Low-end laptop
August 20, 2008 8:48 PM   Subscribe

What's a good netbook or netbook-like computer for my mom and sister?

4 years ago, I built an Athlon XP 2500+ computer for my family. Back then, it was a $550 gaming machine (All in Wonder 9400+, which died a few months ago and was replaced by a $30 cheapie card), but after 4 years of use, it's beginning to be slow and cumbersome. I don't have the time to do a full system reinstall, and I'm not sure it's what the system needs. It's loud, slow to boot, slow to run, and takes up a lot of space, and the hardware is starting to show some quirks which flashes won't fix (BIOS does not always boot, needs a hard reset by flipping the back switch, network card drops connections, computer turns itself on when shut off). Being at home with my laptop makes me realize how much my mom and sister hate it, because they're always asking me to look stuff up on my MacBook Pro.

Lately, netbooks have entered the market and look like a good option, because about 90% of what they do is web browsing and basic text editing. The other 10% can be satisfied by the old Windows machine. However, for what they are, they seem expensive compared to the older Apple laptops on sale on Ebay. They don't really need a sub-10 inch laptop. What they really need is just something less cumbersome than the old desktop I built.

I think an old Apple laptop may be better for them, since I'm familiar with OSX and I think they would have an easier time with it than Windows or a Linux derivative.

Our house has an 802.11G network running from a hacked WRT54G router, which reaches pretty much every room. I'd be okay with the computer running 802.11B, but if the difference were $20 between G and B, I'd go for it. As for the laptop, I'd like one that is fairly user-serviceable (IE, RAM and hard drive are easy to replace/upgrade, CD drive replaceable would be nice, but not crucial), since these would be fairly old machines. I know that Boot Camp and Parallels are impossible on that setup, but they don't need that, so it's moot. If the machine could run Leopard decently, that would be useful, but just Tiger is acceptable. Also, are replacement batteries hard to find for old machines?

Is there any model that satisfies or comes close to what I said, or would I be better off getting them a netbook or certain model of old PC laptop? My budget would probably be from $200-300, so it would have to expand for a netbook. I'd expect the machine to be sturdy, but not very. I wouldn't expect them to take it out of the house much. Would they really benefit from the added speed/build quality of a Powerbook over an iBook for what I described?
posted by mccarty.tim to Computers & Internet (4 answers total)
Best answer: So, I love OS X but the older computers are a bit frustrating with them not having the latest OS.

I'd recommend installing Ubuntu (http://www.ubuntu.com/) on the old PC first to see if that does it. I hear story after story of people wanting something for their parents and Windows XP not working well anymore and getting bogged down but a new install of Ubuntu bringing the machine new life.

I have several friends who have bought EEE PCs and loving them, and another friend who bought one for his mom and she doesn't even know it's running Linux. However, the small keyboard is a little bit of a hassle but not bad for short internet surfing.

The CloudBook is also pretty cheap (only $300): http://www.everex.com/

And no, the PowerBook is not worth the extra money. It's just a bit of extra RAM and speed (for a while iBooks didn't have audio in, but that's not a show-stopper).\

If it helps, I've got a MacBook myself along with a PC (Intel 8400 with Nvidea 8800GTS graphics card) running Ubuntu and Vista, but mostly Ubuntu.
posted by sirsteven at 10:15 PM on August 20, 2008

Strongly recommend the Asus EEE 900. You get used to the small keyboard surprisingly quickly, and the screen is sharp and beautiful.
posted by jbickers at 3:58 AM on August 21, 2008

Best answer: If you can hang on for just a bit longer, Dell's line of netbooks is nearly upon us. There's a ton of competition in this space right now; keep an eye on Engadget or similar sites to see what's new.
posted by sinfony at 8:24 AM on August 21, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers. Anyone who's tried multiple netbooks know which one has the best keyboard? My little sister has high-functioning autism, so I would like to make sure she has a laptop with a keyboard that's not too awkward, even though I know that there has to be a bit of a tradeoff for the size. Of course, I could just get a USB keyboard to go with it, which makes it less convenient, but not extremely so.
posted by mccarty.tim at 10:30 AM on August 21, 2008

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