Netbook for Mom
February 19, 2009 12:09 AM   Subscribe

Which netbook should I buy for my non-tech-savvy mother? The MSI Wind U120, or the Eee PC 1000HE?

My mom knows nothing about computers but just recently got excited about learning how to use one. I want to buy a small netbook for her for the following reasons:

-small, light, and portable
-longer battery life than bigger alternatives
-functional despite the obvious sacrifices in processor-speed, etc.

I want to keep my purchase less than $400, and have settled on the MSI Wind U120 and the Eee PC 1000HE.

Currently, the MSI wind and Eee PC will cost me $310 and $365 respectively. Although the MSI Wind U100 could be upgraded to 2GB of RAM, the new U120 is limited to 1GB. On the other hand, the Eee PC 1000HE promises a super-long battery life and can be upgraded to 2GB. There are other differences between the computers as well, but my primary concern is whether or not I would be hindering the computer's performance with just 1GB. In other words, the two netbooks seem comparable to me except for the difference in RAM. Is it worth paying $60 to get the 1000HE, especially considering my mom will simply be learning how to do very basic tasks?

Should I also take build-quality, support, trackpad quality, etc into account as well, or are the two netbooks fairly similar in those regards? Which one would you rather buy?

I'm also open to other suggestions for netbooks with high bang-to-buck ratios.

Thanks for all the help!
posted by mahoganyslide to Computers & Internet (26 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Although the MSI Wind U100 could be upgraded to 2GB of RAM, the new U120 is limited to 1GB. On the other hand, the Eee PC 1000HE promises a super-long battery life and can be upgraded to 2GB. There are other differences between the computers as well, but my primary concern is whether or not I would be hindering the computer's performance with just 1GB.

In my view the 1gb of memory that my eee comes with is plenty for all the things I use it for. I mean, it's not like I'm going to be firing up lots of memory-intensive software because the eee's screen is inappropriate for photoshop, video editing, CAD, etc.

The main thing the eee had going for it, for me, was the longer-than-average battery life, as it lets me leave my charger at home. On the other hand, the MSI has a built in HSDPA card, while on my eee I have to use a clunky external dongle. If your mom won't be taking advantage of either feature set, there's not much point spending extra to buy them.
posted by Mike1024 at 12:33 AM on February 19, 2009

Eee 901 user here. I have 1GB, I need to get 2GB.

The 901 keyboard sucks. It's just flimsy and cheap. The trackpad is great, except for the buttons, which are way too stiff. That's not a major issue for me, as I don't use the buttons much, preferring to use the one finger/three finger taps for the mouse buttons.

The battery life is excellent: 4 hours with wifi, 5 without. It's extremely portable.

Performance is Ok; some things are too damned slow, but used judiciously it does Ok. Graphic intensive games and heavy database use (entire state voter file) is a problem.

Firefox 3 is a problem, both because javascript seems slower than in Firefox 2, and because FF3 uses a stupid database for the favorites, the "places" or "awesome bar". The latter can be solved by running FF on a tempfs disk (a ram disk, essentially), but that's a bit of a pain.

Support: it took an hour, mostly on hold, to get a new keyboard. On the good side, they had no problem sending a new keyboard and letting me install it myself.

I'm assuming you'll be getting MS-Windows for Mom? I'm running Ubuntu (the stock linux is a very-out-of-date Xandros, with lots of suck).

The 901's been my primary PC for six months now. While I hate teh keyboard, I love the machine. It's really lovely.
posted by orthogonality at 12:42 AM on February 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've bought the MSI Wind 100, because the keyboards on any Asus never felt rigid enough. Apart from that, the machines are so simular, it's maybe better to look at some other things as well. What are the prices of the spare batteries -- since the battery will crap out first?

I've also noticed complaints -- even in computer magazines -- that netbooks are not really able to play video. Strangely enough, I have never watched as much video on any computer than on my MSI Wind. Had to upgrade the BIOS though, so the built-in GPU could get more RAM. But the brightness of the screen, on the smalness of its pixels, really makes it a pleasure to look at moving pictures on it.
posted by ijsbrand at 12:51 AM on February 19, 2009

I've been watching these notebooks for a couple months now... how cool they are!

I've gotta lot of experience with technology (personally and professionally) and some experience buying computers for family members (including the mom) ... unfortunately other than lusting over these netbooks on display at Walmart & Best Buy, I don't have direct experience with them...

here's what I can say:

1) I've owned an MSI "shuttle" style pc before. It was the coolest and best quality PC I've ever had... until it was stolen by someone who kicked in the front door while on vacation. I'm sure wherever it is now, it's still the best PC it's other owner(s) has ever had.

2) your mom isn't going to notice a difference between 1gb and 2gb of ram. I really doubt your mom is going to be a huge multi-tasker or gamer. also... on these PCs the processor is probably going to be your real limiting factor. But what does your mom use the computer for? probably editing a few MS documents, checking her email, shopping online, looking at photosharing sites and a few youtube videos that her friends forward her? For all this stuff 1gb should be fine... and someone else will need to jump in here, if i'm wrong.

3) some of the major things you should compare in person at the store before purchasing (in my assumed order of importance for your mom) are 1) battery life - winner, MSI? 2) keyboard comfort, 3) speaker output, which is louder and clearer with the factory speakers?, 4) hard drive type - i know the msi is a 2.5 SATA notebook drive (which i would prefer, should something go wrong -- much cheaper to replace)... the eeee may be a solid state (i couldn't find any info though)... solid state (SSD) may be quieter and handle the impact of a dropped notebook better, but will be a lot more expensive to replace if something goes wrong

if you're really worried about the memory, ask yourself: how long will she own this thing and actively use it? I think 1gb should hold up in a system with that processor speed for a good 3-5 years from now before you/she'd notice anything. again... i think the real concern on these little things should be processor speed over memory.

to me the winner is the msi... but i hope someone comes in here with a case for the eeee.. because i'd be curious to hear one...
posted by eli_d at 12:54 AM on February 19, 2009

Only partially related to your question (but based on experience): whatever you buy, install LOGMEIN (it's free) so that you can have remote admin access to your mother's laptop / netbook. In my case (2000 km distance and absolutely non-technical parents in law) the laptop we bought them would hould have turned into a nice shiny brick without it. Also, create a second user (non-admin) for her so that you controll what software gets installed from the net whilst she's browsing.
posted by Parsnip at 12:59 AM on February 19, 2009

Check out the HP Mini 1000. The local CostCo has it on sale for $399. The keyboard feels great.
posted by zippy at 1:22 AM on February 19, 2009

Keyboards matter. I know a few early adopters with Eee PCs who found themselves giving up on them because the keyboard was a pain.
posted by holgate at 2:10 AM on February 19, 2009

I got one of the very first 1000HE's, have had it for about seven months, have been extremely happy with it. I took it up to two megs of RAM (mostly because it was cheap and I use the machine for occasional photo editing). It is possible that your mom will want to explore/try things that require more RAM so it feels worth it to get the extra memory.

Choice aside, if there is any prospect of her using it at home, it is well worth getting a cheap, basic USB-connection, full-size keyboard.
posted by ambient2 at 2:29 AM on February 19, 2009

I have an MSI Wind U100. Like ijsbrand, I've had no problems with video. The machine feels solid, and the keyboard is perfectly usable. I would recommend adding a USB mouse - some people adapt to touchpads really well, but others (like me) can't get by without a mouse. The little notebook-style mice with retractable cables are really handy.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 3:08 AM on February 19, 2009

I also hate the keyboard on the EeePCs I have seen so far (the Acer Aspire one is nice though).

You don't say how old your mother is. If her eyesight is at all poor, though, get the one with the bigger dot pitch (the "worse" resolution for the same screen size) or she's going to have problems.
posted by rokusan at 5:10 AM on February 19, 2009

If you want a better screen and keyboard I would go for the MSI Wind.
posted by nam3d at 5:28 AM on February 19, 2009

How's her eyesight? My mom vetoed a similar netbook idea a few months back, opting for a normal laptop instead, because the screen was so tiny. Something to consider.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 5:44 AM on February 19, 2009

My mother is using a Samsung NC10 right now, as I am. She seems to like it well enough, though I think she would have liked something a little bigger. Anyway, 1GB is enough. I have one that I will be upgrading to 2GB later, because it gets slow with all the tabs I like to open, but for my mother, 1GB seemed to be fine.

Anyway, honestly, any of them are fine. If you can, go to a store and try out a few. I love my Samsung NC10 (they're about $450). The keyboard is great. I tried an EEPC 901 and the keyboard was too small for me and I didn't like it.

Is there any reason you want to get her a netbook and not a heavier and bigger, cheap computer? Is she actually going to be taking it anywhere? My mother travels a lot so I wanted something portable for her, but if your mother's just learning, big might be a good idea. I dunno though. You know her better!
posted by quirks at 5:57 AM on February 19, 2009

I've had both the EEEpc 901 and this Acer Aspire One. The keyboard is *SO* important. The keyboard on the eee felt flimsy and sometimes you had to press the keys really hard for it to register that a button was pushed.

The keyboard on this Aspire One is amazing.

The Aspire One that I bought comes equipped with MS Windows XP, 160 gb of ram, 1 gb of ram, and an Intel Atom processor. I think it's running at 1.6 ghz.

At $299, I don't think I did wrong buying this one.
posted by drleary at 6:01 AM on February 19, 2009

160gb hd, rather
posted by drleary at 6:01 AM on February 19, 2009

There are some good deals at the Dell Outlet for the Dell Mini 9, under $200. Just a couple of days ago you could get a new one for $199. Prices and stock (particularly for the refurbs) vary daily, but people seem to be pleased with their purchase (looking at places like
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 6:13 AM on February 19, 2009

Second the dell mini 9, I have owned one myself for a few months and love it. perfect for travel, lightweight and great battery life. I got mine for $400 when it first came out, and at $200 it's a steal. You could also go for the mini 10 if you want something a little more recent.
posted by pennstatephil at 6:50 AM on February 19, 2009

I think netbooks are pretty cool but they do make a lot of compromises for their size and it's possible that your mom might end up frustrated with the keyboard and small screen; I could see those being an issue with arthritis and/or poor vision. It might be worth considering a larger model. The Dell Inspiron 1525 (15") starts at $449 ($389 refurb from Dell Outlet) currently, so you don't have to spend a lot to get a full size laptop. Sure, that computer is much heavier but if your mom isn't going to be taking the laptop out much that might not be a concern.

So, while I'll nth the Wind (my brother likes his), it might be helpful to take your mom to a store like Best Buy and try out some netbooks and full size laptops before purchasing anything.
posted by 6550 at 6:57 AM on February 19, 2009

I can barely use a netbook and I have young eyes and young hands. Id be very concerned that giving an older person a tiny computer will result in a lot of eyestrain and cramped fingers. You can get a 14" or 15" Dell Vostro for $100 more.

If this is going to be her first computer, its going to be a lot more frustrating dealing with tiny icons and tiny text too.

Should I also take build-quality, support, trackpad quality, etc into account as well, or are the two netbooks fairly similar in those regards? Which one would you rather buy?

Again, go with a real laptop. Almost every netbook Ive tried, with the exception of the new HP, feels like a toy thats minutes away from breaking apart. Not to mention the trackpad quality on all of them is below average, or at least below below the quality of a trackpad on a real laptop.

I would be hindering the computer's performance with just 1GB

The bottleneck here isnt ram, especially for XP. The bottneck is the crummy little Atom or P4 Celeron CPU they put in these things. The Vostro I mentioned earlier comes with a dual-core which blows these things away. Unless youre mother is constantly traveling then you should consider a full size laptop.
posted by damn dirty ape at 6:59 AM on February 19, 2009

My Wind U-100 (6 cell, bluetooth, wifi-n) showed up yesterday and I'm in love. I snagged it off of Amazon for $380. The biggest selling point for me was the relatively large keyboard. I popped in another 1gb of ram and a I'm now dual booting WindowsXP and OSX. My original intent was to grab a small and highly portable development laptop, but now I'm seriously debating relegating my MacBook Pro to fulltime desktop status.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 8:06 AM on February 19, 2009

In every single netbook thread I've seen, each person names the particular one they just purchased and how much they love it. This leads me to think they're all the same and you will be fine picking the one with the best keyboard.

I like the 1000HE because it is cheaper ($350ish on preorder) has 2 mouse buttons, a large trackpad and a quick access upgrade flap.
posted by |n$eCur3 at 9:06 AM on February 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Give your mother a chance to try out a few keyboards before you buy one. I looked at the Asus EEE and found that the keyboard is impossible for a good typist to use.

I wanted a netbook for travel, but I'm beginning to wonder if a netbook is at all worthwhile. I said to my husband, will I feel like it's just a toy five minutes after I've bought it? He said, it is a toy.

Is there another way to get your mother online without the limitations of a netbook?
posted by sevenstars at 9:40 AM on February 19, 2009

I think you should seriously make sure you get her a full sized USB keyboard, and maybe a mouse. If you can find a cheap monitor somewhere, she might like the larger screen size, too (especially if she has vision issues). Teach her how to dock and undock it so that she doesn't get nervous about taking it with her. By portable, do you mean use it in the living room or actually take it with her to the cafe/on vacation/etc?

If she will be using it outside of the house a lot, I think the MSI Wind is the better idea, as general consensus is that it has a nice screen and keyboard and feels rugged. I've liked almost every bit of hardware from MSI I've bought in the past (mostly motherboards). The other specs seem secondary to that if she's not docking, since she probably won't even attempt something more intensive than web browsing and text editing. Maybe she'll listen to MP3s, but that's about it.

One thing to note about MSI: I've found their online tech support and literature to be detailed but a bit lacking. The english is a bit fractured and awkwardly worded, and the MSI manual looks like it's very comprehensive (offering ergonomic tips and general advice on how to use a computer period), but the wording is a bit odd.
posted by mccarty.tim at 10:09 AM on February 19, 2009

I said to my husband, will I feel like it's just a toy five minutes after I've bought it? He said, it is a toy.

I've been using laptops, notebooks, or whatever they have been called since I got the Tandy TRS-80 Model 200 in the late 1980s [and still long for a machine that can work as long indepently on batteries]. And I have to say, even though it took me more than a year to decide on the model, no, the netbook is not a toy.

The netbook is everything what no smartphone ever will be for me. Light, portable, and extremely usable. Even for business purposes. Especially for business purposes.

The netbook is everything to me computers should have been from the start. Cheap to buy. Utterly replaceable therefor. Equipped with proven technology. Easily connectable. And used. Every day.
posted by ijsbrand at 11:19 AM on February 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

Spendier than a true netbook but still small, well-specced and utterly wantable: the HP Mini Vivienne Tam.
posted by rdc at 11:58 AM on February 19, 2009

I actually just went through the exact same thing -- buying a netbook for mom. I settled on the MSI U100. Three things about it that made me buy it:

1. The keyboard is large for a netbook -- and includes a larger right shift key than the Eee

2. Video camera (so she can Skype once I get her to understand what Skype is) -- a number of the other netbooks didn't have one

3. Six-cell battery -- rather than the dinkier three-cell models I keep running across

So far, I think she likes it. She plays a lot of solitaire on it.

(However... when I bought my own netbook I got the Samsung NC10. Very long battery life, and I don't know anyone who doesn't like theirs. Why didn't I get her one? Because it's $50-100 more than the MSI Wind. Yeah, I'm a bad son.)

If the keyboard size really is an issue, the HP netbooks have great, nearly full-size keyboards. But they aren't cheap, and I don't think you can get one with a six-cell battery to start.
posted by dw at 8:50 PM on February 19, 2009

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