Demise of the solid-state Linux Netbook

Back in the day, Netbooks ran Linux and packed solid-state drives. But Windows XP and large hard disk drives have prevailed.

Back in the day, Netbooks ran Linux and packed solid-state drives. But Windows XP and big hard disk drives have prevailed.

Toshiba's mini NB200 does not offer a solid-state drive option in featured configurations nor Linux
Toshiba's mini NB200 does not offer a solid-state drive option in featured configurations nor Linux

The early Asus Eee PCs--which almost single-handedly created the Netbook market--came with a Linux operating system and small-capacity solid-state "flash" drives ranging from 2GB to 8GB. Early Acer Aspire Netbooks were also offered with Linux and a solid-state drive.

Those devices bore little resemblance to PC laptops. The Eee PC was a tiny, stripped-to-the-bone device that required minimalist hardware to run an efficient Linux OS. (Will a wave of Google Chrome OS -based devices revive the minimalist Netbook next year?)

Fast forward to today: Windows XP rules, with a Netbook-specific Windows 7 on the way. A glance at the Netbook lineups from any top PC maker--including Hewlett-Packard, Acer, and Toshiba--reveals few, if any, Linux offerings and equally few solid-state drive options.

Rather, beefy hardware configurations sporting 160GB hard disk drives and as much as 2GB of memory are the norm.

And the momentum for solid-state drives on mainstream laptops is waning too. A report from market researcher iSuppli says higher prices for flash memory chips may undermine high-capacity SSDs in laptops.

Average pricing for widely used 16-gigabit flash chips rose to $4.10 in the second quarter of 2009, a steep 127.8 percent increase from $1.80 in the fourth quarter of 2008, said Michael Yang, senior analyst for mobile and emerging memories at iSuppli, in a report released Wednesday.

As for Linux, time will tell if Netbooks return to their roots with Google's Android and/or the Chrome OS next year.

About the author

Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.

 

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