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September 6, 2009 12:08 PM   Subscribe

What's a good nettop/netbook/cheap desktop/laptop for my mom and younger sister?

Previously, a year ago.

My mom and younger sister have very light computing needs. They've used a computer (1 GB ram, 1.8 GHZ Athlon XP) running Windows XP I built five years ago with very few issues and only mild upgrades. This year, I've done a reinstall of XP and reflashed the BIOS (the mobo was acting quirky, by sometimes not booting and sometimes spontaniously turning on the machine), but the machine still has some odd issues (the mouse cursor freezes up, the hard drive is starting to die (it's backed up)). Considering that it's been five years, I think I'd rather they get a newer, smaller machine rather than buy it a new hard drive and continue to cope with a dying mobo.

Since all they need could be done by a Pentium 3, I've been considering an Atom-based computer for size and power usage. My mom is planning on moving in a few years, and she would appreciate if the computer was small and easy to pack. She also wants it to be dockable with the USB mouse and keyboard, and the DVI LCD monitor. I know those are pretty common, but I just wanted to make it clear in case somebody recommended something esoteric. I'd also like it to be able to communicate with a DVD drive, but I found a $30 enclosure that looks good for the job.

My mom is convinced that a netbook would be fragile and hard to fix (she trusts my repair skills over a computer company's tech support, which I find sweet), so this year I'm also considering nettops. If there is a good user-servicable netbook/nettop for cheap (ie replace ram, hard drive with just a screwdriver), I'd like to know about it.

I'm considering building a nettop myself using a board like this one, as it seems like there aren't many nettops/books that come with Nvidia's Ion chipset. Is this a good idea? I've charted out a build that would total out at $400 with tax and shipping, complete with a 500 GB hard drive and 2 GB of ram.

I'm also open to smaller desktops and laptops that are cheap and will dock nicely with the stuff in my office(again, USB and DVI ports).

In summary, I'd like a cheap, small, and energy efficient machine that will connect to my existing equipment and run Windows XP or newer. My budget is around $200-400 (not including OS, which I can get through MSDNAA). I'm open to building/upgrading the computer myself. I'd also like to know if Windows 7 is a good idea for nettops/books or not, since I've heard it will run well, but I haven't seen how well it runs first hand.

My mom is semi-computer litterate (does office work, email, installs her own software, but doesn't fix the machine), and my younger sister is in high school and needs the computer to type and do her homework. She has high functioning autism, so it'd probably be easiest for her to get a full-sized keyboard if we do get a netbook and they take to using it outside the office, so consider the keyboard size a factor.
posted by mccarty.tim to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
My sense is that if you don't need long battery life and a small size (for portability) then you should probably avoid netbooks, as they can cramp your style displaywise. A small laptop is probably a better idea.

Cheap Toshiba laptops have done us pretty well; they are priced around $500 - $600. That's price competitive with the nettop, when you factor in the need for a display and the amount of labor you'll be adding in.
posted by jenkinsEar at 12:15 PM on September 6, 2009

Response by poster: The thing is that we already have a nice monitor and keyboard. We just want something cheap and small to plug in, like a netbook or nettop. If there were atom based full-sized laptops, I'd be interested.
posted by mccarty.tim at 12:21 PM on September 6, 2009

Response by poster: PS: I'd also really like the Ion platform, for media playback.
posted by mccarty.tim at 12:26 PM on September 6, 2009

This looks nice.
posted by kickingtheground at 12:26 PM on September 6, 2009

This looks nice.

It is, indeed (I have two, plus a couple of Asus eee laptops). Not sure if you can get it with 500 GB built-in, but external USB disks are ultra cheap these days.
posted by effbot at 12:45 PM on September 6, 2009

211 People have left reviews for this at Newegg.

Here is The Tech Report's summer guide for more ideas if you decide to build your own.
posted by snowjoe at 12:57 PM on September 6, 2009

What about something like an EeeBox? It's Asus's eee, as a box. Atom processor, all your inputs, decent sized hard drive, comes with Vista I think -- all you need is a monitor, mouse and keyboard!

My fav computer shop has one here. Amazon has a different model. Asus website.
posted by cgg at 1:00 PM on September 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

Something to keep in mind with netbooks is a lack of disk drives - most don't even have a CD/DVD Drive, which might hamper their ability to do some things. All in all, there's not a huge difference in price between a mid-range netbook and a low-end laptop, but the laptop is probably going to be more flexible in the long run.
posted by AzraelBrown at 1:07 PM on September 6, 2009

Most people are using it for an HTPC (I'm considering it myself), but take a look at the ASROCK 330. ION, dual-core Atom, 320GB HDD, 2GB RAM, and DVD for $359.99. It has HDMI but comes with the DVI adapter. There's also a model that subs Blu-Ray for DVD.

One big caveat of the ION platform is that it can't really handle HD Flash video (or so I've heard). If you're not using it as an HTPC, that's probably not a deal breaker for you.
posted by natabat at 1:18 PM on September 6, 2009

Response by poster: It seems like most of the Ion machines aren't shipping yet. It's a shame. This is a big part of why I'm debating building my own. The EEEpc nettop with Ion looks awesome, but without a price or release date, I'm in the dark and my mom and sister need the new PC pretty soon. I guess I'll wait a week or so and see if it comes out.
posted by mccarty.tim at 1:57 PM on September 6, 2009

I have two, plus a couple of Asus eee laptops

Oh, sorry, didn't notice that you were linking to the upcoming high-end EeeBox. I have an earlier models that look exactly the same - which I'd argue is more than enough for the "very light computing needs" use case.

(After all, I'm a professional software developer, and those two computers are my entire server park :)

(My other computer is a data centre, of course.)
posted by effbot at 3:30 PM on September 6, 2009

The MSI Wind is pretty fabu. I've taken mine apart with just a screwdriver. The only downsides are the speakers (beyond horrible) and the trackpad & buttons (merely horrible). I'm not sure if it's "tough": almost no computers are these days unless they are purposely built for durability.
posted by chairface at 10:33 PM on September 7, 2009

Response by poster: I ended up installing Ubuntu on the computer when the Windows installation crashed beyond any quick repair, expecting it to be an interim fix. My mom and sister like it so much (they like the speed), and it experiences no issues whatsoever, that I think I'll probably just replace the hard drive until they're ready for the plunge. In a year or two when we move, I might try building something more lightweight and quiet, but if they're happy now, I'll just put it on hold and take advantage of Moore's law.
posted by mccarty.tim at 1:37 PM on September 12, 2009

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