Having said that, netbooks continue to have a decent market following, despite having been taken over by the iPad and Android tablets with stronger multimedia focus. And for the casual gamer who don’t mind playing 3-5 year old classic games or prefer Flash-based and Facebook games, here are some things we consider important in reviewing netbooks which can also guide users in their purchase decisions.
Size and Weight
A netbook is not a netbook if its screen is larger than 12 inches and heavier than 4lbs. Most use 10 to 11.6 inch screen and weigh around 2.75 to 3.5 lbs. A small footprint and lighter weight defines what superb portability means and these two qualities have always been the advantage of netbooks over laptops. But they come at the expense of losing the optical drive and can neutralize the advantage if you have to carry an external DVD burner with it on your backpack. The Asus Eee PC1001PXD-EU17BK powered by an Intel Atom with a typical 1GB RAM and a 250GB HDD weighs just 2.75 lbs.
For watching your favorite movies in HD, netbooks with 11.6-inch displays and a 1366 x768 native HD resolution provide a satisfying multimedia experience that can rival Tablets and low-end laptops. While early netbooks had washed-out screens sporting a lower 1024 x 600 resolution or lower, most netbooks today sport gorgeous LED-backlit displays with HD resolutions.
With clock speeds that don’t exceed 2GHz, the Intel Atom has mainly powered netbooks from the single core x86-based series to the current dual cores. But makers have the option to use the equivalent and cheaper AMD C and E-series. Either way, don’t expect it to be as muscled as a laptop. Single core Atoms perform at about half the muscle of a Pentium M that preceded the Intel dual cores, while even the latest 3rd generation dual core Cedarview Intel Atoms (D2500/2700 – N2600/2800) can’t run 64-bit Windows 7 due to their integration with Intel GMA GPUs, not that 64-bit computing matters in netbooks. The best performing netbooks tested so far are using the AMD E-series which outperforms the Atom by 365.5% in gaming performance (Tom’s hardware.com). One standout netbook is the HP Pavilion DM1-4310nr which is powered by an AMD dual core E2-1800 clocked at 1.7GHz with a 4GB DDR3 dual module DIMM and a 500 GB 5400 rpm SATA drive that can match a low end laptop. At $499, and bundled with Windows 8, it certainly can match the performance of low end laptops at a lower price point.
It is here where even the high end netbooks can never compete with low-end gaming laptops that use the Intel HG Graphics 4000 or better. Many are using GPUs even lower than the equivalent of the Intel HD Graphics 2500 such as the AMD Radeon Brazos (HG 6250 to 7340) and NVidia Ion graphics. But for casual gamers who still can’t master the RPG and FSP games released 2-5 years ago such as Sims 3, Fifa 11 and Star Craft 2, netbooks can still play them but at their lowest game settings, while having no problem laying Flash-based and Facebook games. The 2008 Resident Evil 5 will still not play even on netbooks powered by an AMD E-1800 CPU.
Most netbooks only have 1 GB RAM expandable to 2GB in later models which is often the maximum supported by the Intel Atom. However, newer models using the latest CPU from either Intel or AMD offer as much as 4GB DDR3 of system memory such as in the HP Pavilion DM1-4310nr which uses two DDR3 DIMM modules to optimize its dual channel architecture.
Choice of OS
Netbooks come in various operating platforms such as several flavors of Linux (i.e. Ubuntu) , Android v3.0 Honeycomb, Windows XP, Windows Vista and now Windows 7 starter as the more commonly offered. If you are already using Windows on your desktop or laptop, it’s a no-brainer to opt for a netbook that runs Windows has always benefited from various 3rd party drivers that the others can equal.
On real advantage of netbooks that is also found in Tablets is power efficiency. But this is expected considering that its computing power, small screen and fanless design for many models consume relatively lesser power than your average laptops. Typical battery life between charges is 8-9 hours, and there are models that can reach longer hours. The Asus 1025C-MU17-BK with its 10.1-inch HD display and 3rd generation Intel Atom dual core engine (N2600) clock at 1.6GHz and integrated with the Intel GMA graphics engine can deliver 12.5 hours between charges.
The last word
From our perspective, a netbook running Windows 7 on an AMD E-series can be the best choice for a casual gamer. But having said that, be aware that netbooks can be considered a dying breed. After hitting an all-time high of 20% market share in portable computing in 2009, netbooks sales started to decline with more mainstream laptops entering the $300 – $400 price points of netbooks and Chromebooks (netbooks running the Chrome OS) taking over. This came at about the same time that the iPad was introduced which by 2011 has overtaken the Netbook in sales. Dell announced in December 2011 that it was withdrawing from the netbook market. Toshiba did the same thing in May 2012. By September, even Asus and Acer announced they would stop stopped manufacturing their 10-inch netbooks. Asus eventually stopped developing its Eee netbook line to focus more on a tablet-netbook hybrid – the Transformer line.