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I like the portability of Netbooks, but is it for me?

by Lee Koo (ADMIN) CNET staff/forum admin / December 10, 2010 4:11 AM PST

I like the portability of Netbooks, but is it for me?

Netbooks, I need advice. I've been looking at these and
trying them out at stores. These are so portable and one can
have a "combined" e-reader, gaming station, Internet access,
and video/music player, all on the go. But the 1GB of RAM and
160 to 250 GB hard drive memory makes these computers so
slow. Do you think it is better to get a Netbook at the
current price, or get a very small notebook/larger netbook
(11-12" screen) with 2 GB RAM and pay a little more, or wait
and see if this media improves and gets faster and cheaper? I
like this better than a cell phone because of the screen
size. But I hate the slowness. Do you think the price will go
down? Advice, opinions, any input please...I'm dying to get
a Netbook, yet I hesitate. Thanks.

--Submitted by: Fran M.

Here are some member answers to get you started, but
please read all the advice and suggestions that our
members have contributed to this question.

It depends on what you want --Submitted by: High Desert Charlie

Netbook vs. Notebook--Submitted by: TheBig3

Things You May Want To Consider--Submitted by: ajtrek

Thank you to all who contributed!

If you have any additional advice or suggestions for Fran, click on the reply link below and submit it. Please provide as much details as you can in your answer. Thank you!
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Netbooks are limited
by XSYLUS / December 10, 2010 9:28 AM PST

Personally I think Netbooks are primarily for "cloud-computing" which means that they are meant for browsing the internet, checking, email, using Google docs and similar off-site programs. Netbooks are extremely limited; low RAM, low CPU speed, no optical drive, small hard drive capacity. I would recommend a small notebook/laptop. Basically it really depends on what features you're going to use most. It's my opinion that netbooks are overpriced. I've seen some nicely equipped, brand new laptops for under $300 that offer a lot more than a $200+ netbook. If you want portability with solid performance and price is no issue than you might look at the Thinkpad x301, but if you're on a budget you must consider that for the most part you get what you pay for and you should only buy the features you really need.

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Love Mine
by jka1946 / December 17, 2010 8:25 AM PST
In reply to: Netbooks are limited

I have 2 laptop computers and a "netbook". The laptops stay in their bags most of the time because it's much more convenient to take the netbook. Mine has an 80 GB hard drive and I save stuff on a 32 GB usb flash drive. Haven't figured out for my life why I'd need an optical drive. I have a usb dvd drive to load applications, but I don't need to take it with me for business purposes. The netbook is overkill on speed for the applications that I use, such as Office programs, internet use, and viewing photos taken with my 15 mb Canon EOS camera. The smaller size of the netbook is really nice and I can pack it in the saddle bag on my bike for road trips. I paid about $190 for mine about 1-1/2 years ago. I can pack the netbook, it's power supply, a mouse & pad, and a usb flash card reader in its small bag that weighs a lot less than my wife's purse (and smaller too).

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As long as they are post mobile Celeron!
by LincNeb / November 21, 2011 2:48 AM PST
In reply to: Love Mine

I agree with the message I'm replying to. The atom processor netbooks with the 160-250 GB hard-drives are quite versatile.

I have an Acer and I have no complaints about it. I would prefer one over a tablet any day. A small netbook doesn't stand out like a bigger laptop would, which can also be a plus in meetings.

When you drop them, loose them, or have them stolen -- they aren't so expensive to replace them as most tablets or full sized laptops are.

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My Opinion of Netbooks
by pauly1651 / December 10, 2010 9:28 AM PST

Netbooks are good for using the internet, e mails, and writing word documents. Because of the limitations in RAM, hard drive speed, and CPU's that generally come installed in Netbooks, they are not the best for much else. People like them because they are so small, and are great for surfing the net. One more thing to keep in mind if you are thinking of getting a netbook, they do not come with a DVD drive to watch DVD movies.

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by grsplane / December 10, 2010 9:31 AM PST

As usual, the answer is "it depends what you're using it for." [sigh] Just know that 1GB RAM and an Atom processor are plenty for running a browser and email, which is what netbook users are generally doing. Your netbook will be faster that the internet it's connected to which is all that matters. YouTube should play fine as well, in standard quality anyway. HD video, maybe not.

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by haf canadian / December 10, 2010 9:38 AM PST

At least at Radio Shack ("The Schack"), I've seen add-on chipsets for an extra GB of RAM on netbooks they sell. However, netbooks at some manufacturers' websites, such as Dell, do not indicate that they can be upgraded with more memory, so shop around.

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by haf canadian / December 10, 2010 11:56 AM PST
In reply to: simple

The only reason I've considered a Netbook is because I'm always in the garage/shop working on something, and need to research an automobile, RV, or household part, or email someone regarding some build project or a repair. I'm constantly traipsing back and forth from the garage to the study where the computers are, and it gets old, especially if my clothes or shoes are dirty from projects, and have to be removed and put back on.

A Netbook that's ready to go in the garage would not need to run games or sophisticated tasks; just get online and get me the information. With model nos. and serial nos. in front of me out there, I would no longer have to jot them all down first before heading for the study. And the Netbook is small enough that I could easily put it in a covered slide-out built into a bench, for handy access on the spot. It's Wireless capability would readily connect to our home network.

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Computers in the workshop/garage
by racastro / December 12, 2010 7:36 PM PST
In reply to: addendum

Unless you work like a surgeon, any garage (or workshop) is plety of dust, when not liquids splitting or steams. It's the worst environment for a normal PC / notebook / netbook. What you need in that case is e special rugged model. There are some of them as notebooks. Not always the newest electronics inside, but robust and resistant enough in a tough environment.

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its OK
by haf canadian / December 13, 2010 7:17 PM PST

I'm not worried about garage hazards. My intent is to put a netbook in a sliding sealed drawer, or more likely under a 15 X 12" section of workbench front edge that lifts up, giving quick access for parts and service research online. The inconspicious hatch with hidden hinges and no visible latch would be sealed when closed, and would hide the netbook from nefarious eyes. Besides, its a $250 netbook, not a $2500 Macbook.

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Computers in a dirty work area
by lee_jor / December 20, 2010 6:19 AM PST

Cheap USB keyboards and corded/cordless mice can be added to any netbook/computer used in a messy/dirty area. The price makes them almost disposable and a piece of plastic wrap will keep the keyboard clean enough. You'd only ever have to touch the power button on the netbook and you could do that when you hands were still clean.

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Get some gloves
by Cadillac84 / December 17, 2010 7:29 AM PST
In reply to: addendum

Seriously, go to Sally Beauty Supply (or similar) and buy a box of Salon Care vinyl gloves. They come in four sizes. I wear a size 13 glove (pretty big) and I use X-Large gloves for messy things when I don't want to get my hands dirty. Large is a snug fit and would be better for computer work. A box of 100 gloves will cost you less than ten dollars and you can slip a set over your dirty hands before using the computer. Peel them off and they'll go in the trash and your computer will never have to experience your dirty hands. This applies regardless if you buy the netbook or the small laptop.


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It Depends on What You Want
by High Desert Charlie / December 10, 2010 9:49 AM PST

Hi Fran,
I talk to dozens of people every week about what kind of platform best suits THEM for their computing needs. The industry as a whole has made giant leaps to downsize the size and weight of mobile devices and many have done it with a great deal of success. But you're going to need to ask yourself a few questions before you have an answer that fits YOU.

Personally, I'm not a big fan of Netbooks. You mentioned some of the obvious shortcomings like the limited Hard Drive space, minimal RAM. But you're mistaken about those components slowing down your computer. The speed on Netbooks is throttled at the CPU. Most all Netbooks run on an Intel Atom processor. The cheap ones are agonizingly slow. The second thing slowing you down is the Graphics chip. Although Netbooks usually have a sharp picture, it's only because of the limited size of the screen. The cheap ones have terrible graphics processors that use up your small amount of RAM. Finally, Netbooks have no DVD/CD drive. This means that if you want to load new applications on them you have to download them and install them from the desktop (if that option is available). You can always purchase an external DVD drive at a reasonable price, but again we come to the question of how you want to use your device.

You mentioned things like portability, e-reader capable, gaming, internet, video player and music player as items that interested you. If this is the case, you might consider an I-Pad. You can do all of these things on an I-pad and they're coming out with different apps every day. I don't own one, but for simple mobile functions like you're talking about it looks like a good bet.

There are also lots of smaller, lighter knee-tops (small form factor) coming out but once again, most of them don't have built-in DVD drives. But heck, everything will be wireless in 5 years, including all of your apps. Microsoft provides most of their Office apps right on line (in the cloud). Over the next year, I expect to see a lot of movement in this ultra-lightweight laptop market.

Finally, like most of us our budget is a factor too. You can fork out $1,500 for a Macbook Air, $880 for a top of the line I-Pad, or as little as $250.00 for a cheap Netbook. It seems like in this world, when you get more - you can expect to pay more. I've seen $500.00 Netbooks with all of the bells and whistles that run Windows 7 without a hitch.

Bottom line for this old timer is; I'm going to wait another year to see how this new market irons out. This goes for the new line of BIG SCREEN TVs too. It's beyond my imagination how you can shop for a 55" TV with 1080p, and the prices range from $500.00 to $3,500.00. Yikes!!!

I expect that between the Spring - Fall of next year, there are going to be a lot of nice deals in this ultra-portable market.

Good Luck

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Netbooks are too limiting
by barrie.hunter / December 10, 2010 10:00 AM PST

I have an MSI 100 netbook and, even if it wasn't the biggest piece of junk I've ever owned (it's been back to them twice in twelve months for repair), it would still be very limiting in terms of it's functionality. Biggest issues are the keyboard (almost unusable for anyone who types with more than two fingers) and graphics capability. I'm replacing it with the HP dm3t with the Intel i3 processor (slightly bigger screen, great graphics performance, standard back-lit keyboard and almost as light.) I'll let you know how I like it.

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Not all netbooks are the same...
by pepoluan / December 10, 2010 2:14 PM PST

Mine's an HP Mini 311, it has 11" screen (1366x768 res), Nvidia ION GPU, 2 GB of RAM, and 250 GB of HD. The bottleneck (as told by Windows 7's WEI) is the Intel Atom CPU.

But I can't really complain. It has HDMI ouput, Altec-Lansing speakers, and an external DVD?RW with Dual-Layer and Lightscribe support.

All in all, for 160 USD, it's a good bargain.

According to this video, it runs Quake 4 quite well:

THAT SAID... for a GAMING platform, go for a full-fledged notebook.

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(typed the wrong price)
by pepoluan / December 10, 2010 2:17 PM PST

Gah! Price typo >.<

The price as I bought it was approx. 460 USD (NOT 160 USD). Still a good bargain, though.

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Why not have both?
by bobborn / December 17, 2010 10:42 PM PST

A netbook is cheap enough that you can have both it and a more powerful computer. No one computer is ideal for all uses. I compare the netbook vs. laptop/desktop question to camera choices. A Canon EOS DSLR takes great pictures, but it's too bulky to take with you on random trips. A netbook is a like a point-and-shoot camera: it's small enough and light enough to throw in a bag "just in case". Most camera buffs have both types.

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Excellent analogy.
by foley0000 / December 26, 2010 1:34 AM PST
In reply to: Why not have both?

Your comparison of DSLR cameras to point-and-shoot and laptops vs netbooks is right on. It's not so much one being better than the other but having the right one for the occasion. My thoughts on this ... own one of each and have no regrets.

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You can't have it all
by B1nmidm0 / December 10, 2010 9:52 AM PST

As owners of both I can tell you that if you want any kind of speed while on the Internet or when trying to do any kind of applications, then you'll hate a netbook. If you're only looking for price and you're willing to live with a whole lot less than it might work but I have found that with my 3.2 pound Acer I have used it hardly at all when I'm constantly grabbing my 4 1/2 pound Sony Vaio with an Intel I-3. The Sony cost me three times as much but I use it 100 times more. It's all about trade offs and the sad fact is we can't have it all. The lighter the unit the less power to compute you'll have to live with. Go with a very lightweight full and real notebook and I think you'll be happy with your purchase in the end. Notebooks have gone nowhere as far as improving since they hit the market in January of 2009. Now I wonder why? Because you can get a whopping strong computer that really can handle anything for only around 1 1/2 pounds more plus of course quite a bit more cash. My netbook was the worst waste of money I've ever spent since it's just so darn limited in just about everything it can't do.

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This was my experience too! Netbooks suck!
by TreknologyNet / December 17, 2010 6:52 PM PST
In reply to: You can't have it all

I have a couple of well-aged HP nx6320 NOTEbooks that are specced at 1.6GHz, 1GB RAM, Dual Core, and one of them is now in constant use as my main household machine instead of a desktop.

I made the mistake of recently buying a NETbook of similar specification, and I figured that technology shrinkage over time meant that it would be equivalent to the HPs of old. Oh, was I sadly mistaken! Even after upgrading the memory to 2GB, the damn "thing" can't even play an MP3. Hell, it can't even play its own Startup sound properly!

With the above example, why in blazes would I want to use it to browse the 'net? Most sites these days dump some sort of AV material on you, and this machine simply can't do it. If I want to carry it around as a portable word-processor, I still need to lug a decent keyboard. Even laptops have decayed as far as keyboard quality for the touch-typist.

I just acquired an ancient Palm Pilot that still has good battery life and it walks all over this "netbook" for useability. I also had to upgrade my mobile phone from a Nokia 9000 that had been dropped once too many times. The new (and cheaper) phone is better able to handle the 'net than this so-called NETbook.

I think that NETbooks are part of a nasty consumer trick for manufacturers to offload old lack-lustre components in shiny new cases, and I would not inflict one on a child (although the keyboard may suffice for under-sized hands).

Despite all its high-fallutin' specs, this machine is easily outperformed by my Toshiba Satellite 480 running on Win98SE.

MP3, WAV: Fail
Video: Fail
Internet: Fail
Battery-life: Fail
Heat factor: Fail
Radiation: The way you would naturally hold it to keep it from burning your lap and overcome the glare on the screen, means your hands are INSIDE the antenna danger zone: FAIL
Brand: I'm not setting myself up for a libel case!

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Netbooks are Kid's Toys
by Clemmie3 / December 10, 2010 9:54 AM PST

Netbooks allow for the most basic Internet functionality - and that, by design, is pretty much it. As a 'first computer' for a child (such as a 10-year old niece, who is getting one this Christmas), they provide a lower cost alternative to a Laptop.

An Adult, however, will invariably have the need arise to do more than just 'basic' functionality - and so would be well advised to skip Netbooks altogether, and proceed into Laptops. Even the very cheapest Laptops offer up at least DOUBLE the computing power of even the best Netbooks.

So my advice - as one who has been dealing with Computers for 30 years, and Laptops for over 15 years - is GO WITH A LAPTOP. You'll be a LOT happier in the long run.

I would also get one with at least a dual-core Processor - which is pretty much the 'standard' now. Avoid those with either Intel Celeron or AMD Sempron, which are single-core processors, and just aren't up to snuff.

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Is a Netbook for you?
by stevevic57 / December 10, 2010 9:56 AM PST

I have a Dell Inspiron Netbook with WIndows 7 Starter.
I don't like the 7 Starter Edition. It was buggy on my Netbook. They give you the disk to re-install, but you have no DVD drive so...? It is great for travelling, and that is it's strength. It weighs nothing, but is slow. I would never buy another one, but I will tough it out until I either stop travelling, or resign to dragging around my heavy Acer laptop. The Netbook is really only good for email, Skype and lesser uses.

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Lowest on the totem pole.
by garyo / December 10, 2010 9:57 AM PST

The desktop is and always was king for power, reliability and affordablilty.
The laptop came in and portable became king but at a price. Slower, more expensive, less power, less reliable.
The netbook came in to bring down the price... but at a price. Pretty much made for browsing, email, etc. You won't run many (if any) apps or games. Not made for that (but they usually won't tell you that in the store) Down the road they may get a little more power but they'll never compare to a laptop or desktop.

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a netbook is a very good SECOND computer
by jamesyboy1990 / December 10, 2010 10:26 AM PST

A netbook is very good to have if you already have a powerful laptop/desktop at home. I have a desktop in my dorm and I take the netbook (asus eee 1001) to class to go on internet (ie. email, news, no games), take notes with word, etc. I can get decent youtube video playback on 480p, but it can get choppy at times. Also, forget internet games (ie. farmville, stuff like that). All the intensive stuff I do on my desktop (ie autocad, matlab, gaming, etc.).

In summary, a netbook is great if you can limit yourself to doing easy stuff on the go and doing your intensive stuff at home. I would not suggest a netbook if it is going to be your only computer. If you already have a decent laptop or desktop at home, then a netbook is great.

Hope this helps.

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A Netbook is great for:
by ljboss / December 10, 2010 10:26 AM PST

I was headed for a real vacation but promised I would leave my laptop at home. I did need to keep up on e-mail, check in on the WEB, etc. So 15 months ago I bought an ASUS w/ XP, 10.1 screen, Intel Atom280, 1G 160G HD, 6 Cell battery (really 7-8 hours,)camera Skypes, etc. Best PC for its use I have ever had. The point is it is not a production machine, but beats the heck out of my laptop, desktop, smart phone for throwing into the carry and going on vacation! This is the only PC my wife , a total MAC'er, will use when traveling. W/BS DVD drive(I've used 0nly for music) it cost $410.

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Balancing act
by Grift / December 10, 2010 11:06 AM PST

Portable computer designers are in a situation a lot like engineers of tanks face.

With tanks they had to balance power, firepower and defense.

With computers you have to balance power consumption, computing power and the usability.

With that in mind before picking any computer the question is, "What are you going to use it for?" If the answer is checking mail and cruising web sites, with a little office work thrown in, a netbook may be good for you.

If you're planning on playing games, not so much. Game development is always pushing the limits of computer hardware to wow users. A netbook and every laptop out there are pretty much fixed as far as being able to upgrade them. Sure in some cases you can swap a hard drive, or add memory but the parts that will determine if you will be able to play that hot new game coming out in 2 years can't be swapped or upgraded. Those being the graphics card and cpu processor. Both those are built on the motherboard.

The axiom of all computer technology is "Better, faster, cheaper" So what's bleeding edge this year won't be next year and 4 years after that may very well be on the way out.

My advice to you is look at what you plan to do with it and decide accordingly.

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Netbook, small notebook or tablet? Hard choice.
by daddywalter / December 10, 2010 11:19 AM PST

I'm going through the same decision-making process. I like the portability and low price of netbooks, but really want a little more power than netbooks generally provide. I've considered both the iPad and Android tablets, and may go that route after the market matures a bit. Right now I'm leaning toward netbooks with the new dual-core Atom processors; by Spring, we may start seeing "nearly-notebook" netbooks or tablets that can serve as single-solution portable devices for most of us.

If I absolutely had to buy today, I'd have to go with either a high-end netbook or a thin-and-light notebook with dimensions similar to the largest netbooks -- and perhaps a spare battery and car-socket charger that could go into the bag along with my cordless mouse (I hate touchpads), USB drives, pens, scratchpad and other items. Yes, I know carrying all that partially negates the appeal ofa netbook-sized device, but I'm spoiled and want a portable version of my computer-room experience available to me wherever I am. If I don't need it all, the bag can stay in the car while I surf the Web over a latte. Happy

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Great budget laptop and/or an iPad with a keyboard.
by daraghfi / December 10, 2010 11:27 AM PST

Netbooks can basically do everything a laptop computer could do 3 years ago, and more than an iPad or Android Tablet can do now (with a keyboard as well). Very portable computing that fits into a hotel safe!

As long as you don't have any significant computing needs (gaming, video production, huge excel sheets), it will be fine - HOWEVER, you say it is slow, and if this is based on your actual usage, then that will ruin your experience. If you are basing this on opinion, and don't consider yourself in the 10% of power-users, don't worry.

At that price point (about the same as/less than a cell phone), you can also replace it every couple of years. In fact, you can get it at a deal with broadband service from some cellular providers.

I say try it out! If you don't like it and can't return it, it might make a nice (albeit special) gift for a family member.

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Netbooks vs. Laptops
by rogerarese / December 17, 2010 4:35 PM PST

With 2 15.6" notebooks and a desktop at home I needed a small, ultra-portable device I could slip into my briefcase. I didn't need gaming, photo-editing or any other heavy-hitting apps, just the net, Office, video media players - simple stuff. The resolution and screen size of the 10.1" models weren't adequate, and slow (Atom 270/420).
So I went with HP's DM1 - 11.6", notebook resolution, dual core SU2300 processor, 2 mega of RAM (expandable to 5), Altec Lansing audio, etc. A fantastic machine - fits into a netbook carrying case and takes very little space in my bag. Not strictly a netbook, but well worth the price of 349 Euro.
If you want simple apps on the go, this is a great machine - much better than any 10.1" netbook, and no, I don't work for HP, just a happy customer!

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Netbooks as price/performance don't worth buying
by adlisita / December 10, 2010 11:34 AM PST

First of all, netbooks were created for people who would use them mainly for browsing in the idea why would such a user pay more when his needs are basic.
The problem in my opinion is that their price is still to high when compared with notebooks. With $100 more you can buy a notebook with a real processor, with 2 to 4 more memory and a double HDD.
Moreover, netbooks are using the deprecated XP as operating system (unless you install Linux but honestly I do not see a Linux user who wants just to browse the internet) which is unclear for how long will still be supported by Microsoft.
Regarding the browsing, some are saying that they are not even capable of displaying a HD video on YouTube properly because of their processor.
The reality is that Netbooks appeared after the attempt of building the $100 computer for third-world countries which in fact ended-up at $200 and my opinion is that they wanted to recover some of the investments selling it as netbook in all countries.
Let me put it this way: a company is selling you a small car with $10,000 and then they come and say that maybe not all clients need a car, maybe sopme would like a bicycle so they start selling you bicycles for $9,000. Would you buy a bicycle when with 10% more you could buy a car?

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Netbooks vs Laptop.
by mrlightrail / December 10, 2010 11:37 AM PST

You didn't say what kind of gaming you wanted to do. Most net books won't work well if at all on any games other than casual games like Farmville. Also, most netbooks do NOT come with an optical drive, so loading games can be a big pain in da butt. Also, most low end netbooks use Linux for an operating system. Decent, but if you are accustomed to Windows, I'd stay away. (Please, no OS flaming)
Pricing for laptops have been decreasing every year. The difference between a netbook and entry level laptop is now within 100.00. For the bump in processor speeds, memory, and having an optical drive, I'd go to a laptop.

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