Rounding up the latest Netbooks

If there's any question that Netbooks are where much of the interest in laptops lies these days, consider that we've reviewed nine new models since the beginning of March, and Netbooks take up five of the top 10 spots in the list of most-read recent laptop reviews.

If there's any question that Netbooks are where much of the interest in laptops lies these days, consider that we've reviewed nine new models since the beginning of March, and Netbooks take up five of the top 10 spots in our list of most-read recent laptop reviews.

Though a vast majority of these low-power, low-cost systems adhere to the same general bullet points--combining an Intel Atom N450 CPU with 1GB of RAM, Windows 7 Starter, and a 250GB hard drive--they come with a wide range of designs, extra features, and, of course, prices.

The most common upgrade is to a higher-resolution display--1,366x768 pixels instead of 1,024x600 pixels. The difference is huge in terms of creating a more usable experience, and once you get acclimated to using a 10- or 11-inch Netbook with an HD display, it's hard to go back.

Nvidia's revamped Ion chip for 3D graphics and HD video support remains elusive, but we have seen a few systems with the Broadcom HD video accelerator. That component helps Netbooks play HD video files with no trouble--but support for streaming Flash video (Hulu, etc.) is still spotty--no matter what promises Broadcom, Adobe, and PC manufacturers make. Alienware's M11x offers a true discrete GPU experience in an 11-inch body, but that's too far up the price chain to make the cut for this roundup.

One area we'd like to see more competition in is the CPU. Intel's Atom N450 certainly offers fantastic battery life, but this year's Netbooks are for the most part no speedier than last year's. The dual-core Atom is still found in only a handful of Nettop-style desktops (we saw it in a single laptop last year), and AMD has seemingly ceded the low-end Netbook market completely, offering only the more expensive Neo CPU for mini-laptops. (That said, we included the Neo-powered Lenovo ThinkPad X100e in this roundup for context.)

Click through to the slideshow below to tour the most recent Netbooks we've tested, along with pros, cons, and ratings.

 

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