back to article Netbooks were a GOOD thing and we threw them under a bus

Packing for a week-and-a-half road trip to Silicon Valley and back triggered a moment of introspection over the impending end of netbook production. I had some devices to choose from for my journey. I could have taken my Alienware MX18, my first-generation Samsung Galaxy Tab, my Asus Transformer, my Samsung NF210 Netbook, my …

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Ah the Woolworths syndrone....

Can I down vote myself for such an appalling use of grammar and spelling?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "threatened to kill the 1st born of the manufacturers"

"M$ (sic) went round and threatened to kill the 1st born of the manufacturers"

The evidence you're looking for would lock up MS execs for years if it was readily obtainable in black and white. Even MS aren't usually that stupid.

Read between the lines.

XP was dead.

Netbooks came along, some people found them useful.

A dead OS was miraculously revived in order to compete with products based on an OS (and a chip) that allegedly nobody wanted to buy.

Nothing to do with any particular contributor round here.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Ah the Woolworths syndrone....

"Still waiting for the evidence that M$ (sic) went round and threatened to kill the 1st born of the manufacturers families unless they banned Linux from going on netbooks."

You been living under a rock? Plenty of ex-OEM employees have testified (sometimes in court) on this subject.

10 seconds Googling found this story on the Reg:

Microsoft ‘killed Dell Linux’ – States

Microsoft have rarely produced anything anyone would want (did you ever use Windows 1, 2, or 3? Other companies would have gone to the wall for that level of consistent fail); their entire business model for many many years has been to force people to buy their products.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Ah the Woolworths syndrone....

I worked for an OEM until the mid-90s and was part of my companies licensing negotiations with Microsoft. Never experienced any of this dirty dealing Microsoft have been accused of, either in writing or during meetings here or in Redmond. Wild conspiracy theories have been alleged in court as well as the net for that period, some of which I know to be false from personal knowledge. I know nothing about the netbook deals.

Windows 3 was an incredibly successful product, not a fail as you claim, started from a very low base (Windows 1 and 2 never got much traction), welcomed by most PC users at the time as a step forward.

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FAIL

Re: Ah the Woolworths syndrone....

Followed, read and understood the link. An internal memo, went to another internally. Nothing showing it went externally, from the evidence, it went to Ballamer, then what?

Also check the fucking dates. Memo's & accusations 2000 / 2001? Story 2002.

What has this to do with Netbooks?

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Stop

Re: Ah the Woolworths syndrone....

Don't waste your time, Robert Long 1 is just a rabid anti MS troll. There's no reasoning with these people.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Windows 3 was an incredibly successful product....

Indeed it was an incredibly successful product. It was crap, especially given known computer science at the time, but it was succesful crap.

Furthermore, it was sold to ordinary people. Like pharma companies advertising their drugs to the end users, Microsoft succeeded in starting user demand for Windows. It wasn't that hard: it only had to compete with dumb terminals on many people's desks.

That's what got the ball rolling. The dirty tricks followed.

EDIT: and yes, sorry, nothing to do with netbooks. One gets involved in a side issue and forgets what the thread is about. I'll try to save my rabid ranting for a Microsoft thread. Or hey, maybe people will start on about Unity, in this thread soon!

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Linux

Re: Ah the Woolworths syndrone....

> If you don't buy the products, they don't sell them. It's called economics.

They can't sell them if they don't bother showing them.

These machines were too cheap. No one except consumers wanted them. Both merchants and manufacturers want to sell you something MORE EXPENSIVE. The local Best Buy just plain hid machines like these and Frys was always out of stock.

You would be hard pressed to buy these things from a B&M store even if you wanted to.

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Linux

Re: Ah the Woolworths syndrone....

Windows is an extension of MS-DOS.

Attempting to fixate on Windows while ignoring MS-DOS is just dishonest. Microsoft was already using dirty tricks to bury everyone else and getting slapped by the feds for doing it.

When Windows 3 was first released, the common PC wasn't able to handle it very well. It was not quite as bad as OS/2 or Unix but it still really required more machine than what most people had. In the end, Microsoft's legacy relationships with OEMs and 3rd party vendors is what won the day.

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Linux

ee1011px + MINT. Does everything my desktop can and fits in the small pocket of the rucksack.

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Come back Netbook

Couldn’t agree more with most of this.

I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a resurgence in Netbooks a few years down the line. Tablets are all well and good, they definitely have their place, but for so many applications, a keyboard and a few more ports is so mightily handy. Maybe a few years of people trying to do their accounts or proper photo editing on a tablet will remind them how handy a keyboard and trackpad can be. And I don’t need to worry about free disk space etc.

Just gotta hope my Acer Aspire does me until then.

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Re: Come back Netbook

I actually suspect that tablets could provide a genuine second wind for the netbook. If you Google "android mini laptop" you'll see that there's a white-label device or two out there using cheap tablet parts to built up 7" smaller-than-eee netbooks. Cutting the touchscreen makes it cheaper than a tablet, apparently. If tablet users do start using keyboards and mice to use their tablets for something more, we might start seeing better pseudo-desktop support in Android. If the manufacturers can build a range of netbooks and tablets off the same production line will minimal retooling, then the netbook might make its comeback in the form of Android.

If this comes it will start in the Far East, as the no-names have nothing to lose by challenging Wintel dominance, and everything to gain.

And finally... why do I think this is realistic?

Even Microsoft is trying to merge the mobile and desktop experience. If the public is given the choice between the Android mobile experience or Windows Phone, which would they chose? ...what has the reaction to W8 been like so far...?

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Re: Come back Netbook

I do wonder if touch-only tablets will follow a similar line to netbooks.

Despite all the doom and gloom, netbooks were once selling well, and IIRC at one time made a significant proportion of all PC sales. I'm sure if people had done tablet-style extrapolations, they'd have concluded that everyone would be using netbooks by 2012. But no, what happened is the market reached saturation - everyone who wanted one, had one, and there was no draw to convince additional people to buy them.

With tablets, we see massive growth, and the media extrapolate that to say how we'll all be using tablets in 2016. But at some point, we may hit the point where everyone who wants one has one, and sales start getting eaten by the next thing that comes along (e.g., who'll need a tablet, when you can just fold open your flexible-display Samsung S6 smartphone?)

Netbooks also had the price plummet so manufacturers made little profit, and so wanted to move elsewhere, like conventional laptops, high end ultrabooks, or tablets. Tablets started off as high priced, but since last year, we've seen the start of the price war.

And some people got annoyed with netbooks when they weren't as powerful as they thought; similarly you have people buying tablets, then realising they can't do as much as they thought, or wondering what to actually do with them.

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Saturation

@Mark .

"But no, what happened is the market reached saturation - everyone who wanted one, had one, and there was no draw to convince additional people to buy them."

I'm not convinced this is strictly true, I just think the current market for the netbook is a bit "niche", because I'm teaching in a university, and there's three types of devices on my student's desks: tablets, Macbooks and netbooks.

The student market is somewhat niche, but it's nothing to be sniffed at. I'm surprised it's not enough to keep two or three models in production, because I figure a lot of students might opt for the tablet this year but decide they need a proper keyboard next year....

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Acer W510

What you need is an Acer W510.

A truly remarkable little machine - a full Windows 8 tablet/convertible, with epic battery life. Docked, you can get 15+ hours and 9+ as a pure tablet.

Sure, it isn't perfect. Like an Atom based Netbook, desktop performance is exactly stellar but still very usable, as in tablet form running Metro apps it is very speedy, so if Atom netbooks are ok for you, the W510 will be too.

The keyboard is small and cramped and isn't of the highest quality (I think the Asus Transformer keyboards are better), and the trackpad is quite frankly an exercise in frustration but that is slightly mitigated by touchscreen and a bluetooth mouse is always a good thing to have.

I take mine wherever I go for work, along with my Macbook Pro Retina, and use both simultaneously, though I never need to plug in the W510 in unless it needs a charge because I can easily get two to three days usage out of it when I'm using the Macbook as the primary device, and the W510 essentially as a second screen, perhaps RDP'd into a server, or showing a spreadsheet or emails. When I'm back at the hotel, the W510 comes out and usually undocked and then I can lay on the bed bed and watch movies, surf the web etc, which previously I'd have been using an Android tablet to do.

For a road warrior who wants a small laptop with excellent battery life, the Acer W510 is a very good choice. The fact that it is a tablet too makes it an even better choice.

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Re: Acer W510

Just googled, you're talking about £500+ for one of those. I'm sure it is very nice indeed, but £500 buys a lot of laptop.

Half the allure of a netbook is they were usually decent value for money in an industry that often isn't.

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Re: Acer W510

All well and good and sure it is lovely little machine but it is five hundred feckin quid. Hardly netbook territory,

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FAIL

Re: Acer W510

The original article never mentioned a price point - it was talking about a particular type of machine for use by Roadwarriors, and lamenting the demise of the Netbook!

Most Netbooks are single core, 1GB RAM, 1024x600 screen and an mechanical HD. The W510 is a dual core, 2GB, 1366x768 screen with touch, and uses an SSD, *and* it's a tablet, so making comparisons to a Netbook purely on price isn't really fair because whilst the W510 might look like a Netbook when docked, it is in reality a far more capable and versatile machine.

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Re: Acer W510

The point was that 1024x600, single-core ;power-sipping netbooks were plenty good enough AND they kept the price down: which is another check for the netbook as well. I got mine used for $125, and most netbooks of the type run in the $125-150 range used depending on wear and tear.

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Samsung N120 still going strong

Literally 2 days after I bought my house, my old laptop died. I needed something cheap and reliable to tide me over for a year or so until I got some funds back. I bought the Samsung N120 in September 2010 and it is still going strong as my primary computer.

I've filled up about half of the 320GB hard drive, the battery life is still "OK" (get around 3 hours), it's light, portable and great for doing little things such as touching up pictures, firing off a long e-mail etc. etc.

I have a Nexus 7 now which has taken over some tasks, but I will probably keep the Samsung going until I run it into the ground.

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Windows

Re: Samsung N120 still going strong

Samsung NC10 with 'shoe heel' large battery. 9 hours if careful using Debian Wheezy and the Samsung tools package.

Not my main machine, but very useful for days out away from power. This little bugger can also drive a 1920by1080 monitor and run with lid closed and external keyboard (power switch on end of hinge).

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Re: Samsung N120 still going strong

Me too, I have an NC10, had it for 3 years + I still get over 5 hours running XP. It might be just plastic but fantastic build quality for such a cheap bit of kit. Its not my main machine either but I still use it regularly when I have to visit a site and need USB ports and a decent crop of mature applications to work with.

I'm beginning to wonder myself if in a few years when everyone is so over the iPad etc whether cheap tablets might go the way of the Netbook. Perhaps decent (ie. by that I mean they have a useable selection of ports and 100's of gigs of internal storage, proper multi-tasking etc) netbook-tablet hybrids will be the next big thing.

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Are the libroffice crew working on a port?

If not they should be...

I find Polaris/KingSoft OK for most things, and it should certainly suffice for bashing out some copy, but libre office (supporting a BT/USB mouse and keyboard) would be rather useful.

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Quite right.

Another person in strong agreement here.

My old battery Acer Aspire One is still after 5 years my primary choice for travel. Although only £210 new, it's been treated to a few upgrades over the years; a new 1366x768 screen to bump up the resolution (£75) an SSD when the rotary rust failed (£80), an extra gig of RAM (£10),Windows 7 (£50) and a bigger battery (£20).

Adding this up, I see I've got a £500 device now rather than a £200 one - not too far off the cost of a similarly specced new device.

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Re: Quite right.

Indeed the price is almost the samen with your upgrades, but....

You have been working on it for all that time, thats a value and

you can do the upgrades incremental, so you dont have to spend that lot at once and can buy an upgrade when funds allow

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Pirate

I also thought I was alone...

Da-yum - and here I was thinking I had the "minority of one" problem b/c I actually liked netbooks and found them useful. Acer Aspire One and Lenovo S10-3, both great for checking out infrastructure, basic troubleshooting, even touching up switch/router configs when remote wasn't available or practical - that plus a touch of typing on an actual, usable keyboard instead of a screen which reminded me of my childhood poking at an Atari 400's useless membrane crap. The S10-3 has in typical Lenovo fashion taken 3 1-meter falls totally in stride w/o even a dent.

I checked out the iPad and it just won't do what I do with the Lenovo; it may be OK for storing approach charts and have a ton of aviation apps, but piloting's my hobby, not my income generator (yet) and I need something for my IT work when the Lenovo gives up the ghost... and for that, the fruit company's offerings (and all other tablets) are just big toys.

I think the real reason netbooks were universally cancelled has to do with low profits instead of market share; "gaming" rigs are a part of many a vendor's offering, despite a niche share at best. Alas, we sysadmins are never a good marketing target. RIP the little lifesavers.

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Re: I also thought I was alone...

Me too. Retired my first gen MSI Wind last August for an end of line Acer Aspire One 753 @£240. A few more pixels on the display, and the slightly better gpu can now handle HD video with HDMI out to a TV if I need it. Figured I had better get it before netbooks ceased to exist. Not Win8 compatible, but who cares? Best of all, it's still too puny to run Minecraft so the kids won't touch it.

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Coat

Dead men walking

I recently took a Toshiba NB550D away for a week of meetings on a clients site. After the second day I stopped taking the power brick (itself only a few 100gm) just didn't need it even though power sockets were not an issue. Not a recommendation - I was happy, but I'm easily pleased.

I agree with "... I don't care about winos macos linux etc etc - just want to do stuff"

But I have to face it, just wanting to do stuff makes me a dinosaur - the market is now 'mature', owned by Joe Schmo the average consumer who has a different set of requirements and owning this years shiny shiny fondle stuff is something he can be convinced of.

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Re: Dead men walking

Got one of these little beauties too for a princely £220.

Excellent keyboard, plays HD video, battery lasts for yonks and surprisingly good speakers.

With a clean WIndows 7 64 bit install (thanks to work) and 4 gig of RAM it doesn't run all that shabblily either.

Am going to miss it when it goes bang.

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Flame

Throw it under a bus? Great idea.

The amount of time that I have wasted waiting for an Eee PC to do something useful for me does not bear thinking about.

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This post has been deleted by its author

Re: Throw it under a bus? Great idea.

Windows version, then? Here's a nickel, kid, go and buy yourself a real operating system.

Me, I used to fire up my Linux eee pc at the same time as my Windows PC and use it to check my email while I was waiting for the other PC to boot up.

I also found it a handy video phone as Skype on my 3-or-4-times-as-powerful machine kept stalling due to something or other running in the background.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Eee PC?

ee --- Tamil for housefly.

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Re: Eee PC?

Also mosquito for "your blood smells nice."

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Work bought me an Asus EeePC 1018P a couple of years ago, to replace a Libretto that I'd run into the ground. I don't drive and have to walk all over the site (and elsewhere) so something small and light that slips in a backpack with decent screen, keyboard and battery life and USB ports to run serial consoles were the main requirements. The 1018P has all these, runs Debian Linux like a champ (I believe it came with some version of Windows pre-installed but that got nuked from high orbit using the Deb installer the first time I turned it on!), and has a decent enough dual core CPU to make watching videos, etc perfectly possible.

For a network tech/sysadmin/programmer/webby chap on the move, a netbook like this is a definite requirement. I've tried tablets from various manufacturers (inc Microsoft's Surface RT) and the only one that comes close is the Asus Transformer, which seems to try to give you the best of both worlds. Now if it could just have Debian sneaked on there instead of Android....

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Unhappy

Where's the consumer? *rant warning*

Excellent point about the OS vendors value-add undermining the product.

This isn't just limited to notebooks.

What I want in an OS:

- No config. Install and that's it.

- Privacy. If I want to load and play a game I don't want to dole out my shopping, texts, political affiliations to a soul-less minion of maketing.

- Usability. An OS a 5 to +65yo can use.

- Ownership. I paid for it, I own it. Not: until I swap out the graphics card or until the 6th re-install. If they want to sell me another OS they have to do better than the one I have.

- Functional. If I want to play games, write code, write a letter or e-mail it will all just work.

- My OS. I can install or delete what I want. If the OEM has stuck some crap Facebook/Twitter app on I would like the choice to remove it.

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We didn't throw netbooks under the bus, Microsoft did

The first netbooks were a no-frills mini-notebook running Linux. They weren't great, but they were stable and reliable. With a huge amount of arm-twisting Microsoft were able to get the BestBuys of the world to only sell the Windows versions of the netbooks. As soon as the obligatory virus scanner was installed, the things ground to a halt. It was even worse when the Win7 Starter bloatware was forced onto the unsuspecting public. Add to that, the hardware specifications were very tightly controlled. If a reasonable screen resolution was to be had, then the full version of Win7 now Win8 had to be installed.

The tablet computers run an OS, which better suits lower performance devices. The truth is that people don't want Windows, but it was rammed down the PC user's throat. The result is that netbooks have become very unappealing. In fact, if the numbers are any indication, PCs have become unappealing.

Once again corporate greed and a whipped distribution channel have acted against the best interest of the computing public. Such behaviour is so common place that most people hardly pay attention.

Ian

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Happy

Re: We didn't throw netbooks under the bus, Microsoft did

My MSI Wind100 started life with WinXP, now has an over-sized battery, SSD drive and Linux Mint.

I dual boot XP, it also serves as my dual channel oscilloscope and OBD2 engine diagnostic, both proprietary.

Pads don't do it for me, I'm still waiting for the new technology which will be more useful than my netbook.

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MCG
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Re: We didn't throw netbooks under the bus, Microsoft did

Nope, sorry, the truth is that nobody wanted the original Linux netbooks, because they didn't run the users' familiar old apps; the average user wants MS Office, not half-baked tat like OpenOffice or LibreOffice or whatever that shoddy old abandonware calls itself these days. And neither did they "grind to a halt" when "the obligatory virus scanner" was installed; I had one of the Acer netbooks and it ran just fine under Win XP and just as well under Windows 7 as well, certainly better than the peculiar variety of Linux it came saddled with.

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They are out there...

It's just the majors have quit the market there are options out there:

H6 10 Inch Notebook Android 4.0.3 4GB Laptop PC Black (http://www.pandawill.com/catalog/product/view/id/45080/s/h6-10-inch-notebook-android-403-1g-ram-4gb-laptop-pc-black-p65515/)

MTL0701W 7 Inch Notebook Android 4.0.3 4GB HDMI Laptop PC White (http://www.pandawill.com/mtl0701w-7-inch-notebook-android-403-4gb-hdmi-laptop-pc-white-p71558.html)

The problem is expectation. Consumers generally want a device that does it all rather than a couple of devices that suit a particular usage. Trying to make the 'does it all' device at £200? No wonder the majors quit.

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Stop

Re: They are out there...

Nice try, but you don't seem to have read the article! I see no evidence that you can install any OS suitable for Systems Administration on those devices.

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Options

Since the manufacturers clearly know where they are headed, and they expect us to meekly follow, this surely opens an opportunity for some small company to produce a recharging station for laptop batteries. I know that there seems to be more battery types than there are laptop types but the bigger companies such as Lenovo and Dell have at least a hint of commonality and it should be possible to create a 'smart clip' to put onto the battery prior to connecting it to a standard 20v supply lead so that the clip handles the regulation and any interfacing for smart batteries (if such a thing actually exists).

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Agree totally with Author

Not only about Netbooks,

But it's almost impossible to get 1600 line high lap top with 4:3 Screen. I don't watch videos on the Laptop or netbook. I have a TV for that, or a 4.3" WS 160G Byte PMP for long flights etc.

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Happy

I still have four Lenovo S10 netbooks

I started with four - and all are still going strong. Running XP Home. An excellent and solid OS, once I stripped out all the bloatware. I switched off half the silly services that MS provides, which improved security, and these netbooks can do all my odd-jobs. One is monitoring the IP security cameras all day. One travels with me wherever I go, and two do odd jobs such as run test equipment software and interface with my Li-Ion battery tester.

The strange thing is that the low-end i3 rubbish being sold in many ultrabooks right now really isn't that much faster than these old atoms... and a lot more expensive. But then, they have to run Windows 8, don't they. I quite forgot...

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Linux

Me too </aol>

I love my netbooks. My PC World Advent 4211 (rebranded MSI Wind U100) ten-incher has a surprisingly spacious keyboard for a netbook, and I've added various bits and bobs to make it fit my needs. The nice thing about the MSI Wind, other than being cheap (I got mine free off a relative, but they can be had in good condition second hand for under £100 if you look hard enough), is that it has a LOT of user-replaceable components that adhere to standards, that you can easily upgrade. If something breaks, or you don't like it, chances are you can replace that bit. You can even upgrade the BIOS to overclock the CPU at the touch of a function key.

First up, replace Windows with Ubuntu 12.04. Works much smoother. 3D accelerated desktop also works just fine, although I can't think why I'd need it. Free.

Second, swap out the awful R8187SE mini PCIe wifi card which is unreliable at keeping hold of a connection. Swapped that out for a nice reliable Intel one. Five quid. Two minutes with a screwdriver.

Next, the hard drive. Swapped the spinny-platter thing for a 60GB SSD. Super-fast boot and far fewer worries about receiving bumps when thrown into a backpack or briefcase. 35 quid. Two minutes with a screwdriver plus reinstall/copy.

Fourth, battery. Being second-hand the battery held only 4 of its original 8 hours. Swapped that over for a high-capacity battery that gives me TEN HOURS OF BATTERY LIFE including wifi permanently on and display brightness set to three-quarters. With wifi off it gives over 11 hours. Twenty-five quid, two clips and ten seconds work.

Finally, removed all remnants of embarrassing PC World Advent branding. Replaced BIOS with genuine MSI Wind BIOS (which gave an additional advantage of opening up the CPU overclocking settings) and covered up the lid branding with a Linux sticker. Job done!

It's a Proper PC with a Proper Keyboard. LibreOffice/OpenOffice is a joy to use on it. SSH sessions are perfect. The GIMP is, well, as usable as it is on any other PC. Web browser is a Proper Web Browsers, with all the search extensions and plug-ins that I demand.

Downsides? Would have liked HDMI (only got VGA for output to a real monitor) and a higher resolution (the default Ubuntu printer dialog spills below the 1024x600 screen, but that's easily worked around). And I guess I would have liked a better 3D card so that it could play Torchlight at an acceptable framerate (it manages 8-12FPS, which isn't).

And for those who say the Atom is underpowered... well, stop using Microsoft Windows. Ubuntu runs full pelt on it with all the bells and whistles turned on, no problem at all.

I also have three Asus EEE 901 netbooks for my children. Their childreny fingers make short work of the tiny keyboard, and the two tiny 4GB + 8GB SSDs can be joined into one small-but-acceptable 12GB drive using LVM under Ubuntu (plus there's the shared drive on the home network server). The 901 has the proper 1024x600 screen, plus wifi and Bluetooth. Battery life is 5 hours with a new battery, dying back to 3 hours after 5 years heavy use. The 901s seem to go very cheap on eBay due to keyboard failures (a new keyboard is only 6 quid and a doddle to fit) and Windows running out of space (firstly, don't use Windows on a netbook, and secondly, use LVM to join the two tiny SSDs into one larger drive).

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Meh

Netbooks were fine.....

....and quite the novelty at first.

Then after a while the usually crappy trackpad and 600 pixel depth screen just really got on your nerves.

I'm no longer a fan of netbooks. My heart sinks if I go to see a customer and there is one sitting on the dining room table.

My own Acer netbook with its 8 cell mega battery sits collecting dust in the corner. Every time I do bother to switch it on the version of linux has totally changed.

However, my new Samsung Chromebook turned up today so that will be interesting. Gives me a few more vertical pixels after all.

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Mine still works

MSI Wind U100. Upgraded the RAM and bought the bigger battery. About 4 years old now and still nothing can touch it. With USB 3G dongle makes perfect travel companion.

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I love my netbook

It's small enough to throw in a bag, cheap enough to not shed tears if it's stolen / broken, and (just) fast enough for stuff like browsing, casual gaming. I'll mourn netbooks when they're gone though I think in time that small laptops will creep back down in price soon enough especially when manufacturers realise people are not going to pay stupid money for an ultrabook. Asus are already tentatively going that way with their Vivo book devices.

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MSI WIND ftw

Went looking for a cheap viable option for the girlfriend a couple of years back and got her an MSI WInd - not least because it came in hot pink apparently. Throw in the USB 3G Dongle and she was set. Survived everything until she ran it over with her car. Shes now using my i5 Toshiba laptop.

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Couldn't you just charge your phones overnight, too?

Other than that, I agree wholeheartedly - netbooks were a good thing, and I don't really want to see them go.

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