Having a laptop with you on your travel, photo field trips or photo shoots is very handy, allowing you to dump your full memory card onto the laptop hard disk drive, and viewing/editing images, and even uploading them to the net if you have 3G wireless broadband connection or other broadband internet connection.
The main issues with laptops until recently was weight and battery life.
Over the past 2 years, a new genre of laptops – the netbook – has flooded the market, in a similar way that Micro Four Thirds cameras have surged in popularity as high image quality, versatile, light and compact camera systems.
Small, and light is the future for most technologies, but they must be big enough to be functional – Micro Four Thirds is the perfect size for camera systems for most people, 11.6″ netbooks may be the perfect size portable laptops for most people.
So let’s have a look at what I feel are the important features of a netbook:
It must be small and light:
- I would aim for around the 1 – 1.4kg mark as a reasonable compromise
It must run most of the software you currently use:
- at present, I would go for Windows 7 Home Premium as the operating system, given that Microsoft seem intent on forcing us to upgrade from XP Pro.
- sorry Apple, your iPad will make a great photo browser and web browser (except for the unfortunate lack of Macromedia Flash support), but it is not going to run Photoshop, Lightroom or most of the other programs I need.
It must have enough memory storage to enable storage of a reasonable trip’s photos:
- I often shoot about 50Gb over a 3 week travel period, so I would prefer at least 160Gb of hard disk drive, but the more the merrier.
It’s display must be adequate for photos:
- 1366 x 768 pixels would be an ideal resolution for this format rather than the more restrictive 1024 x 600 resolution found on most 10″ netbooks to date.
- most of my images I post on the web have a maximum height of 700 pixels and thus the 1366×768 display will be fine, furthermore if you watch 720p videos, you will be better off with this display size.
It’s performance (speed) and battery life must be adequate:
- unfortunately, there is a trade off between how fast it will run vs battery life
- I would aim for a netbook with at least 5 hours of stated battery life – in reality it will be less than stated usually.
- do NOT get one with Microsoft Vista – get Win 7 Home Premium or Win XP Home
- to get the best performance AND get 5+ hours of battery life with a 6-cell battery, you need:
- an optimised low power-usage CPU chip:
- currently the standard is the 64bit single core 1.66Ghz Intel Atom N450, but by 3rd quarter 2010, Intel should be marketing their improved CPU chip, the N455 which provides faster RAM memory support through allowing use of DDR3 RAM
- other options include:
- slower 32bit Atom chips such as the Z series and 1.66Ghz N270
- higher performing Intel chips such as:
- Atom D410/510
- the ultra-low-voltage (ULV) chips such as:
- the dual core SU4100, and SU7100
- the Core2Duo SU9300/9400/9600 with Intel Virtualisation for virtual OS performance needs, but no hyper-threading and no Turbo Boost.
- the soon to be released 32nm dual hyper-threaded double-threaded core ULV Intel i5-520UM or i7-620/640 UM/LM chips with Turbo Boost and HD graphics built-in.
- an optimised graphics chip system:
- most early netbooks ran a low power usage graphics chip which unfortunately meant that video or games ran very slowly
- Nvidia Ion graphic cards allow 1080HD video playback and gaming in netbooks but means battery life will always be short
- new Nvidia Ion2 Optimus graphic cards provide BOTH graphic cards and automatically switch to the low power consuming card when fast graphics is not needed, giving you the best of both worlds, but unfortunately few models are currently available – but expect this to change rapidly by mid-2010!
- sufficient RAM memory to minimise access of power consuming hard disk drive:
- generally you need at least 2Gb for Windows 7 (3 or 4Gb would be even better), and at least 1Gb for WinXP (2Gb is better).
- an optimised low power-usage CPU chip:
- USB ports, and a built-in SD card reader is highly preferred (why didn’t they do this for the Apple iPad rather than require flimsy adapters?)
- ethernet port (usually standard on all)
- WiFi wireless networking (usually standard on all)
- perhaps HDMI output – usually available on the Nvidia Ion netbooks
- perhaps 3G broadband – usually available as USB modems which may be more flexible as each 3G provider has different systems, and to confuse the issue, Intel is embarking on its WiMax technology for 4G broadband connectivity – which in Australia is only available in local regions through providers such as Unwired which currently only covers parts of Sydney, and thus for most of us, will be irrelevant for a few years yet!
- some may want built-in webcam and mic for travel
Adequate keyboard and mouse:
- the smaller 10″ netbooks tend to compromise on the keyboard and mouse, hence another reason the 11.6″ format may be the best compromise.
- newer models may have a mouse with gesturing support to allow easy zoom in/out, etc.
If video playback or gaming is important along with a good battery life then an ION 2-based netbook should be considered:
- Acer Aspire One 532G is the 1st ION2 netbook to be announced but unfortunately is a 10″ model, but it is only 1kg.
- Zotac ION2 coming March 2010
- Dell/Alienware M11x – regarded by some as the best performing laptop available in 11.6″ format giving 2hr gaming, 4hr HD video viewing on battery and 5-6hrs general use battery life otherwise but it does weigh 2kg! Not ION2 but similar graphic switching technology.
Can’t wait for ION 2, but need video playback rather than battery life? Get an ION-based netbook or an ultra-portable notebook:
- ASUS Eee PC 1201N – 12″ dual core Atom 330 with 1366×768, 250-320Gb HDD, 2-3Gb DDR2 RAM, 3.5hr 6-cell battery, card reader
- Acer Timeline 1810T – 11.6″ Core2 SU4100 Centrino, 1366×768,2-4Gb DDR2 RAM, 250-320Gb HDD, gesture, card reader, HDMI, 5600mAh 8hr battery, 1.35kg – for $300 and 370g more, you could get the revolutionary multi-touch gesturing touch screen tablet version – the 1820PT.
Can’t wait for ION2, but need good battery life but happy with slow video playback?
- Asus Eee PC 1101HA – 11.6″, 1.2Hz Atom Z520, 1-2Gb RAM, 160Gb HDD?, gesture support mouse pad, SD card reader, need to overclock it to run 720p video (via BIOS), runs WinXP Home fast, large, heavy 6-cell 63Wh 2800mAh battery lasts 10+ hours (7.5hrs using WiFi), 1.38kg. User can upgrade RAM to 2Gb but not able to access HDD!