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

We run through an in-depth guide to 10.1" netbooks from Acer, Asus, Dell, Gateway, HP, Lenovo, and MSI. We even coded a special set of benchmarks. If you are in the market for a netbook, this guide gives you the performance and design cues you need.

Mobile systems have long been on our to-do-list. These days, nearly everyone has a notebook. However, picking the right notebook isn't like choosing a CPU, graphic card, or memory kit, where you can just simply swap out one piece for better performance.

While there are those rare few who upgrade, the options are still limited (hard drive and memory). For the braver few, a mobile processor might be on the menu. Yet, notebooks remain a special case where you buy something for the long haul. Motherboard and graphic upgrades are all but guaranteed to be nonexistent. For that reason, the total cost over the life of a mobile system can often exceed that of their desktop big brothers. It is also important to point out that no one really buys a notebook for performance alone. Form, style, build quality, and obviously battery life all are important, and in some cases may actually outrank performance.

More often than not, mobile systems (specifically) are reviewed as a singular product. It has actually become the de facto standard. It is hard to justify our recommendations when we haven't looked at other products. This is despite the fact that they have been available at Best Buy and Newegg for months and share the same hardware specifications.

It is pretty easy to see the flaw here. If we review 15.6” gaming notebook x and give it a good review, what about the 15.6” gaming notebook y that is also currently available, but happens to be a better all-around buy? Both notebooks are likely to get a thumbs up, with notebook y popping up in a separate review two weeks later. Honestly, this has to be confusing to everyone. In this economy, it is hard to justify reviews this way when few of us are impulse buyers.

Systems are not bought with tunnel vision. So why review that way? We have set out to deliver something different; something that is more useful than a reaction that says, “that is an awesome notebook!” Though, we certainly will feature specific systems from time to time to showcase some awesome aspect of tech, like Thomas' recent foray into high-end mobile graphics. However, we also want to answer the bottom line: “which notebook should I buy?” As a result, we set out to deliver something of a cross between a buyer’s guide and a roundup.

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  • 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.
  • enewmen
    Great article!

    I think the performance of the Acer is a sign of things to come - except with even an even lower TDP..
    In 2011, netbooks may change completely. Might even find a 3DMark and Crysis benchmark?? I'm expecting a lot of good things next year :)

    Please keep it coming!
  • jsowoc
    Awesome review. I think all "complete systems" (be it notebook or pre-configured desktop) review should be done as round-ups. This way we have a direct comparison to what is out there.
  • acku
    jsowocAwesome review. I think all "complete systems" (be it notebook or pre-configured desktop) review should be done as round-ups. This way we have a direct comparison to what is out there.

    I'm glad you agree. :)

    Andrew Ku
  • ta152h
    10 inch systems are a nightmare. You have to be a real pencil-neck to use the keyboards without wanting to end your life, and the screens are just too small for anything near good resolutions. I don't know how they sell at all, at least to men.

    They need to move to 11" or really 12" displays so they can get a proper keyboard in there. There are too few of these out there, and artificially limiting the size of netbooks is like car companies putting ugly plastic on their low end models. Getting the keyboard big enough for normal men is a better starting spot then making it tortuous. Hopefully, more larger screen models will come out, and with matte screens. The makers of the cheap glossy screens seem to lose sight of the fact that most people use these things in varying light conditions - they are ultra-mobile.
  • Onus
    Very interesting. That Acer may be what I'm looking for to replace my Dell e1505.
  • whiz
    Hey guys what's with the photo quality? Are you using a 6 year old 3mp digital camera that was lying around in the drawer? Get yourselves a G10 or something similar and a decent lightbox - it will save you a lot of photoshop afterwork as well.
  • Tamz_msc
    Great review!
  • frederico

    Hold off, new Samsungs are coming this month - combination of dualcore/ION and apparently great battery..
  • yo, look what i found, sandy bridge is here since may or maybe early

    type in 0688 at the search MM number there

    906884 Yes SANDY BRIDGE-HE-4 3192-1.1 AV8062705008382Q 0AB Q0AB FC-BGA10 03/05/2010
  • nevertell
    I'd love to see some ION netbooks with great battery life. I think ION is really important, because how the hell are you going to crack wpa with an atom ?
  • acku
    275247 said:
    Guys.. Hold off, new Samsungs are coming this month - combination of dualcore/ION and apparently great battery..

    Those are interesting netbooks. I believe Asus might have released its version already (N555). Everyone's buying criteria is going to be different. Those dual core netbooks are slated as a "premium" netbook option. Keep in mind their battery life will unlikely be better than the Pinetrails seen in this roundup. The main thing that a higher end netbook of that caliber is providing is HDMI, 1080p playback, and a bit more CPU horsepower. Considering the price is at least $100 more, you need to gauge if that is the right move for your own wallet. It's not going to be the same for everyone. On average, most people don't game or play 1080p on a 10.1" screen.

    Given last year's holiday prices. I can easily see having to chose between a vanilla N450/GMA3150 that can play 480p and 720p at under $250 vs. a N555/Ion2 that can play 1080p and runs at least $399. For some that is a tough call, for others it is an easy decision, even if you come to a different buying conclusion.

    Andrew Ku
  • christopherknapp
    Great review overall, pretty much on the money. But why were the new Dual-Cores left out? ASUS 1015PEM for example. For $369 it is a STEAL and quite a bit more powerful than the netbooks mentioned.
  • acku
    242606 said:
    Great review overall, pretty much on the money. But why were the new Dual-Cores left out? ASUS 1015PEM for example. For $369 it is a STEAL and quite a bit more powerful than the netbooks mentioned.

    For one reason or another that is what we got in the mail. But you're right that is a good price. Keep in mind that the 48WHr battery on the 1001P is advertised as up to 14 hours and we get just under 5 hours in our real life test. The 48Whr on the 1015PEM is listed as 10 hours, and the 63WHr is listed as 13 hours. With that denser battery, you might see it go beyond 5 hours.

    Though, it is my understanding it still doesn't perform up to par with the K125 on the Nile platform in the CPU department. Granted you need to move to multi-threaded apps to see the benefits, but graphics isn't going to be as strong either. There is a lot of give and take when you are buying a notebook. You just got to pick your priorities.

    Andrew Ku
  • ram1009
    Why no IONs?