Finally it feels great to be typing on a full qwerty keyboard located on a very small device.
After my disappointment with the Lenovo g450 ( See my review
) , I began to look for an alternative solution to my desire dream of having a solid laptop that I could use with ease during school and for my programming needs. I couldn’t go out and buy a $900-100 high-end notebook, so I had to settle with the lower end of the market: netbooks!
Netbooks: Where did they come from?
I’m doing a
on Netbooks – just what are they and where they did they come from? In 2006 and even the first half of 07, the idea of such devices was very low-spread ; Not many people even knew that such devices existed. It wasn’t until the end of 2007 that the Netbook craze hit the market ; Yes, Asus was one of the first to develop a usable netbook model, though ssion was of course the corporation who coined the term in the late 1990s. (That’s the company who makes symbian phones, folks)
In 2008, nearly 9 million netbooks were sold. The figure is expected to double this year – to 18 million. By 2011, companies hope to have 40 to 50 million netbooks sold.
Most analysts found it surprising that these small computing devices could make a segue into the notebook market – and to date, cut around 20% of notebook sales. Why? Don’t people need laptops with great ram and high performance speeds?
Not so, it appears. Most people now a days want portability – and sometimes prefer it over power. And simply put, netbooks are not too bad. There is a biaas out there that they can’t be used to perform heavy duty tasks ; like programming or installing Operating systems. While claims to this are valid, netbooks might actually be slightly more powerful than people imagine, especially if a ram upgrade is performed. You may, at a small cpu cooling risk, overclock the processor as well – up to 2.3 GHz, although that high power would require you use liquid nitrogen to cool your laptop. In fact, the asus EEE pc netbooks have the “hybrid engine”, which is a bios feature allowing people to crack up or down their netbook Intel Atom processors – up to 1.8 GHz. That’s 200 MHz more than 1.6 GHz – which could boost performance if you don’t like the 1.6 GHz speed already offered by Netbooks.
And so we come to the system specs for a netbook with that statement. What are they?
Since Netbooks are so recent, most have the same, if not the exact, system specs as others. The only difference you will note in the wide range of models (offered by at least 7 companies: Hp, Sony, Toshiba, Lenovo, Samsung, Acer, and del), are the chassie designs. Some netbooks have an 8″ screen, with the expense of a full keyboard. Others have a 10″ screen and a thin body, making the keyboard and touchpad more flushed. Yet others have a full keyboard and slight thickness. Some have glossy covers and smooth edges, proan perhaps to more scratches. There are models with more of a rugged surface. The veriety is yours to choose from.
But you can safely say that most will come with an Intel Atom 1.6 or 1.66 CPU, 1 GB of ram, a hard drive up to 250 GB (or a solid state drive up to 64), an intel gm45 graphics card, and a choice of either Windows XP or Windows 7 starter. The lesser share of Netbooks runs on the Arm architecture, and usually uses linux as it’s primary OS – since Windows does not run on Arm processors. (to be simple: Arm is what is used in many pocket PC devices and note takers for the blind).
Netbooks are very cheap. The one I picked up at Microcenter two nights ago cost me around $419 + tax, + I ellected to buy a $40 2 GB corsair DDR2 ram which is what most netbooks will use. That ended out to be about $570 – a price analagus to the g450 which, by now, is back in North Carolina, ready to be restocked. Overall, that’s not a bad price – and I could have saved the $50 if I didn’t purchase the ram stick. The lowest the Toshiba nb205 netbook will run for is $400 on Amazon – and even then, you’d still pay taxes on it, if your state and country require so. I paid $30 on Tax alone – my county requires 7% taxing.
Wait, did you say Toshiba nb205?
What to do before buying a Netbook
Before purchasing my netbook, I looked at reviews. I even went as far as asking my sighted friends, “does this netbook have a smooth surface? How melded in is the keyboard?” and having them respond to the pictures of them found on Amazon and elsewhere. I came across many models. The asus eeePC 1005HA was popular, #1 on Amazon – with a 10 hour battery life and 160 Gigs of HDD space. It had the smooth surface cover and the flushed in keyboard. The other blind student at my school also got this model, and thus I had the chance to feel it and use it for a while.
Why the NB205?
The toshiba NB205 caught my eye from the start. Ok, my ear. It was advertised as a netbook with a 9 hour battery life, bluetooth, Wi-fi, and a good keyboard.
There are lots of submodels to the nb205. Some, like the n301, do not have builtin bluetooth. Others, like my n330, do. Two types of keyboards exist in them ; One which is more raised and has disc films between the keys – and the other models which do have keys but no spacing between the rows of the keyboard.
I wanted Bluetooth, since my that is the primary way to access my cell phone’s internet from the go, without the snagging of a USB port for a Bluetooth adapter.
The netbook: Purchasing
So it was that the same night of my netbook research, I went to Microcenter with my family, since they wanted to look at digital camcorders. I knew that the store would have a wide selection of netbook machinery on display.
And it did. From Asuses to Acers, Sony’s to Toshiba’s – Microcenter had it all.
Most, as said, had a flushed in keyboard and a smooth surface. I’m not personally a fan of the glossy-smooth netbooks do to their seemingly scratchable bodys. Although, this was not my personal primary lookout in a netbook model. I wanted a machine which had a full keyboard ; So that I wouldn’t have to experience my whole “home key dilemma” issue I did with that Lenovo laptop.
There were two on display with a durable chassie. One was the Sony vioh ; the other, A toshiba nb205. From then on, it was a survival of the fittest competition. The vioh cost $40 more than the Toshiba, pricing in about $449. It had a full-sized keyboard, with nice raised keys.
However that cool keyboard had no home or end keys on it. That disappointed me.
Not looking forward to a similar experience I’ve had, I decided to rule out the Sony – and went with the Toshiba. The n330, as mentioned, also had builtin bluetooth, something I also looked for in models.
unboxing and configuring:
Let’s dive in. The netbook came in a simple box, which took some time to cut open. Once it was, a casing contained the computer.
The battery was already preinstalled, although it had no charge in it. I had to plug it in in order to start using the Toshiba.
It came with Windows 7 starter. That’s right: The lowest Windows 7 release there is. I’m not sure why they couldn’t put Home Basic on, at least, which features slightly more software but no aero glass interface.
Starting it up was painfully slow. Once it did boot, I was placed into the preconfiguration screen, where you have to enter your username, computer name, and more.
After this, I was presented with the Windows 7 desktop (mind you, it took about 5 to 10 minutes just to get there).
Narrator was painfully slow at this point. I zipped out my external 1 TB hdd, and loaded JAWS from there. That also in itself took 20 minutes, since Norton Internet security began nawing at me to activate my “one month free subscription!”.
That brings us to crapware.
Crapware, by definition, is a new term which aims to describe the preloaded trial and comercial software installed on computers. There are some PCs which have none at all ; Yet others come with a whole arsinal of security suites, gaming software, and other offers.
This Netbook isn’t crapware free, for sure. Opening programs and features revealed software like the Toshiba Eco utility, Toshiba Config Free, Norton Internet Security, Java, and more. Bleh.
If you want to use something to get rid of all that, I recommend
The free PC Decrapifier tool
Which will allow you to rid yourself of the junk with the use of simple to navigate screens. Really, it’s a great tool.
ound 10 minutes. I also turned off system protection, to avoid restore point creation when new software is installed – this generally takes up space and more time to create a restore point each time you setup a program.
By this time, an hour or so passed, and I was exhausted. My benchmarking would start the next day.
Toshiba nb205 benchmarks:
I uninstalled Norton Security first thing, to replace it with Microsoft Security essentials. I also got rid of some of the toshiba utilities to hopefully speed up the device.
Next, I did a defragmantation on drive C. This took a
Benchmarking the NB205:
At school, the testing began. I took my power cord with me, just in case the reported 9 hour battery wouldn’t last it’s toll – but thankfully it did.
I found using the internet with this Netbook very interesting. While loading websites was easy, JAWS would often be sluggish when it came to typing, and websites would render a bit slower than on my other thinkpad laptop. (Today I installed some Windows 7 updates and this no longer is the case)
The sound is very unbarable: If you lift the nb205, you will see that the speaker is on the very bottom – which can be covered by your lap or desk, often degrading sound volume (though not by much). To simply put it, It’s like a pc speaker’s sound system: understandable, but weak and certainly not the speaker you’d want to listen from in a crowded hallway.
Yes, the battery did hold it’s charge. I didn’t go to standby at all all day, and at my school dismissal time of 2:25, I had 13% life left. Long live Lithium ion!
I never found the CPU too slow, either. Windows 7 can start up in around 20 seconds.
I think I might have a deffective hard drive, however, since from day 1 it has made weird crunching noises that sound like a bad sector – yet everything loads fine and Windows reports no bad sectors on disk. Very odd…
The keyboard was also easy to get used to, even though at first I had a bit of an issue with the key spacing. What’s nice about the keyboard is that the f4 and f8 keys are marked with a dot (the Sony was like that too though) since there is no gap between f4 and f5. The home and end keys are located in the f key row – not arranged in a six pack, but rather integrated with the f keys. (f12, print screen, home, end, insert is how it is laid out).
Not bad, at least better than having no home or end at all!
Windows XP: Busted!
Later that afternoon, I tried installing XP, since the performace I was getting with IE was horrible. (at the time I didn’t do the Windows update)
I went into bios by pressing f2, and chose Sata compatibility/legacy USB, so that XP could install with the external DVD burner I have.
It all installed fine, until I got to the end of my first reboot – where it gave me a “disk write error” message. Poof went that plan.
I then proceeded to install the factory configuration from the recovery DVDs I created using the included Toshiba Recovery Media creator tool.
Once the system recovered (that took about an hour!), it began to boot up and install the crapware I didn’t want – so I whiped the Hard drive again and went with installing my own Windows 7 all-in-one copy, choosing 7 Home basic during install. (I will probably upgrade this to home premium or ultimate soon)
Windows 7: You work!
Windows 7 installed in under 15 minutes as always, and I was again presented with the preconfig screen – where narrator had successful sound.
All it took was a simple JAWS install and defrag after that, + a disk cleanup run.
Ready boost: boosting your netbook performance
Ready boost was a feature of Windows introduced in Vista. It is great to use – with a USB flash drive or sd card, you can extend performance by utilizing it as virtual ram. Great, eh? I stuck my 8 gig class 3 Sd card in the included SD slot, and off I was with 4 gigs of external “memory”. (although, ram is always better than ready boost).
Other OS experiments:
I tried to install other operating systems. First was my Leopard install – which ran fine, and I had sound, though it only came through headphones. Leopard didn’t have wireless or bluetooth capabilities however.
Ubuntu also worked fine, with network detected, and as a result, so did Knoppix.
I believe I have finally found the perfect laptop replacement for myself. Netbooks are fairly new in the market, and no doubt they will begin to increase in performance rapidly, after which I can certainly see them replacing actual laptops – Though this feet might be a few years away at most. They are lightweight, and unlike the netbooks of the past, most offer at least 8 hours of battery life – a huge jump from the three or four hours they had back in 2008.
Obviously these PCs aren’t designed for graphic editing or CPU intensive tasks (like heavy dvd-ripping), but they do many tasks ranging from simple editing to even playing some past-era games. This is shown by the 2.0 experience index rating of the Atom CPU by windows 7 ; and the 3.0 Gaming graphics ratings. Wow. (hey, at least the CPU isn’t 1.0 ! )
For most users, netbooks should be efficient for their needs – even to some of the higher-end nerds and geeks. Since the visually impaired don’t play graphical games, I highly doubt that I would have needed a video-gaming laptop, anyway. I’m certain that I will be sticking with this Toshiba nb205 for at least a year to come.