April 24, 2008

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Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!
Cheap mini notebooks multiplying rapidly
By John “jaQ” Andrews  jandrews@hippopress.com

Used to be you paid a premium for miniaturization.

In contrast to the desktop PC world, where a big monitor costs you big bucks, prices for notebook computers actually go up when screen size goes down. It’s not so much the screen itself as the engineering that goes into making the rest of the notebook fit in such a small package. It wasn’t so long ago that a laptop with even a 12.1” screen would routinely set one back over $1,500.

Then came the Eee PC from Asus, and everything changed. Suddenly there was a nearly pocket-sized notebook for under $400. Sure, it skimped a tad on storage space and graphics power, but editing documents and reading e-mail and a little light Web browsing on the go? Golden.

Now Asus is prepping its second generation of the Eee PC, bumping the 7” screen up to 8.9” — without even increasing the overall size of the laptop, since the 7-incher had awkward bezels on each side of the monitor. According to NotebookReview.com, the new model will hit the US on May 12 and cost $549. The Linux version will have 20GB of storage, while the Windows XP version will come with just 12GB. It’ll also feature a multi-touch trackpad for simple control over scrolling and zooming.

It won’t be alone in the budget ultraportable market, though. A number of competitors have cropped up to take a bite out of that business. And what does competition eventually do to prices? Yeeeeeees.

• Everex CloudBook, $400: On specs alone, this is actually a much better deal than the original Eee PC. For about the same price, you get the same size screen (complete with bezel) and a similar Linux-based operating system, but a 30GB hard drive instead of 4GB flash memory and five hours of battery life instead of two. Granted, a hard drive isn’t shockproof like flash memory, but that much more storage is worth a little care.

Everex is planning its own upgrade, the CloudBook MAX, in early 2009. The screen goes up to 8.9”, the hard drive to 80GB and the WiFi to WiMAX. They only mention a Windows Vista option, though, so expect a significant price bump.

• HP 2133 Mini-Note, $499: That price is for the lowest-equipped model, with a 4GB flash module for storage and SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop. All models come with an 8.9” screen, a Webcam, wireless and a 1GHz or faster processor. They get as expensive as $849 for Windows Vista Home Basic and a 160GB hard drive.

• Intel Classmate PC, $300-$500: Not quite available yet, and probably sold under a number of third-party brand names, the Classmate PC goes with a 7” or 9” screen, 1 to 4GB of flash memory (and possibly larger hard drives) and either Linux or Windows XP.

In addition, Acer has said it will be introducing a mini laptop later this year.

You used to be able to go to www.laptopgiving.org and buy the XO PC as well, but that program seems to be gone at the moment. The XO was the much-hyped “$100 laptop” intended for children in the developing world. The One Laptop Per Child foundation would send one to you and one to a kid for $400 around Christmastime last year.

Yessir, it’s a good time to go small.