LAS VEGAS--As popular as ultrabook laptops currently are, the same could have been said of the Netbook a couple of years ago.
But over the past 24 months, with inexpensive 11- and 12-inch ultraportable systems and now 13-inch ultrabooks, the basic 10-inch Intel Atom Netbook has fallen on hard times. At CES 2012, the only new Netbook we've seen from a major PC maker is the new Asus Eee PC Flare.
This 10.1-inch model, also called the 1025C, uses Intel's 1.6GHz Atom N2600 dual-core CPU, but otherwise has familiar specs: 1GB of RAM and a 320GB HDD, for the standard Netbook starting price of $299. A slightly upgraded version, the $319 Flare 1025CE, will use Intel's 1.8GHz N2800 CPU. Another variant, called the Eee PC X101CH, is thinner and slightly less expensive, at $269, but trades away the usual six-cell battery for a three-cell battery.
Asus deserves as much credit as anyone for inventing the Netbook, and the very first consumer model most people saw was the original Linux-based 7-inch Eee PC. Since then, the humble Netbook has spiked in popularity and fallen off; after buyers decided the cost savings didn't offset the performance compromises of these low-power systems.
It seems unlikely that the fortunes of the Netbook can be revived at this point, especially with a cookie-cutter product such as the Eee PC Flare. That said, it's always good to see options at the very low end of the scale, for those who need an absolute rock-bottom-price computer, or an inexpensive extra travel system.
More powerful will be the 12.1-inch Eee Pc Flare 1225B, which uses AMD's E-350 processor, along with 2GB of RAM, making it a decent $399 alternative to popular AMD-based laptops such as the HP dm1z.
The three new Netbooks and the 12-inch AMD ultraportable will all be available starting in February.