the camera or have the small profile of a non-camera phone. In a similar manner, the workhorse is going to be the “other computer,” while the netbook is going to be the device you bring out into the world to make edits to Word docs, check Web sites, and watch Flash videos on the flight.

Aside from being a companion device, there are a couple other situations where you might consider a netbook.

  • If you need a cheap desktop for Internet browsing, email, and watching Flash video (Hulu or YouTube), netbooks provide a cheap computer that can do dual-duty. Just hook up a monitor, keyboard, and mouse. Unplug and you can still bring your work with you.
  • If you need a cheap computer for a child, a netbook is certainly something to consider. If it breaks, it’s less of a loss. Plus, this means little Timmy isn’t hogging the computer when he wants to watch Hulu and you need to work.

Our netbook roundup focuses on the smallest of the small and lightest of the light, which is why this selection is limited to netbooks with a 10.1” screen. Each system has its own quirks and we’ll try to outline each system’s advantages and pitfalls.

  • frederico
    Very indepth excellent review. Pleasantly surprised. A lot of people out there have little clue of netbooks or even their uses. I got a little samsung last year and now I use it more than my main PC, obviously not for gaming, but watching webcasts/films at night, listening to music, grabbing it while watching TV to check something on the web, etc, etc. Not to mention completely essential when travelling on train/bus/wherever - 6 hours batt life still holding up.

    Very handy little things - easy to become addicted to. Theres some new models coming out this month that can handle HD but still have great batt life, will be tempted to pick one up.

  • ScoobyJooby-Jew
    I have used a Gateway netbook with vista and 2 gigs of ram. I loved it. The 2 gigs really helped smooth things out. And when I loaded the netbook distro of ubuntu, it was ridiculously awesome. It satisfied everything except gaming. Which is what I wanted it to do.
  • DjEaZy
    ... AMD FTW!!!
  • As far as I know the battery makes a difference between 1000P and 1001px.
  • amk09
    I have been looking forward to an article like this!!!!!

    Great job TH ily ;)
  • Luscious
    That's the best performance rundown I've seen to date on the Broadcom Crystal HD - nice to get critical, hands-on info without the marketing BS. That said, AMD's Nile platform is seriously spanking Intel.

    I recently tested the HP Pavilion dm1z with the dual-core K625. Only slightly heavier/bigger than the 10" HP 210 Mini, but far superior when it comes to performance:
  • lashabane
    Huh, never knew that a full propane tank weighs ~38 lbs.

    *Ninja edit*

    Super good roundup/review. I'm in the market for a netbook this season and this review helped a lot.
  • braneman
    I actually found that on my last netbook (toshiba satalite, amd based) with a ram upgrade the only game it couldn't play passably on lowest settings(resolution included) was red faction guerrilla, even then it was graphical errors, you could even bring Crysis up to MEDIUM on some settings. meh now I got an m11x, it's very nice.
  • KingArcher
    OMG this review is like drugs for the technically inclined., Excellent job Andrew Ku. Amazing stuff. Really learned something new.
    I look forward to reading more reviews from you. :bounce:

    P.S. Editors, give this man a raise ;)
  • super_tycoon
    If you're doing a 12 inch in the near future, I hope you include the Asus 1215n. I've had mine for three weeks and it's brilliant. ION2 and Optimus are easily worth whatever I paid for them. Playing any HD youtube video yields unicorns and butterflies while my friend's gateway (the one reviewed here) only gets the look of disapproval.

    My concern is that drivers for ION2 are a bit -fast- slow and loose now, the stock asus drivers were crap, the Nvidia update at launch was crap, but about two weeks ago there was a major update that requires manual installation. It gets roughly double, yes double, the fps of the old pos. Now I didn't write the thing, but it felt like it addressed the PCI-Ex1 link narrowness. (After all, what else could it be? It's just a 210m at it's core, but whatever's drawn on the Nvidia gpu also has to go back down the PCI-E link to be written to the Intel gpu vram (Optimus))

    Anyhow, forget the broadcom thing, my friend (a different one, I promise they're real and actually have these things!) has the dell and it's pretty bad. Even I couldn't get that stupid thing to work reliably except for WMP. At least he got his with his new xps 16.

    TL;DR I've actually used the gateway and dell netbooks reviewed here and they're both crappy. The gateway gets good battery life though and feels nicer. I love the asus 1215n with it's ION2 gpu and Optimus, and you should too.