Help me figure out what specs I need on a netbook with these idiosyncratic demands:
December 15, 2010 4:24 PM   Subscribe

Help me figure out what specs I need on a netbook with these idiosyncratic demands, under $400.

I am a new law school grad and am in my beginning months as an attorney at a law firm. On Dec. 22, I'll be traveling (for fun) to Morocco for almost two weeks. My personal computer is a two year old Dell Inspiron 1420 that is still running Vista. I really, really don't want to bring it on the trip for fear of it getting ruined or stolen but I also would like a computer in case I need one for work (I can tether my global blackberry if necessary) and for downtimes (on the plane, taking the train between cities), consequently I'd like the best battery life I can get. I'd be carrying it around with me at all times, which is why I want it to be super lightweight and as small as I can get away with.

In reading some forums, I've noticed a few people arguing that a 11.6" netbook won't be much larger than a 10.1" but I haven't found that to be true from looking at the specs. What's that about?

Additionally, when not traveling, I would like to be able to sit the netbook on my TV console, and hook it up occasionally to my 50" 720p plasma tv. I have an enormous quantity of SD .avi that are burned on data DVDrs and not DRMed. (~175MB for 22 min, ~350MB for 40 min, etc.) I do have an external dvdrw that I can hook up to play these discs. I also have a few TBs in external storage that I would like to hook up to the netbook. I want to ensure that I can play these files with VLC on my TV with the netbook. I don't have streaming Netflix. I sometimes stream Hulu. I am never going to game on it. It must be able to run Word. I'd prefer to be able to watch downloaded SD video content on VLC in the background while I edit word documents.

My impression is that I probably don't need HDMI, don't you agree?

Am I'm going to have to put money into a netbook with a more expensive processor to handle what I want to do with it? The problem is that I also want to play .avis on the netbook while traveling, otherwise I'd get a beefier processor and ignore the hit to the battery life. Yes, the international vacation is fleeting, but I also LOVE the idea of throwing the netbook in my bag and taking it around with me on my commute. I think my 14" laptop is ~5lbs and is big and heavy enough that I think hard about taking it with me. I live in a major Texas city without a car = lots of downtime.

I'd also like to keep it under $400, $450 at the MAX but I'd be pretty grumpy about it. Does a netbook for me exist?
posted by anthropomorphic to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The manufacturer's warranty will last a year, my AmEx will probably get it to two years, and I don't care about year three . . . do you have a particular netbook in mind?
posted by anthropomorphic at 4:35 PM on December 15, 2010

One thing about your .avi files. Dump the burn to DVD route and load up an external hard drive. I have a portable USB drive with 1500 avi movies. I then plug the USB drive into my WD 'Live' which plugs into my TV. It brings up the menu and I select the movie and hit 'play'. You'll forget about messing with burned DVDs. I also take the drive with me on trips and watch them on my laptop.
posted by Gerard Sorme at 4:50 PM on December 15, 2010

Gerard Sorme: I'll probably start that now. I've been burning DVDs since 2004, so there's . . a backlog.
posted by anthropomorphic at 5:01 PM on December 15, 2010

Does your plasma have a VGA input? If so, you probably don't need HDMI.

Standard def AVIs will run fine on any netbook. Anything HD or encoded with h264 might cause problems on the weaker models.

I wouldn't be so sure that you'll get Internet using your BB in Morocco. Prepaid data plans are often nonexistent or breathtakingly expensive.
posted by The Lamplighter at 7:06 AM on December 16, 2010

Also, get a six cell battery if you're concerned about battery life. This will make it heavier.
posted by The Lamplighter at 7:07 AM on December 16, 2010

I have an original Eee PC 701 4G (3 years old). It has an outdated Celeron 900mhz CPU, normally running at 630Mhz. Watching 175mb/22min episodes isn't a problem at all, streaming South Park also works. If I overclock it to 900mhz, then I can even watch 720p HD movies.
So there should be no problem doing that kind of stuff on a current Netbook.
posted by roerek at 10:59 AM on December 16, 2010

Honest question: Have you used a netbook-sized PC extensively in the past? I have a 10.1" Samsung that I love, but only for casual surfing, watching some Netflix, that sort of thing. Given the quality but cramped keyboard, the smallish screen which is very short (several dialog boxes in Windows are difficult to use because they run off the screen)... It is definitely not something I would try to seriously crank out some Word or Excel on. I do love it because it's so light it goes everywhere with me, but it's almost too small for serious work. There are many times when I'll start working on a spreadsheet or another document, only to give up after a few minutes because everything is just too damned small.

It's more than you indicated you wanted to spend, but have you considered an ultra-light full-size notebook? The 13-inch MacBook Air weighs 2.9 pounds; many of the 10.1" netbooks I've checked weigh 2.5~3.0ish pounds. It costs more, but it's just as light, probably thinner, and much more suitable for doing "real work" on. There are thin & light notebooks available from PC vendors too; Sony has a few models that are quite nice. Panasonic has some nice very light Toughbooks, but pricier than even the Macs.

I've been saving up and am getting ready to snag a 13" Air. After playing with a friend's for several days, I fell in love right away and immediately decided this would be my new "always with me" lappy.
posted by xedrik at 12:26 PM on December 16, 2010

A lot of netbooks are going to struggle with hi-def H264. There are some workarounds though: you could get one with a graphics card that VLC will support for hardware decoding (for netbooks, only the nvidia ion for now), get a dedicated decoding add-on or just bump up VLC's priority and hope for the best.
As for battery life, look at what people have tried on the forums for different manufacturers' netbooks. This is a big deal to a lot of people, and there are some creative solutions. Utilities to turn off unecessary devices (EkoBatt) and underclock (SetFSB) will also help a lot.
posted by marakesh at 4:55 PM on December 17, 2010

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