Taking netbooks through their paces

Asus Eee PC 901A new category of low-cost, ultra-lightweight laptops has appeared recently. It began with the Asus Eee PC and spawned a slew of imitators, including the Acer Aspire ONE, the HP Mini-Note, and the MSI Wind — not to mention a somewhat-confusing array of Eee PC models to follow the original.

HP 2133 Mini-Note

These devices have mostly been marketed to students and home users, with Web browsing and light computing tasks in mind. I wanted to see whether they might also be attractive to business users. So I packed up an HP Mini-Note and Asus’s latest Eee PC 901 and headed off to the airport, with the plan to test each of them in real-world field conditions. My review for InfoWorld, published today, details the results of my trials.

The HP is definitely the slicker package. Its aluminum case and full-sized keyboard will probably make it the better choice for a lot of business users. But if you can deal with the Eee PC’s tiny keyboard, I actually preferred it of the two — owing mostly to the extremely low power consumption of its Intel Atom processor. I can pick the Eee PC up off the nightstand and head out for coffee without bringing the AC adapter with me, confident that I will have enough battery life to last me through whatever it is I need to do. Try that with the HP’s 2.5-hour battery life.

You can read the review for the rest of my observations. Maybe one of the most interesting things was the real-world performance of the Eee PC’s solid-state drives. These drives, with no moving parts, are widely hailed as the future of the storage industry, offering lower power consumption and faster access times than conventional hard drives. On the Eee PC, however, I found that to be anything but the case, particularly when it came to write speeds.

If you’re an avid Eee PC user — or if the HP or a different model has captured your heart — I’d like to hear about your experiences. I’m still using the Eee PC 901 as a secondary PC for writing on the go. I should let you know, though — I reviewed the netbooks with Windows installed, and Windows XP is what I’m using on my Eee. That’s not meant as a knock against Linux, but honestly I find I wouldn’t be half as productive with the Eee PC if I used Asus’s modified Xandros Linux OS. Flame me if you must! 🙂