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Attack of the mini laptops!

Asus Eee and Intel Classmate PC

The Intel Classmate and Asus Eee

We were recently lamenting the vaporware status of many of the small, low-cost laptops tech types have been buzzing about this year. Apparently, this whole blogging this really works, 'cause less than a month later, two of our MIA systems are sitting right here in the CNET Lab.

First up is the Asus Eee PC. The company's 2-pound, 7-inch, Linux-based laptop built up a lot of buzz for promising a reasonably functional machine for about $200. In reality, it ended up costing $399 (for the middle-of-three model we got), but it's still a creative take on the ultraportable laptop.

With 512MB of RAM and a 4GB solid state hard drive, the Eee uses a custom Linux install instead of the Windows operating system. In our initial hands-on tests, the setup actually worked quite well, with plenty of preinstalled software--Firefox for Web surfing, Open Office for productivity, plus Skype and a generic media player. Much anything beyond that is probably outside the scope of the system's limited hardware.

Note the Classmate's built-in handle

One plus is the SD card slot--pop in a 4GB SD card, and you've doubled the hard drive space. Just don't expect to keep your entire MP3 collection on there.

Right after the Eee showed up, we got another inexpensive pint-sized laptop dropped off at our doorstep. This time, it was the Intel Classmate PC. Designed by Intel as a low-cost laptop for schools in developing countries, we've been itching to get one since we got a detailed hands-on preview over the summer.

The Classmate starts at $225, and for around $350, you can get it preloaded with Windows XP and Microsoft Office 2003 (although its not currently available to individual consumers), and it comes in various configurations--ours had a 900Mhz Intel Celeron CPU, only 256MB of RAM, a 2GB flash hard drive, and a specially stripped down version of Windows XP, designed to fit on the tiny hard drive. The Classmate is larger than the Eee, with a thick plastic shell designed to withstand the rigors of the developing world and a leather cover with a built-in handle.

Check out these pics for a side-by-side comparison, and stay tuned for full reviews and videos of these two low-priced laptops next week.